This week’s cold open is pretty depressing. The Vulture is still in charge of the Nine-Nine, and the detectives are almost fatally demoralized. And that’s the point: The Vulture is telling jokes that make himself laugh and everyone else cringe, including the viewers. “The Oolong Slayer” gets funnier from there, but it establishes its purpose up front – it’s a hilarious half-hour about stress, anxiety, and depression.
And it is hilarious, once it moves on from that intentional bummer of an opening scene. The jokes gain momentum as the detectives dig themselves out of their miserable situations, which seems to be intentional too. Toward the beginning of the episode, when Jake secretly meets with Holt in the men’s room so they can catch a serial killer, the cramped quarters and some well-executed bird calls make the setting inherently funny, but there are few laugh-out-loud lines. (To the show’s credit, it makes no jokes about being trapped in a bathroom stall with a gay man. It’s above that, as it always has been.) Halfway through, when Gina profiles the killer and explains, “I’m taking an abnormal psych class, and everyone in it is obsessed with me,” it looks like we’re getting somewhere. By the end, when Jake admits that Holt has gotten him addicted to port, it feels like everyone’s sense of humor is back to normal.
It’s a great way to bring the show back to equilibrium. We’ve waited exactly long enough to bring Holt and Gina back into the office. Jake is the one who makes it happen, and he does it by exercising all of his best qualities: his tireless persistence, his investigative instincts, and his immunity to embarrassment. Add in a crowning moment of humility, and Jake ends this episode looking like a hero. I’m not sure Brooklyn Nine-Nine has ever taken its protagonist this seriously. I wouldn’t want the show to do this every week, but it’s a refreshing reminder that Jake is a better detective than the lead characters on most “real” cop shows.
With the exception of Terry, who’s mostly the butt of an expanding sight gag, everyone is at their best this week. At first, it appears that Terry has adjusted to the Vulture more than anyone else, but Boyle accidentally gets him addicted to fancy fair-trade sweets. Terry Crews has fun playing half of the episode in a fat suit, but he gains the weight too fast for the joke to really land. As usual, I’m happiest when Boyle is at least somewhat in touch with the rest of humanity, and the show satisfied me there, giving him the chance to step in with a compassionate and mature solution.
My favorite part of the episode, however, is the C plot, in which the Vulture forces Diaz and Santiago to plan his birthday party. When the Vulture informs them that women love planning parties (“It’s in the Bible.”) the looks on both women’s faces are priceless. Their slow path toward revenge is a reminder that the characters are a great detective team, and that the actresses are a great comedy team. In an episode full of heartfelt lines that stay true to the characters, they get the best exchange:
DIAZ: Next time I want to hurt someone, I’m going straight to you.
SANTIAGO: Aw, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.
“The Oolong Slayer” brings more nods of recognition, like this one, than giant laughs, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine needed an earnest moment. Otherwise, the changes at the end of this episode wouldn’t have felt earned. It’s not the first episode I would show to someone if I were trying to get them hooked on the series, but for dedicated fans, this one’s a real gift.
Image courtesy of FOX
Sarah Rasher is, among other things, a freelance writer based in Chicago. You can read her writing at the Friendly Atheist and Graphic Policy as well as on her own blog, Sarah Explains the Finer Sports.