Brooklyn Nine-Nine has really been whiffing on its holiday episodes this season; first it was “Halloween II,” now it’s “Lockdown.” These episodes suffer from the exact same storytelling problems, both superficial and fundamental. Neither manage to outdo their predecessors from yesteryear, but in all honesty that’s not a huge issue—if either managed to just be solid in their own right, nobody would bother making unfavorable comparisons to their 2013 counterparts. No, the real dilemma here is that “Lockdown,” like “Halloween II,” stubbornly refuses to advance its story or develop its characters. Instead, the narrative spins its wheels for fifteen minutes, and only accords actual growth to the five leftover.
“Lockdown” isn’t a total waste, of course. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is nothing if not hilarious at all times, and that proves true even in its most aimless moments. Plus, everyone—everyone—gets to have a great one-liner at the very least here, whether it’s Diaz professing her love for Something’s Gotta Give, Santiago being too well-mannered for her own good, Boyle using the word “succulent” (inappropriately), or Gina freaking out about her imagined imminent demise. All of this spins out of the episode’s central contretemps, in which a box full of mysterious white powder is found on the premises and forces Jake—captain for the day with Holt out of the building—to try to keep the peace while everyone is stuck in quarantine on Turkey Day. (Thanks, Boyle!)
“Lockdown” has a strong set-up and great jokes at its fingertips, but it doesn’t have much direction, either. That leads to a whole lot of nothing, instead of growth among the show’s primary and secondary cast members; if anybody really learns anything here, it’s Jake, put in charge over Amy for reasons that the script treats as perfunctory. Of course she would be Holt’s first choice to run the place in Holt’s stead; she’s Amy Santiago, the one person in the Nine-Nine who has aspirations of leadership. But she cedes control to Jake because she has Thanksgiving (Turkey Day!) plans with Teddy, which is fine, except that “Lockdown” kinda forgets all about him once Jake’s management style leads to bedlam in the station. Instead, she just nags him, which is probably what she should be doing from the word “go” because she knows she would do a better job than him. (And we know it too.)
It’s important that, as Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s main protagonist, Jake be given opportunities to shine and step up. But “Lockdown” feels like a regression in terms of how it treats its supporting players (and even how it treats Jake). Jake isn’t a boss. He’s a detective. He’s more comfortable going undercover with the mob than running the ship, and more interested in being buds with just about everyone in the office, than being an authority figure. Seeing him take the reins in “Lockdown” is kind of odd, then; he acts like a clown while taking the job seriously. Jake’s methods are childish, but he sincerely believes that his approach will work. When it doesn’t, it’s Santiago who has to push him to realize that life isn’t all fun and games. It’s a fine idea on paper, and it’s not exactly lethal in practice, either, but this doesn’t feel like Peralta, and that sets the tone for the entire episode. These characters—the heart and soul of Brooklyn Nine-Nine—feel like shadows of themselves.
Holt and Terry get out of this conundrum by being out of the department, and their moments are the best “Lockdown” offers. In another show, Terry wouldn’t be up front with Holt about fibbing behind his back to Zeke, and we would be expected to laugh about it. But in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, men like Terry Crews and Andre Braugher can be totally, emotionally honest with each other in a way that’s both funny and sweet. Holt does what only a true friend would do, by helping shoulder the burden of Jefford’s insecurities toward his brother-in-law. “Crumb me up,” he says with his usual stoicism; it’s a remarkable moment. If the rest of “Lockdown” hit the same balance of warmth and humor, it might have been the best episode of the season to date.
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.