A blonde walks into Bob’s office, well, restaurant. The place where he receives clients at any rate. She’s betrayed by the familiar voice of John Roberts. “Can I get a menu, please?” Everyone gasps at Linda’s new do. “It’s middle-aged mom Barbie,” says Gene. “I like your hair. It matches your teeth,” says Tina. Tina’s just left her Thundergirl troop, but there’s a mole giving away their leads on where to sell cookies. The troop leader begs Tina to rejoin in order to solve the case. Gene’s sniffing out clues on the street. Specifically in the trash cans of all the Thundergirls. It’s got mystery, filth, and lanyard sabotage. This Bob’s Burgers is a detective story.
The title, “Tina Tailor Soldier Spy,” suggests a very different episode, one where Tina susses out the backstories of all the Thundergirls, digs through their records, and plays everyone against one another. It sounds like a fun genre spoof. But that’s not what Bob’s Burgers is about. Instead the episode finds a way to turn this mole subplot into a story about the Tina-Louise relationship.
The Tinker Tailor story might be decoration, but it’s funny decoration. It starts with Ginny the troop leader showing up in the alley behind Bob’s waiting for Tina to take the trash to the dumpster. “I’m here because Troop 119 has a mole.” “I thought Katie just had a beauty mark,” says Tina. That’s when Ginny tells Tina how she arranged for the troop to sell Thundergirl cookies at her work, but Troop 257 got there first. Ginny sits at her table in the break room, framed like George Smiley, eating the rival troop’s cookies and hating herself for it. Tina agrees to come back to the troop for one final job.
Tina can’t keep a secret so Louise and Gene help her with the case, Louise by also joining Troop 119 and Gene by sifting through all the suspects’ trash to see what he can discern. (The answer is nothing, but he does assemble a nifty new wardrobe composed of a sweatshirt emblazoned with the name Jessica, soccer cleats, and 2002 New Year’s glasses. He recites the old maxim, “One man’s trash is Gene’s next outfit.”) Tina and Louise start their investigation with a run-down on the known facts about the girls, each one’s picture taped to one of Tina’s horse figurines in a line-up. For example, Tina gives the skinny on Molly. “Double-jointed.” Louise gives the spin. “Or a double-crosser.” That’s their general approach. Tina’s investigation is so subtle as to be just the facts, and Louise is trying her hardest to stir up trouble. They butt heads, and eventually Tina kicks Louise off mole patrol.
Louise, being Louise, can’t handle her emotional reaction to Tina’s rejection, so she joins Troop 257 under the name Alanis. Alanis is from New York New York. “Not the one in New York. New York New York, Michigan.” Now it’s a competition to figure out who the mole is. Unfortunately for Louise, Troop 257 means business. They’re the shadowy organization of this detective mystery. When we first see them, it’s through Ginny’s eyes in the story of the stolen cookie lead. Ginny races to the window at her office, and one of the rival Thundergirls spits on the ground while staring at her. Troop 119 makes lanyards and takes nature walks. Troop 257 whittles branches into spears and conducts business like sharks. They even have a secret handshake, which involves them chanting like it’s Lord of the Flies. Suffice it to say Louise is in over her head. But right when she gets found out, with both troops in a standoff at Bob’s Burgers, Tina walks in. “I know who the mole is.”
Like I said, Tina’s investigation has been subtle. So subtle that it’s off-screen. She apparently planted different fake cookie leads with each of the Thundergirls in Troop 119, and the one with the Bob’s Burgers lead, Rina, is the mole. There are no clues about who the mole is. The clues in the story are about what’s going on between the Belcher sisters. When Tina left the Thundergirls, Louise was excited to spend time with her sister. Then Tina blew her off to investigate the mole situation, so Louise tried to spend some time with her on the case. Then Tina kicked her out of the troop, and Louise couldn’t take it. But now Tina rescues Louise from Troop 257, proving she’ll always be there for her sister and foiling their cookie sale in the process. And when Rina tries to blame everything on Tina, Louise returns the favor by doing the Troop 257 handshake. Rina can’t overcome her programming, and she recites the chant along with everyone else. Both of the Belcher sisters have a hand in closing the case.
“Tina Tailor Soldier Spy” almost leaves all this as subtext, but this isn’t Mad Men. After everything settles down, there’s one final scene where Linda points out that Louise was acting out because she misses her sister. The rest of the Tina-Louise subtext—the aging, the personality clash, the loyalty no matter what—remains quietly under the surface, but that’s what “Tina Tailor Soldier Spy” is really all about. Like George Smiley, Tina’s one last mission turns out not to be her last. She’s rejoining the Thundergirls after proving her worth to them. How will Louise react this time? Not to worry. First of all, once Linda points out that Louise was expressing her love for her sister, Louise couldn’t be more embarrassed about showing any such behaviors. But just in case, Tina made her a friendship bracelet at the latest Thundergirls meeting.
Louise plays it cool. “I’m not really a jewelry person.”
“You don’t have to wear it.”
“No, I’m gonna wear it. Forever. Back off.”
– Tina says she quit because she’s too old. Bob: “What do you mean, too old?” Louise: “Dad, Tina’s 13. In Thundergirl years, that’s like 40.” Linda: “Hey, 40 is the new 38.” Gene: “Yeah, and 38 is the new vrrrrooom!” It’s never a bad idea to have all five Belchers together. And since this episode is all about subtext, look at Bob’s reaction to his little girl growing up.
– The Linda story is like the Gene story in that it isn’t much of a story. What happens is Linda tries to dye her gray hairs away, but Gretchen at the salon gave her blonde streaks. Linda hates it. “Dye it back!” “No,” says Gretchen, “dye it blonde.” From there it’s blonde jokes and Linda getting so obsessed with her hair that she might actually be dumber now. She’s suddenly back to black at the end, and her insight about Louise proves to herself that she’s reasonably intelligent again. “I feel like I could read a book!”
– Tina: “How could there be a mole in Troop 119? We pinky swore that we’d be friends forever. Except that one girl who didn’t have a pinky and moved away. She had a lot going on.”
– When Tina tells her siblings about the stolen cookie secrets, Gene pipes up: “That’s my stage name, Cookie Secrets.”
– Tina’s re-infiltration of Troop 119 is hilariously awkward. “Hey, guys, it’s your cool, young, hip friend, Tina. Can you dig it?”
– Louise’s infiltration, on the other hand, is smooth as silk. Ginny’s baffled when Louise walks through the door in uniform. “I don’t have any…” Louise cuts her off: “Paperwork? Don’t worry about it, honey. My lawyer’s sending it over.”
– Tina: “Troop 119 shaped me into the woman I am.” Gene: I thought your underwear did that.”
– Gene presents his outfit. “Trash fashion. I call it trashion.” Bob: “We should probably get you a tetanus shot.” He changes his tune by the end, but it’s the worst part of the episode. Bob spends the whole thing playing the amused skeptic to his family’s latest antics, but now he wants Gene to pick him out something from the trash, and not even the question, “What do you want to smell like?” scares him off?
– Halfway through the episode, Gretchen changes her own hair to brown. “I’m like the Tina Fey of my salon now. Everyone thinks I’m so smart and funny.” She disproves herself by the end of her little scene. “You know what they say? Once you go brown, bye!”
– To see which store Troop 257 went to at the end, Tina held a stake-out. “I brought enough food, supplies, and toilet paper for days. Luckily they showed up before I finished my first roll.”