What happens when Jake Peralta’s breathtaking lack of propriety collides with Amy Santiago’s control freak neuroses? “The Road Trip,” perhaps the single best episode in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s entire second season. That’s high praise in light of “USPIS”, last week’s truly terrific offering, which represents a high point in the show’s sophomore slump. There’s no denying that Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s second go ‘round hasn’t quite lived up to its cardinal promise; the bad spots have been more numerous, and the good spots have rarely been great. But with “USPIS” and “The Road Trip,” the series is on the cusp of a winning streak leading into its mid-season break.
How good is “The Road Trip”? So good that picking a favorite plot is impossible, even though the whole installment follows the traditional “A plot/B plot/C plot” structure and the A plot is stacked. Eva Longoria is back and terrific, Kyle Bornheimer makes an appearance for the first time in what feels like forever, and there’s a great running gag involving creepy dolls that provides more nightmare fuel than Annabelle could ever hope to; couple that with a central emphasis on awkward humor, and the disintegration of Amy’s relationship with Teddy, and you’ve got the makings for some juicy drama. But then Boyle gets paired with Holt, while Gina and Terry deal with Diaz’s stubborn refusal to give in to her horrific cold, and suddenly Jake’s well-intentioned buffoonery loses our intrigue.
What happens upstate is probably more important for Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s overall progression, of course, than scrambled eggs and interrogation; Jake and Amy have danced around their feelings for each other ever since Undercover, and it’s nice to see the overarching narrative get back to them. On top of that, the romance deck is much more stacked now than before. Teddy has been a wrench in Jake’s designs ever since Tactical Village, but with Sophia in the mix we expect disaster to strike the foursome at dinner. It does—courtesy of either long-term planning or short duration runtime—but Japhia manage to make it through the experience unscathed. There isn’t much reason to doubt Jake’s sincerity. He’s clearly into Sophia, and why shouldn’t he be? She’s awesome, and Longoria remains an asset in Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s guest cast.
We’ll get back to Jake, Amy, and Sophia eventually, but for now it seems like Santiago is back to the single life. Holt, meanwhile, is celebrating his own matrimony by enlisting Boyle’s aid in preparing breakfast for Kevin. We don’t get to see Andre Braugher and Joe Lo Truglio team up all that often—usually Boyle is just a bystander in Jake’s encounters with Holt—but “The Road Trip” proves that Brooklyn Nine-Nine ought to match these two together more. Who knew that Holt would be so damn prickly about learning how to cook a meal? He’s such a fastidious type that watching him steamroll his way through Boyle’s instructions comes as kind of a shock. Boyle’s mortified reactions are absolutely amazing, hitting the exact levels of chagrin we’d expect. Seeing the shoe on the other foot with Holt is a treat, and the chance to watch these two actors riff off one another is even more so. Let’s do it again sometime, huh?
Finally, we’re left with Gina and Terry struggling with a bullheaded Diaz, who is bent on wringing a confession out of a perp, despite being a viscous font of mucus. Mostly, this is all about Stephanie Beatriz getting hopped on Dayquil and going nuts, which is a nice change of pace following her usual monosyllabic stoicism. For a task force leader, she’s not much for playing nicely with others, but Terr-bear teaches her a lesson in teamwork while Gina treats her like a vampire. (Gina is never one to regard the world around her with much gravity.) And that’s what makes “The Road Trip” so engrossing: the chance to see these characters battle against their own worst tendencies, whether it’s Diaz’s obstinacy, Holt’s impatience, or Amy’s perfectionism. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is all about the laughs for sure, but it’s also about growth and development, and “The Road Trip” brims over with all of these and more.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant and Movie Mezzanine. You can follow him on Twitter. Currently, he has given up on shaving.