Graphic: John P Fleenor (FOX)

First things first: Brooklyn Nine-Nine is back to Sunday nights, for the first time since the first half of season three. What exactly does any of that mean for the future of the series? There’s been plenty of discussion about this possibly being the final season or at least the build-up to cancellation. As far as time slot-changing goes, I don’t see that as definitive proof; the show has moved around a lot. Plus, if Brooklyn Nine-Nine is going to end anytime soon, one hopes it will be in a completely season free of characters like Lieutenant Hawkins and Seamus Murphy.

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Speaking of, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s return episode starts up pretty quickly when it comes to resolving that whole “Seamus Murphy openly threatened Captain Holt’s husband” thing. The episode picks up pretty soon after said threat, and while that change of structure in the cold open is jarring, it’s pretty entertaining, but it’s also amazing in how bad the Nine-Nine is at stealthily moving to Kevin to safety. It’s honestly surprising Kevin isn’t immediately nailed by a sniper in the middle of the extraction process. It’s probably the worst bit of undercover work we’ve seen on this show, even though Terry and Rosa’s “Professor.”/“Student.” exchange is pretty fun.

However, the rest of the episode continues with that same atypical structure for the show, and it doesn’t quite work. But then again, the Seamus Murphy character in general has never quite worked, as he’s a character who was only even needed to get Jake/Rosa/the Nine-Nine/the writers out of a ridiculously deep hole and then he became another deep hole they had to climb out of. Keep in mind: With this episode, Seamus Murphy is taken down by a chatty girlfriend and—even more so—a throat punch by a civilian. In fact, if you really want to think about it more, a large bit of gratitude for the takedown goes to Scully. Scully.

Even though Murphy threatens to murder multiple people in this episode—multiple people the audience definitely cares about—the only time there’s ever a sense of tension at all is when it comes to the possibility of Kevin divorcing Holt. No, I’m not asking for the show to actually have someone murdered in order to provide a higher level of tension; but considering nothing about Murphy has ever felt as intimidating as the characters claim he is, someone should maybe at least be shot. Holt was literally kidnapped at gunpoint earlier this season, and that was just (part of) a one-episode scenario. So, recurring villain Seamus Murphy comes with the same amount of stakes as a one-episode villain.

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Sure, he’s killed three witnesses in federal protection, but that’s only because none of them ever tried throat punching him.

There’s no problem with Brooklyn Nine-Nine taking a comedic approach to such a dark or serious subject, because that is the entire point of the series. But for “Safe House,” while the A-story is so aggressively (and intentionally, of course) mind-numbing, the rest of the episode takes an equally aggressive approach in the opposite, cartoonish direction. (And those parts get even less focus than they would in most episodes.) That’s how we get master jigsaw puzzler-turned-shredding savant Scully—and the entire room of paper shreddings—and Rosa’s salon transformation into a poodle.

The Rosa salon experience at least provides a solid comedic scenario for Stephanie Beatriz (channeling the spirit of Mona Lisa Vito) and Chelsea Peretti, in this undercover Cyrano de Bergerac situation. It also provides Rosa with a blonde perm, which is quite important. As for the shredding plot, I suppose it’s funny to see a gigantic pile of shredded paper? It allows the Nine-Nine crew—as the only known non-corrupt cops in this world, apparently—to find the address of Seamus Murphy’s own safe house, so it at least gets the job done, as ridiculous as it is. But as I mentioned before, these subplots barely get much to do in comparison to the A-story (which doesn’t even really get into gear until the lead-up to the raid), and this particular one suffers worse for that. Terry has his “apache” tangent, Amy has her attempted suicide by shredded paper, and Scully has his magic. That’s it. The salon story at least gives all three team members something to do, even if, for Boyle, that just means coming up with Rosa’s undercover name: “Gabriela Fuentes de San Miguel Estrada.”

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One of the most grounded and effective aspects of the episode, however, is Holt. Specifically, Holt being “too” Holt, which is very clearly the result of fearing for Kevin’s safety. The same goes for Jake (specifically post-Kevin/Holt fight) and his later admission to Holt that he wanted to keep his marriage from falling apart. (No, it’s not weird Jake wants Kevin and Holt to be his dads!)

But while “Safe House” does a solid job with those particular character beats, it ignores what should probably be a major talking point about Jake volunteering to stay in the safe house with Kevin all those months: He’s essentially enlisting to stay in a prison again. Yes, a nicer prison than the one he was actually in, but once his tech is taken and Holt drops all of the very stifling rules of the safe house, it’s not exactly home sweet home. Jake later refers to the place as a “Hellmouth,” and apparently the irony lost on everyone that Jake supposedly has been through worse—having been in actual prison for months and even solitary confinement. They even do a prison break in this episode. Jake quotes Con Air

Yet prison never comes up, and with the takedown of Murphy, it’s most likely the official end of all things tangentially related to Jake and Rosa’s prison days. While the prison arc wasn’t the show at its best, the season has done reasonably well with the emotional and mental aftermath of that for both of those characters. But apparently that’s all done now.

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So, was it all worth it? I promised to ask that again once all of these loose ends of the prison arc were tied up. The aftermath of prison allowed something like Rosa’s coming out as bisexual to her parents, but it arguably could have happened with another catalyst—same as Jake’s proposal to Amy. In the show’s need to escalate things, it created a seemingly unbeatable dilemma (Hawkins and prison) and then escaped that by providing another unbeatable dilemma (Murphy). Only, the second one only highlighted the overall weakness in these “big” stories in the first place. The fun isn’t in taking them down, especially when they eventually get taken down in the easiest ways possible. When Holt announces that it’s “the most significant RICO prosecution” the FBI’s ever had, it should feel exciting for the audience, on behalf of the Nine-Nine. After all, the Nine-Nine is often struggling, especially when it comes to positively standing out among their peers. But instead, it comes across like another attempt to make this weak story stand out as having importance or consequences behind it. It’s like giving the Nine-Nine a gold star for being the best, by doing anything but that.

At the very least though, we’ll always have Pervert Kevin and Pervert Jake in the library. That was certainly worth it.


Stray observations

  • This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: Gossip Folks With Gina Linetti. I really haven’t thought of anything past that great title, but it’s what’s needed.
  • Let’s all boo Jake for: “We need to talk about Kevin,” “Kevin can wait,” and “Everybody loves Raymond.”
  • Amy: “Was that after they canceled Bunheads?”
    Boyle: “Why would you bring that up?!?”
  • Holt: “You could learn a foreign language.”
    Jake: “Go to Hell.”
  • Jake: “Okay, we can’t stream anything, but I brought my DVD collection. Do you like Nic Cage movies?”
    Kevin: “I don’t know who that is.”
    Jake: “Only the greatest, most compelling actor of all time.” You know, I wonder what Jake would be like as a human being if Nic Cage (instead of Bruce Willis) had played John McClane. Also, Kevin’s later frustration (“Are there no other actors?”) and eventual Face/Off reference is pretty great.
  • Jake: “Tie a yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree, because this boy’s coming home.”
    Kevin: “Con-Air. What have I become?”
  • The way Stephanie Beatriz delivers Rosa’s “as a blonde?” line—with that pause right before she fully commits—is so good. It’s strained, without her breaking character. Nikki’s (Cyrina Fiallo) lying about her looking “like a Danielle Steel novel” though.
  • Kevin: “Do you know what it means to “clap back,” Raymond? *clap* Because. *clap* I. *clap* Do.” Kevin most likely also knows that, when you clap back with facts, it’s a wrap.
  • The episode avoids any sort of “I told you so” from Holt when Kevin and Jake’s trip eventually does lead to them being followed by one of Murphy’s men. However, maybe there should be one: Jake tries to act like it’s ridiculous to think Murphy’s men would be lurking in the library stacks, but that’s exactly how Murphy approached Amy in the first place.
  • In Jake’s defense, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin got terrible reviews. There’s no defense for not showing Kevin Leaving Las Vegas though.

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