After a solid season premiere in the form of “The Big House, Pt. 1,” a question arose: Could Brooklyn Nine-Nine maintain that same level of quality in “The Big House, Pt. 2?” Could “Pt. 2.” also balance the darkness of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s prison arc with its typical brand of humor? While also providing a satisfactory and possibly satisfying conclusion to said arc? Could “Pt. 2” stick the landing?
Unfortunately, not really. Instead, “The Big House, Pt. 2” never quite hits the highs or level of poignancy as the previous episode, and it struggles to make the entire story ever feel “worth it.” While “Pt. 1” had the specific task of showing the audience the temporary new normal for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Pt. 2” has the even harder task of finally figuring out how to get these characters out of this world. And as it does so, it only brings more attention to just what was wrong with the story in the first place—while adding some other stumbling blocks into the fray.
While “Pt. 1” had to create first impressions—in the form of Jake’s prison life and those characters—and succeeded in making them memorable, the follow-up to that is underwhelming. The exception is of course Tim Meadows’ Caleb the child cannibal, as he remains the comedic gift that keeps on giving. Whether he’s bringing up the idea of Jake’s testicles as dessert or reminding Jake that they’re best friends, Caleb is the one consistently funny part of the prison scenes in this episode, which speaks to both Meadows’ talent and the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers success (and morbid delight) in writing him. It probably also helps that Caleb is just a cannibal version of Boyle.
Jake’s opposing antagonists, on the other hand, don’t keep up the same weird momentum they were introduced with and unfortunately fall flat here. On the Romero front, he’s now more of a generic gang leader than the weird terror he was in “Pt. 1.” Sure, he has a specific proclivity for castration (followed by kicking to death), but there’s not much more to the man who made “beef baby” sound intimidating. In fact, he goes back to just calling him “bitch.” (Though, in his defense, that does allow Jake to say “from bitch to boss.”) And as for Jake’s relationship with Warden Granville, I’m reminded of that Entertainment Weekly piece (where Dan Goor also compares Caleb to Boyle) about season five, as it has a very specific description of the character:
“The warden doesn’t like Jake. As far as he is concerned, there’s nothing worse than a dirty cop, which is what he believes Jake to be.”
That point alone is a great example of just how lofty this arc’s goals were, as the the intent and execution just never quite linked up. While these first two episodes have obviously shown their work with Granville when it comes to the very concept of prison corruption, Goor’s description of the man and his relationship with Jake isn’t part of that work. These episodes address how Granville is fine with perpetuating the corruption and how he just wants to impress his superior (Glenn!), but none of the interactions between Granville and Jake imply he looks at Jake as anything other than a tool. A pawn, as it were. The dirty cop idea doesn’t even come up when Granville releases Jake and tells him Hawkins was arrested for the crimes. It doesn’t come up at all. Despite the choice to put two successful, good cops in prison, Brooklyn Nine-Nine really only addresses that aspect in small beats, like Jake being in protective custody at the beginning of “Pt. 1” or Jake’s Training Day story or Romero believing Jake’s trustworthiness because he did a bunch of meth. The exception is Rosa, when she’s explaining how she got respect in “Pt. 1,” but as Brooklyn Nine-Nine is barely concerned with her side of prison life,* that’s not an example of the show taking that aspect of prison life seriously.
* Speaking of Rosa’s side of things, the “Hello. I’m also back.” to Amy at the end of the episode is a funny Rosa line because of just how sidelined she is in these episodes, but it doesn’t exactly salvage just how minor a character she is in what’s supposed to be a big story. I’ve written before how Brooklyn Nine-Nine is at its strongest when it plays a true ensemble and not just “Andy Samberg and Friends,” and the way Rosa’s part of this story is played out, the story is absolutely the latter.
Overall, the entire prison arc has been a case of a weak story that thankfully has a lot of very good performances and funny lines throughout to keep it afloat. That’s absolutely the case for this episode, because without this story, there would be no Boyle true crime podcast (“Detective Peralta: A God In Shackles”) nor would there be Captain Holt’s latest undercover bit (as usual, the result of having to do something for Jake’s sake) as another heterosexual man. And without this story, there would be no Caleb the child cannibal. At least, not in the context of being Jake’s close friend. But if these characters are all stuck between a rock and a hard place—for Jake, it’s Romero and Granville; for Rosa, it’s stalling Hawkins or killing Hawkins; for Amy and Holt, it’s going to Seamus Murphy for help or doing things by the books—then this arc itself is the metaphorical rock and a hard place for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Because for everything in these episodes that’s still entertaining and representative of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s level of quality, this is an arc that requires a lot of bringing the Nine-Nine down to do it.
After getting Jake and Rosa into the mess of being imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit, the question was how they would get out of it and finally pin it all on Hawkins. Based on this episode, it’s not because the members of the Nine-Nine are good at their jobs or even because Hawkins messes up. It’s because of an outside force in crime boss Seamus Murphy (Paul Adelstein) and the fact that the Nine-Nine all of a sudden don’t know how to do good police work. In the case of the latter, that’s even more of a gut punch combined with the fact that Hawkins is so unbeatable. Something like Amy (or anyone in the Nine-Nine) only noticing Hawkins’ second cell phone when rewatching the surveillance footage from a month ago is even more frustrating than none of them noticing the pig force feeding aspect of the case (despite Hitchcock and Scully talking about it on Boyle’s podcast in addition to them bringing it up at the meeting). It’s easy to accept a lot of “this has to happen/is acceptable because it’s television” with Brooklyn Nine-Nine (for simple example, Jake and Doug Judy’s friendship), because the show has shown itself to put creative spins on plenty of less-than-original things. But the show has also made clear that everyone in the Nine-Nine (besides Scully and Hitchcock, and even they have their uses) is very capable at their jobs; and when they face big problems like this, it’s because of incompetent and/or crooked outside interference. The Nine-Nine being their own biggest roadblock is a bad look.
And while there’s the possibility for an interesting story in Holt compromising his own moral code (and protecting his officers from doing so in the process) by taking Seamus up on his offer for help, that plot point’s introduction also manages to make Amy look ridiculously naive in how she brings it up to the team. “Murphy didn’t ask me to do anything illegal,” she says. “He just wants me to owe him a favor.” We’re five seasons into Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and even in the first season, Amy wasn’t a newbie cop who hadn’t been around the block. There’s a lot of willful ignorance that’s required as a result of the Hawkins/prison plot, and while “The Big House, Pt. 2” is presumably the end of that, it’s disappointing that it’s even happened at all. Even as fun as it is to watch Rosa fantasize about beating the crap out of Hawkins, the catharsis she achieves just from that thought doesn’t quite translate to the audience. Because, again, Hawkins wins. And then she wins again when they tap her phone. Hawkins outsmarts these characters to the very end, even though she’s eventually caught. Just not because of anything they actually came up with to stop her (even if everyone but Holt thinks they did).
So, was it “worth it”? Again, neither of these episodes will truly serve as a representation of what the fifth season will be (except for the Seamus Murphy follow-up). But as the follow-up to the conclusion of season four, “The Big House” very much shows that for all of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s big ideas, the execution is still a very important part of all of this. As you’ll see in the Stray Observations, there are a lot of great lines in this episode (and surely more you’ll point out in the comments), but these episodes specifically were integral to a certain story. And unfortunately, that story ended up being one of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s weakest. But if there’s one thing Brooklyn Nine-Nine knows how to provide, it’s hope. Now to see if it follows up on that.
And possible rehab for Jake’s new meth addiction. Nine-Nine!
- This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: Obviously we need full versions of Boyle’s podcast, filmed for webisode consumption. At least the Terry episode.
- I just want to shout out another thank you to Twitter user @HarmonicaCave for officially welcoming me back to the Brooklyn Nine-Nine beat. And to The A.V. Club commenter cub for the original comment. But also to all of you commenters and readers: You’re all as great as Jake Peralta’s solitary Lion King reenactment.
- The Snapchat explanation scene obviously highlights how glaring Gina’s absence is—she’d be all over that immediately—but it also weirdly dates the show and piles on to the Nine-Nine not quite knowing what they’re doing. Yes, Hitchcock is a weird pervert, but Snapchat is a very popular app; Holt not knowing about it tracks but no one else chiming in about it doesn’t. I say this as a millennial who does not use Snapchat and only has a very basic level of understanding about it.
- After all the spot-on (and funny) commentary about the prison system in “Pt. 1,” it was refreshing to realize Brooklyn Nine-Nine didn’t go the lazy comedy route of joking about prison rape and prison boyfriends. When “Pt. 2” has Jake briefly mention his fear of being in the shower (“No one is relaxed in a prison shower, it’s literally the most tense situation I’ve ever been in.”), it hinges more on the fear that’s part of this prison experience, so it’s fine. But almost immediately after that, Jake throws out: “But: All homophobes are secretly gay.” It’s an atypical line from Jake, considering how he’s regularly portrayed as “woke.”
- However, I do appreciate that, to Caleb, friendship means taking a shiv for someone, regretting it, and then attempting to eat that person as they say goodbye.
- Amy: “300 call number in the fine arts section? What is this, Beirut?”
Debbie the Librarian: “You know: You don’t work here. You don’t have to reshelve the books.”
Amy: “Well, someone has to. I’m so sorry. I’m just really stressed out. You’re a great librarian, and I’m sure you’re not the one who shelved this section.”
Debbie the Librarian: “I am.”
Amy: “God, Debbie. What is going on with you?”
- Rosa: “Oh, one problem: How do I stop myself from smashing through the glass and squeezing the life out of her with my bare hands?”
Amy: “Maybe you could just imagine doing that. It would probably be just as fun as really doing it, right?
Holt: “I’m with Diaz. Imagination is never the solution.” Amy may lose that round, but it turns out Rosa actually enjoys simply imagining it. Amy gets a win.
- Amy: “And how is your podcast supposed to get Jake out of prison?”
Boyle: “I lay out the facts, people see he was framed. I build an audience, I get a celebrity listener: It’s Debra Messing. She tweets a link, now Sean Hayes is involved—”
Holt: “Boyle, that’s enough.”
- Amy: “Captain Holt, can you distract the lot attendant?”
Holt: “I’m not Captain Holt. I’m Joe Wozniak, here to see my girl in prison. And to help me pass as straight… Kevin’s rose-shearing hat.”
- Holt: “My female wife. Krystal. I was cheating on her with a waitress from Wing Sluts named Jamie Lynn. One night when I was philandering, Krystal caught me kissing Jamie Lynn’s heavy breasts. Flew into a rage and now she’s serving five years for aggravated assault. … You should’ve seen Jamie Lynn. She looked exactly like Maxim Hot 100 honoree Jasmine Sanders. … There’s nothing more intoxicating than the clear absence of a penis.” I made a personal choice that Joe’s wife would be “Krystal,” not “Crystal.” Please respect my truth.
- Jake: “Hey. I’m in a bind. I need your help.”
Caleb: “That’s what friends are for.”
Jake: “Well, friends might be a bit of a stretch. I mean, you’re a cannibal that ate six people.”
Caleb: “Nine and a half.”
Jake: “Yep, worse.”
- Caleb: “Well, you know, whenever I’m backed up into a corner, I just do what I do best. I drive across country, forge a new identity, and then take a job as a camp counselor.”
Jake: “Oh my god. Caleb, you’re a genius.”
Caleb: “I wouldn’t say genius. That camp ran a pretty expansive background check.”
Jake: “No, not that. Your past is a straight up nightmare.”
- Holt: “I was listening to an episode of Boyle’s podcast—”
Boyle: “Not the one Terry was on, I hope.”
Holt: “No, of course not. That one was problematic.”
Terry: “What did I do that was so wrong?!?”
- Holt: “It’s over, Hawkins. Pawn to king square five. King’s knight to the third square on the bishop’s file. Queen takes on F7. Checkmate. Now that’s a chess move. Buh bye now.” Do you ever think about how strange a show this is for this to be a funny line?