“Baby steps, Captain.”
This is Jake Peralta’s closing line of “The Tagger,” Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s second episode. Perhaps it is too wishful to think that the writers included this as a self-referential nod to the series’ progression, but it is nonetheless a fitting description.
To open “The Tagger,” Capt. Holt, despite being too old for this shit, informs Detective Peralta that they will be sharing a squad car until Peralta stops cutting corners in his police work. Their first assignment is to track a vandal who has been tagging police vehicles with enormous, pink-spray paint penises. As was established in the first episode, very little screentime is committed to the stakeout, and, in fact, the hoodlum begins tagging their undercover minivan almost immediately after Peralta finishes explaining how man-sandals complete his disguise.
Holt apprehends the suspect, and Peralta brings him in for questioning. After a series of snot-nosed remarks in which he fabricates a name and claims to be a 610-year-old Highlander, Peralta eventually discovers that his prints are on file and establishes his true identity, thus saving him from trial as an adult in a Highlander court and subsequent beheading.
Unfortunately for Holt and Peralta, the penis painting perpetrator turns out to be the son of the deputy commissioner, which leaves Peralta in a sticky, damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t predicament. Peralta’s misfortune plays to the audience’s benefit, though, as it provides Holt’s first significant teaching moment in his mission to civilize Peralta. The commanding officer recommends that Peralta make the arrest, but places the decision firmly in his hands, thereby forcing Peralta’s slow ascent to accountability and professionalism.
When the deputy commissioner comes to acquire his son, Peralta initially believes the decision has been taken out of his hands, and he will not have to make a choice. His nagging desire to appease and earn the respect of his captain, however, leads to Peralta making the arrest alongside Holt. Together, they provoke the deputy commissioner and create the series’ first long-term conflict, which is a welcome addition to a series whose pilot seemed to suggest exclusively single-episode plots, romances aside.
Elsewhere in the office, Detectives Diaz, Santiago and Boyle quickly execute a drug bust with the help of Gina’s psychic friend, Carlene, who also sells discount footwear. Gina also uses Carlene to further convince Boyle he has no shot with Diaz, and, despite Diaz’s numerous attempts to refute Carlene’s future vision, Boyle remains resigned to his gloomy fate. This story arc allows for the graduation of Diaz from cartoon to a real person as she shows a softer side in coaxing Boyle to ask her out.
What “The Tagger” lacked in legitimate laugh-out-loud humor—there were certainly laughs, just not enough—it made up for in rounding the pilot’s caricatures into genuine and more interesting people. The series hasn’t hit its stride just yet, but it’s getting there, one baby step at a time.