“Twelve terrorists. One cop. The odds are against John McClane … and that’s just the way he likes it.” Is anyone even slightly surprised that the tagline for Die Hard was Jake Peralta’s high-school yearbook quote? Longtime Brooklyn Nine-Nine viewers know that Die Hard isn’t so much Jake’s favorite movie as it is his sacred text — here’s a catalog of references to it, which misses the time Jake encouraged Terry to name his baby daughter Nakatomi. Three seasons in, it makes sense that someone on the writing staff would realize that Die Hard is a great Christmas movie, and thus a great framework for a Christmas episode.
Not having a skyscraper at its disposal for the purposes of this episode, B99 shifts the setting to a Brooklyn big-box store, where Jake and Gina are attempting to purchase a last-minute gift for Boyle (who’s tagged along, thinking Jake has forgotten to get a gift for Amy). In true Die Hard fashion, the store is overrun by a gang of robbers, who take the employees hostage while they break into the vault to snag the store’s cash. Our trio manage to stay on the down-low as they stalk the perps, until Gina, presumably the Holly Gennaro in this scenario, gets captured while trying to swipe some hairspray to make a makeshift flamethrower. Needless to say, Jake is less scared of the situation than righteously pumped: “Oh my God, it’s real-life Die Hard! I mean … oh no, crime!”
B99 has always had some issues figuring out the right Lethal Weapon-esque balance between the tension of an action movie and the goofiness of a half-hour sitcom, and this particular scenario doesn’t exactly play to its strengths. The rare action scenes on the show tend to happen in very short bursts that play it completely straight; the cops only crack jokes before and after they book the perp. But Jake, Charles, and Gina being caught in a hostage situation — while unarmed, no less — is a longer game, and the result is neither tense enough to be exciting nor tension-free enough to be completely loose and funny. After Charles told Jake that his Christmas gift for him “took a lot of time and cost a lot of money,” I actually thought that the whole scenario might have been staged as a massive present for Jake’s benefit, which would have lightened things up. Once the SWAT teams and the Vulture arrive, though, it became clear that wasn’t the case — and if it were, everyone involved would be summarily fired.
While the episode didn’t quite capture the bowed-but-not-unbroken black comedy of Die Hard, it did have some fun references to the film, particularly Jake staking out the robbers and giving them all Hans Gruber-esque names written on his hand. (His disappointment that one of them actually turns out to be a Canadian named Matt is palpable, and when he knocks him out towards episode’s end, he’s sure to let him know: “Hey Matt, that’ll teach ya to have a dumb normal name.”) It’s also nice that Peralta cedes the big finish to Boyle, letting himself get captured so Boyle can crash through the vent in his undershirt with a triumphal “Yippie kayak, other buckets!” No clue how Boyle was able to completely misunderstand such an iconic catchphrase, but the real one never would’ve passed standards and practices anyway.
The subplot involving Amy’s fear of a polar-bear swim with Holt and Rosa is so thin (and so short) that it’s barely worth mentioning, but special recognition should go to the B-plot, in which Terry has to leave his family (including jerkball brother-in-law Zeke) to contend with the hostage situation from outside the scene, which is being led by Dean Winters’s much-loathed Vulture. All of the writing for the Vulture was hysterical in this episode, and it’s hard to even pick a quote I like best: The Vulture trying to turn Jake’s Die Hard fantasy into his own Taken fantasy was one (“You tell him that I’m Liam Neeson and he’s my hot, dumb daughter”), and trying to prove to Terry that he had control of a situation was another (“[This sniper will] shoot anyone I tell him to, even you.” Sniper: “No I won’t”). Jake may be the hero, but as in the real Die Hard, the villain steals the show.
- Terry may have misbehaved by ignoring the Vulture’s commands (and gotten suspended for a week in the process), but Holt thinks he has real leadership skills, encouraging him to take the lieutenant’s exam. If the dread Wuntch ever gets unseated, I could see a B99 season five with Terry as captain, Jake or Amy (or both) as sergeant, and Holt as bureau chief.
- A classic exposition takedown: “Jake, they’re taking Gina!” “I know, we’re both looking at the same thing.”
- Gina’s imitation of what she’s learned from working as an NYPD civilian administrator: “NYPD, you’re under arrest!” [fart noise, thumbs-down gesture]
- I actually learned something new from Holt’s highbrow references this week: Hell has a frozen lake called Cocytus.
- Seriously, this episode has so many good Vulture lines. When he greets Terry with “Happy Kwanzaa” and Terry gives him a death stare? Such a treat.
- Don’t count on Scully and Hitchcock to help you nail your big arrest line. “Merry Christmas.” “Ho ho ho.” “I’m starving.”
- “Gina, you scared?” “I’m scared you won’t let me make a flamethrower, and use it to throw flame.” Watching Gina get her Christmas wish was the only gift I needed this holiday season.