The creative team behind Brooklyn Nine-Nine has trotted out the same formula as the show’s premiere week for its sophomore double feature, once again chaining an episode that tackles real-world concerns with one more centered on the personal lives of the members of the Nine-Nine. The result is a pair of episodes that kind of feel like an echo of last week rather than pushing forward any sort of season momentum. They both contain enough moments of humor and insight to work reasonably well on their own terms, but they’re also both in the shadow of superior outings from just a week ago. Let’s hope the pattern doesn’t continue for a third week.
If the series premiere was about the “bad apples” concept, the third episode is about how often officers band together to protect their rotten fruit. It opens with a news report of an NYPD officer who finds a dead mouse in his burrito, which Frank O’Sullivan calls an act of “political violence.” Holt points out that the to-go order was placed without the restaurant knowing the customer was a cop, which made the whole thing suspicious. Of course, the Vermin Burrito story is supposed to recall similar cases of police officers making up stories — like the Shake Shack Milkshake or the nonsense about an officer having the word “pig” written on a cup from McDonald’s — hoping to gain some viral support. Once again leaning into a season that clearly wants to dismantle this show’s role in copaganda, the writers make it clear that their officers would never put a mouse in a burrito — they’d catch the guy who did.
The effort to do so leads to a three-pronged attack. Holt compares the approach to a trident, nearly driving DCEU fan Jake Peralta insane (though the tridents in Aquaman and Justice League, which Holt has clearly never seen, have five prongs instead of the correct three). The incident is a minor annoyance, or, as Peralta would say, “No big whoop,” at least until the officers stage a walkout (or blue flu) in support of the fabricated burrito story. Crime goes up, as O’Sullivan uses the moment to fire up #BlueLivesMatter sympathy.
Time to get out the prongs of Holt’s trident. The first goes to Peralta and Boyle — go to the doctor and prove the sick notes from the officers are fraudulent. The second, and strongest, is handed to Terry and Amy, tasked with figuring out how to stop crime from rising in a precinct with no officers. Finally, Holt goes outside the precinct to Rosa, asking her to prove that the mouse in the burrito was planted.
At least two of the prongs are derailed by physical conditions. Jake and Charles discover that one doctor diagnosed mono in all the missing cops, but Charles is immune because he got it as a child — all those afternoons playing “Hide the Yam” with his cousin will finally pay off. Don’t ask. But the doc also notices that Boyle’s left testicle is enormous. And it’s got a funny shape, color, texture, and temperature. It sends Boyle into a tailspin, out into the street in his hospital gown. It could be cancer. It might have spread. The burrito case will have to wait.
Meanwhile, Terry has an upset stomach that’s distracting from his work on his prong. He tries to power through because of some macho-toughness concern, but it eventually derails him, leaving Amy to figure out how to police with no police officers. She convinces the other precincts to send two people each. They send their versions of Hitchcock and Scully, which is a comedically rich idea, but too little is done with it here. Imagine all the slight variations on the two lovable morons of the Nine-Nine that could have been rich sources of humor beyond the thin “these dudes are lazy” jokes in this episode.
Finally, there’s Rosa, who knows that Holt can’t pay her to investigate fellow officers. Well, at least not directly. She will get Jake to pay her for a photo of Holt’s secret tattoo, the one that no one can ever know about. Holt’s secret tramp stamp has been referenced before. (There are even Reddit threads devoted to theories on what it might be.) Will Rosa finally get to the bottom of one of the biggest mysteries of Brooklyn Nine-Nine?
Will Boyle be alive when she does? Poor Charles is in the emotional tailspin that comes while one waits for test results, saying things like, “Life is a cruel prank played on the living.” Later, he’s on a stakeout with Jake but can’t concentrate because he’s too busy feeling the lyrics to “I’ll Be” in a new way. He’s scared. He will never get to see Nikolaj grow up or see what kind of man he becomes. Finality is seeping into these episodes a bit. We will never see these characters in their 90s, hunting down criminals in a retirement home. It brings Jake to tears. In the end, despite Boyle revealing that he has a hall pass for Dianne Wiest, it’s no big deal. The testicle was just infected. Life goes on. Well, at least for seven more episodes.
Meanwhile, Amy’s confederacy of dunces are given pedometers and offered seven days of overtime for the ones who actually walk the beat. (Maybe the winner will get a free pass on Hitchock’s sex barge, too.) They try to beat the system by merely sitting in massage chairs, jiggling their devices. Tricky.
While no one is actually walking the beat, Terry bumbles his way into a strategy meeting about the burrito incident. Listen, no one really questions the plotting of episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but there’s a meeting about how to handle a fake viral story? Wouldn’t there just be a text or two? An email? An actual meeting? The odd plotting gets even sillier when Terry records the alleged meeting, but no one can hear it through his stomach noises.
The oddly unfunny Terry subplot feels even more poorly written when Rosa just comes in and solves the case (at least Terry got all the bad cops sick). She gets her hands on footage of the officer buying the mouse he put in his burrito, which means it’s time to see Holt’s tramp stamp, a phrase he learned today. However, the footage doesn’t work because O’Sullivan calls the truth an attack. How dare Holt call a police officer a liar?!?! (Even though he is a liar.) The worst thing you can do to another person is to call that person a liar. It’s a clever bit of doublespeak and nonsense for a world in which being called a deplorable is worse than actually being deplorable. As Holt says, “I just don’t know how to talk to someone like you.”
Jake breaks his part of the case — it was the lab, not the doctor — and Holt gets to use some profanity that NBC won’t air before realizing something: The blue flu didn’t raise the crime rate. The episode’s big thematic moment comes in Holt’s final scene with O’Sullivan: With fewer officers working and thus fewer officers trying to meet their arrest quotas, the precinct made fewer overall arrests, including false arrests. It’s essentially an argument for defunding the police. Rates of violent crime stayed the same, with or without cops. The Nine-Nine becomes a case study in working better with fewer cops.
Finally, Jake has a photo of the tattoo that Holt claims is a decimal point, which he spent $2,000 on. Of course, Rosa’s allegiances are to the highest bidder: Holt pays her to give Jake a fake photo of a fake tattoo. She’s going to reveal what redditors have wanted to know for years: “It’s a picture of …”
• There are two great GIF-able bits from Holt this week: “Oh, this is a very frustrating conversation” and “The petard — it just won’t stop hoisting.” Get on those, interwebs.
• Scully thinking the Never Forget Burrito ribbon is the same color as his Colorblind Awareness ribbon is a funny little throwaway joke.
• Did the conversation about how to pronounce “whoop” remind anyone else of this one from Family Guy?