Everything’s been coming up Rosa lately, hasn’t it? It’s been a few episodes since she broke up with Marcus and subsequently broke down with Holt, and only a couple since Terry taught her a valuable lesson in compassion and forgiveness, despite a cavalcade of oopsies and screw-ups; after the season’s decidedly Rosa-light first half, she’s slowly regaining higher ground among the ensemble. “Into the Woods” showcased her vulnerability; “The Mattress” highlighted her past; “Ava” simply underscored that she’s bad as hell. “The Swedes” does each of these all at once by pairing her off with Jake on a case and reminding us all that they’re not only partners on the squad but real deal friends.
You wouldn’t know that, though, based on Rosa’s disposition. Thanks to the magic of dramatic reflexivity, Rosa and Jake wind up being forced to work with a duo of Swedish cops, Soren and Agneta (the perfectly matched Anders Holm and Riki Lindhome), who have traveled to New York City to pursue a jewel heist that’s made its impact felt across international boundaries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Soren and Agneta are so symbiotically connected as partners as to be cloying and disgusting to outsider eyes: They talk about how they sauna together, and she brags about his cycling activities while he praises her slam poetry. Naturally, this puts Rosa and Jake off their lunch, though Jake, being Jake, harbors deep-seated jealousy over their bond. He and Rosa sure aren’t like that. She doesn’t even know that he’s deathly allergic to bees.
So the big hook of “The Swedes” revolves around Jake’s innate need to be liked, Rosa’s fear of opening up to other humans, and culture clashes between snooty Swedes and rude Americans. But wait: There’s more. The A-plot is juicy on its own, but the Terry/Amy/Gina B-plot invokes the celebrity of Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the C-plot lets Joe Lo Truglio shift gears from being a creepy, strange, sad man to being a total squash monster. Lo Truglio has a lot of range as a comic actor, but he’s best known for his ability to evoke pity; where Andy Samberg is usually cast as the guy who spills his soup, Lo Truglio is cast as the guy whose lap the soup falls in. We’re programmed to feel bad for him. “No longer,” says Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Now, you may add “awesome fear” to the list of reactions he invites through his mere presence.
“The Swedes” is one of the best-rounded episodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine has output yet in its third season. None of the plots feel wasted. Even as Amy and Terry try to help Gina muster up the gumption to crack an astronomy textbook, the show is pushing ahead on previously introduced story threads while staying true to character. Amy being Amy and Terry being Terry, it makes total sense that they’d assert themselves in Gina’s educational aspirations. Amy is a major nerd. Terry is everybody’s biggest advocate, and, apparently, a major nerd himself. (“Terry killed it in college!” might be one of his best third-person one-liners yet.) This is ignoring his unexpected friendship with Tyson, whose cameo here is the stuff that all great cameos should be made of. (This is why the current Director of the Hayden Planetarium can outlift a former NFL linebacker thanks to physics.)
Meanwhile, putting Lo Truglio together with Andre Braugher is always a delight, especially in the setting of a high-pressure squash tournament; the latter’s gravity makes a nice surface for the former to bounce his twitchiness off of. (This is also why Brooklyn Nine-Nine exists: So Frank Pembleton can tell Vincenzo Cilli to “unleash the beast.” Also, seeing Lo Truglio smack Braugher on the butt as men do in athletic competition is incredible.) Bringing it all together, though, is Jake’s pursuit of Rosa’s emotional receptivity. Samberg and Stephanie Beatriz haven’t shared the driver’s seat of an A-plot with each other for quite a long time, and “The Swedes” serves their chemistry wonderfully, with Rosa’s defining toughness being undercut by Jake’s nearly childlike craving for validation.
He isn’t wrong for wanting to be closer with Rosa, though he’s clearly not interested in the uncomfortable proximity Soren has with Agneta. At the same time, his insistence on the matter, particularly when they’re investigating and sleuthing and getting covered in fish (which has the benefit of engaging Samberg’s considerable talents for screechy freak-outs), is inappropriate. If you know TV, you know that their escapades will end with Rosa easing up and letting Jake in, but the tug of war they play at until then is as compelling as it is hilarious. Those Swedes might be hoighty-toighty weirdos, sure, but they embody what Jake wants out of his friendship with Rosa, short of the literal hand-holding. (You also truly do not want to know what Soren keeps in his tupperware.) Then again, maybe drinking in silence with Rosa is preferable to being on the receiving end of her patented death stare.
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.