It’s definitely feeling like the middle of a season. Just like Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s first episode of the night “Blue Flu”, “Balancing” finds itself in a comfortable middle ground between the funny and the real. But instead of a singular, central conflict driving its plot forward, S8E4 instead places its focus on the relationships between its characters and the new stresses that come with the changes happening in their lives.
The “balancing” in question is Jake and Amy facing the age-old struggle of working parents: finding a balance between taking care of a baby without sacrificing their careers. There isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking in terms of plot here. Jake finds out that a serial killer he’s been chasing for years is at it again, while Amy has a presentation to make for Holt’s reform program to try and get funding, and of course there’s an outbreak of lice at their regular daycare leaving them scrambling to find childcare for Mac. It’s a rundown of most of the cliches found in work/parenting stories of this nature: none of their usual babysitters are available, any available parents and siblings are out of town, the only people who answer their ad for a babysitter are weirdos, and their attempt at having Scully keep an eye on Mac falls apart when he winds up having to go to the emergency room.
Eventually one of them has to give, and it winds up being Jake, recognizing the importance of Amy’s presentation of the police reform program. “Balancing” doesn’t shine in exploring any particularly groundbreaking or difficult territory like we saw in the season premiere, but instead by showcasing the excellent chemistry and relationships between its characters—and benchmarking how much we have watched them grow from the outset of the series. Jake is in full-on “classic Jake” mode here, filled with a childlike sense of glee at every absurd twist and development in the case. But where an earlier season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine would have found him right in the center of the action, here we find him on the sidelines and instead having to hear about much of what’s happening through Boyle, who winds up taking lead on the case. But the ending, which finds him having to take a rain check on listening to how Boyle and a S.W.A.T. team had to track their target into a series of underground tunnels so that he can take care of Mac, is a reminder of just how much he has grown since the beginning of Nine-Nine, and the joy we see on his face as he watches Mac pull himself upright for the first time almost feels like foreshadowing of a future where we could see Jake leaving the Nine-Nine to be a stay-at-home dad—a far cry not only from who he was when we first met him, but from his own family’s history of fathers putting their careers ahead of parenting.
On the other side of things, despite every obstacle that gets thrown her way, Amy—with Terry’s help—winds up successfully making her presentation and securing funding for the pilot program. Melissa Fumero continues to be a standout of Nine-Nine’s final season, with Amy feeling more and more hilariously overwound with each passing episode. Her exasperated “Oh, grow up!” in response to Jake shouting that they’re not giving their baby to a serial killer is hands down the funniest line of “Balancing”—for context, Jake and Boyle had just discovered that the serial killer they had been chasing had somehow managed to bug the precinct, leading them to discover that he was one of the potential babysitters that Jake and Amy had interviewed in their hunt to find someone to watch Mac.
Meanwhile, in the B plot of “Balancing”, Holt has wound up temporarily staying with a new roommate: Rosa. Couples therapy with Kevin isn’t progressing as quickly as he’d like, and Rosa is more than happy to let him stay with her since he’s “the perfect roommate”. The problem is, Holt still has a lot on his mind about both his marriage and these therapy sessions, so he winds up being much more talkative than Rosa remembers him being—and very quickly getting on her nerves. But after taking Rosa’s advice on a possible solution to get Kevin off of his mind (i.e. getting very drunk), he and Rosa wind up having to sneak into Kevin’s office to delete a very…unprofessional photo that Holt wound up sending to Kevin. Holt and Rosa are a pairing that we don’t normally get to see, and while they don’t get a lot of time on screen they do an excellent job with the time they’re given. It does lead to another small step of growth towards reconciliation between the two as they’re able to start building back some communication, but I can’t help but be disappointed that so far we haven’t gotten to be a part of these therapy sessions—and from what we’ve heard so far, the therapy sessions seem to be dedicated to old disagreements and petty fighting between the couple, rather than getting into the heart of why Holt wound up going into a self-professed “survival mode” over the course of the previous year. Hopefully we can get a chance to dig into this before too long.
At the end of the night, Jake and Amy talk things out, and come to the realization that while they might not both be able to have it all on their own, they can definitely make things work if they do it together. It’s a heartwarming note to end the night on—and another sign towards where I think Jake’s character arc is going to wind up taking him as the show winds down. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is definitely settling into a rhythm as the final season rolls on, and while “Balancing” doesn’t give us much in the way of big steps forward, things like the pilot program moving forward and Jake’s personal growth are important pieces of groundwork being laid as we move towards the end.