It seemed inevitable that the impecunious Jake Peralta would eventually have a reckoning in the Nine-Nine that had to do with money, but even I was surprised that the show only used that as a framework to take a flyer on having him be the keeper of a very grown-up secret: the news of Terry’s wife’s second pregnancy, at a time when that really is the kind of thing that’s best kept under wraps. (Even the press materials for the episode focused on the payback element, rather than Terry’s big news.) It’s a daring plotline for a show that usually plays it beyond safe in terms of raising the emotional stakes — we know that this is something that can genuinely hurt Terry and Sharon, with an impact that transcends Peralta’s usual shenanigans.
This makes it all the more heartbreaking when Jake inevitably screws it up, as he’s wont to do (and via an accidental reply-all, no less). I wish the show had been unafraid to let Terry sit with his hurt at Jake’s incompetence a little longer; it would have been well-deserved, and possibly even fodder for a couple more episodes, and it seems cheap to let Peralta not only be forgiven so quickly but promoted to godfather. (I would not trust this man to wash my humping-crazed dogs, let alone be the backup parent to my unborn child.) But Peralta does have to sacrifice for his sins, selling his beloved car to pay off his $2,437 debt to the sergeant. Of course, he still owes Gina, Boyle, and Rosa another $5,575.32, so there’s plenty of debt-related thread left on that plot spool.
Given the potential seriousness of its A plot, it’s all the more impressive that “Payback” is one of the show’s funniest episodes ever on a line-to-line level, eliciting some straight-up guffaws over on my couch. Humiliating Peralta in the gym and serving as Scully’s masseuse (his butt cheeks are VERY tense) is par for the course, but Andre Braugher and Melissa Fumero do great work this week as well in their unexpected pairing as partners. Watching Amy squirm as she tries to propose cool partner stuff only to have Holt shoot her down at every turn was a lot of fun. (“How are we going to find this bastard after all these years?” “He owns a store, I know the address.” “Well, I could drive!” “No, you don’t know where we’re going.”) But the real moment of joy was their banter in the car as they ate street meat (“Meat. From the street. Sounds like a treat. I’m a poet and I didn’t even know I was rhyming those words, but it did happen anyway”) and discussed Holt’s former partner Martin Ormancup. (“He was a great partner: smart, loyal, homophobic but not racist — in those days, that was pretty good.”)
By the time they were racing across town to combat Holt’s diarrhea, I was getting excited about the possibility that the show might rejigger Holt and Amy’s relationship a little. We’ve gone through the motions of “Amy gets excited about trying to impress Holt, something goes wrong, Holt forgives Amy and teaches her an important lesson” so many times now that I could set my watch by it, but I do think the idea of the two of them having something mutual to joke about might actually be something of a breakthrough in terms of putting them on more equal footing. (Eh, who am I kidding, they’re probably going to continue to play variations on this theme for another season or two.)
To that end, I’m also heartened by the fact that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is starting to embrace a little bit of Arrested Development–style inside-jokery. It’s not, and will never be, that kind of show, which is okay — it’s its own thing. But I appreciate even these small signs that it’s starting to recognize that it doesn’t have to completely smash the Simpsons-style reset button at episode’s end. There were some fun callbacks to Jake’s mistaken conception of a vasectomy (“You still don’t know what a vasectomy is, do you?”), Boyle’s weird fetish for hair-washing, and, of course, Peralta’s beloved wheels (RIP), and on top of the past two weeks’ shout-outs to Kwazy Cupcakes, I’m hopeful that this could mean moving the ball forward a bit for the show. Now that we’re officially halfway through the second season, I think B99 needs to be less afraid of letting its characters change and do permanent, irrevocable stuff (like having another baby, in the case of the terrified Terry, and giving Jake the challenge of becoming a good potential parent, despite his predilection for solving problems via Yahoo Answers). Whether it’s up to that challenge remains to be seen.
- Oh God, so many great lines in this episode. Apologies in advance if I missed your favorite. My top prize goes to Boyle, who’d rather be Alfred than Robin: “He has access to the Batcave, plus he gets to drive all of Batman’s girlfriends home and dish!” (I am 100 percent in agreement with that opinion, not sure what that says about me.)
- Speaking of Boyle, it’s all the more amazing that he can speculate on “classic romantic or gastro-sensuous” dining when Holt is consuming Nutrition Bricks (in flavorless regular or flavorless whole wheat) and Rosa doesn’t even own a pot. Apparently all that foodie chatter has had no effect.
- Gina’s Sick Amy Burn of the Week: “Is this a Make-a-Wish thing? Are you dying? Is it from loneliness?”
- Some good gender-neutral baby names from Jake Peralta: Crash, Hurricane, Miata, Nakatomi (after the tower in Die Hard, another great callback), and Todd.
- Peralta calling Gina’s family to tell them she was dead was another in a long line of classic Chelsea Peretti moments. “You should be wailing, you stone-cold bitch! Now call my other grandma.”
- A good reason to visit the Empire State Building: “You can pee on the whole city from up there.”
- B99 is taking next Sunday off for the holiday weekend. See you on January 25!