Where’s the line between lazy referentialism and delightful homage? It’s somewhere in the script of “Windbreaker City,” the latest sequel installment in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s second season; nearly the entire episode is built on nods to Die Hard, but it makes so many of them at such a rapid clip that the effect conveys enthusiasm rather than lack of imagination. Like last year’s “Tactical Village,” “Windbreaker City” puts the team in a simulated law enforcement scenario, testing their mettle in the field with what adds up to a glorified game of paintball. Also like “Tactical Village,” Peralta manages to buck the rules and screw things up for everybody, but that could almost go without saying.
And along the way our plucky hero turns the exercise into a constant stream of riffs on John McTiernan’s best, coming full circle in the last few minutes when Jake returns a box of Sophia’s stuff to her. Yes, we’re still dealing with that, but given how much Japhia have played into Brooklyn Nine-Nine since becoming a thing back in November, the need for final catharsis feels appropriate; “Windbreaker City” is all about Jake processing and releasing his feelings, so much so that it may as well have just been called “Cathart Hard.” Jake is still super bummed after the break-up, and the Nine-Nine have been pulled in last minute to participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s counter-terrorist drills. Naturally, Terry and Boyle see the exercise as an opportunity for Jake to work out his feelings or, barring that, take a day off from looking at his text messages.
The plan succeeds, mostly because the team winds up getting stuck playing the hostages, while everyone else gets to do the fun stuff. Jake, of course, takes umbrage with this, and if you’ve seen Die Hard even once, you can kind of guess where “Windbreaker City” goes from there. Back at the precinct, meanwhile, Holt and Gina get some one-on-one time so that she can perform a personality test on him for one of her classes; when they score the same result, Holt acts very un-Holt like, and tries to take Gina down a peg.
Normally someone gets the shaft in any given episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but not here; “Windbreaker City” gives everyone something valuable or hilarious to do, even Scully and Hitchcock, who together walk away with some of the best one-liners of the whole shebang. Amy pairs off with Rosa in a kill count contest (such as it is) to determine who gets to take Saturday off; Jake goes on a rampage with Boyle while Terry tries at first to convince them to just play the roles they’re assigned, and later joins them in their ass-kicking. Maybe we’re past the point where Jake’s infantile prankster personality is an acceptable asset in the detective world, but damned if watching the group knee slide and roll into combat with guns blazing isn’t just a ton of fun.
No one here does any actual police work, mind, but for all of its frivolity, “Windbreaker City” reminds us that these people are cops. It’s easy to forget that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is, at its heart, a sitcom about New York’s finest. Blame it on the shenanigans. Nobody in their right mind would fund a squad that’s as focused on mischief and antics as much as these people are; just watch Super Troopers for proof of that. And yet, through all the capers we see these characters enact week in and week out, they’re all highly trained and extremely gifted at their jobs. Sure, fine, in the end Jake loses the game when he walks face-first into Nick Kroll’s duct tape trick, but even in defeat there’s something gratifying about watching the cast make a mess of things and show up the rest of the agencies involved in the fracas.
“Windbreaker City” is a terrific diversion. Sometimes, that’s all an episode needs to be; fun, energetic, nicely shot, and absolutely hilarious. Everyone gets to be who they’re supposed to be, whether it’s Peralta cajoling everyone into taking his ill-advised lead, Boyle acting creepy in ways that only Boyle can, Terry going ham over a perceived slight on his physique, Amy doing her power poses, or Rosa playing with her cards close to the vest. Very little happens here in terms of plot progression or character development, but when the results are this much of a hoot, does the rest really matter?
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. Currently he has given up on shaving.