A review of this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Ding Dong,” coming up just as soon as I’m a Korean toilet ghost…
It’s strange to think that, prior to “Ding Dong,” Kyra Sedgwick only played Madeline Wuntch about a dozen times over the run of this series. That’s how strong an impression she made in the role, and how memorable it was to see Captain Holt reduced to childish pettiness whenever his nemesis appeared. And in hindsight, Wuntch can sometimes feel narratively present even when she’s literally absent; she hadn’t appeared previously in this season, yet the fact that she ordered Holt’s temporary demotion made it feel like she was always lurking around a corner, cackling the like the wicked witch Holt believed her to be.
As the title suggests, “Ding Dong” kills off said wicked witch, allowing Sedgwick to appear a few times in video messages she recorded prior to her death. This is a big deal for the once and future captain, who goes through a fun-house mirror of Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ “five stages of grief” over the course of the episode. There’s denial, as he has to see the body in a casket to accept that Wuntch didn’t fake her demise. In place of anger, there is celebration, which involves the hilarious spectacle of Andre Braugher shouting “Bagel! Bagel!” over and over as he tosses baked goods to his fellow officers. Bargaining presents itself as Holt letting Rosa (who is amused by his unrelenting mockery of the deceased) and Amy (going through wild mood swings and hot flashes[*] as a result of her fertility hormones) talk him out of delivering a career-killing funeral roast. In lieu of depression, there is betrayal, as Holt takes great offense at funeral guest Adam (MadTV alum and frequent Nine-Nine director Michael McDonald) claiming that he, not Holt, was Wuntch’s true nemesis. And after Holt outmaneuvers both Adam and the late Wuntch, Halloween heist-style, by revealing that the entire funeral was staged with improv actors doing it “for the exposure,” there is genuine acceptance, both of Wuntch’s death and the huge role she played in Holt’s NYPD career. Braugher spends most of the episode playing for laughs, but it’s a nice and earned moment when the real eulogy at the real funeral turns out to be a sincere one.
[*] Amy’s sweat problems allows the season’s most blatant attempt yet to hide Melissa Fumero’s latest pregnancy, as she has to change into church choir robes after sweating through her regular clothes.
The B-story, with Charles and Terry competing to see whose children Jake will take to the premiere of Kwazy Kupcakes: The Movie is awfully thin, in that the resolution — Jake decides to take all three of Nikolaj, Cagney, and Lacey, while leaving their fathers at home — seems obvious from the jump. But the gamesmanship and slapstick between the two rival dads is still pretty funny, whether it’s Terry bending a coin in half with his bare hands or Boyle taking out the much bigger Terry in the boxing ring by using his grandmother’s signature move, “the strawberry basket” (a.k.a. a dick-punch). Also, it’s something of a shame that they did this subplot in an episode where Holt was otherwise occupied, given that his addiction to the game that inspired the film was one of his most memorable early stories in the series.
Finally, the episode’s last scene has Amy telling Jake that she’s finally pregnant. Because of the running gag with her hormone treatments, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming entirely out of left field, and Fumero and Andy Samberg play the moment beautifully. Still, I wish the show had held the big news for at least one more episode, if not longer. I know that everything has to happen faster in a 13-episode season. But what made last week’s “Trying” so potent — and inspired a lot of couples who have struggled with fertility issues to thank the show for doing it — was how plainly it acknowledged that conception can be a struggle for a lot of people. Having that struggle end in literally the very next episode undercuts that message a bit, even though “Trying” took place over a period of six months for our heroes. Even inserting one extra episode between the two scenes would have significantly reduced the feeling that it ultimately wasn’t that hard for Amy and Jake to solve this problem.