“Absolutely. It’s hilarious.” And after a brief hiatus following one storytelling stumble, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is back in fighting shape, just like that.
There are two primary differences between this week’s episode, “The Mole,” and October’s overreaching seasonal joint, “Halloween II”: one, “The Mole” is successful at developing characters and constructing jokes. Two, Andre Braugher is the star here, rather than the supporting figure behind Andy Samberg’s usual displays of clownish bravado. Braugher usually plays a role in whatever shenanigans Jake Peralta gets in to from one installment to the next, so in many ways, “The Mole” is just business as usual for him. He walks into frame, delivers one-liners like a dashing, impeccably manicured robot, and steals a scene before the show’s focus shifts elsewhere.
But oh, “The Mole.” Where most episodes would be content to give that bar scene to Samberg, “The Mole” instead passes it on to Braugher. The ensuing monologue may be Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s most quintessentially “Braugher” beat to date, an absolutely mesmeric dance between its comedic side and its dramatic side. Every lament that Captain Holt makes while sidled up to the counter, libation set before him, is a miraculous blend of Braugher’s sensibilities as both a real thespian and as a dude with a major silly streak. (He is funnier than Dan Bakkedahl’s germophobic Internal Affairs stooge.) He’s worried, and we feel it in every syllable he enunciates with outstanding comic gravity.
He should be worried, too, because Wuntsch is still lurking around, waiting for the right moment to strike when he’s vulnerable. Turns out that all rumors of Kyra Sedgwick’s guest stint on Brooklyn Nine-Nine lasting just two episodes were false. That’s a bonus for us all, though once “The Mole” ends, any predictions as to the number of times she’ll reappear this season will inevitably turn out murky. Maybe she’ll be in one more episode. Maybe two. Maybe she’ll be in all of them, but that’s supremely unlikely. The point is that Holt has Wuntsch right where he wants her: on the receiving end of a name pun he’s clearly had loaded in the chamber for years. Talk about waiting for the right moment.
“The Mole” keeps Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s gears going, and that’s no backhanded compliment, either. The series is juggling a number of different balls at present, from Jake’s pursuit of Amy, to lingering concerns about his undercover operation, to the Nine-Nine’s departmental efficacy, to Holt’s new task force, to Diaz’s new role on Holt’s task force, to Gina’s and Boyle’s torrid love affair. “The Mole” manages to address pretty much all but one of these, without taxing itself too heavily, and while hitting the punchline sweet spot at the same time, and fostering its character arcs, too. Even Boyle and Jeffords, two of the most inconsequential players in the installment, come out feeling like they’ve progressed.
There’s a lot to laugh about here—Samberg’s climactic “whaaaaaaaa” and Terry’s headphone check in the silent disco in particular, but Melissa Fumero’s line-read of her texting history with Gina is probably the funniest non-Braugher moment “The Mole” has to offer. Since Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s premiere, we’ve known that Braugher is its secret weapon; now we have proof that he’s one of its essential building blocks. But more than that, “The Mole” reminds us of just how good the show can be when it puts one of its supporting troupe members on center stage, and lets Samberg sit in the passenger seat. (Unless he’s spilling powdered donuts on the dash).
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant and Movie Mezzanine. You can follow him on Twitter. Currently, he has given up on shaving.