It’s impressive just how much Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Halloween episodes have maintained their level of quality, getting even better over time. Especially five seasons in. These are wacky episodes of non-stop shenanigans, and that’s typically the recipe for a discussion about a show becoming too broad. Instead, these episodes end up being much more than that; they’re a series of episodes that build on the previous episodes’ concepts, that don’t just exist independent of the rest of the show.

I still believe that “Halloween II” was a disappointing sequel to the original episode (an episode before my Brooklyn Nine-Nine reviewing tenure), but since then, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has had no problem delivering when it comes to its yearly heist episode. As with most things Brooklyn Nine-Nine, one of the keys to this—besides just the obvious humor standard—is the story’s ability to keep the squad competent. The entire Halloween heist hinges on those involved outsmarting each other, and as part of that fun, it cheapens it if any of the characters are dumbed down to create that type of outsmarting. The past couple of Halloween episodes have remembered that, and “HalloVeen” improves upon that recognition by making sure everyone available is able to do that. Seriously, even Scully and Hitchcock get to show off some brains here (and they do so toward Captain Holt of all people). Their brains are all related to their own perverted weirdo nature, but that’s what they’re good at, after all.

As for the one who’s not available (Chelsea Peretti/Gina Linetti), this episode still manages to factor her and a little bit of Halloween episode continuity in. There’s of course the simple reminder that Gina is the reigning champ, but that also provides set up for Boyle’s Tramp story and the reminder that Boyle’s doppelgänger Bill also makes a good Gina decoy. But with“everyone” (some might argue that Officer Lou should have gotten his revenge) officially getting the green-light to enter the competition, there’s no reason to dwell on who’s not around. It’s that bright Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode where everyone has a purposes and gets a real chance to shine.

At the same time, the Halloween heist allows for a greater influx of squad pile-ons from every angle. Even without compelling twists and turns, those pile-ons would still make the episode completely worth it. Because there are a lot of zingers in this episode, and no one is holding back. Well, Terry might be, but that’s mostly because he’s just over everyone else’s crap. And that’s before he even learns he has six different GPS trackers in his body.

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Terry and Amy have taken turns getting insulted by the rest of the Nine-Nine these past few episodes. So while Terry’s reaction here is to get even (by winning the heist), Amy instead turns it all into non-stop burn fuel. As much fun as it is when characters pile-on Amy, it’s even more fun to watch her throw it all back at them and beat them at their own games. Jake even finds it very hot, and while that’s certainly a reason to enjoy it, Melissa Fumero’s performance is also an integral component. Her tonal shifts as she talks to a handcuffed Jake (both her insults and reminders that she’s just playing) are just so good. An important part of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine Halloween episodes is just how competitive these characters get, and when straight-laced characters like Amy and Holt get as petty as they do, it’s brilliant.

Jake: “Wait, where are my eggs?”
Holt: “In my belly.”
Jake/Amy: “AHH!”
Holt: “Now get a move on. It’s heist time.”
Jake: “I love Halloween!”

Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Halloween series is pretty much an episode away from making meta jokes about how commercialized it’s gotten, and you know what? It would still probably be fine. Because it’s not like this is the show all the time. The cold open is simple and effective: It’s aware that the audience knows what to expect from the Halloween episodes, just like the characters themselves. Alliances, subterfuge, twists, zingers. So many zingers that, when done right, a Brooklyn Nine-Nine Halloween episode is even more quotable than the standard highly quotable episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. (See the Stray Observations.) It’s zany, and the cold open is indicative of that, while still making sense in the world of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. In fact, nothing’s really off about how intensely competitive Jake and Amy already are at 3 in the morning… until Holt appears. And that’s the proper beat to hit right before the opening credits.

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The Halloween episodes are also at a level now where they can fully detach from the rest of what’s going on in the Nine-Nine. I haven’t needed to bust out the “Don’t these people have jobs?” criticism at this point in the season, but part of what made “Halloween II” struggle as a sequel (in addition to the dumbing down of Jake) was that it was a follow-up to the original episode’s premise. A premise where the precinct was an absolute madhouse on Halloween. And of course it was: It’s a New York City police precinct on Halloween. However, the key to these subsequent episodes has been to take the focus away from that particular concept altogether. Because in order to keep up a recurring concept like this, the audience needs to be able to accept that they’re just going to go nuts without anything holding them back. As I wrote in my review of last season’s episode:

“Yes, at this point, it’s necessary to accept that Halloween is the night when Brooklyn effectively transforms into Gotham City because of the the Nine-Nine’s negligence.”

In that same review, I also pointed out how these friends become “absolute monsters” while competing “over a congratulatory plaque.” It might not be a plaque this time around, but the point remains. Surely it’s possible for the obligations of the precinct to come back into these episodes in the future, but the plot shouldn’t be shackled to that. And when it’s not, there are so many more possibilities that comes with the process of crowning the Nine-Nine’s “Amazing Human Slash Genius.”

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Of course, “HalloVeen” is also a special episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine because it’s now “the one where Jake proposes.” In all the hyper-competitive chaos of this episode, it’s also impressive that Dan Goor’s script so seamlessly includes subtle (but obvious, after the fact) hints and teases about the proposal through it all. Even Jake’s self-centered story about the Halloween heist planning being the only thing that got him through prison is in service to the eventual proposal reveal. And when Jake cuffs Boyle, he apologizes to him by saying that “this year’s heist was just way too important.” It’s something he could say during any old heist, and that’s why it works.

Then you have Jake’s responses to Amy throughout the whole episode. Things like Amy’s “Letting me into your life was the worst mistake you ever made.” line to Jake are funny on their own... but once you know it’s all leading to Jake proclaiming with action just how false that is, it adds a little something more to this episode. As does his response to that particular line: “Cool. Fun take on our relationship.” They have these little exchanges a couple of times in the episode, and when you have the knowledge that he’s planning to propose to Amy, there’s a realization of how much stress Jake must have felt during this whole thing. Thankfully, their later interaction where he gets into her tearing him down (and she makes clear it’s part of the game) and even just moments where we’re reminded how well they know each other (even pee-wise) confirm that Jake’s going down the right path. The path toward officially becoming Mr. “Ofamy.”

Yes, everyone acts like a hyper-competitive sociopath here, but these episodes still play greatly off of established characterizations. Plus, these character’s aren’t really acting like hyper-competitive sociopaths: It’s just who they are. Actual consequences come from these Halloween episodes, unless you’re Bill. But it’s a fair trade, one where the Nine-Nine can simply focus all of their energy on the competition-specific chaos as long as they make every single moment count. And as this episode confirms, they do make those moments count. Sure, there “technically” was no winner for this year’s heist—as Holt is very keen on reminding everyone—but it certainly feels like there was.

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Stray observations

  • This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: The Misadventures Of The Tramps, which I can only imagine is a series of webisodes where Boyle always tries to get Terry and Rosa to join him on a mission, almost gets them on board, and then completely loses their support as soon as he calls them “The Tramps.”
  • It’s not a championship cummerbund. It’s not a championship belt. It’s a championship title, dammit. Also, as Terry said last Halloween episode: “Everyone should wear suspenders. Belts are dumb.”
  • Jake: “Some of you have asked me what got me through prison. Was it my family? Don’t be stupid. Was it knowing that my friends would eventually get me out? Of course not, I never believed in any of you. No, the only thing that kept me sane was planning for the Halloween heist, those many years doing hard time.”
    Terry: “It was eight weeks.”
    Rosa: “I also went to prison, dawg.”
    Jake: “We’re getting off track here, dawg.”
    Holt: “No, we’re not, dawg. Peralta’s just trying to play the sympathy card so we all go easy on him. I’d rather send you back to prison than see you win.”
  • Boyle: “Ooh, every man for himself. It’s like Bachelor In Paradise.”
  • Rosa: “It’s really cool that you guys opened it up to anyone.”
    Jake: “Oh yeah, thanks. We talked about it and we just felt like it was only fair—”
    Rosa: “I was being sarcastic. You all suck, and I hope Jake goes back to jail.”
    Jake: “Cool. Glad everyone’s comfortable joking about that.”
    Rosa: “I’m not joking.”
  • Holt: “Well I for one think you’re perfect for each other.”
    Jake: “Feel like there’s gonna be more.”
    Holt: “Because you’re both losers!”
    Jake: “There it is.”
    Holt: “None of you stand a chance against me. No courage [Boyle], no patience [Rosa], no brains [Scully & Hitchcock, who have no idea he’s talking about them], and of course, a bald old man [Terry].”
    Terry: “I’m younger than you.”
    Holt: “No comeback for the bald thing, I see.”
  • Holt: “You’re good Jeffords but not good enough. In fact, you’re an idiot. I should’ve fired you long ago.”
    Terry: “What?!?”
    Jake: “Relax, Terry. Chill out. Get your undies outta your buns.”
  • Terry: “Everybody stop undressing! We just had harassment training!” How uncomfortably topical.
  • Jake: “ An alliance. It’s not Bachelor In Paradise. It’s Survivor. Rosa, I am very disappointed in you.”
    Rosa: “Your approval means nothing to me.”
    Jake: “Copy that. And Terry, I knew you were playing. Last year was a set-up!”
    Terry: “Hell yeah, it was. I’m sick of you, Amy, and Holt winning.”
    Rosa: “You’re all so damn smug.”
    Boyle: “Yeah. you guys might be champs, but this year? This year belongs to The Tramps.”
    Jake: “Charles, that’s a bad name.”
    Boyle: “Well you’re just jealous. Everyone loves it!”
    Rosa/Terry: “No.”/“Nuh uh.”
  • Jake talking 127 Hours means I’m obligated to link to Andy Samberg’s roast of James Franco.
  • Even though the audience learned very early on Gina’s chores was actually a ruse, we still see Holt attempt to create a baby mobile in his office. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gina actually did try to get Jake and Boyle to assemble things for her and then they decided to make it part of their plan. (Also, do we know if she and Milton really went ahead and named the baby The Enigma?)
  • Holt: “Wait a minute. This isn’t the championship cummerbund. This is some common cummerbund. And you’re not Cheddar. You’re just some common bitch.”
  • Holt: “Where. Is my dog?”
    Terry: “Aren’t you standing right next to him?!?”
    Holt: “This bitch?!? Please.” Then he calls the poor dog an “idiot” for not shaking his hand and threatens to “neuter” the whole precinct. It’s so great.
  • Rosa: “Handmaid’s Tale. This is Amy. She won’t shut up about how relevant that show is in today’s political landscape.”
    Amy: “It’s relevant as hell! But I’m not doing anything! Terry also loved the show. This is him.”
    Terry: “No, no. I love Elisabeth Moss. Terry thought the show was too bleak.”
  • Jake’s hair eight years ago is just Andy Samberg’s hair eight years ago. This is also so great.
  • Congratulations to Jake and Amy, who are now engaged and $8,000 in debt to a former prostitute/con man. Also, it’s good to see that Jake’s moment when he knew he wanted to propose was not the result of his life in prison. Not that that would have been bad, but there’s something more honest and mature about him having that emotional epiphany as a result of a little Amy thing instead of intense trauma.

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