Brooklyn Nine-Nine: S05E05 “Bad Beat”

Grade: B+

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has never been a show that deals well with high stakes. Like its hero, Jake Peralta, it’s more comfortable with silly hijinks; if it can rope a bunch of people into them, so much the better. Usually the Halloween episode is a mainstay for B99 tomfoolery, but this year it was overshadowed by its big, serious emotional development. While it’s clear that neither Jake nor the series regrets that development, both need a little room to breathe. “Bad Beat” delivers that, using unconventional pairings to power a zippy, zany episode, counterintuitively centered around the theme of addiction.

Of course, first it asks, and answers, the big question: is Boyle going to be the best man (BM) at Jake’s wedding? Yes, yes, a million times yes! The self-contained cold opens rarely disappoint, and tonight’s was no exception.

But the best part of this episode was the B-plot, in which Hitchcock, Scully, and Diaz competed to see who could sit in a chair the longest. This may well be the lowest-stakes plot Brooklyn Nine-Nine has ever run, and it was absolutely delightful. Just look at Rosa’s smile when the group went out for hot dogs, butts still firmly planted in their seats. The comedic chemistry between the three was unexpectedly warm, perhaps because the writing so fully utilized Rosa’s inability to turn down a winnable challenge. It helped that the storyline was almost perfectly structured, from the initial gauntlet-throwing to the final stances of triumph. I fully expect that there will be callbacks to this plot later in the series.

Then there was the A-plot, in which a bid to take down a mafioso in a poker game turned Holt back into a gambling addict. On the one hand, this was a rich source of laughs, giving us plenty of lines about Terry’s food overdoses, the sheer ridiculousness of poker lingo, and best of all, Holt demanding to be dangled off a roof. On the other hand, the emotional payoff of learning Holt’s poker tell felt a little forced. Andre Braugher generates such a force field of dignity that it’s easy not to notice — indeed, Jake and Terry didn’t notice for most of the episode — but Holt uses contractions quite frequently. Are we supposed to think he’s lying every single time? It felt broad, even if it did help spark some life back into the Holt/Peralta relationship, which has been feeling stale of late.

Finally, there was the Santiago/Boyle murder truck plot. To be totally honest, I had a hard time getting on board with this one, not necessarily because it was badly written or acted, but because I agreed so much with Boyle. I would totally eat at a murder truck! I mean, the menu was printed over real crime scene photos! A murder truck serving deconstructed meatball subs sounds like a license to print money in Brooklyn. If anyone is doing one as a result of this episode, I want in, STAT.

Obvious marketing coups aside, this plot was the most humdrum of the three tonight. It wasn’t low-stakes enough that the simple fact of its formal structure could draw laughs, and it didn’t feel organic, given that Boyle and Santiago’s relationship mostly involves her deflecting his jealousy. In this way, it also indirectly exposed the episode’s biggest flaw: its lack of Gina Linetti. Can you imagine the Gina quotes we would have gotten out of the murder truck plotline? Sure, the B99 writers and ensemble are pretty great, and they’ve done a good job maneuvering around her absence so far, but this subplot had a huge Gina-shaped hole in its character dynamics. I hope Chelsea Peretti is back soon.

On the other hand, the lack of Gina was countered by some nicely low-key similarities between all the plots. Holt’s gambling addiction brought two themes to the fore: money, and trying to overcome one’s innate urges. While the gambling addiction plot combined these, each was given its own spotlight in one of the subplots. The mind over matter theme was exemplified with the sitting competition, although I’m still not sure if they were overcoming an “addiction” to standing, or indulging an addiction to sitting. I’m guessing the first one for Diaz and the second for Hitchcock and Scully. Meanwhile, the money theme was reflected in Amy’s increasing paranoia about the prospects of the murder truck business. Luckily, it turned out well for her and Charles, as the episode contrasted Amy’s cautiousness with Holt’s profligacy. These thematic echoes went a long way towards helping “Bad Beat” feel like a unified whole, even though the characters didn’t intersect at all after the cold open. Although watching Rosa roll her chair through the background of an Amy/Boyle conversation was pretty funny.

Between the ongoing jail plotlines and last week’s proposal episode, this was the first time all season that Brooklyn Nine-Nine has had a chance to relax, and it did so in top form. Welcome back, old-school B99. We’ve missed you.

Stray observations:

  • “His nickname is longer than his actual name, and why is that, Terry?” “Because he’s a dick.”
  • For the record, Gauss is totally cool.
  • “I’m in complete control. Now, Terry, come over here and dangle me off the side of this building.”
  • “A couple of years ago, on my birthday, I treated myself to one piece of pizza. I woke up in a Sbarro on the Jersey turnpike. It wasn’t even open!”
  • “I miss the little things. Showers. Feeling my feet. Standing.”
  • “Four queens! I call this hand ‘The Golden Girls.'”
  • “There was a pooper.”
  • “We’ll go to a museum. One of the boring ones with no dinosaurs.”
  • “Hey. Sitting down on the job is damn hard work, and those heroes prove it every day. Mad respect.”