Jake: “Trust me, it’s gonna be fine.”
Boyle: Really? Because you said that about Die Hard 5, Jake.”
Jake: “Oh. It’s not gonna be fine.”
For some ridiculous reason, Brooklyn Nine-Nine can’t make every one of its Christmas episodes a Die Hard riff. So instead of another “Yippie Kayak,” Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s “Captain Latvia” has goes with an A Good Day To Die Hard reference (which happens to be the ultimate comeback from Boyle) as part of what starts off like a Jingle All The Way take and ends up serving as the nightmare fuel of us versus them rhetoric between parents and non-parents.
Alright, that second half isn’t the intended interpretation, and the plot’s conclusion steps away from that; but in an episode that gives us supercop meets mama bear Boyle, the character’s one track mindedness during this certainly hits on something much bigger than Boyle’s need to be a good father.
Given its Christmas episode mission, “Captain Latvia” isn’t a complex episode. Boyle wants to keep his Christmas gift (the titular Captain Latvia) promise to Nikolaj, so Jake follows him along on an adventure that takes them straight into the Latvian mob. Holt and the rest of the Nine-Nine (sans Gina) need to beat the MTA in the annual Christmas carol competition. And Gina has just discovered Hamilton, which is really the A-plot, depending on who you ask. (And if who you ask is Gina.) Everyone’s kept fairly busy on Christmas Eve, setting the stage for quite the frantic Christmas episode.
So the Boyle/Jake plot puts Jake in the sidekick seat, as Boyle’s mama bear instincts kick in and give us some peak creepy Boyle alongside badass (in his own way) Boyle. The mug crushing, the sexy dancing in combination with his musk, the ability to crack a tablet passcode (“5683. Fifth most common passcode this year. It spells: FART.”)—Boyle is on fire from moment he becomes the action movie hero of this story, and in terms of the continued selling Boyle’s love for his son, this episode excels. It’s not said enough, especially when there’s so much Andre Braugher love to spread, but Joe Lo Truglio is great; an episode like this is a solid reminder of that.
Where things get murky, however, is how Boyle’s motivations for all of his behavior shift throughout the episode. As Boyle originally explains to Jake, he’s understandably worried about losing Nikolaj’s hard-earned trust by not being able to come through with the Captain Latvia toy. But all of that motivation is basically lost as the Jake-inspired mama bear behavior becomes the driving force of the plot. And when Jake’s pre-bust pep talk sells how Boyle’s gift to Nikolaj should simply be to go home safely (a good moment), the trust catalyst is officially in the rear view mirror. The result that Nikolaj is simply pleased to have a cop toy that’s like his “papa” is a nice end to the plot, but since it was never a question of whether he looked up to his father or not, it’s not the most linear resolution to the plot.
Still, even with Boyle’s progressive recklessness—which does look good on him, to a point—the Boyle/Jake plot mostly succeeds, both as a Christmas episode plot and a showcase for Joe Lo Truglio. The B-plot, on the other hand and despite its more Christmas specific story, is barely fully-formed past its decision to have a holiday appropriate competition with rival civil servants.
When it comes to the B-plot, because Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a network sitcom airing a Christmas episode, it has to end a certain way. So this year, everyone has to learn their lesson about Christmas joy and spirit, and the episode certainly gets there… without showing any of its work. This episode spends an entire plot with everyone (but Scully) completely shitting on any moral lesson, all in the name of a competition none of them care about; and while the crew at the Nine-Nine are a competitive bunch, it plays more like “Holt and friends” than it does Holt, Amy, Terry, and Rosa (with Hitchcock and Scully). And it does so while poorly excusing them willfully taking time away from their loved ones on Christmas Eve. They give into the Christmas spirit because they have to, given sitcom rules: The final group scene before the tag has Scully leave because while he’s trying to reach them over Christmas, and they’re too busy ignoring him in favor of his pants stain that looks like Bryan Cranston.
This plot is Brooklyn Nine-Nine at its most “just a TV show,” as the characters and audience are both given no reasons to care about any of it. The MTA are jerks, especially for coming to the precinct during a briefing, but this “competition” brings out the awful in our protagonists. In a less good-natured way than usual, while the annual competition is the equivalent of an unseen friend character that was supposedly there the whole time. The Nine-Nine’s competitive streaks are well-documented, but this plot continues this season’s recent teetering into late season-style caricatures. There are no stakes in a plot about an annual competition that was just introduced this episode, and the basic driving force (Lance Barber’s drunk tank character with the voice of an “angel”) relies on a large Jerry-fication of Scully, a character whose singing ability has been established. Also, Scully ends up singing during the competition anyway, and the group (besides Amy) is clearly decent enough to pull off mouth percussion, so it’s not as though the Saved By The Bell-esque ringer scheme is needed in the first place.
But like most of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s weaker moments, Andre Braugher’s performance (and the show’s awareness) is undeniable:
Holt: “Turns out there wasn’t a bomb. It was a clock, made by an overachieving minority student. What a world we live in.”
What a world, indeed. It’s the blessing and curse of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, really: At its weakest, there’s still rarely a time when it can’t bring out something objectively funny, even when all of the pieces don’t quite fit together. The cold open is ridiculously wacky, but as an isolated incident away from the rest of the show’s development, it’s also excellent. Watching Holt and friends get extremely petty is funny outside of any character development, even though the story as a whole doesn’t work. It all leads to a happy ending though, so the episode at least succeeds on that front. It’s just been proven time and time again that Brooklyn Nine-Nine can do better to get there.
- This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: The Nine-Nine can take a Christmas break from the webisodes this week. Happy holidays, gang.
- Boyle: “It was inside us all along. Brilliant, Jake.”
Jake: “No, Charles. Not everything was inside us all along.”
- At no point does anyone correct Jake’s pronunciation of Nikolaj in this episode. That feels wrong.
- Genevieve: “This is Nikolaj’s first Christmas, because the orphanage kept canceling it. Once it was blizzards, once it was fires, once it was…”
Genevieve: “That’s right. Famine.”
- The MTA’s initial interruption comes when Holt is attempting to start a briefing about community outreach, which brings up a sense of awareness that’s sorely lacking in the rest of the plot.
- Boyle: “Oh, so you’re saying I should tap into my mommy strength.”
Jake: “Yeah, or daddy strength. But whatever.”
Boyle: “Right. Time to put some daddy into my mommy.”
Jake: “Gotta be a better way to phrase that, let’s go.”
- While they blame it on the tunnel vision and sweep it under the rug, Boyle is absolutely out of line for saying Jake couldn’t understand the situation because he’s not a father and never will be. This, after Jake has already had a stressful time transitioning from being best friends with another non-married guy to being best friends with a father. This, after Boyle decided he’s a better father than Terry, despite his brief time as one. But hey, it’s Christmas and Jake gets Boyle’s kid a present to solve everything!
- Hitchcock: “My rapping’s still on the table.”
Holt: “It’s not even in the dining room.”
- Gina: “Hamilton. Was. Amazing! How is no one talking about this musical? It’s so good.”