After last week’s heavily contrasting serious episode/fun episode pairing, this week Brooklyn Nine-Nine finds itself settling into a comfortable middle ground between the serious and the funny. This week’s pair of episodes doesn’t dive into anything too heavy, but the first episode of the night, “Blue Flu”, does give us a further glimpse at the newly strained relationship between the NYPD, the citizens of New York, and the powerful police union that is trying to prevent any sort of police accountability from being held.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has had a long history of excellent recurring villains, from the silly (The Vulture), to the diabolical (Madeline Wunch), to the outright sinister (Commissioner Kelly). In “Blue Flu”, Police Union head Frank O’Sullivan is back from last week’s “The Good Ones”, and it looks like he’s being set up as the recurring villain of Nine-Nine’s final season.
O’Sullivan is an over-the-top, almost cartoonish individual. He believes in an NYPD that doesn’t exist, one that is made up of nothing but good, upstanding individuals that are beyond reproach. He believes that the police are constantly under “attack”, whether it’s a clearly faked incident of a mouse put inside a burrito or Holt questioning the honesty of the officer in question. The whole thing would be funny—if not for the fact that you can find people like him every night on TV, depending on where you watch your evening news. In short, he’s an excellent foil for the detectives at the Nine-Nine and a perfect villain for Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s final season.
“Blue Flu” is centered around the uniformed officers of the Nine-Nine going on strike after an officer claims to have found a dead mouse in a burrito he ordered and O’Sullivan claims that the officer in question was deliberately targeted for being a cop, with the “Blue Flu” in question referring to all of the officers claiming to have mono and providing doctor’s notes to prove it since they’re not officially allowed to go on strike. Holt refuses to believe that the officer’s story is credible, given that he didn’t provide his real name and nobody at the restaurant in question knew he was a cop until after he picked up the order, so he orders the Nine-Nine to dig into the story rather than give in to O’Sullivan’s demands.
All of the individual storylines this episode center around the “Blue Flu”: Jake and Boyle are sent out to investigate the doctor that all the officers got a medical exemption from, Amy and Terry are put in charge of trying to manage policing in the precinct without any uniformed officers, and Holt hires Rosa on to investigate the officer in question and find proof that he faked the incident with the mouse.
First off, in the Jake and Boyle storyline, the pair head over to the doctor that all the striking officers had visited before getting their “doctor’s note” in hopes of quickly nailing down that he was knowingly giving them false notes. But, as it turns out, the doctor isn’t just giving out the notes—he’s sending them all in for bloodwork, and when Boyle goes in to try and get a note despite having immunity to mono to prove the doctor’s guilt, the doctor instead finds a worrying infection which sends Boyle into a spiral of anxiety and regret, convinced that he has cancer and will be dying soon.
Meanwhile, back at the precinct, Amy and Terry are trying to make do without any uniformed officers. But, when they ask around at other precincts to borrow detectives, every precinct winds up sending them their equivalent of Hitchcock and Scully, which only winds up leaving Amy and Terry further in over their heads and forces them to turn to Scully to try and find a way to get them motivated to actually work the necessary patrols. Plus, Terry is dealing with a stomach bug, which winds up accidentally getting him into a meeting of the striking officers, only for the noise of his stomach to cover up any incriminating evidence he might have gotten to prove the uniforms aren’t actually sick.
All three of these storylines lead to a reconvening at Shaw’s where Holt is downing a bottle of vintage wine—one that he notes he had been saving until he had reached his goal of becoming commissioner of the NYPD. Holt is quickly turning out to be the most interesting character in Nine-Nine’s final season; we already know that the year has taken a toll on both him and his marriage, and “Blue Flu” peels back an additional layer of what’s been going through his mind with him opening up about feeling like he’s accomplished nothing in his career to improve the NYPD and that the department will never change. I’m still hoping we get a glimpse into the couples therapy he agreed to start attending with Kevin at the end of last week’s “The Lake House“, but it certainly feels like Holt is starting to question his life and career with the NYPD in a way that could lead to something big as we get closer to the end of the show. But for now, thanks to a misunderstanding of Boyle’s advice, Holt finally arrives at a solution to end the strike.
In the climax of “Blue Flu”, Holt has one final meeting with O’Sullivan. But instead of giving in to O’Sullivan’s demands, Holt—incorrectly following Boyles’ advice and “focusing on what [they] didn’t do”—instead presents O’ Sullivan with a discovery: fewer officers on the streets has led to fewer bad arrests, fewer complaints against officers, fewer cases being thrown out for insufficient evidence, and that rates of major and violent crime stayed the same. Most importantly, as Holt notes, “we didn’t make the community less safe.”
As Holt notes further, the Blue Flu has inadvertently made the Nine-Nine a case study in how a police force can work better with fewer police—and that if this is anything to go off of, he might wind up laying off some of the uniformed cops. The strike comes to an end, but Holt holds onto this idea of reform by use of fewer officers, announcing that they’re going to take what they’ve learned and use it to change the way the NYPD operates, and the following episode “Balancing” features Amy giving a presentation of this idea to the higher-ups at the NYPD. I’m curious to see how it plays out—Nine-Nine has never been afraid to give its characters defeats and setbacks, so this attempt at police reform could just as easily wind up being exposed as being naively optimistic instead of a tangible solution.
“Blue Flu” is very much a “middle of the road” type episode, not leaning heavily towards one side or another. It’s a very funny half-hour of television—Boyle’s breakdown/midlife crisis is some of the best stuff he’s had all season—but it still centers around the big issue of the power police unions hold in preventing accountability for uniformed officers. Additionally, it sets up another big storyline in Holt’s attempt at police reform by making use of fewer uniformed officers—one that will almost certainly lead to a future showdown with O’Sullivan and the police union.