Damn, Jean. This is what it looks like when Brooklyn Nine-Nine fires on all cylinders. The writing is sharp, the commentary cutting, and the pace quick. It’s rare for a show to display such energy in its fifth season, but an episode like “The Venue,” character-driven at every turn, could only have aired in a later season. Episodes like this are one of the primary pleasures of following a great show for years.
This was most evident in the A-plot, which was a paean to Jake and Amy’s relationship as much as it was a hate letter to the Vulture. I’m not sure Andy Samberg and Melissa Fumero have ever had such easygoing romantic chemistry before. While it was always clear that the show wasn’t interested in breaking them up, I’d never particularly believed in their relationship until tonight.
To recap: Jake and Amy have found the perfect wedding venue, an old and beautiful mansion, around which they’ve planned the perfect wedding. Their meetings with wedding vendors underscore the strength of their relationship, from Jake pitching NYT crossword wrappings to the florist to Amy revealing that she instructed the baker to make a Die Hard cake. By the time Jake asks if it’s possible that their nups could be too toit, even the most hardened Jake/Amy cynic (i.e. me) can’t hold out any longer. They are impossibly cute together.
But “The Venue” doesn’t stop there. Instead, it goes on to further interrogate that premise. Are Jake and Amy really that toit now? What happened to the guy who borderline sexually harassed his work partner until she gave in to his advances? This is where the Vulture comes in. The Vulture, aka the man whose favorite color is underboob, has always been the Jake that even Jake can’t stand. He’s not only a ginormous douchebag, he’s also an incompetent who advances only by taking credit for other people’s work. In other words, he’s an easy symbol for the worst parts of Jake’s nature. When he announces that he has stolen their perfect venue because he, too, has fallen in love, Jake and Amy are dumbfounded and more than a little suspicious. So they create a catfishing scheme to test whether he’s really changed. As it turns out, he hasn’t — and he keeps the venue as revenge for making his indiscretions known to his fiance.
On paper, it’s a little perplexing that this ending works as well as it does. After all, an apparently loving, if nonconsensually open, relationship has been broken up. Worse, Jake and Amy are going to be married on Staten Island. But the resolution makes sense when seen through the thematic lens of ditching your hangups to do the right thing and celebrate those who matter most. Jake and Amy’s hangups were embedded in their perfect wedding, but now that they have each other, those hangups aren’t particularly important. The Vulture hasn’t been able to let go of his, and that’s why he’s going to be hosting a pudding wrestling party instead of marrying the woman he loves.
The B- and C-plots relate to this theme in different ways. First up is Boyle and The Case of the Long-Delayed Appreciation, in which an extremely important NYPD officer named Sergeant Peanutbutter has gone missing. If that sounds like a weird name for a police officer, it’s because Sergeant Peanutbutter is, in fact, a horse. (I assume he’s some kind of unholy mashup of Li’l Sebastian from Parks and Recreation and Mr. Peanutbutter from Bojack Horseman.) It seems Boyle has history with this horse, who upstaged him during a medal ceremony. Determined to get the upper hand, Boyle and Diaz track down Sgt. Peanutbutter, but his abductor sets the barn on fire. In trying to save Sgt. Peanutbutter from the flames, Boyle ends up being dragged along behind him — a photo op that has newspapers across the city praising the horse’s heroism and calling Boyle a buffoon. Luckily for Boyle’s ego, Diaz corrects the narrative by leaking dashcam footage of everything that happened before that moment.
Meanwhile, actual Sergeant Jeffords’ habit of referring to himself in the third person comes back to bite him, as an officer whose first name is Terri demands to know why he keeps making comments about her. This sends Terry into a tailspin, as he’s forced to confront his own hangup of neediness. He likes being liked — he can’t even walk five feet into the bullpen without saying hello to someone — and he can’t stand the idea that Terri doesn’t like him. This culminates in his version of a perfect party, one with ice cream, barbecue, a popcorn guy, and vegan options. His only check is Holt, who finally snaps that this level of trying is causing Holt to like Terry less.
Faced with the realization that his hangup is holding him back, Terry resolves the episode by rejiggering his party as a Boyle appreciation fest. This symbolic wedding, which unifies the group by showing the complementary nature of their hangups, is the perfect B99 contrast to Jake and Amy being denied their own celebration. It leaves the audience feeling good enough that we’re happy to laugh off their now-dismal wedding plans.
That’s not to say “The Venue” is completely without flaws. Last week’s episode showed some strain around the edges, and while this week makes hay from leaning into that strain, that doesn’t render it invisible. I don’t think B99 is out of ideas, exactly, but it might be getting a bit too comfortable for its own good.
Still, at EOD, I have faith in the writers. That they can so deftly and consistently revitalize their formula even as the series progresses speaks volumes about their understanding of its characters. That’s what makes episodes like this one possible. If Brooklyn Nine-Nine can stay in this place, I for one will be more than happy.
- “Just to be clear, if I went missing, you guys would conduct an equally thorough search, right?” “…You should get going.”
- “I love our venue so much. It’s like our very own Hogwarts.” “Like I’m Hermione!” “And I’m Snape.” As someone who read way too much Harry Potter fanfic in high school, I found this much funnier than it probably is.
- “Jean, your selflessness puts us all to shame. Humbled, Michelle Obama.”
- “She’s a Terri, and you’re a Terence who, even though you’re not a child, goes by a nickname ending in a ‘y’.” “Don’t people call you Ray?” “How dare you.”
- “I hate wasting rice, but I hate you more!”