“You can’t just grant wishes, Jake. You’re a boss, not a genie.” —Amy Santiago
Tonight’s episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine was a paint-by-the-numbers bottle episode, an old television trick that restricts an episode’s action to a few sets, typically in order to save money. This formula has produced some of TV drama’s greatest set-pieces, including the Andre Braugher-starring standout from Homicide: Life on the Street, “Three Men and Adena” (watch it!), as it puts characters into the pressure cooker and forces them to reveal their secrets. But the bottle episode can work equally well for comedies, where character-based writing and “wall-to-wall facial expressions” (to quote Community), can be as much a source of character development as comedy.
Like most Brooklyn Nine-Nine cases, the facts behind the lockdown are trivial. Terry and Holt leave the precinct for a Thanksgiving charity event. Jake’s left in charge. Right before everyone else leaves, a box of powder falls to the floor and triggers a biohazard scare. The rest of the cast, along with 41 civilians and one mutinous lawyer, are stuck together for Turkey Day. The substance might just be baking powder, then the substance isn’t baking powder and could possibly be deadly—point is, nobody’s leaving the precinct until someone learns a lesson. In this case, it’s Jake Peralta.
Part of the pressure in “Lockdown” comes from last season’s “Thanksgiving,” which established that Jake hates the holiday because he used to have to spend it alone while his mom worked. While “Lockdown” all but forgets that history—Jake says he hates the holiday because “the pilgrims were murderers and turkeys taste like napkins”—it does dig into Jake’s surprisingly deep neurosis, and specifically his irrepressible desire to please everyone. In doing so, “Lockdown” manages to put another spin on Andy Samberg’s typically broad performance, making his eternally upbeat attitude seem manic and even desperate. It’s not a perfect episode by any means, but it opens up a lot of possibilities for the character.
The episode centers on the conflict between Amy and Jake’s approaches to running the precinct. Jake wants to appease everyone. Amy thinks a boss should be serious. Where the moral of most bottle episodes—and, come to think of it, most holiday episodes—is that people will bond through the sheer force of being stuck together (as Jake might argue), “Lockdown” takes the opposite approach. The people locked in the precinct aren’t, as Jake wants to believe, “a happy group of unlikely friends.” They’re perps, snitches, suspects, disgruntled ordinary people, and, worst of all, lawyers. They’re not about to put up with Jake’s attempts to hide the truth about the possibly toxic powder. They want food, heat, and most importantly, to go home.
Jake tries to address the civilians’ concerns, putting on a talent show that includes Boyle’s performance of the “Single Ladies” dance, using all the food from the two delivery boys locked in the precinct to host a Thanksgiving feast, and giving out confiscated knockoff designer coats to keep everyone warm (“I wasn’t able to find any heat because it’s more of a concept”). But nobody has time for quirky, but lovable antics from their police force. When Jake admits to one lawyer (Jeff Lewis, who some might recognize from The Guild) that the powder could be toxic, everything starts to fall apart. The lawyer rallies everyone against the cops, revealing the truth about the powder, and demanding freedom. Everyone starts shouting. Someone sets Hitchcock’s snack couch on fire.
Here, finally, Jake learns to take a more serious approach. Well, first he tries to pass off control to Amy, but she tells him he has to learn to stop playing nice cop (not literally, Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s above that bad of a pun). But with her encouragement, Jake finally admits that he’s the captain now—and also realizes that’s a Captain Phillips reference. He reorganizes the other members of the precinct, intimidates the civilians into obeying him, and has Boyle look for evidence on the origin of the powder. By the time Holt arrives, Jake has managed to put everything back in working order and solve the mystery of the powder: It was sent by an angry former IT guy and it was some random thing that Jake can’t pronounce, but at least isn’t toxic.
While Jake discovers that managing a police station isn’t the same as running a summer camp, the rest of the cast spun through several minor life lessons. Gina freaked out about the possibility of dying and wrote up her will. Diaz made fun of Gina and did nothing to calm her down: “with anthrax, the last things you’ll see will be: doctor, blood, doctor, puss, scab, nothing.” Boyle tried to be Jake’s second-in-command (or as he would put it, his Tinker Bell) and celebrated when Jake lifted the precinct-wide ban on letting him say “succulent.” Hitchcock got locked on the balcony, and Scully tried to get people to pay attention to his plight. These weren’t as much plots as vignettes. The best bottle episodes manage to weave everything together, and here the conclusion comes abruptly: As soon as Jake turns on the authority, everyone drops their petty feuds. Too bad, a fuller dive into Gina’s living will would have made for a great tag.
In life outside the precinct, Holt and Terry monitor the situation from Terry’s house, or as his brother-in-law Zeke calls it “Tiny Terry’s Hobbit Hole.” Zeke’s gigantic (seriously, how did the casting directors find someone that large?), and Terry’s terrified of his bullying ways, but he eventually buys Zeke’s friendship by pretending that Holt’s a terrible boss and therefore earning some sympathy. Meanwhile, Holt provides Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s requisite, and typically on-point, amount of Andre Braugher being silly. In this episode, he tries to decode the emojis in Jake’s texts without having downloaded emojis on his own phone (“and then another box with a question mark…”) and bounces on Terry’s core-strengthening fitness ball. This plot, too, ends without major incident. When Terry reveals that he’s been telling Zeke that Holt’s a terrible boss, Holt happily plays along, and even agrees to make it seem as if he ate an entire pie: “Fine. Crumb me up.” Braugher and Crews prove, once again, that they can make pretty much anything into comedy.
Other open investigations:
–Amy’s boyfriend Teddy is becoming more insufferably hipster by the episode. This week, she reveals that she planned to take Thanksgiving off because he’s bottling his pilsner.
–Jake’s two options for entertainment are a surveillance video of Amy soliciting drugs with perfect grammar (“It’s not weird to say, ‘May I have some cocaine?'” she argues) and a bootleg copy of Something’s Gotta Give, which Diaz loves. Does Diaz have a thing for romantic comedies? Is she a big fan of Diane Keaton? Clearly, Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs to spend more time exploring her favorite movies. First question: Does she prefer Godfather Keaton or Annie Hall Keaton?
–Boyle insists on calling Thanksgiving “Turkey Day” in another callback to last year’s “Thanksgiving,” where Turkey Day was an item on Boyle bingo. It’s also a reminder of a time when Nine-Nine made Boyle play really broad, like butt-of-almost-every joke broad. Maybe it’s the “Single Ladies” dance, or maybe it’s his relationship with Gina, but Boyle’s gotten a little more dignity.
–Amy: “You need to man up.” Jake: “Man up? That’s sexist. I’m sorry, but I don’t see gender, sir.”
–Jake explains the situation to Captain Holt: “Hitchcock got trapped out on the balcony.” “Good, sounds like we dodged a bullet.”
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