Nobody gives lectures about intimacy in the workplace. People talk about sex—what “Chocolate Milk” is ostensibly about, with plots that feature seduction, friends with benefits relationships, and even a vasectomy—but nobody tells you how to be friends. It’s hard to be friends, when you’re competitive, when you’re trying keep your distance, when you don’t know if a real relationship is possible. The typical workplace terms then build themselves around emotional distance: work friends, bone bros, master and student.
But if you spend too much time with anyone, those labels become harder to define. And on Brooklyn Nine-Nine this week, the easy distinctions in the precinct start to dissolve, like chocolate in teat-to-mouth raw milk.
Let’s examine the evidence:
The case of The Closer:
As Deputy Chief Wuntch, Kyra Sedgwick has the difficult role of trying to out-deadpan Andre Braugher (pro tip: it’s not possible). She arrives as part of the complete reorganization, sparked by the appointment of a NYPD commissioner. Every precinct’s getting an evaluation, and Wuntch has been assigned to the Nine-Nine. Amy freaks out at the possibility Wuntch will give the Nine-Nine a bad grade, meaning Holt will be reassigned (she also hates getting bad grades). But Holt’s more interested in sparring with an old rival. Both dramatic actors by training, the two clearly revel in comedic free, sharing an almost electric glee when Sedgwick gets to accost Braugher for trying to sweet talk her, and he responds with a snap and “I gave it my best shot.”
Of course, as Holt reveals to Amy in a delightfully retro flashback, the two have a storied history. She had promised to write him a letter of recommendation, and on the night before the due date, Wuntch showed up at his doorway. Holt had planned to come out to her. She had planned on sex. The result? “She sabotaged my career because I refused to BED her,” Holt says, eyes popping. Amy stares at the camera in terror. She takes it upon herself to resolve Wuntch and Holt’s relationship and to save the precinct’s grade.
To its credit, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has always avoided convention when it comes to Captain Holt’s sexual history, so it came as no surprise when (surprise!) it turned out that Wuntch wasn’t really in it for the sex. “Your sexual identity is the one thing I respect about you,” she tells him when Amy reveals that her recommendation was, in fact, glowing. And that’s a line I was so happy to hear on prime time TV, right before the onslaught of Family Guy.
Anyway, it turns out that, between a run-in with Derek Jeter and a whole host of other encounters, Wuntch and Holt never really saw eye-to-eye. He tries to cajole her. She rebuffs him. “I’m not a man of unlimited cajoling,” Holt admits. But Amy, dreading a bad grade and the possibility of losing her captain, turns the tables on Holt and demands he grovel. So, to the tune of sexy background music, Captain Holt admits to Wuntch that the Derek Jeter incident was on him and begs for her to take pity. The precinct gets a mediocre grade, but passes.
Verdict: A (to Amy’s preference, we’re using a letter system, not any of that pass-fail garbage).
The case of the tube tying:
Not to go for cheap puns, but this plot wasn’t as potent as it could have been. Part of that comes from Nine-Nine’s attempt to run two stories at once: Terry’s vasectomy, and Jake and Terry’s investigation into a stabbing at the haute-hipster DRK MLK (pronounced “dark milk”).
Terry’s first attempt at a vasectomy (there wasn’t enough anesthetic to knock him out) provides its mass of sperm jokes and reveals his drugged thoughts on Captain Holt, “he needs to smoke some weed.” Still, it doesn’t reveal much about Jake and Terry’s relationship. Terry thinks of Jake as a work friend, Jake thinks of himself as any kind of friend—from Rachel to Phoebe to “the dinosaur guy.” But by the end of the episode, they realize they might be friend friends. Given the way Terry Crews brings darkness and even pain to his portrayal of the Sarge, having such a simple, even superficial, story (sober Terry wants to tie his tubes, drugged Terry doesn’t; we switch between the two, until end of episode Terry decides he has to talk it over with his wife) felt like wasted space.
This is especially true as the other half of Jake and Terry’s case featured Nine-Nine’s first foray into hipster Brooklyn. The map on the precinct wall covers Park Slope, which is pretty much stroller and yoga central in real life, but unlike, say, Parks and Rec’s Pawnee or The Simpsons’s Springfield, Nine-Nine hasn’t developed much a personality for its precinct. So even if tonight’s trip to a milk bar felt like skimming, it was a good first step: We meet an insufferable flannel-wearing hipster owner and a douchey yuppie business partner. We’re just a struggling writer away from an episode of Girls. Nine-Nine doesn’t need to go full Brooklyn, but it’s great to know that there are quirky people out on its streets, and that Nine-Nine can go back to mine them for comedy.
Verdict: More Brooklyn, less Friends.
The case of the wedding invitation:
Boyle needs a plus one for his ex-fiancé’s Jamaican-themed engagement party. He asks Diaz; she has a date. He asks Gina (via a terrifying pop-up message); she points out that “just because we have secret, shameful sex does not mean we are friends.” She also slaps him for saying “bone bros.” Boyle gets cornrows in a last-ditch attempt to get a date. It looks like he’s going to have to wear his Jamaican flag suit all alone. And then Diaz shows up in a tropical dress. She’s canceled her date and will go to the party with him. The whole story wants to celebrate Diaz and Boyle’s friendship, but it veers dangerously close to romance. Diaz hasn’t appeared in enough scenes this season, and it’d be terrible if she had to spend the rest as the object of Boyle’s affections.
But maybe I’m too into labeling things, and Diaz will end up being a lot more than that. Maybe that’s Nine-Nine’s point.
Verdict: Almost as creepy as Boyle’s message to Gina.
Other open investigations:
The case of Amy Santiago’s second grade gym class grade (“teachers need breaks, too”)
The case of Jake’s dad (the couples counselor tells Jake that Terry’s walking out, “just like your father did”)
The case of what Boyle means by “trunk to skunk” (that whole area was numb after his vasectomy)
GINA: No need to be so test-es.
DIAZ: Guess you won’t be managing the tip line.
BOYLE: Sarge, is this going to go on your spermanent record?
JAKE: Now playing, scrotal recall!
Follow me on Twitter: @mchenryJD