Sitcom finales appropriately indulge in nostalgia. They’re the last chance for viewers to hang out with beloved characters they’ve been watching for years. It’s as much an opportunity for them to say goodbye to each other as it is to say goodbye to the audience. Naturally, it’s an emotional affair, and any plot mostly exists to service fond farewells. However, the best finales tend to illustrate that life inevitably goes on. Things change, people move on, but everyone keeps plugging away. The only difference is that we no longer get to check in on their progress.
“The Last Day” is far from Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s finest hour, but it deserves credit for checking off every series finale box while telling a fun story without going overboard on saccharine material. It runs through the series’ greatest hits while reuniting the original core ensemble and bringing back numerous guest stars without any of it feeling too labored. It also succeeds in being pretty funny and decently affecting, which is tough for any sitcom running out its eighth year. Most importantly, though, it delivers on expectations while having a sense of humor about those expectations. It’s the equivalent of someone dutifully following through on tradition as they smirk about the silliness of the tradition itself.
In retrospect, there was no way we were going to get through a final Brooklyn Nine-Nine season without one last heist episode. Not only are they fan favorites, but even the weaker ones tend to utilize the entire ensemble very well. But Jake has an ulterior motive for the eighth annual heist (no longer tethered to any holiday, by the way): he’s quitting the Nine-Nine to be a stay-at-home father and wants to plan a perfect goodbye to the squad. Obviously, Jake believes he’s one step ahead of the entire team when he’s really one step behind at least two members at any given moment. Holt also uses the heist to plan his perfect goodbye, Amy uses it to plan a going away party for Jake, and everyone else wants to win the crown.
Like many (great, good, and terrible) heist movies, the plot is needlessly complicated and absurd. Twists and double/triple crosses pile on top of each other with reckless abandon to the point where it becomes very difficult to follow. (Of course, it doesn’t really matter.) There are riddles, an armored vehicle, magnet suits, drones, fireworks, multiple Cheddar appearances, and a fake coma scare leading into a Mission: Impossible parody. Gina returns for some sweater-based shenanigans, but she’s not the only one. Caleb the Cannibal (Tim Meadows), Adrian Pimento (Jason Mantzoukas), Teddy Ramos (Kyle Bornheimer), Mlepnos (Fred Armisen) all make brief, memorable appearances, as well as the resident Charles Boyle impersonator Bill (Winston Story), who returns to creep up the joint one last time.
In short, there’s a lot going on. “The Last Day” feels downright manic and rushed for at least the first half hour. It genuinely seems like either the dialogue has been artificially sped up in post-production or every actor delivers their lines at hyper speed in order to keep each scene under time. It’s mildly impressive how many locations and set-ups and characters the Brooklyn Nine-Nine packs into 40+ minutes of television, but the flip side to that is how little room some scenes and jokes have to breathe. I’m loath to ding a show for rapid-fire humor at a time when we’re in such low supply of it, but in this case, it really does feel like some punchlines have no landing room. This tactic will likely pay off for anyone who wants to re-watch the finale to pick up on series callbacks or jokes they’ve missed, but watching it live felt kind of dizzying.
One good aspect of the quick pace and overstuffed plot is that “The Last Day” can’t get too bogged down in too much sentimentality. An early scene when Jake reveals his decision to quit the force to Amy led me to believe the entire episode would take a similar approach, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine mostly restrains itself. After all, the show has said goodbye a couple times before, so there’s no real reason to run it back again and again. Jake gives Charles one last pep talk. Holt supports and encourages Terry’s dream to be captain. Amy doles out advice to Rosa, even though she doesn’t really need it. It’s executed with maximum sincerity but never becomes maudlin.
With that said, Brooklyn Nine-Nine waits until its final minutes for the potentially tear-jerking moments, including a final scene between Jake and Holt. There’s really no way for the show to mine any novel feeling out of their surrogate father-son relationship, so they don’t really try. Holt tells him that he’s glad to have watched him grow up and that he’s proud of him before cracking a robot and a “Title of Your Sex Tape” joke. (Being Holt, he calls it a “sex movie.”) It shouldn’t work all that well, and yet watching Andy Samberg get fully choked up and try to hold it together puts the scene over the top.
It’s admirable how much “The Last Day” is about the folly of creating a perfect goodbye, which can easily be extended to the folly of creating a perfect series finale. Along with being inherently sad, goodbyes are often messy and never as satisfying as you expect them to be. In the end, Hitchcock, who was never actually in Brazil, wins the crowd by paying off Bill and the squad has a drink in the precinct instead of at Shaw’s. All the gifts Jake, Holt, and Amy planned to give everyone got scrambled together during the heist and the affair never once reached perfection. Yet, they muddled through it together anyway, which is exactly the point of last hurrahs. Plus, no ending is as final as we think. As the brief flash-forward indicates, the Nine-Nine squad will continue to pull off ridiculous heists every single year, even though they no longer work together. We just won’t get to see it.
- My favorite callback of the episode was the brief scene of Jake trying (and failing) to re-capture the magic of the acclaimed “I Want It That Way” scene with a new set of perps singing “Car Wash.”
- I also genuinely loved how Charles has become the Jake of the precinct, including being partnered up with a needy, Boyle-like detective.
- Pray for Bill. The “nursing room seductions” industry has been greatly impacted by the pandemic.
- Andy Samberg’s wife, and excellent artist, Joanna Newsom briefly cameos in the episode. I believe this is her first acting appearance since her brief turn in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.
- The “Another Surprise Reveal…” sweatshirt runner sort of works like the rake gag from The Simpsons. It eventually hits a skid, but by the time the seventh or eighth version comes along, it becomes funny again.
- Is the fourth heist considered the best? Discuss!
- “My doctor says I’m in my twilight years.” “That means you’re close to death.” “But it has such a pretty name!”
- “That’s what you get for being a nerd who wears seatbelts. Cool people die gruesome, preventable deaths.”
- That’s it for The A.V. Club’s coverage of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I was happy to take over for its last few weeks, but most of the credit goes to LaToya Ferguson, who covered the show from its second season until the beginning of its last. (Special shout out to Marah Eakin for recapping the first season back in 2014.) It’s been fun. Nine-Nine!