Add vinegar to baking soda and you’ll get a chemical volcano. Mix baking soda into buttermilk batter and you’ll turn out a heap of tasty pancakes. But if you introduce displaced police officers from the 9-8 precinct to the tight knit crew of the 9-9, you’ll get nothing short of combustive mayhem that’s akin to dumping gasoline on a tire fire. If we know anything about the lads and lasses of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s titular department, it’s that they don’t cotton well to newness: just last week, Boyle fussed over body cams, and at the start of the season everybody struggled to acclimate to the (brief) rule of Captain Dozerman (may he rest in peace). The members of the 9-9 are creatures of habit and routine. They are not fond of adjusting.
So you kind of know that “The 9-8” is going to end in altercations and animosity, though watching the set turn into a riff on Blazing Saddles remains nothing short of an acrimonious delight. It is the perfect payoff to an episode that builds pent up frustrations across each of its plot lines, though really the A/B/C structure is mostly boiled down to A and B; as Terry, Rosa, Amy, Gina, Scully, and Hitchcock begrudgingly accommodate their 9-8 brethren, Boyle digs deep to endure Jake’s reunion with Stevie “Chillin’” Shillens (Damon Wayans, Jr.), his former partner from his beat cop days. Very little comes between Boyle and Jake in their roles as partners and best buds—Jake puts up with all manner of unabashed Boyle weirdness in both capacities, while Boyle acts as a cheerleader to Jake’s narcissism and as a confidant for his insecurities—but a friend from back in the day? That’s just too much for Boyle to handle.
“The 9-8” is an episode defined by prickliness. Everybody is pissed off, even Holt, though Holt, of course, is too darn stoic to show it. Gina is pretty much the only person here having a good time (because any time where Gina can make a guy sit in the corner and deny him eye contact privileges is a good time), but it has long been established that Gina is either a) unflappable, b) a total loony tune, or c) both at the same time. If Terry can’t maintain order and Holt can’t preserve his characteristic poise and dignity, though, what hope is there that the rest of the folks in the 9-9 can keep up civility? Maybe the better question is “why should they?” The 9-8 isn’t interested in comportment at all. They’re sloppy. They’re rude. They’re inconsiderate and invasive. One guy brings his dog with him as a service animal, citing “foot pain” as justification; the pooch sets off Amy’s allergies. Rosa’s deskmate, Ellen, is a habitual gabber and lacks anything resembling a filter; this, naturally, puts Rosa immediately on edge (though frankly the speed at which Amy arrives at potential canicide is more terrifying by far).
Through it all, Holt tries to play along and be a good role model, but we know that veneer of decorum will come crashing down eventually. It must! This is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and these are not obliging, tolerant people (or, at least, they are not obliging and tolerant of interlopers). Most importantly, though, there is Boyle, Holt’s mirror image in the A-plot, which makes perhaps the best use of any celebrity guest seen this season on the series outside of Craig Robinson (plus Katey Sagal). Maybe Andy Samberg is the type of performer who can vibe with anyone; maybe Damon Wayans, Jr. is the type of performer who can vibe with anyone. They both have an easygoing charisma, filtered through their individual personalities, that blends especially well in their attempts at affecting coolness: the brief musical cues taken here make Jake and Stevie look awesome in past tense, but sound considerably dorky in the present.
That doesn’t stop a jealous Boyle from trying to one-up Jake’s erstwhile partnership (with zero success, natch), but this just raises an essential question: why shouldn’t Boyle be jealous? Boyle can’t find pants that are short enough to fit him properly. Stevie, meanwhile, looks like Damon Wayans f’ing Jr., and instantly reconnects with Jake after not seeing him for years. Boyle has always been one of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s most empathetic characters in all his shamelessly awkward glory, and in “The 9-8” we are perhaps more on his side than we’ve ever been, even if we know by virtue of Wayans’ guest status how this arc is going to resolve itself (though you may not guess that that resolution involves Toni Braxton). But traces of formula don’t make “The 9-8”’s conclusion, in which the bonds between friends and peers are made even stronger through social friction, any less satisfying (or any less hilarious).
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has contributed to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.