It’s amazing, isn’t it, how Brooklyn Nine-Nine can so seamlessly shift narrative gears from one episode to the next? After the gang took a break from busting crooks, following up on leads, or doing anything remotely resembling police work last week in “Fancy Brugdom,” they’re back—well, most of them, at least—to acting like they’re cops with “Unsolvable,” which means that all of the heartfelt, character-oriented goodness that’s come to define the series’ overarching quality gets pushed aside in favor of hilarity in law enforcement for most of the episode.
And that’s okay: even when Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t let its cast members bond outside of the office, it’s still totally devoted to them and the ideal of character through action. Of course Gina would give up her wolf blanket just to win back the sanctity of Babylon, the secret bathroom she and Rosa decide to share with an increasingly stressed-out Boyle, from the interloping Hitchcock and Scully; of course Terry realizes that Jake’s growing obsession with the job is a veil for his growing obsession with Amy. There’s nothing wrong with deploying these plot points outside the precinct, but it’s important to remember that we’re dealing with dedicated professionals whose work and personal lives often (and conveniently) intertwine.
“Unsolvable” derives its title from the A-plot, in which Jake decides that the best way to utilize his current hot streak is to try and crack a cold case from nearly a decade past. He cajoles Terry into helping him out, using his standby tactic of issuing goofy appeals to the sergeant’s just side—it turns out Terry wants to put the incident in question to rest, too. And so their misadventures in investigative procedures begin, with Jake acting like his usual clowny self (until the episode’s final minutes demand he act like a cop, as usual) and Terry trying to suss out what’s really eating at Jake. It’s an arc that pays off nicely as “Unsolvable” comes to an end (if, that is, you’re like me and you’ve wanted to watch Crews and Samberg drunkenly dance to “Whatta Man”).
While all of this is happening, Rosa and a reluctant Gina come to Boyle’s aid as he continues to muddle through the Ottawa conundrum by letting him use the aforementioned lavatory. Amy, on the other hand, gets paired off with Holt yet again as she tries to get out of a commitment she blindly made to him so that she can have a romantic Berkshires weekend with Teddy. Holt steals “Unsolvable” in the opening scrawl with one of Braugher’s best line deliveries yet, but the real treasure here is how he and Fumero manage to vary their interactions just enough that they never feel stale; her dishonesty makes for a welcome turn in their teacher’s pet/teacher dynamic.
Maybe more essential to continuity is Boyle’s latest intersection with Rosa; as with last week’s “Fancy Brugdom,” “Unsolvable” doesn’t at all touch on the climactic revelation of “Tactical Village,” which isn’t necessarily an omission so much as a back-burner conversation topic. It’d be something of a shame to see Boyle and Vivian break up because he’s still carrying a torch for Rosa, which is why Ottawa matters so much and why Brooklyn Nine-Nine has to give Beatriz and Lo Truglio opportunities to interact over things other than unrequited love. (Like mutual shock over Scully and Hitchcock doing real detective work over something as inconsequential as lavender soap.)
If anything, it’s becoming more apparent that Jake’s going to be at the root of any imminent relationship woes between Amy and Teddy. Samberg’s pining provides “Unsolvable” with its emotional capstone, following twenty minutes of comic gold (from angry unicorns, to Terry’s taunting musculature, to murdering for love). But all of this just underscores the series’ driving throughline: the badge means something on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but not as much as the person wearing it.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film and TV on the web since 2009. You can follow him on Twitter.