What gift should you buy for the Diehard-obsessed NYPD detective who has everything? How about this: don’t buy him a gift at all, just let him wander into a real-life Diehard situation so that he can live out his John McClane fantasy. By the time “Yippie Kayak” ends, you half-expect someone (probably Boyle) involved in the episode’s central arc to reveal that they staged the whole “cops and robbers” fiasco for the sole purpose of Jake’s delight.
But Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a show that doesn’t like cheating its audience, so when Jake, Boyle, and Gina wind up trapped in a department store as a gang of criminals make to clean the place out, it’s 100% for real. That’s a good thing. As workplace comedies go, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a habit of skirting around portraying the job in favor of exploring its characters’ personal lives (though that often takes place against the backdrop of the precinct); maybe it’s a budget thing, maybe it’s a time allotment thing, but police work tends to play second fiddle to developing relationships between cast members. Season three has de-emphasized the former somewhat in comparison to its predecessors, but at the same time, we’ve seen casework more routinely blended with the latter. (See: “The Swedes,” “The Mattress,” “Boyle’s Hunch.”)
This is especially true of “Yippie Kayak,” though by the time the episode resolves itself, the plot scales tip slightly more in favor of “casework” than “relationships.” And to think, none of this might have happened if Jake was better at gift giving. In fairness to our favorite goofball investigator, he’s heavily focused on getting the perfect present for Amy, and as priorities go, she really should be number one. She’s so much his priority, though, that he forgets to get something for his best buddy, and if we know anything about Charles Boyle it’s that he has a delicate disposition. Jake not getting him a gift on Christmas would destroy him (or, in Boyle’s own words, eviscerate him, which sounds a good deal worse). So Jake endeavors to snag a last-minute gift for Boyle, enlisting Gina to help run interference.
Naturally, his plan goes off without a hitch totally does not work at all. Boyle gets wind of Jake’s shopping plans and decides to tag along, operating under the false belief that Jake is really trying to find a present for Amy. This is a classic Jake/Boyle set-up: Jake might be a cad and, occasionally, a crummy friend, but he cares too much about Boyle to cut him down with the truth, thus enabling misinformed comic hijinks to ensue. Why doesn’t Jake ever just stay honest with Boyle? For one there would be no show. For another, it would seriously damage their friendship, though for all the effort Jake puts into covering up his mistakes and oversights from Boyle, you’d think he could spare just a little energy for getting it right the first time around.
No matter. Jake is rewarded for his fib with a stick-up in a mall after hours, with no one at his back other than Boyle and Gina. He’s giddy, naturally; it’s common knowledge that Die Hard is his favorite movie ever, and so the trio organize to fight the bad guys with common household items purloined from around the store. (The “quietly gearing up” sequence, set Onyx’s “Slam,” might be season three’s most hilarious moment to date.) And to up the ante of seeing his dream come true, the rest of the 99 are tied up with other matters: Terry is at home celebrating the holiday with his family, and has given strict orders to not be bothered on his time off, if not because he loves his wife and kids then because he just has no stomach for his obnoxious brother-in-law’s snide remarks. Meanwhile, Holt and Rosa are taking the Polar Swim, which Amy is desperate to join them, if only to prove that she isn’t a wimp. Nobody ever calls her a wimp, mind, and frankly she’s probably eager to make up for her accidental bomb scare in “Yippie Kayak”s cold open. All the same, these are distractions that make the Die Hard plot all the more dire.
You might get the sense that Brooklyn Nine-Nine pushes Terry, Amy, Holt and Rosa to the side just to focus on the Jake/Gina/Boyle stuff. You wouldn’t be totally wrong, but what makes “Yippie Kayak” so substantively great is how all of these threads intertwine. “Yippie Kayak” is about teamwork and professional bonds. Jake knows he shouldn’t call Terry, but he knows that if he doesn’t, he’s toast; Terry knows that he’s invoking the wrath of Sharon and the contempt of Zeke, but he also knows that he has a responsibility to the 99 (and besides, Zeke is a layabout, and even if Terry is tiny next to him, we all know who the bigger badass is). Amy, who finally checks her text messages after chickening out of taking an icy dip with Holt and Rosa, gets all the motivation she needs to overcome her unspoken wimpiness when she finds out that Jake is in danger. And Jake, Boyle and Gina each have the others’ backs, though Gina might want to tone down her flamethrower fixation ever so slightly.
?The results pop by playing with and against expectations. Boyle, not Jake, saves the day by taking on the McClane role; he gets to knock out the scar-faced leader of the robber troupe and blurt out Bruce Willis’ famous catchphrase, mangling it in the process, while Jake saves face by proving that he would put himself in harm’s way to protect his friend. Amy acts tough and shows her compassionate side in the process. Terry, a dutiful father, husband, and sergeant in equal measure, pops off his deferential lid to give Zeke a proper tongue-lashing and stuff The Vulture, who shows up at the mall with ESU in tow, into a trash can. “Yippie Kayak” could have just been a lark and an excuse to finally bring Jake’s love of Die Hard into the plot by making it the plot, but, as befits the holiday theme, the episode adds up to much more than a simple movie riff by making great use of its ensemble and bringing them all together.
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.