For those possessed of overly active imaginations, the very title of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s latest episode may send their minds a-reeling: “Skyfire Cycle.” It’s an awesome name, sure, but it’s also deliciously enigmatic. What is a “skyfire cycle,” pray tell? What could it be? Is it a covert government project in which the precinct becomes entangled by hilarious coincidence? Is it a top-secret, high-profile case being handled only by the most prominent detectives on the NYPD’s payroll? There are less flattering alternatives here, of course. Being set in Brooklyn, the show could easily take a detour through a douche-y hipster SoulCycle class, where Jake goes undercover to expose an illegal juice cleansing ring.
The truth of “Skyfire Cycle” is not as cool as options one and two, and much cooler than option three: It’s a book series that you’d better not compare to A Song of Ice and Fire in Terry’s presence, because he will yell at you if you do. (Naturally, someone compares one to the other, and naturally that someone is Boyle, and naturally Terry just about bites his head off.) As it happens, Terry is a big fantasy nerd, especially when it comes to the Skyfire Cycle, his one escape from his loneliness back in the day when he was just a chubby kid with no friends; Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn’t the kind of show to lean on an emotional bruise like that, but damned if we don’t feel an immense sadness lurking in Terry’s proclamation of his love for these books.
But that’s beside the point. Sort of. The author of the Skyfire Cycle, D.C. Parlov (played to perfection by Fred Melamed), is in town and has received threatening notes, thus drawing the attention of the police; on hearing that his childhood hero is around and in need of protection, Terry freaks out and starts sweating waterfalls from his armpits, while Jake, ready as always to be a pal for the purpose of padding his ego, convinces the officers on the 9-5 to let him guard Parlov with Terry. Simple, obviously. Off in the margins, Holt and Kevin (oh, hello, Marc Evan Jackson!) are having a tiff that’s become a row, which quickly escalates into a scene, over the Monty Hall problem, and so they enlist the help of Amy and Rosa to determine who has the right answer; meanwhile, Boyle and Gina square off to decide where the annual Boyle family vacation will be held. (“Aruba or Iowa?” doesn’t seem like much of a contest, but remember: It’s the Boyles.)
“Skyfire Cycle” is pretty much just meat and potatoes Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which isn’t at all a bad thing. But we’re away from the Jimmy Figgis ordeal, we’re out of Florida, and Pimento is back in town, so even though the gang is still stuck on the night shift, things have more or less settled back down to normal. After last week’s “Mr. Santiago,” some normalcy, or what passes for normalcy in the 9-9, is welcome, especially when it involves Terry being abashed over getting to meet his idol, Rosa solving the real dispute behind Holt’s and Kevin’s Monty Hall squabble before Amy, and Gina turning into the very thing she loathes by fighting against it. There’s a surplus of greatness in “Skyfire Cycle,” but of the low-key kind.
There’s also a real cleverness to the way each plotline makes thematic echoes through the others: Terry’s central anxiety over the introduction to his hero, and his initial resistance to the idea, mirrors Holt’s own refusal to admit that he and Kevin just need to bone, which has a strange resonance with Gina’s defeat in the face of her victory over Boyle. All she wants is to go to Aruba instead of Iowa, because who wouldn’t, and at the end she gets what she wants. She also proves that she’s a Boyle whether she likes it or not, and thus is to be buried with the Boyles in a single grave. (Apparently.) Sometimes winning an argument isn’t everything, especially if it means being interred in beige for all eternity. Sometimes winning an argument isn’t anything at all, especially when you just need to get laid.
And sometimes your heroes aren’t who you thought they were, though of the three lessons, it’s the second that “Skyfire Cycle” squeezes the most laughs out of. Andre Braugher’s comic prowess is undeniable, and has been so since Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s first season, but he’s never gyrated in the doorway of Holt’s office while screaming “BONE!” at top volume before, so consider this the moment he breaks new ground in the art of splitting sides. (Stephanie Beatriz earns the night’s runner-up moment when Rosa ruins Amy’s image of her two dads boss and his husband forever: “See, what happened is, your dads had sex.”) Almost as fun is learning what a dork Terry is. Just don’t call him a dork. The guy has a prop sword so heavy that Jake can’t carry it without toppling over. (Terry might insist that he got emotionally healthy after making it through boyhood, but he did indeed also get jacked.)
If there’s anything wrong with “Skyfire Cycle,” it’s that we’ve seen Jake talk up Terry before, and we’ve seen Gina and Boyle snipe at each other like step siblings before. This is the definition of nitpicking—there’s no rule against TV shows pulling repeat team-ups among its cast members, and in the case of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, we’ve seen those repeat team-ups enough times that they feel like they’re part of the routine. You know where an episode is going when it puts Gina in league with Boyle, or Terry with Jake, or Holt with Amy and Rosa. “Skyfire Cycle” is no different than “Chocolate Milk,” or “The Pontiac Bandit Returns,” except that, again, it features Holt in full bone mode (and later, Parlov, who we catch in the middle of a foursome with three young cosplaying women). Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s quality is of a consistent standard. It’s the individual jokes that make each chapter stand out, and sometimes, a man just has to get his bone on.
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.