Although Brooklyn Nine-Nine's publicists told me last year that "Halloween III" would be the last of the show's annual Halloween heist episodes, it appears that tradition was too powerful to resist, as we're back in the race to declare the precinct's fourth Ultimate Detective Slash Genius. Sadly, it looks like all the extra budget that went into the Florida episodes and last week's car-studded New Girl crossover has finally dried up, because "Halloween IV" is strictly limited to the walls of the precinct, a small canvas for what's supposed to be an elaborate series of tricks.
With Amy the reigning champion after having surreptitiously stolen the crown last year, this year's heist remains a three-way battle between her, Holt, and Peralta, with each recruiting a teammate. Amy takes Rosa, who betrays a surprising enthusiasm for the effort, while Holt cleverly snatches Boyle away from his BFF Peralta, completely sidelining Jake's entire strategy. Terry thinks heists are dumb (putting them in an elite category with belts, the backstroke, and the fat content of hummus), so that leaves Gina, who promptly and literally knocks herself out of the running by roller-skating into a pole, taking out her front teeth in the process.
Of course, that last bit ends up being a ruse: Gina actually lost her front teeth at a fourth-grade birthday party ("I skated like a pro and then I spent seven minutes in heaven with the Todd Cohen," during which a bowling ball fell on her face). She confidently and correctly predicts Jake will have forgotten the party. Indeed, Gina's best tactic seems to be her ability to psychologically manipulate her co-workers: Her plan revolves around knowing Terry will be indifferent to the heist, and planting the seed with Holt that Peralta is useless without Boyle. Girl knows her angles.
The bummer is that this premise is more or less recycled from last year's episode. Just like Amy, Gina is annoyed at not being considered for the Halloween prize, because it goes to the Ultimate Detective Slash Genius, and she is a civilian. (The show came very close to implying that she wants to be a cop, but alas, I don't think we'll ever get to see Gina lie, backstab, and manipulate her way through the police academy.) Her point is fair, but given that Amy pulled the exact same trick last time around when Holt and Peralta marginalized her, it doesn't make for much of a satisfying mystery.
It doesn't help that Scully, Hitchcock, and Terry make for unsurprising and uninvolved red herrings, and all the other characters' motivations and locations are pretty clear. The single best gag is a well-planned hurricane of pizza deliveries, in which Rosa is able to disguise herself as a delivery person and sneak out the plaque, but even that's a repeat of Amy's strategy from last year, when she posed as a janitor to do the same thing. At least "Halloween IV" nods at this with the continued presence of creepy Joe Lo Truglio dead-ringer Bill, played by Winston Story, who ends up doing a less-than-perfect job subbing in with a Gina costume.
Perhaps because it's part of a tradition, this episode does excel at fan service. There are a ton of inside jokes for longtime viewers, including Amy's continued inability to quit smoking, Gina's die-hard crush on Tyrese (she orders a statue of him in addition to the UD/G plaque), and the reappearance of Cheddar, Holt's adorable corgi, who has since been trained in plaque-retrieval skills. The crown jewel is a now-rare "name of Amy's sex tape" joke: "I just got it out of the vent to rub it in your faces." I'm down with having Halloween heists continue to be rubbed in mine, but I'm hoping for a broader palette in year five.
- One recurring joke that I'm disappointed we didn't get: Boyle did not have an elaborate Halloween costume for his co-workers to mock this year. (One of my favorite B99 gags ever was in last year's Halloween ep, in which he wore an Elvis costume and everyone pretended not to know who he was.) I guess parenthood really does change people.
- The writers clearly had some fun naming the one-line pizza-delivery characters: The credits list roles for "Pete Za," "Andy Chovy," "Deepa Dish," and "Brad Stick."
- I was an obsessive Babysitters Club fan as a kid, and I feel deeply gratified to recap a show that enjoys throwing multiple deep-cut references to the series. (Rosa: "Calm down, you're such a Mary Anne." Amy: "I am, it's true!")
- Also airlifted straight from my childhood: Amy has a Caboodle filled with scrunchies (same), report cards (same), and photos of a young Al Gore (not same, though Holt is right that he's probably cuter than Andy Samberg. Sorry, Andy Samberg.)
- Willy Wonka was also my favorite movie as a kid, so getting to see Andre Braugher do a classic "You lose. Good day, sir!" was a delight. If only he could have starred in the reboot instead of Depp.
- Speaking of Holt-related menace, Andre Braugher's best line-reading of the month goes to this exchange: Amy: "It's fun to see you so passionate." Holt: "I will slit you both open from mouth to anus and wear you like jackets."
- I like that everyone is furious at Terry for declaring himself Switzerland in the heist. Amy: "Not to be harsh, Sarge, but you're setting a terrible example for your daughters and they're going to grow up to be total failures!" (Rosa settles for snapping his suspender.)
- No B99 next week, because baseball. See you November 1!