A review of this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Valloweaster,” coming up just as soon as the vests add gravitas…
Nine-Nine co-creator Dan Goor likes to say that the annual Halloween heist has a higher degree of difficulty than anything else the show does, because it has to work as a satisfying caper/mystery as well as a comedy. If the big reveal at the end of the episode doesn’t feel both surprising and like it played fair with the audience, then none of it works. In fact, there was a moment after the second season where the creative team debated scrapping the tradition altogether, just to save themselves the headache. “Once we did one [in Season Three], we realized we had to do one every year,” Goor tells me. “The choice was no longer ours.”
But the hard work has almost always paid off, and the recent streak of great heist episodes (going back to Jake’s wedding proposal in Season Five) continues with “Valloweaster.” Like last year’s Cinco de Maya heist, it turns the calendar to its advantage, since on NBC the show no longer airs episodes close to Halloween. Moving the heist away from the holiday that spawned it has livened up the entire gimmick as much as Amy’s win in Season Three did by opening the competition up to the entire squad. Now, the heist can happen at any time — or, in tonight’s instance, can happen so many times in the same year that Rosa has a legitimate claim to be the first three-time winner.
As the title suggests, “Valloweaster” covers three holidays across six months, starting with Halloween of 2019, then stopping at Valentine’s Day and Easter of this year. Since the first two stops take place during Holt’s demotion, there’s a bit of a missed opportunity to tie his bitterness about not winning a heist in years to his bitterness over the temporary loss in rank. But we’re plunged so quickly into ridiculous moves and countermoves that it doesn’t matter. (Ditto the fact that the last section takes place in a version of New York in April 2020 that’s untouched by COVID-19.)
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Though the series’ sense of reality has always been elastic, the heist episodes in particular have provided a license to turn everyone into a lunatic for 20-odd minutes. Holt installing a camera in Jake and Amy’s bedroom is very bad. Amy hiring an actress to play Jake’s therapist so she can eavesdrop on his sessions is much worse. And the amount and degree of machinations Rosa had to pull off just to achieve three victories within a single heist cycle boggles the mind. But the absurdity of it all is at least as big a part of the fun as the now-obligatory appearances of both Cheddar the Dog(*) and Bill the desperate human. (I don’t even want to think about the pixellated gestures suggesting the sexual favors Bill was willing to perform to get that fanny pack.)
(*) Among the show’s best — and most sparingly-used — running gags is how little the squad really knows about Rosa. Here, as everyone is talking about how often Cheddar is at the precinct (this time introduced with The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”), Rosa complains, “He’s here a lot. I never bring in Arlo.” Then she immediately clams up before revealing anything more about her apparent pet.
Rosa’s ham-assisted victory is so overwhelming, it might inspire either the detectives or the writing team to take a break from heists for a while. And now that everyone from the main cast (non-idiots division) but Boyle has won, it could feel too predictable if he finally takes home the Infinitude Gobbler (or whatever the new trophy is) next year. But I wouldn’t put it past the writers to contrive an excuse for Hitchcock and/or Scully to win, or perhaps a recurring character like Kevin or Pimento swooping in to take it. However difficult it may be to put these episodes together, the payoff has almost always been worth it, and “Valloweaster” is among the best heists the show has pulled off.
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