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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iBrooklyn Nine-Nine/i hams it up with the competitive “Valloweaster”
Photo: John P. Fleenor (NBC)
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When Brooklyn Nine-Nine made the move to a new network and a midseason schedule with Season Six, the show’s annual Halloween Heist ended up becoming more of a spiritual thing than an actual Halloween episode. Which is how we got last season’s “Cinco de Mayo.” Now in season seven, again a midseason series, the writers had to figure out how to have a non-Halloween Halloween Heist episode yet again. I suggested in a recent review that, considering this season’s attempts at other types of high-concept episodes, the writers might have even decided not to do a Halloween Heist episode altogether. After all, we just had a “classic who has done this” in “Dillman,” and the Halloween Heists tend to transform into that by the end.

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But with “Valloweaster,” we get another misplaced in time Halloween Heist. Sort of. Here, the Heist begins on Halloween but ends up getting paused and resumed over the course of six months. I don’t think I could tell which of this season’s episodes “Valloweaster” is supposed to have taken place in between—as Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s status as a midseason series and this season’s love of time jumps has messed with the concept of time—but assuming that we count May 16, when season six ended, as the beginning of Holt’s demotion, we do know:

  • By Halloween, Holt was an officer for about five months.
  • By Valentine’s Day, that would be about nine months.
  • And by Easter, he’s back to Captain. That’s just shy of 11 full months, but Wuntch’s death did allow him to end his demotion early.
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All I can really tell you is that it’s the ultimate disappointment that Vanessa Bayer’s Debbie Fogle is nowhere to be found during Halloween, once again missing out on the high-stakes world of having fun with friends. (She was probably in prison by this point though, as I’m thinking “The Jimmy Jab Games II” was pre-Halloween. “Manhunt” was only a week into Holt’s demotion, and Debbie wasn’t in these characters’ lives for all that long.) The point is: Brooklyn Nine-Nine fits in three holidays for the price of one in this episode, which also translates to three Halloween Heist, “Amazing Human/Genius” wins (also for one) and the procurement of the Infinitude Gobbler.

“Valloweaster” begins with two officers walking in on the Easter portion of the heist, surprised to see that it’s “still going on,” and that already sets some lofty goals for this episode. With that intro, it actually seems like the Nine-Nine somehow ended up doing this for six straight months, which would really bed the question of if they even do their jobs anymore. Instead, it ends up simply being that the three holidays-worth of Heisting are the result of ingestion-based stops and starts, combined with the squad’s own busy schedules.

The thing about the intro, as much as it’s just a matter of doing something briefly different during the very familiar in media res beat, is that it’s kind of more interesting—at least, in theory—to see the Heist (or any of these squad competitions) from the perspective of other cops in the precinct. As always, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is fun to watch when it comes to over-the-top stuff like the Halloween Heist, but it’s hard to ignore that the squad must be absolutely insufferable to everyone who works with them. (And unlike an It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia or a Happy Endings, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is not the type of comedy where that’s the point.) Seeing the show through those outsider eyes, even just for a few seconds, is fun to watch. (Just the right amount of Kristap Porziņģis talk too.) It’s also a slightly different approach to telling the story, which is something the Halloween Heist episodes always have to figure out, as the twists and turns are the status quo for them.

The Halloween Heist episodes feature these characters at their most heightened, cartoonish, and dangerous. While there are mentions of the Heists outside of these episodes—and Bill has also somewhat existed outside of them—the insanity exhibited within them is self-contained. Other Nine-Nine competitions allow the squad to learn lessons and step outside themselves to see how absurd they’re being. Not the Halloween Heist.

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So while gravitas is mentioned in “Valloweaster,” that’s absolutely not the point of these episodes. That’s part of why things like Jake’s proposal in “HalloVeen” and Terry passing the Lieutenant exam in “Cinco de Mayo” hit as hard as they do: There is no expectation of these episodes actually dedicating time to character growth or even realistic human behavior. Instead, they thrive on absolute chaos, and “Valloweaster” pushes that aspect way further than expected. I’d argue that Holt surveilling Jake and Amy is actually par for the course when it comes to the Heist—again, these episodes thrive on absolute chaos, to the point where that seems like a normal decision. But Amy’s one-two-punch of spying on Jake’s therapy sessions and the reveal that she hired an actress to play Jake’s therapist and Rosa’s one-two punch of almost bribing a doctor and her spying on Jake’s fake therapy sessions are plot points that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is only able to get away with because it’s the Halloween Heist. And in the Halloween Heists, no one is sane. There’s also no such thing as “decorum” here, no matter what Jake tries to say. (Although, he did prevent betrayals this time around.)

The seventh Halloween Heist of the series, “Valloweaster” works because the script (written by Luke del Tredici and Jeff Topolski) and the characters acknowledge just how much these Heists have reached a point where everyone can pretty much predict everyone else’s moves. That makes it difficult in breaking a story to figure out how which character can outsmart the rest of the squad, but it also makes for some variety in a gimmick that could easily get stale. The series has already established it has no problem doing repeat winners, while also including the bit where the established winners can’t even agree on who won and how many times. The episode also works in a way where things that would otherwise be the dominant part of the episode (Jake and Holt’s team-up) are simply the result of someone else pulling the strings (Amy). In fact, the way “Valloweaster” is set up, there’s strong reason to believe that Amy will outsmart both Jake and Holt, all technically thanks to the fact that she was able to sleep her way into winning (Holt’s words) once again. There’s also the potential for Terry’s “retirement” to be a ruse, which technically ends up being the case, though in an unexpected way. And then there’s Rosa, who actually ends up winning.

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With the deck stacked against her the way it was—with Scully as her partner—I immediately felt like Rosa would somehow find a way to win, even though I couldn’t figure out how. The same went for Terry getting involved, as his constant reminders about how much he didn’t want to get involved only tipped the episode’s hand even more that he would. Playing card metaphors aside, the way this episode puts Rosa and Terry somewhat off to the sidelines—drawing attention to that, in Terry’s case—is what makes the end of the episode (starting at the bunny costume kerfuffle) work as well as it does. The bunny costume plan in effect is funny enough as is as the culmination of the two main teams’ (Jake/Holt, Amy/Boyle) gameplay, but the visual of “Rosa” in the bunny costume, slowly dragging the filing cabinet (with Boyle’s “Uh oh. Rosa’s coming!”) to join the fray is what speeds the episode right into its ridiculously ham-centric conclusion. And in this case, ham is very, very good.

As is a “too cool for school” character like Rosa not only winning something where the squad ends up caring too much but winning it three times in a row. It’s very Rosa for her to jump off a building and write her name in fire to reveal this win though. Also very Rosa? Her reaction in the episode’s closing tag, as she admits she’s more pleased by the chaos that has been caused by her win than she even is by the win (or wins) itself. That also captures the very ethos and point of these Halloween Heist episodes at this point: They’re over the top, full of shenanigans, and thrive on getting the squad to behave in outlandish (yet, still in character) ways. And sometimes there’s a surprising amount of toilet humor.

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Stray observations

  • The whole squad reacts to Jake announcing the Halloween Heist, but the reaction that really stuck out to me was Holt’s: “Huzzah!”
  • Jake: “I see you all have your game faces on. Special shout out to Amy, who is clearly only wearing that pumpkin costume to conceal her heist equipment.”
    Amy: “Nuh uh. I was greeting kids at the Halloween party.”
    Rosa: “Nobody believes you.” I continue to appreciate just how committed Brooklyn Nine-Nine is to the bit of poorly covering up Melissa Fumero’s real-life pregnancy.
  • Amy: “You didn’t win the fifth heist. I did—when you proposed to me.”
    Holt: “I won that year. You ended up with a modified version of the cummerbund. And you only got that because you slept your way into it.”
    Amy: “Sorry, sir, that no one here wants to bone you, you dusty old skeleton.”
    Holt: “Whoa!” Bone?
  • Holt: “Is this about the surveillance system I set up in your apartment?”
    Flashback Holt: “Sleep. Sleep, you ugly morons.”
    Jake: “No, but it is now.”
  • It doesn’t end up being a runner, but Boyle decided that his codename this time would be “Geppetto.” Why? “Because I’m the puppeteer and you’re all my little puppets.” Which makes it extra sad that he has fewer Halloween Heist wins than a filing cabinet (one) and Scully (two).
  • Jake: “But we need you! What if one of us has a plan that involves a big, strong brute?”
    Terry: “Not a great sales pitch, Jake.” And yet, that’s what ends up happening.
  • Amy: “I gave him the idea by making him watch Lincoln.”
    Flashback Amy: “Oh, wow! A team of rivals!”
    Amy: “And when that didn’t work, we watched X-Men: Days Of Future Past.”
    Flashback Jake: “Magneto and Professor X working together? Amy, are you seeing this?”
    Flashback Amy: “Yes, I see it. I see it all.”
  • Holt: “It’s lucky I was prepared for you to fail. Now, I didn’t want to reveal him this early, but… Here comes Cheddar! Cheddar the dog!”
    Jake: “Yeah, we all knew he was coming. You don’t have to make such a meal out of it.” Yes, we all knew Cheddar the dog was coming (to the sounds of The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”), which is exactly why both Holt and director Matthew Nodella needed to make a meal out of it. Andre Braugher also made a meal out of saying “Chonky Pupz” and “thicc king.”
  • In the four months between Halloween and Valentine’s Day, Bill went from having “a great three months” to having “one really bad one.” Down on his luck Bill is the best Bill.
  • Terry: “You guys are still doing this? You know it’s April now.”
    Jake: “Yeah, Terry—we’re still doing it and we’re still having a great time.”
  • Jake: “How is this any different than my bunny suit plan?”
    Holt: “Oh. It’s very different. I gave the bunnies glasses and little blue vests.”
    Jake: “The vests add nothing.”
    Holt: “The vests add gravitas.”
    Jake: “Your butt adds gravitas.”
  • Jane Jetson and Betty Rubble now have more in common than just being Hanna-Barbera characters...
  • Jake: “You guys were listening in on my therapy?! That feels like a real violation—”
    Amy: “Jake, Jake—this is Rosa’s moment.”
    Rose: “Yeah, man. Go tell it to your fake therapist.”
    Jake: “She’s fake?!”
  • Here’s to comedy’s rule of a three: The ham bit works just fine with the flashbacks of Rosa feeding Cheddar ham and planting ham for Scully to eat… but becomes transcendent with the reveal that she also hammed Terry’s smoothie. The combination of Terry feeling left out and getting bored of smoothies would’ve worked on its own, but the added ham elevated it all.
  • A visual treat: Terry’s ham smoothies throughout the episode matched the colors of the Infinitude gems.
  • This episode managed to make me feel bad for Hitchcock. He definitely would’ve ruined Rosa’s chances of winning, but poor guy.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.

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