[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 8, Episodes 1-2, “The Good Ones” and “The Lake House.”]
Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s return for its eighth and final season already had a lot of expectations heaped upon it — and then the summer of 2020 happened. The NBC comedy was one of the first shows to announce that it’d be making fundamental changes, all tied to the conversation around police reform in America following the death of George Floyd and ensuing Black Lives Matter protests. And the promise to examine what it means to be a cop in 2021 was immediately delivered upon in the season premiere.
The first two episodes, which aired back to back this Thursday, did minimal work to acknowledge the pandemic, beyond starting with a cold open gag about socially distanced high fives. Instead, things dove head-on into a pretty massive change to the status quo: Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) announcing that she was quitting the force.
It’s a change that seems likely to stick, and not just because Beatriz was very visibly vocal on this topic last year. But there’s always been room for civilians on B99 (we’ll never forget you, Gina Linetti) and Rosa’s new job should keep her in the midst of the action, as she’s now working as a private detective with a focus on cases involving police abuse. This new occupation leads her to work alongside Jake (Andy Samberg) on a case she’s taken, aiming to get the charges dismissed against a young woman falsely accused of assaulting an officer.
There aren’t really that many surprises to this storyline, as the cops were in fact revealed to be in the wrong, their commanding officer (another of the titular self-proclaimed “good ones”) backs them up, and the only victory Jake and Rosa manage to secure is getting the charges dropped against Rosa’s client. The core of it is Jake trying to navigate his relationship with Rosa, feeling like her decision to quit means that she’s judging him for staying a cop. (Which, to the show’s credit, is left somewhat unresolved — because a pat answer, or Rosa offering blanket forgiveness, wouldn’t work for this character, this show, or this world we live in.)
What’s so impactful about “The Good Ones” isn’t just how bluntly it acknowledges the truth of what goes on inside police precincts, but how the biggest reveal is an emotional one. When Amy (Melissa Fumero) convinces herself that her recent maternity leave has affected her close bond with Captain Holt (Andre Braugher), it takes until nearly the very end of the episode for her to learn that she does still know him well, and that he’s been hiding a secret: He and his husband Kevin (Marc Evan Jackson) have separated. Braugher delivers Holt’s confession with heartbreaking vulnerability on a whole new level for the character: “It’s been a tough year to be a black man and a police captain and a human,” he says, the Holt equivalent of screaming in agony in the middle of the street. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has never been afraid of raw emotion, but this was a whole other level for the series.
“The Lake House” is a far less heavy follow-up, by comparison, as the squad (including Rosa) go out to Holt’s house in the woods to do some birding/attempt to reunite Holt and Kevin, Parent Trap style. It’s an episode reminiscent of other “squad on vacation” installments, with the characters largely separated into their own disconnected storylines, and perhaps wraps things up a little too quickly, with Holt and Kevin at the end agreeing to go to couples’ counseling. But there also aren’t a lot of episodes left — only eight more before the series finale.
That said, this is still just the beginning of the season, and while it’s unlikely that the series finale will feature the complete abolishment of the NYPD, the newly introduced Frank O’Sullivan, head of the Patrolman’s Union, (John C. McGinley) makes for an obvious Big Bad for the squad to try to take down as the show progresses.
In the meantime, while there’s something uneasy about these two episodes, it’s important to appreciate the trust being put in the audience, to sit in that discomfort. There are no easy answers presented here, but given that there are no easy answers available for the issues being tackled, that feels right. Brooklyn Nine-Nine might not be comfort TV on the level of Parks and Recreation or The Office, but it’s more than once, in the past, done its best to rise to the extra difficulties of its premise — and succeeded.
Taking on the inherent corruption of the institution it’s fundamentally about is no small challenge, especially for a show that is still fundamentally a half-hour comedy. But watching the show do its best, just like its characters always try to do, is how it’s survived this long, and how it might thrive in its final episodes.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC
She also talks about establishing a dynamic between characters whose relationship takes place over the phone.
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