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In Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s “99,” teamwork makes the dream work

Illustration for article titled In Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s “99,” teamwork makes the dream work
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Perhaps there’s no better way for Brooklyn Nine-Nine to celebrate its 99th episode than to make sure every member of the squad (minus Gina) is stuck with each other for a weekend. With an attempted cross-country road trip to go along with it, “99” truly takes the saying “go big or go home” to heart. Actually, it ends up being more like “go big to go home,” and in doing so, it’s classic Brooklyn Nine-Nine.


“99” has everything going for it. It has Die Hard-obsessed Jake (naturally); it has some Jake/Holt father-son goodness; it has Amy trying to prove she’s chill; it has Boyle being Rosa’s bestie (as annoying as that be); it has Terry looking for some semblance of normalcy; it has Scully being an unknowing pawn; and of course it has Hitchcock being the worst. Also in true Brooklyn Nine-Nine fashion, most of this chaos is the result of them trying to help each other out. Dummies.

There is a lot of ground to cover and a lot to focus on, but “99” manages to squeeze it all in without ever feeling bloated. In fact, it truly capitalizes on its actors’ abilities to handle a rapid fire approach to comedy. That’s why it’s so noticeable when an episode is slower or has pacing issues: This cast (and the writers) can very clearly do so much more. No scene in this episode ever feels like it’s outstaying its welcome. Most of the scenes don’t even have enough time to last too long, though that’s not to say the episode’s rushed, just brisk. Unlike the pacing in “Return To Skyfire,” “99” always feels like it’s absolutely on, right from the cold open.

Again, we get a plot-related cold open to start us off. Sort of, as Jake’s interruption accidentally ruins the announcement about the funeral in Los Angeles. But Jake’s interruption is kind of necessary: After all, he proved Terry wrong about his ability to learn to do the worm. It’s a simple Brooklyn Nine-Nine cold open premise, right down to Boyle coming in to make it weird—with a hungry “funky chicken” to go with “the worm”—and it’s an appropriately awkward way to start the episode.

Then we’re in Los Angeles, and we get through all the necessary beats there as quickly as possible: Amy wants to prove she can be “chill” for even a weekend (and also publicly embarrasses herself, just like her fiance did back at the precinct), Rosa’s being cagey about a new “mystery hunk,” and Holt is in the running for Commissioner, with an interview on Monday. The only necessary piece of set-up information outside of that scene is Terry’s first class upgrade when they’re on the way to the airport, because this episode is non-stop action. The only time it really slows down is when they end up at the Boyle cousin stud farm, and… Well, the cows definitely aren’t slowing down there. But that slowness allows for a heart-to-heart between Jake and Holt, a depressing scene that only inspires Jake to want to help Holt even more. Before he realizes why Holt is so pessimistic all of a sudden.

The funeral itself is typically the type of thing that would be the setting for a regular episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but the show’s already done that before. Actually, in that case, the funeral wasn’t that big of deal either. Brooklyn Nine-Nine might not care about the dead, but that’s a discussion for another episode, I suppose. Instead, the funeral is simply a tip of the hat to the vague memories of the series’ beginning—as Captain McGinley wasn’t exactly a major factor in the pilot either—and of course, the easiest way to get the ball rolling on some obstacles.


What follows is an episode of Murphy’s Law, as everything bad that can happen to the Nine-Nine does happen. The episode works well to make everything simply come across as a matter of inconvenience. The initial flight cancellations are important to this thought process, as that is the one thing Holt has absolutely no control over. So it makes sense that the thought doesn’t occur early on that he’s sabotaging everyone. (Also, just as a Los Angeleno watching this episode, I simply assumed his ignoring the GPS—which is crazy, because he’s a New Yorker and obviously doesn’t know what he’s doing—would land him into some LA traffic. How dare he use Die Hard for evil?)

And when you have moments like Jake’s wide-eyed demand that they tour Nakatomi Plaza, even before the knowledge that Holt is the reason they were locked up there, the episode frames it so you can’t blame the lock-in on Jake—just some extremely bad luck. No rental cars? Understandable, given the flight chaos, and more bad luck. The RV (“The American Creeper”) Jake gets them being a dud? Expected, but it’s also the best out of a bad situation. The explosion is bad luck. There’s actually a bit of a surprise that comes with Holt sabotaging everything, even with the realization that he’s pretty much accepted he won’t make it back in time. Obviously the cheese puffs moment should have been the tell, but at the same time, his defeated comment about it just being “air” sells it at the time. Though, Jake obviously should have checked his fingers for cheese dust, as there’s no way he would have done the human thing and licked it all off.


But then comes an actual solution on Jake’s end to get them home, and that’s where “bad luck” can no longer be an excuse. It makes sense that Jake catches on to Holt’s sabotage plan when they get stopped by the cops, not just because of the robotic phrase of “bovine transport unit” but because it’s the one aspect of this whole thing that can’t just be bad luck. A Boyle trafficking drugs? Come on. And speaking of Holt’s robot turn of phrase, it’s worth noting that Jake calling him out for that is a callback to the pilot. Of course, when Jake did that impression in the pilot, he was actually insulting Holt and assuming he was just a “washed up pencil pusher.” Flash forward to the 99th episode and Jake is now actively doing everything he possibly can to help this robot achieve his dream position in the NYPD.

Speaking of the pilot, Holt’s motivation there explains his behavior here and why the Seamus Murphy thing is such a big deal:

“But all I ever wanted was my own command. And now, I’ve finally got it, and I’m not going to screw it up.”


So now he’s given the opportunity to achieve an even higher position, to make it to the top of his field—remember, he was also prevented from being a C.O. for so long because of his sexuality—and there’s one thing that can ruin all of it. To achieve true power and then to be asked to abuse it once it happens? Of course that’s the type of thing Holt would never want to do. It’s bad enough that he’s expecting Seamus to approach him while he’s still Captain; so imagine what he thinks Seamus will ask of him if he’s Commissioner. I wrote about how the Seamus Murphy introduction didn’t exactly make for a great conclusion to an already shaky prison plot, especially as it still leaves the question of how much of any of it was “worth it.” “99” finds a way to make that particular issue “worth it,” as it takes something underwhelming and brings it into a context that truly affects a character’s entire motivation.

And in doing that, we’re also reminded of the rest of these characters’ motivations and how they tend to come back to being there for each other. Amy’s decision to prove she can be “super chill” isn’t based on anyone in the squad betting her she can do it or even asking her to do it, so when she turns that off to go back to being “high strung,” that’s what saves the day. These characters being themselves is the key to this series, even when “being themselves” amounts to Scully being a pawn in Holt’s RV plan. The same goes for Scully being a pawn in Amy’s ambulance plan too. Also in terms of characters being themselves, we have the Rosa/Charles plot. (Terry’s first class dreams are smaller, but it’s worth acknowledging that they are very on brand for a devoted father who just wants a little bit of relaxation. Sadly, the children in the Nine-Nine don’t allow that either.)


Upon reading the episode synopsis for “99” and seeing the Rosa part—”Charles uncovers some new information about Rosa’s personal life”—my mind went to the typical plot of “pregnant Rosa” for about two seconds before realizing the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers know better than that. So I then immediately realized it had to be her coming out, most likely as bisexual. The moment at the funeral where Rosa reacts weirdly to Boyle joking about her checking people out all but confirms it. So the actual confirmation of this is a big deal for the character, but it’s also one that’s depicted in the proper way for a character like Rosa. Rosa is a private person, and we’ve seen throughout the years that these people who are so close to her still have so much they don’t know at all about who she is. Regardless of what is going on in her life, whether it’s her sexuality or her relationship with her family or even where she lives, Rosa is all about being an enigma. Boyle, on the other hand, doesn’t understand privacy. So while his pestering can get obnoxious, when it comes to his friendship with Rosa, it never comes from a malicious place—he simply cares about his friend and wants to know what’s going on in her life. When he does find out she’s in a relationship with a woman, Boyle says nothing about it, and it doesn’t even come up again until Rosa herself brings it up. Then of course he wants to know what Rosa’s girlfriend’s name is—because he’s a nosy guy—but that’s just confirmation that things haven’t changed. Just like Rosa hoped.

Like Jake says, the first thing Holt ever taught him is that they’re a team, so they shoulder each other’s responsibilities. That also means they can confide in each other, even when they think they can’t. That’s the Nine-Nine spirit, and “99” captures that the whole way through. Maybe not when Hitchcock tries to back out of helping Holt, but that’s because Hitchcock’s kind of a jerk. As for the rest of them, they share their first class mints and they treat each other to mimosas. They keep each other’s secrets and work to make dreams come true. They’re a team. They’re a family. Nine-Nine!


Stray observations

  • This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: First Class Terry, With A Semi-Famous Person That He Can’t Quite Place Right Now.
  • This week in retribution Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: Captain Holt totally needs to reimburse Terry with a first class flight of his choosing in the future. You can’t always think about yourself, Raymond!
  • Oh, Amy. How could you be surprised that you looked so “uptight and worried” in all those photos at McGinley’s funeral? We all know you hated his time as Captain.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine has already done its Die Hard episode, so the trip to Nakatomi Plaza doesn’t transform into (and doesn’t need to transform into) a Die Hard-esque attempt to escape the room. But it would’ve been funny if Jake had tried...
  • Boyle: “Steve! Tommy! Becca!”
    Jake: “Becca is a man.”
  • Hitchcock: “All my dreams start with my stepsister painting her house.”
    Jake: “And they end with the house looking great?”
    Hitchcock: “No. Sex.” Jake set himself up for that one.
  • Holt (re: there being no one for the Chief to have a beer with): “Yes, that’s the problem with the NYPD.” Holt is always deadpan, but this is a beautiful, pointed moment of sarcasm.
  • Stephanie Beatriz’s own interpretation of her character is now canon, so that’s nice.
  • Jake: “Take my picture with it!” Boyle took 600 pictures. 601, if you count the airport.
  • No, this was not the first time Jake called Holt “dad.”
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s quick montages don’t always work, but the “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” montage—complete with the crew in Boyle wardrobe—absolutely does. As does “The Final Countdown” for when Amy goes so far past A Beautiful Mind it’s impressive.
  • Amy (after the hilarious shot of them all clapping in Boyle attire): “Stop clapping, you idiots! We’ve gotta move, move, move!”
    Jake: “I love her!” Also, Amy slaps herself and calls people “mooks” when she’s getting into her high strung vibe. It’s all very scary.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.