Hi. Welcome to part two of my in-depth character analysis of the characters from Brooklyn Nine-nine. As I explained in last week’s blog, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of the few shows around that transcends stereotypes and manages to be hilarious while being unflinchingly progressive. A huge part of this is down to the depth and diversity of its seven lead characters.
This week we’ll focus on Captain Raymond Holt, played by Andre Braugher.
We start the first episode of season one with the team at the ninety-ninth precinct being introduced to their new precinct captain. Jake immediately makes a jackass out of himself, and so becomes Holt’s first “project.”
When he leaves the room, Gina immediately asks her co-workers if Holt gave them a slightly “gay vibe,” to which the others disagree. They have no reason to think the captain is gay – why would they? Unlike a huge swathe of homosexual sitcom men he wasn’t talking with a lisp, he didn’t mince through the precinct like a Liza Minelli backup dancer and his voice is a soothing baritone. It’s not until much later in the episode that Holt tells Jake that he’s gay and hasn’t been trying to hide it, and we are shown the little clues that were laced throughout the episode.
The point of this reveal, of course, is that it happens after we learn so much more about Holt – that his appointment as Commanding Officer is a huge deal to him, his record as a detective is exemplary (in 1981 he caught the Disco Strangler), and his sense of humour is so dry it is often mistaken for being non-existent.
His race and sexuality are only really brought up because it’s the reason that he was kept from his own command for so long – in the nineties he couldn’t progress past detective, and after the old-guard died out he was promoted to a public affairs unit. They made him a poster-boy and yes it helped recruitment, but it wasn’t what he wanted. They kept him pushing papers and trotted him out like a show pony, but kept the real street-level police work for the “real men.” He deserved his own command but didn’t get it, first because of racism and homophobia, and then later due to benevolent racism and homophobia.
I say “benevolent homophobia” for want of a better term, but the idea is similar to benevolent sexism and benevolent racism – the singling out of people due to their sexuality, no matter how well-intentioned, is still wrong. In this case it was putting Holt out there as an example of how the police department has changed, despite his own wishes. His sexuality is one factor of his being, and they were praising him to prove how open-minded they are without acknowledging that Holt has his own ambitions and is a complete person. By contrast, the TV show itself treats Holt’s sexuality the same as everyone else’s in the precinct, rather than constantly singling him out. The only time it’s really brought up as a taboo is when Holt is referencing his past experiences as a detective in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and when he mentions that his wedding had to be extremely fast because they didn’t know if marriage equality laws would be repealed.
Part of the reason that homophobia is rife in the media is because of heteronormative expectations of relationships. Simply put, when two people of the same gender become a couple, people often ask which one is the ‘man’ and which is the ‘woman.’ In other words, who is dominant and who is subservient, who works and who stays home, who wears the pants and who wears the skirt, who cooks and cleans and who sits on the couch with their hand in their pants. We automatically attempt to put people in these categories despite the fact that many hetero couples don’t even adhere to them. Part of the reason homophobia is rife is due to antiquated gender roles, the mindset that one person in a relationship is a man and the other is a woman, and so in a same-sex relationship a man has to debase himself by becoming more feminine or a woman has to pretend to be masculine. This notion is outdated and ridiculous for a number of reasons – Firstly, two men in a relationship are still men, two women in a relationship are still women, end of discussion. Secondly, it relies on the idea that to be feminine is shameful – let me set that straight for you, it’s not. Thirdly, it assumes that men are incapable of tackling domestic chores and child-rearing and that women aren’t suited to the workforce – this is bullshit.
How does all of that relate to Raymond Holt? Well, like every other character in the show we eventually meet his romantic interest – in this case his husband, Kevin. If we adhere to the strict and outdated gender roles above, we would assume that Kevin is the ‘sissy’ Nathan Lane to Holt’s relatively masculine Robin Williams.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with men being flamboyant and feminine, it has become such a huge trope in pop-culture that its absence is glaringly obvious. Kevin is introduced in the season one episode “The Party” where we learn that he heads the Classics department at Columbia University. He acts curtly toward the detectives and has been “needling poor Peralta so much, (he) practically made him a new suit!”
It’s revealed that Kevin is a well-educated man who is fiercely protective of his husband; he dislikes cops because of the discrimination that Ray had to put up with.
“Because he’s gay, Raymond has been put through hell by his colleagues, many of whom, quite frankly, look exactly like you,” he tells Jake.
Kevin and Raymond have a strong relationship, and their characters are well fleshed out given their respective screen time in the first two seasons. My point is, they’re not a stereotypical goofy “opposites attract” couple, and they aren’t carted out as an oddity. The story revolves around the cops at the nine-nine trying to impress Kevin because they care about Ray, there’s no awkward and clumsy “hetero trying not to offend the gays” moments that are also hugely common in pop culture.
They have a relationship of intellectual and humorous equals which goes through trials like any other marriage, as we see in a later episode when Ray neglects to tell Kevin that he was hurt while fending off some muggers.
Holt’s character development is successful because, like the rest of the cast, he has multiple aspects to his personality that the writers can build on. Obviously there’s his iconic deadpan demeanour and lack of emotional expression, but that’s just the superficial stuff. Determined to succeed in his new role, Holt does everything he can to make his squad more efficient. He does this by helping them overcome personal obstacles. He gets Terry back to working in the field, gives Gina more responsibility so she can learn how to handle it, and refuses to mentor Amy because making her work for his approval is far more effective. He also cares about his fellow police officers, starting a foundation to support black homosexual officers in the NYPD.
As with Rosa, the biggest changes we see in Holt occur in season two when the show really hits its stride. His competitive nature is introduced in season one, but this is the first time we see Holt engaged in something as petty as a feud. We are introduced to the NYPD’s deputy chief Madeline Wuntch (Kyra Sedwick). She first appears in the episode Chocolate Milk, when she’s sent to assess the precinct.
Holt and Wunch used to work together as partners, but as his career stalled and hers flourished the two became hostile. Holt is convinced that the feud began when he refused to sleep with Wuntch and she, in turn, refused to write a letter of recommendation to help him get a promotion. When Amy does some digging and finds the original letter of recommendation, she learns that the feud has gone far beyond the point of repair.
Wuntch: You thought I cost you that promotion because you’re gay? That’s what you’ve been mad about all these years?
Holt: It’s… one reason.
Wuntch: I don’t care that you rejected my advances. Your sexual identity is the one thing I respect about you.
Holt: Then what are you mad at?
Wuntch: I’m mad because you tried to get me thrown off the force.
Holt: Yeah, because you shot me.
Wuntch: I shot you because you weren’t in the proper position, you weren’t following procedure.
Holt: What about the time you destroyed my personnel file while I was undercover?
Wuntch: What if there’d been a mole?
Holt: You tried to make me disappear.
Wuntch: You embarrassed me in front of Derrek Jeter!
Holt: You embarrassed yourself in front of Derek Jeter!
Later, when Wuntch is about to leave she tells Holt that she’s going to give the precinct a failing grade. Amy asks Holt what he’s doing, and makes him realise that the precinct’s grade is far more important than his petty feud or his pride – if they fail the assessment they lose him as captain, and Amy needs Holt as her captain so she can learn enough to get her own command one day. Her unusual show of backbone shocks Holt into action. While Holt teaches those in his charge, they also teach him.
Hot’s feud with Wuntch becomes a battle of wits when he has to go to her for more funding in order to curb the outbreak of a new amphetamine, Giggle Pig. Holt intentionally makes a grammatical error on his paperwork which Wuntch uses as an excuse to dismiss his application, but Holt has already made an appointment to see her boss and go over her head due to such a petty dismissal. The meeting with the Chief Commissioner goes so well that they not only get their funding to update their narcotics field kits, but enough to run an entire task force. Holt is thrilled at this result, and at getting one over on Wuntch…
Terry: That was amazing! We got a task force!
Holt: More importantly, Wuntch got served. Oh my God… “Wuntch” sounds like “Lunch”! This opens up so many new avenues.
…until Wuntch reveals that she knew what he was doing the whole time, got him riled up so he’d oversell Giggle Pig, and now he’s running an expensive task force in a time of budget cuts.
While this meeting is happening, the rest of the nine-nine are hosting the “Jimmy Jab Games.” I won’t go into the specifics behind the tradition, but it ends with Amy finally winning something and Holt and Terry returning in time to catch her victory dance and find the precinct in a shambles. Rosa, fearless Rosa, is the only one to step forward and explain what is going on without any apology offered. Later, in his office, Holt confides in Terry that the meeting had been a disaster.
Holt: I need this task force to succeed and there’s not a detective here who’s adult enough to lead it. Peralta and Santiago were cowards, Diaz was disrespectful, and I just saw Hitchcock and Boyle fighting like children.
Terry: Sir, I know you think Rosa disrespected you, but I found her inspiring. She did what I should have done – stand up and tell you the truth.
Holt: And what truth is that?
Terry: First, everyone made this Wuntch/Lunch connection instantly. Second, Wuntch didn’t beat you!
Holt: She saddled me with this task force!
Terry: You think she’s consumed with pettiness? You’re no better! Yes, the taskforce is risky but it gives us a chance to do a lot of good in the community.
Holt then concedes that he’s been letting Wuntch distract him from the bigger picture. Still, when the task force succeeds a few episodes later, he can’t resist rubbing her face in it.
These occasional moments where Holt breaks his deadpan and shows some emotion are interesting insights to who he is beneath the administrative exterior. He’s a teacher and father-figure to his squad, a loving husband, and a diabolical strategic mastermind when he gets competitive (as Peralta learns in the second Halloween episode). He’s not above listening to the advice of his squad, because he is a flawed man who knows that even though he’s the boss he’s not always right.
And seriously folks, listening to him say “Giggle Pig” is hilarious. But, as I couldn’t find a video of that, here’s a montage of Holt’s fantastic Wunctch insults. Enjoy!