Before the series even began, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s genre felt like a detriment to the show. It’s immediately defined by its cop-show origins, and had to quickly circumnavigate the idea that murder and crime could possibly be funny. But as the show’s progressed, I’ve noticed that I’ve liked episodes where the cops of Brooklyn Nine-Nine actually get to be, y’know, cops, more than the ones where the show centers on being an office comedy—specifically when it comes to Peralta. The latter episodes still work because I have a general affinity for these characters. But what allows Brooklyn Nine-Nine to be unique is not the characters, but what the characters can do through their jobs. Their profession gives these people purpose, an impetus beyond workplace proximity. That may work for a show like The Office because, well, those characters’ lack of professional motivation was the entire point. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has the opportunity to work outside the general workplace confines and move into new territory (well, new if you forget Barney Miller), even if that territory is couched in workplace-generated comedy.
“Unsolvable” combines those two spheres—workplace comedy and the cop show—exceedingly well. Other episodes have done so, and done it well, but “Unsolvable” in particular feels like a mature episode structurally. The major plot arcs—namely Boyle’s possible move to suburban Ottawa with fiancé Vivian and Peralta’s long-simmering crush on Santiago—largely stay stagnant. That’s totally okay. Both ideas are touched upon in order to create their own self-contained narratives, and there’s only so much movement that can happen before their inevitable end, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs to save something for the final two episodes. Yet, “Unsolvable” feels like the work of a show mature enough to move into an even more confident second season than its already thoroughly enjoyable first.
The title of “Unsolvable” comes from a case that Peralta and Terry worked eight years ago: The only remnants of a victim after a boat explosion are a charred torso and a severed finger. To distract himself from Santiago’s weekend date with Teddy (a returning Kyle Bornheimer), Peralta throws himself into the case. The structured nature of working a case may not decrease Peralta’s inherent tics, but at least it gives him something to do beyond offices annoyances. Watching him work a case is also an important reminder of why he’s good at his job in the first place, rather than just getting constant reminders. Terry works as a wonderful foil for Peralta because their partnership (flashback to 2006, complete with Kangol hat) bolsters Terry’s character in the same ways working a case does for Peralta. He may be a softy, but he’s still a boss. Their partnership also allowed for the tiniest of steps forward in the Peralta-Santiago saga. One more person in the precinct knows, expanding the plot’s lifespan just a little bit more. Not to mention it made the “Whatta Man” finale dance totally possible.
The other two plots are pure office politics. They work in tandem with Peralta’s main arc, although one is more enjoyable than the other. Santiago lies to Holt so she can get out of a planned community organization meeting. We’ve seen the eager-to-please thing before, and each time Santiago vows to get better but never does. I’m glad she’s getting her own plots and I’ve enjoyed her dynamic with Holt, but this one is starting to feel like a constant retread. She’s got to learn her lesson at some point. While it was cute that Santiago, in fact, over-brushes her teeth, it’s the weakest part of the episode.
Meanwhile, Diaz and Gina introduce Boyle to Babylon, their secret bathroom lair (that apparently smells like lavender) so he can have a place to call Vivian in peace. While I enjoy the continued sweetening of Diaz, the standouts here are clearly Hitchcock and Scully (“Yep. This. Is. Happening.”), whose investigational prowess only emerges when there are secret bathrooms on the line. All of a sudden, they become the tough cops they were never meant to be. It’s a nice outside-the-box moment for Scully and Hitchcock, giving them a reason to flip from incompetent (albeit funny) props into something more. Just goes to show you how important a cop working a case is.
- There is nothing I love more than devious Holt. Why does he tell Peralta about his hula-hooping classes with Kevin?: “Because no one will ever believe you.”
- Because Kyle Bornheimer is someone I’m generally aware of (as many pointed out, there was even a Bornheimer double shot with his appearance on Jusitified), I keep waiting for him to do something other than be a bland adversary for Peralta. Give Bornheimer his moment of glory!
- “Good thing it hasn’t affected how much we bathe together.”
- “Do you know I know Papa John. The Papa John.” “Someone is lying to you.”
- “Yeah, that’s why I started by saying ‘Bad news.’ Terry believes in having a clear topic sentence.”
- “It was for love.” “Cool motive. Still murder.”