Brooklyn Nine-Nine 5x14 "The Box"
I always say that choosing a favourite Brooklyn Nine-Nine character or relationship is as impossible as choosing a favourite child, because they’re all so, so well done, but I have a confession to make: if I have to pick, Jake and Holt are my favourite characters, and Jake and Holt’s father/son dynamic is my favourite relationship. (I already feel guilty for saying that. To everyone else: I LOVE YOU, TOO!)
Even with that admission taken into account, when I first saw that this episode would spend the entire half hour with Jake and Holt as they question a suspected murderer (played by guest star Sterling K Brown of This is Us), I wasn’t too sure what to think. On one hand, my two favourite characters facing off against my favourite actor from another show sounded incredible; on the other, how much comedy and plot could be wrung out of an episode that takes place almost solely in one room? Wouldn’t the absence of the other characters perhaps take away from the quality of the episode?
(For reference, there has been one previous episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine that featured only Jake and Holt from the main cast, and that was the Season 4 premiere. However, that episode was used to establish their life in the witness protection program in Florida, and was much broader in setting and in scope than this episode.)
Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. This episode is a fantastic character study on Jake and Holt, hits every single comedic beat, ramps up the tension in a way that is more fitting of a crime procedural than a sitcom, has tight writing and a satisfying conclusion, and features stellar acting from all three main characters. In fact, everything about this episode suggests that it was written with the intention of being nominated for several awards.
The episode begins with Jake “readying” the interrogation room (he turns up the heat, removes one of the feet of the chair so that it’s uneven, and pours orange soda over the table to make it sticky) while the suspect, a dentist by the name of Philip Davidson, enters the precinct. Jake is certain that Philip murdered his business partner, Robert, but doesn’t have the evidence needed to arrest him, so he plans on interrogating him until he confesses to the crime. After finding out Jake’s plan, Holt decides to skip an evening at the opera with his husband to take part in the interrogation, as that was the thing he misses most about being a detective.
What follows is a game of back-and-forth where the upper hand in the interrogation flips from Philip to Jake and back again, but what’s really front and centre here is the relationship between Jake and Holt: how much they trust and respect each other, how Holt’s decades on the force have lent him a wealth of experience Jake isn’t privy to yet, how Jake’s impulsiveness is tempered by Holt’s calm methodicalness, and how all Jake desperately seeks is his boss’s approval.
From the beginning, Jake’s own plans to break Philip go poorly. Philip quickly rebuffs Jake’s attempts to catch him in a lie by using a calendar Philip thought had been erased; Holt tells Jake that lying to Philip about having an eyewitness is, while legal, a bad idea because if the suspect calls the bluff the entire investigation could fall apart; and when Jake suggests getting angry in an attempt to scare Philip, Holt gently reminds him that Jake doesn’t do angry well: “You have a boyish face and a big, goofy grin. It’s like being yelled at by a children’s cereal mascot.”
While Holt’s own ideas don’t go much better (his smart cop/dumb cop scheme does result in Philip accidentally revealing that he knew the location where the body was dumped, but in trying to get Philip riled up about how dentists aren’t actually doctors, Holt ends up going on a rage about the etymology behind the word “doctor”), his warnings to Jake prove to be well-founded. Philip picks up on the tension between the two and quickly twists it to his own ends, flipping the encounter from an interrogation of himself to one of Holt and Jake. He calls into question how much Holt truly believes in Jake (or else he wouldn’t be skipping the opera to micromanage him) and observes that the only idea that was really Jake’s (screaming while playing guitar) was a poor one. “Your boss thinks you’re an idiot, that can’t feel good.”
This hits a sore spot with Jake (who is always seeking validation, most of all from his boss), and he quickly flies into a real rage; unfortunately, Philip doesn’t take Jake’s anger seriously and instead bursts out laughing, comparing him to a muppet. Even though Holt tries to convince Jake that he sees him as one of his best detectives and knows he isn’t an idiot — and he also knows that sometimes they don’t get the confession and have to let the criminal walk, something Jake still refuses to accept — Jake still feels like Holt doesn’t trust him as much as he should and wants to prove himself.
He decides to go through with his lying plan, which rapidly backfires when Philip says that the witness Jake claims saw him has been dead for three years. As Holt had predicted, this puts their entire investigation at risk as Philip’s lawyer informs them that they have to let her client go or they’ll file a harassment claim.
“Is this about your ego?” Holt asks Jake in a scene that’s the crux of the episode. “Are you that desperate for everyone to know how great you are?”
“It’s not about everyone, okay?” Jake replies. “It’s just — I wanted you to know.”
Here, Jake really is just a son desperate to try anything to get his father’s approval. It’s sweet and heartbreaking — after being abandoned by his father by such a young age, so many of Jake’s actions have revolved around him seeking love and attention from others that he’s never received from his father. It’s been beautiful to watch him accept Holt more and more into that role as the years go on, and for Holt to welcome Jake in turn as a sort of son (from Jake being embarrassed of accidentally calling Holt “Dad” in Season 1 to purposely calling him “Dad” in Season 4 to admitting to Kevin and Holt a couple of episodes ago that he wants them to be his dads; not to mention Jake tearing up when Holt tells him he’s proud of him).
This free admission of how badly he wants to prove himself to Holt feels like a step forward for Jake, but, more than that, it helps him solve the crime. Realizing that Philip, too, just wants people to know how great he is, Jake goes back into the interrogation room and tells Philip exactly how he committed the crime — knowingly attributing it to the wrong murder weapon and making sure to tell Philip just how lucky he was to pull off the murder, until Philip finally snaps and brags about exactly how he did it.
I loved this scene most of all, because while this episode reminded us of how impulsive Jake is, how childish, how foolish he can be, it also reminded us that he is still the best detective in the Nine-Nine. He figured it out when Holt couldn’t. He proved himself to his boss in the best way and prevented a criminal from walking. As Holt says three times at the end of the confession: “Oh, DAMN!”
The episode ends on a perfect note as Jake and Holt step outside the precinct into the light of day, both giddy from having successfully solved the case. The two share a giggle (question: Jake and Holt, or Samberg and Braugher?) before Holt tells Jake he’s proud of him, and the two head back inside to start the next day on the job.
Which is funnier: Holt spelling out his own last name over the phone to his husband, or Jake quickly muting his “OH DAAAAAAAAMN” when he realizes his boss is already on the phone? (Both moments were entirely true to the characters.)
Jake’s practiced notebook flip is even more adorable when you remember that Amy practiced the same trick back in Season 2 to impressive Detective Dave Majors, and Jake made fun of her for it.
Jake: “Pretty lucky that there weren’t any witnesses.”
Phillip: “It wasn’t lucky ...because there was nothing to witness.” This exchange happens four minutes into the episode and is the key to how Jake solves the whole thing, and Sterling K. Brown’s minute pause between “lucky” and “because” that is only noticeable upon rewatch is a thing of beauty. (Say it with me: Oh, damn!)
Jake spitballing Addam’s family-themed wedding vows is ridiculously adorable, and reminded me how ridiculously excited I am for his and Amy’s wedding episode.
I love every little reminder of the nerdy things Amy makes Jake do and how much he enjoys doing them with her.
Jake strumming the guitar and screaming was a brilliant callback to Season 1. This show has a strange relationship with continuity, so I really appreciate when it makes an effort to remember events that came before. Also, “Yeah, I really gotta stop trying that. It never works.” My favourite thing here is the implication that Jake has brought out the guitar not once, not twice, but any time an interrogation is going poorly.
“You’re going to spend the rest of your life in prison! Everyone who loves you will leave, and you will die alone!” Remember how Jake spent eight weeks in prison? Remember how before he met Amy, he was convinced he would die alone? Did you hear that quiver in Jake’s voice as he wished upon Philip his own greatest fear?
I was laughing so hard at Philip’s laughter outburst and comparison of Jake to a muppet that I almost missed Jake throwing a chair at the mirror and hitting himself in the face by accident. That entire sequence was pure cinematic beauty.
Jake’s tell is not being able to meet someone’s eyes when he’s lying, it was pretty obvious he was about to do something stupid when he said he was going to go clear his head.
Philip melted down the murder weapon and used it in a patient’s mouth, which is brilliant but also disgusting. Who’s going to tell the poor patient?
If anyone’s curious, the last time Friday was on the 22nd was in December 2017, meaning this crime took place a little over three months ago. (Possibly around the time Jake was stuck in a safe house with Kevin.)
I really cannot say enough to the quality of acting Andre Braugher, Andy Samberg, and Sterling K Brown all brought to the table this episode. They all brought their A game (special shoutout to Samberg’s delivery of Jake’s final monologue, and Brown’s increasing irate retorts until he finally snaps) and I deeply hope they’ll get some acknowledgement of it.
“He needed us to know how smart he was. Like someone else I know.” “Yep. Kevin.” I’ll let Marc Evan Jackson close this one out, because he said it best:
Brooklyn Nine-Nine airs Sundays at 8:30/7:30c on FOX.