On Brooklyn Nine-Nine, ridiculousness comes in many flavors, but “Andy Samberg and Joe Lo Truglio take down the Latvian mob in their underpants” is an entirely new profile in the show’s comic repertoire. Granted, “Captain Latvia,” which is both Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s requisite holiday episode as well as the capper on its brief mid-season break (sorry, suckers, but see you in 2017!), neither lingers on that particular joke nor carries it out to its full and obvious conclusion, but for a few, glorious seconds, Jake and Boyle give serious consideration to busting in on a warehouse full of gangsters in their boxers, guns blazing, flies fluttering, and the idea alone is just goofy enough to make us giggle.
“Captain Latvia” is also a necessary window into Boyle’s soul. Everyone’s favorite uncomfortably awkward slash gross 9-9 detective hasn’t been given much prominence in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s recent episode hierarchy, which makes a degree of sense: Season Four’s early overarching plot scheme was shaped around Jake and Holt, and most of what’s transpired since has been devoted to wrapping up those loose ends bit by bit. Through the arrest of Figgis and the return of Pimento, though, Boyle has had young Nikolaj as a focal point for growth and development, and as we all hurtle toward Christmas, maybe it’s only appropriate for this year’s seasonally themed chapter to focus on a father’s bond with his son. Or a mother’s bond. Remember, we’re talking about Boyle here; he’s a man possessed of a surprising iron will and a casual ignorance of his own weirdness.
But the will is more noteworthy in “Captain Latvia.” We know Boyle has a way of being creepy, or gross, or both without ever picking up on it, and that’s as true of “Captain Latvia” as literally any number of more roundly Boyle-centric episodes in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s history. Do you recall his umami makeout sessions with Vivian way back in the show’s first season? No? That’s probably because you blocked them from your memory on purpose, using a combination of meditation techniques and a zeta-interacting protein regimen. These are the things that make Boyle, well, Boyle, but they belie the tremendous resolve housed within his diminutive, hirsute frame. If you threaten his kid, he’ll go full action-hero on your ass, spouting indelicate turns of phrase all the way.
Don’t worry: Nobody actually threatens Nikolaj in “Captain Latvia,” but rather his Christmas. See, Captain Latvia is an action figure from (surprise) Latvia, and it’s the present Boyle promised to get for young Nikolaj on his first Christmas, not just with Boyle and Genevieve (who gets in a handful of stealth-amazing jokes in her short time on screen), but in general. Turns out that Nikolaj never got to celebrate Christmas in Latvia, due to the orphanage cancelling—either on account of natural disasters, like fire and blizzards, or utter horrors, like dry rot and famine. The kid’s had it rough. But Boyle’s having it rougher. Captain Latvia figures are hard to get in the States, and Boyle keeps on getting stonewalled by the shipping company. As the traditional Brooklyn Nine-Nine pattern goes, Jake decides to intervene, first by offering to help Boyle track the toy down, then by unintentionally rousing Boyle’s inner parental strength and thus bringing out Boyle’s alpha side (which is just as fundamentally gross as his beta side).
Concurrent with the search for Captain Latvia is Holt’s desperate attempt to whip the 9-9 into singing shape to best the snotty (and extremely talented) MTA choir, a pack of golden throated dorks (burn courtesy of Gina, of course, though Terry’s “pasty-assed mole people” is the better burn of the two) readying themselves for the annual charity caroling competition. We know Holt is prone to pettiness when his pride is on the line, so it’s little surprise that he’s determined to win. It’s more of a surprise that he’d be willing to go into the drunk tank to fetch Patrick (Lance Barber), a man arrested for public intoxication (he peed on two snowmen and one real man) who happens to have the voice of an angel. You would think that this kind of strategy would be anathema to Holt, but he’s totally cool with it, and for that matter so is Amy, who would normally turn into a font of armpit sweat at the thought of testing ethical lines.
So we’ve got multiple people acting against their normal tendencies in “Captain Latvia,” though Boyle is motivated by something much more pure than Holt or Amy: He’s motivated by parenthood. If Season Three taught us anything about Boyle, it’s that he’s a perfectly suitable butt kicker should occasion demand (see: “Yippee Kayak”), and as soon as mention is made of A Good Day to Die Hard, we pretty much know exactly what to expect from “Captain Latvia”: Hard-Boyled supercop antics, but without the increasing disappointments of each entry in the franchise after the first. (Jake: “Trust me, it’s gonna be fine.” Boyle: “Really? But you said that about Die Hard 5, Jake!” Jake: “Oh. It’s not gonna be fine.”) But Brooklyn Nine-Nine is about teaching its characters lessons, so while Captain Latvia is the object, it’s not the mission. The mission is fatherhood, even though Boyle can’t keep fatherhood straight from motherhood.
Is it schmaltzy for “Captain Latvia” to circle back around to a dad’s anxieties about disappointing his son? Sure. But Brooklyn Nine-Nine is so gag-heavy that its punch lines mellow out the schmaltz of Jake telling Boyle, in essence, that the best gift he can give Nikolaj is himself, or of Boyle telling Jake he’ll be a dad someday, too (or poor Scully insisting that caroling is about family togetherness while everyone else ignores him). The results are just sweet enough to justify the silliness of Boyle using his musk to flirt with a Latvian nightclub manager, or Jake’s anxiety over his firmly inappropriate clubbing T-shirt, or Hitchcock’s insistence on backing up the 9-9 chorus by rapping, or Patrick dissing New York City and proclaiming his love for Hoboken, of all places. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Christmas couldn’t go any other way. God bless us, everyone.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He writes additional words for Movie Mezzanine, The Playlist, and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.