The worst episode so far of the final season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (which it feels at this point can accurately be called a disappointment), “Game of Boyles,” centers the extremely unusual extended Boyle family, a joke that worked best when it had Chelsea Peretti’s withering glare to counter its extreme affability, and hasn’t really since she left. Is the final season really not going to include another heist? No sign of the Vulture? And yet here we’ve gotten another adventure for the over-emotional Boyle clan, and not even one that really feels like it has anything interesting to say thematically (like last week’s au revoir for Doug Judy). It feels more like a script that didn’t make it through the writers’ room in a previous season, pulled out of the bottom drawer and dusted off for this one.
“Game of Boyles” opens by showing Boyle cousins hugging, saying good morning, and preparing for Pappy Boyle’s birthday party. Then the one-handed patriarch drops dead, mid-hug. Boyle doesn’t take it well, turning suspect line-ups into emotional breakdowns. He convinces Terry and Jake to come to the funeral. Terry needs a break from his kids and Jake needs a break from his suspension, which he has mostly spent playing Animal Crossing (a lot of people under pandemic lockdowns last year can relate).
Meanwhile, Holt and Kevin are still deep enough into therapy that the captain is still bunking with Rosa. Amy suggests a “Grand Romantic Gesture,” but Rosa counters with the suggestion that Holt start dating. Yes, even the B-plot here feels thin, as if someone wrote on a whiteboard “Holt in the dating pool” a few years ago and just got around to it. Andre Braugher makes some of it work, because he always does, but the Holt/Kevin subplot also deserved better this episode.
At Pappy’s Farm, Boyle reveals that the family legacy is tied to a rat-like creature called a nutria (or a coypu), which is a real, slightly terrifying thing that looks like a monster from C.H.U.D. Wikipedia explains that they’re also semiaquatic and considered an “invasive species.” Destructive, swimming, giant rats! Boyle says they’re great pets and you can milk them! No thanks.
Boyle family hugs ensue, followed by the news that they can’t find Pappy’s will! He wanted to leave the farm to the Council of Cousins, but it will go to the black sheep of the family if they can’t find the papers. Jake, naturally, suspects a crime — he’s bored and desperate to find a case. Will this episode be the inverse of the last? In that chapter, Jake’s instincts let him down, leading to the harassment of an innocent man. It was an interesting subversion of the “cop who bumbles into solving a case” narrative of comedy copaganda, and it feels at first like this episode is about to take that back, even if it is only on Pappy’s farm.
Boyle is practicing his eulogy (“You don’t hug with your hands, you hug with your heart … and your groin”) when Jake reveals that he believes Pappy Boyle was murdered. His impression of Daniel Craig’s accent from Knives Out is kind of amazingly bad, but the point remains that Jake’s instincts may have been right here. Did the black sheep kill the patriarch to get his hands on the nutria farm? “A man has been poisoned, his will is missing, and there’s only one man who stands to profit: Lyndon Boyle.”
Jake sets up an interrogation room with a rocking chair, a sweater, and weak tea. Lyndon (Gregg Binkley) realizes he’s being treated like a criminal, leading to a flashback of scalp massages and happy Boyles. Charles is convinced; Jake is not. The quirky Boyle family interrogations and flashbacks are a little too thin on the humor front — “an H.J.” to the Boyles means “Head Job,” for example — and even the case lacks in the entertainment department. It all just drags.
Jake suggests that Pappy told Lyndon that he would be cut out of the will, to which Lyndon says he didn’t want the farm, but Jake thinks he gave himself away by not saying “I love you” — every Boyle says I love you. It turns out that Lyndon and Pappy had fought over a Zoom gone bad and the cousin went to get the “Grandmother Dough” from the barn — a sourdough starter that can’t be opened by anyone other than “The One True Boyle.” It’s like Excalibur but for Boyles, and also gross. Jake finds a hair belonging to the murderer near the nutria poison, which leads to DNA analysis of the entire Boyle clan (done via nose hair for Lyndon). Jake gets the DNA results back quickly and discovers that Charles Boyle isn’t a Boyle! Dun dun dun.
Things aren’t going significantly better over in the other storyline, where Holt is encouraged through online dating by Rosa. He decides on a date with “Hot Todd” despite his objectionable name for an adult. He sets up a date with his “bad boy” (two minutes late!) and the writers make the choice of having Holt’s first date be from Rosa and Amy’s perspective across the bar. Sigh. It goes better than they think it’s going from afar. After all, Todd is wearing loafers. Gasp.
Jake calls Charles’s dad and talks for five hours before learning that Charles’s mom had an affair, and he may in fact not be a Boyle. He looks so much like the other Boyles because of their bizarre cuddling pattern when Boyles are babies, kind of like how they grow square watermelons. Jake struggles with keeping the secret for Charles while Terry follows Lyndon, crawling into Muffin, the dead pet nutria, which leads Jake to solve the case. Muffin killed Pappy! She ate the poison and then Pappy drank her milk. The truly bland ending to the case circles back to the episode’s true drama about Charles possibly not being a Boyle. Gasp!
After the commercial break, Boyle has been traumatized. He wants to give up on everything, including the eulogy. Quick twist! Sam Boyle is the one who wanted the DNA evidence, jealous that he wasn’t doing the eulogy. But he did suspect that Charles wasn’t a real Boyle, and hid the will so it would come out. He’s just normal from “snout to anus.” (That joke three times this episode? Really?) But Jake and Terry later convince Charles to open the Grandmother Dough, revealing that he is the one true Boyle.
Back in Brooklyn, Holt realizes that he cares so much about “winning” in his relationship with Kevin that he’s lost everything. He thinks it’s over. People don’t run to each other in the rain. But they do! Kevin comes running to him. A friend saw Holt’s dating profile. “You will never lose me. I’ll do anything to keep you,” says Holt. And Kevin kisses him. It’s a nice Nancy Meyers moment, and the highlight of “Game of Boyles.” Too bad it didn’t come in a better episode.
• “Time flies when God pulls down his pants and takes a dump on your life.”
• Despite the writing here being so consistently mediocre, much credit to Joe Lo Truglio for pushing through it and finding some funny beats. He’s always good.
• In the end, it wasn’t so much a reclaiming of Jake’s instincts as much as, well, nothing really. Yes, Pappy was poisoned, but it wasn’t a Knives Out situation as much as a distinctly Boyle oddity involving nutria milk, a jealous cousin, and DNA tests. Sure, making Jake back into a supercop might have been odd after last week, but it also might have been more satisfying. At the very least it might have been funnier.