Even though I’ve been watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine since the beginning, I hadn’t realized that the Halloween episode was a special event. It’s a smart tie-in for FOX, since “Halloween, Part III” aired right after The Simpsons’ latest installment of “Treehouse of Horror.” But I’d spent a whole year forgetting that specific things happen on Halloween at the Nine-Nine, and my short memory diminished what was still a really funny episode.
One of the things “Halloween, Part III” did well was get rid of one of its cross-season running gags in the cold open. Boyle, whose memory is better than mine, is savvy enough this year to leave his costume at home and avoid the inevitable ridicule, but he arrives to find everyone else in costume. They pull a reverse-psychology move, send him running for the Elvis costume he has stashed in the car, and taunt him when he returns. The other detectives’ costumes are great visual jokes – Hitchcock and Scully are dressed as mustard and mustard – but they sail by too fast to pick them all up on the first viewing. Surprisingly, Captain Holt gets in the best one-liner, and it’s nice to see him let in on a prank.
Holt steals the show from Boyle in the cold open, and the rest of the episode continues to let Andre Braugher be sillier than usual. The other recurring feature of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine Halloween episode is a battle between Holt and Peralta to prove which is the king of the precinct. This year, the heist involves a plastic crown sealed in a briefcase and locked inside the interrogation room, and the game begins with a schoolyard pick.
That turns into a great setup for drama beyond the heist itself, because neither Holt nor Peralta wants Santiago on their team. Her growing frustration, and her attempts to ingratiate herself with both, generate a series of funny character moments and let Melissa Fumero gleefully overplay Santiago’s foot-stomping indignance. It’s clear from early in the episode that Santiago aims to sabotage the heist, but it’s not clear how until the crown goes missing. Then, a light bulb goes on, and the viewer sees what she’s done. We’re just far enough ahead of Holt and Peralta that their cluelessness looks like a blind spot rather than foolishness, so the whole scheme works.
There are lots of great fake-outs along the way, too. The most adorable is an appearance by Jeffords’ twin daughters, Cagney and Lacey, who fit into a hilariously well-timed plot to distract Peralta. Jeffords himself has less to do, but the rest of the team get their moments. Boyle and Gina share a cute subplot that meanders in several unexpected directions and doesn’t go for the boring and unpleasant resolution of getting them back together. Diaz delivers the best visual joke of the episode (it involves a knife). This year, the heist is about the whole cast, not just Holt and Peralta, and that keeps the concept fresh.
A few jokes fall flat. Hitchcock and Scully get a little too much screen time and keep bringing up foot fungus. A running gag with Peralta and Holt talking to Santiago’s chest is a rare moment of casual sexism on a show that’s usually above that. But the final scene, in which Amy receives her crown and both Holt and Peralta admit that she is an “amazing detective slash genius,” feels like a game-changer. It’s an acknowledgment that Peralta and Holt are permanently on the same side now, but that other conflicts will develop during the season.
The difference between Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Halloween episodes and “Treehouse of Horror” is that Brooklyn Nine-Nine mixes season-spanning jokes into current relationships and tensions. Watching all three Halloween episodes in a row would be an unsatisfying mini-marathon, because they tell a similar story but don’t go together at all. That’s a sign of Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s sophistication, though. It has so many balls in the air that it can’t produce a true stand-alone episode. It can produce a hilarious and satisfying attempt, though, as it did this week.
Image courtesy of FOX
Sarah Rasher is, among other things, a freelance writer based in Chicago. You can read her writing at the Friendly Atheist and Graphic Policy as well as on her own blog, Sarah Explains the Finer Sports.