Let’s get the bad news about both halves of “The Fugitive” out of the way: For a two-parter, it feels remarkably incohesive, part one being bent only around the pursuit of a nonet of escaped convicts, part two being bent around the search for the final missing criminal, plus Terry’s aging woes, plus Boyle’s destructive texting habits. You’d think that after rallying to track down crooks at large, the gang would stick together finding the one remaining jailbird, especially since he’s a triple murderer. Instead, only Jake Peralta is kept on the case, sort of how Sparta would answer calls for martial aid from neighboring kingdoms by sending a lone Spartan, except that Jake isn’t a Spartan, and even that lone Spartan was accompanied by thousands of other soldiers. (The Spartans loved to self-mythologize about their own badassery, but they weren’t morons.)
Anyways, the point is that you don’t send your best detective, or your best slacker detective, to catch a killer all by themselves, though in fairness Captain Holt doesn’t let that happen. Spoiler alert: He joins with Jake to bring the bad guy to justice. Double spoiler alert: Doug Judy tags along for the ride, because at this point Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn’t Brooklyn Nine-Nine without a seasonal guest spot for Craig Robinson. So “bad news” is entirely relative, because “The Fugitive” is still wonderful even if the shift from the “all hands on deck” tone of “The Fugitive Part 1” to the stock three-plot narrative of “The Fugitive Part 2” strikes as puzzling at best, and deflating at worst. Dropping major story threads will do that to a show.
Let’s start with the basics. “The Fugitive” begins with an action beat that briefly makes us feel like we’re watching a legit cop show sporting elements of comedy, rather than the other way around: A prisoner transport van races through the streets, crashes, and is emptied of its cargo, all while Marshawn Lynch, playing himself, obliviously saunters about his day, unaware of the chaos courtesy of both his headphones and his dismay at finding that the Mexican takeout place he bought his burrito from forgot his pico de gallo. From there, the 9-9- steps in, organizing a full-scale manhunt, which gives Jake an instant movie referencing boner. (If you can’t guess just based on the title of the episodes: He references The Fugitive.) Everything else falls into place from there, with Jake and Amy racing against one another to see who can snag the most felons.
That requires a bit of explaining. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has put increasing emphasis on Jake and Amy’s relationship, and in “The Fugitive,” the subject of their domesticity is broached in the form of a bet: He or she who brings in the greater number of convicts wins, and the loser must vacate their apartment and move in with the winner. This is classic Jake, or maybe it’s just classic Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but either way you can guess, based on the episode’s line-up of jokes, who is going to end up changing their living situation. (Jake has only one towel, and it’s gray, and he isn’t sure if it was originally gray or not because he isn’t the one who bought it, it was there when he first settled into the apartment, and it doesn’t catch fire because it never fully dries, and oh man he is just a raunchy human being. You get the picture.)
Maybe that’s the dividing line that keeps “The Fugitive” feeling like a whole. Chapter one is all about Jake and Amy (or, to dredge up the old underused portmanteau, “Jamy”). Chapter two is a Doug Judy episode. Neither of these things are bad, and in fact they’re both pretty great. They just don’t gel as a whole, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t a dealbreaker when the jokes are as on point as they are across “The Fugitive”s entirety. Boyle, who teams with Amy during the initial manhunt, absolutely will not stop talking about her ovulation cycle. Terry is a painter in his spare time. (This doesn’t sound all that comical on paper, but it’s hilarious in practice.) Rosa’s reaction face to hearing that Marshawn Lynch is one of their primary witnesses is gold. Holt has a pocket map of the globe just in case he needs to prove a point. Scully and Hitchcock save the day by ordering a cookie pizza. (Lynch, meanwhile, plays off his ineffable Lynch-ness, spouting so many bizarre non-sequiturs that it’s tempting to guess that he went off-script and improvised his lines. He would cry over a wedding proposal video, wouldn’t he?)
Once you get into the Doug Judy segment of “The Fugitive,” the quality of the writing evens out, but all is made hilarious by Robinson’s chemistry with Andy Samberg. (And Robinson himself is just a naturally funny man.) Turns out that the last rogue on the lam is Doug’s foster brother, thus Doug’s involvement. Watching Jake and Doug get their buddy cop on is fun to the point of catharsis: For as long as they’ve been sparring with each other (four times over four years, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that long), they’ve also bonded, and while there’s nothing not fun about seeing Doug take advantage of Jake’s neurotic need for approval, there’s also something honest about the way that these two vibe. Hell, they even cook up an impromptu theme song for their partnership. You don’t make that kind of magic happen without trying.
There’s plenty else to love about “The Fugitive” aside from Doug and Jake, of course. Holt gets to be the stuffy authoritarian to Doug’s smooth talker and Jake’s class clown, Terry gets to act like the grumpy old man he knows he is in his heart, and Boyle, well, he Boyles everything up the way that he always does, whether it’s texting or interfering with Amy and Jake’s romance by getting way too excited about her fertility. (Gina and Rosa are given surprisingly little to do, and the same goes for Amy, which is kind of a bummer as far as the apartment bet goes. At least the show gives Jake the floor to acknowledge that she’s awesome, even if the show doesn’t make that acknowledgment itself.) As with most lesser Brooklyn Nine-Nine episodes, any Brooklyn Nine-Nine is good Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Funny though they may be, neither installment of “The Fugitive” ultimately compliments the other, and the lack of narrative unity suggests that the series would have done better by reshaping them as standalone episodes.
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.