“Why did you wake me up?!? I told you never to wake me up!!!”

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is back, and as it turns out, that fourth-season finale wasn’t all just some fever dream. Jake and Rosa are still in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, Lieutenant Hawkins is still free and loving it… Oh, and a sadly absent Gina is still pregnant with Ryan Phillippe’s Boyle baby. In a lot of ways, season four’s ending—especially the circumstances that led to Jake and Rosa landing in prison—felt very much like proof that Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s need to always go out on a big note had finally gone too far, sacrificing quality for the sake of having a major cliffhanger. But just like the series’ previous season finales, the aftermath of that cliffhanger—and how the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers choose to resolve it—is just as crucial to the story.

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine started off rather modest with its “big” season enders and their ultimate conclusions; remember, the season one cliffhanger of Jake taking an undercover FBI assignment in the mob ended up being resolved pretty early on in the season two premiere. But from that point on, Brooklyn Nine-Nine decided there was no shame in the playing the longer game before returning to its version of the status quo. As such, “The Big House, Pt. 1” (and “Pt. 2”) doesn’t exist to be indicative of how the rest of season five will be—though, if “Pt. 1” is any indication, it might signify a slightly darker comedic approach—but it does have to be somewhat of an answer to the question of whether or not the end of season four was really worth it.

As it stands right now, “The Big House, Pt. 1” doesn’t quite justify the means of how Brooklyn Nine-Nine put Jake and Rosa into their current situation, but on an overall concept level, there’s definite worth in the series giving its audience the experience of Jake and Rosa in prison.

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It makes sense that the show would start things off with a dream, considering just how much the season four finale felt like one (or a nightmare) itself. Even better is how the cold open doesn’t even feel that off from standard Brooklyn Nine-Nine until it gets to the Jake + Boyle stuff. It’s actually pretty well-crafted: It’s easy to believe that a grieving Boyle would take to “eating butter like a popsicle” or that Hitchcock’s random bleeding is because his “piece of crap son-in-law” bit him. These are two very in-character weirdo points for both men. The same goes for dream Scully not knowing where Jake, Rosa, and Gina are, because… Well, we don’t get real life confirmation that Scully truly knows where any of them are anyway. The Jake appearance is the first tip off that this is probably all a dream*, but after years of Brooklyn Nine-Nine having to figure out more and more elaborate ways to get out of major season finale-based circumstances, there’s a bold sort of humor that could come from the show writing its way out of its biggest obstacle with just one line from Jake about an offscreen bust.

*Actually, the real tip off is the way Amy says she doesn’t know what to do. Of course Boyle dreams of her being useless when his best friend is in prison.

But Brooklyn Nine-Nine knows that it has to milk at least some situational material out of sending two of its own to prison, which is what we get here. While “The Big House, Pt. 2” will be tasked with providing the solution to the Nine-Nine’s problem, “The Big House, Pt. 1” focuses less on what it will take to get Jake and Rosa out and more on what it currently takes for them to tough it out.

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The episode’s focus on Jake’s prison life over Rosa’s makes sense on two fronts. (Neither of which is that Jake is played by Andy Samberg.) First of all, even though it was an undercover situation, season three already gave the audience a Brooklyn Nine-Nine-flavored taste of life in a women’s prison. While Rosa’s experience would certainly be different than Amy’s work-related experience, there’s simply more new ground to cover from Jake’s prison world. As for the second front, it’s as cut and dry as Rosa’s answer about how she’s survived prison so far. While we see Jake questioning something like Caleb’s suggestion to get a cell phone because it’s “illegal,” Rosa isn’t the type of character to second guess doing whatever she needs to do to survive in prison. It’s what makes the eventual revelation that she also find prison scary hit harder: Even though she’s supposedly got this whole thing worked out because she’s Rosa, she’s not impervious to just how scary prison really is.

When it comes to Rosa’s side of things, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is smart to focus on Holt and Terry’s reactions to her imprisonment, as one thing “The Big House, Pt. 1” really gets right (without betraying the show’s humor) is their hopelessness in this situation. They just want to help, but the question is, what help can you really do for someone who’s in prison? Putting their furniture into storage and canceling their cable (if you can even pull off such a thing) isn’t going to change the fact that your loved one is still in prison. This particular plot takes a premise that sounds almost too goofy on paper—“Meanwhile, in the women’s prison, Rosa puts Holt and Terry to the test by having them complete outrageous favors for her.”—and makes it both genuinely funny and poignant, the true mark of a good Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode. (It also helps that the episode makes it clear very early on Rosa is only even making the lists because of Holt and Terry’s desperate needs to help her.) Andre Braugher steals this episode the moment he starts saying “Rosa” repeatedly, holds it hostage with the reveal of “Rosa” on the palm of his hand, and then makes the episode develop Stockholm Syndrome for him as soon as he says “YAS. QUEEN.” (That metaphor may not have stuck the landing, but bear with me. It’s been awhile.) But Terry Crews isn’t exactly slacking against his scene partner, whether it’s Terry’s flexing his eyes or trying to ride a motorcycle without letting the fear completely take over (and allowing the fear to completely take over).

“The Big House, Pt. 1” finds a surprisingly solid balance between the show’s comedy and the darkness of Jake and Rosa’s situations, especially when it comes to the Jake stuff. Because the Jake stuff is really dark, from the very early moment he sees that one of the inmates he tries to greet on Visiting Day hanged himself. From then on, Jake’s plot discusses everything from prison corruption and brutality to transphobia (as Jake Peralta remains woke, even behind bars) to child cannibalism to smuggling. In a funny way, of course. Even when ISIS gets involved.

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A big factor in making the comedy and darkness work as well as it does here is the case of Brooklyn Nine-Nine doing a terrific job in who it casts to surround Jake in prison. Tim Meadows is so upsettingly good as Caleb; it’s almost impossible to make it through all of his lines without immediately feeling bad for laughing at them. Case in point: The “one conk on the head” line for why and how he took children as his cannibal victims is absolutely absurd. And horrible. Same with the “Lycos chatroom” line. Lou Diamond Phillips is such a professional that he can make talk about ramen soup sound weirdly intimidating; and gang leader Romero feels like an alternate universe sequel to his Psych appearance as a no-nonsense FBI agent, which is definitely a good thing. Meanwhile, Toby Huss’ role as Warden Granville is splendid in its depiction of some casual corruption, a nice change of pace from the overt crooked cop vibe of Gina Gershon’s Lieutenant Hawkins. Knowing that Brooklyn Nine-Nine will soon return to the status quo makes it easier not to worry about Jake’s safety (after he ends up as a snitch for the warden), but everyone in this plot does a good job making the threats of the inside still feel real. The final moments of the episode, as Jake tries to pretty everything’s okay to Amy while he’s very visibly shaken, are a reminder that the funniness of the episode doesn’t negate the scary situation these characters are in.

“The Big House, Pt. 1” is a nice return back to the world of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and one that feels more in tune with the show as a whole than the season four finale did. It certainly helps to know that Hawkins’ omniscience—or at least her ability to pin her crimes on Jake and Rosa—will end soon. With this episode, even with the change of scenery, Brooklyn Nine-Nine thankfully still feels like itself. In all its weird cop glory. Looking at this episode in the context of the rest of the series, while it’s a good premiere, it’s not quite at the level of all-time great Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode; and it has the downside of not being able to feature all of its talented cast. Amy and Boyle have their moments but are somewhat sidelined in this episode, and Gina isn’t even here. (Though I personally choose to believe “maternity leave” is code for “creating schematics for an episode two prison break.”) As previously mentioned, this isn’t exactly a snapshot of what season five will be after Jake and Rosa are exonerated. But it’s still a funny episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and that’s really all you need after coming back from a hiatus.

Now all that’s left to do is get Jake and Rosa out of prison (safely) and get that “splash of Batali” out of Boyle’s hair.

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Stray observations

  • This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: Caleb the Cannibal… er… Woodworker. This would of course then spin off into its own fully-formed sitcom starring Tim Meadows, as we all know Tim Meadows deserves to be the star of something. Child cannibal (that is, an eater of children, not a child who eats people) Tim Meadows could carry a show, no doubt.
  • Rosa: “Sarge, Captain. Oh, you guys brought Hitchcock.”
    Holt: “Uh, no. We just bumped into him in the lobby. We don’t know why he’s here.”
  • Boyle’s fear of Jake befriending his cellmate is very petty, but then he’s kind of vindicated in his argument that criminals don’t change. You know, with the immediate revelation that Caleb is a cannibal (who was convicted for eating nine people) with a weird thing for hair.
  • Jake: “Are you a cannibal, Caleb?”
    Caleb: “Well, that’s not how I would define myself. If we’re going by what I’m most passionate about, I would say that I’m a woodworker.” He did all the stuff he was convicted of and more. “The secret is eating the evidence.”
  • Romero: “So what’s up, you need another bag of hair?”
    Caleb/Jake: “Yeah.”/”No.”
    Caleb: “We’ll talk later. Same order though.”
  • Jake: “I thought they sold ramen at the prison commissary.”
    Romero: “I don’t want commissary soups, you stupid little bitch boy.”
    Jake: “Okay, that’s fair, I deserve that.”
    Romero: “I want flavors you can only get on the outside. Chili lime shrimp, southwestern chicken—street flavors.”
    Caleb: “Picante beef. Ah, that’s my favorite.”
    Romero: “Get me picante beef, bitch boy.”
  • Terry: “Oh, also: She’s worried about her motorcycle sitting idle, so she wants us to take it out once a day. Here.”
    Holt: “I think you should do this. You’re more the biker type. I’ve seen you use a toothpick in public.”
    Terry: “Motorcycles are death machines. I have three kids. I’m not risking it.”
    Holt: “Are you saying my life matters less because I don’t conform to society’s heteronormative, child-centric ideals?”
    Terry: “Are you really playing the gay card right now?”
    Holt: “YAS. QUEEN.” And. Then. He. Snaps. This is the scene the entire series has been leading up to.
  • Prison life has caused Jake to take up reading. See? Everything’s cool. Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.

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