“The Setup” is one of the better episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s season eight and, arguably, would have made a stronger season premiere, or at least second episode of its premiere night, in that it more subtly highlights the failures of copaganda than other episodes this season. Generally, the show prefers putting its overzealous officers and their passionate ineptitude on a pedestal. Yes, the Peralta stuff this week really hits that nail with a blunt hammer, but the Boyle and Terry subplot nearly says more about officers’ microaggressions and personalities and being a part of a broken system that is supposed to serve and protect. It’s an episode a bit light on laughs but sharper and tighter in terms of writing and character than the last couple of adventures in the 9-9.
When a bomb is found on a bus in Downtown Brooklyn, Jake Peralta thinks he’s finally getting his Speed moment, but he’s disappointed when the whole situation gets handled without him. It’s funny that the writers don’t actually give him one last action-adventure like they did when they gave him his Die Hard “Yippie Kayak” moment in season three. It would seem the show is done with giving Jake too many easy arrests or good times.
At first, it appears that Jake is just going to be pushed aside by the FBI’s quick resolution of a lackluster case: Someone left a bomb on a tour bus for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel set to go off at 12 a.m., but the FBI agent presumes this was just an error and the criminal intended to set it for noon and not midnight. Whoever planted the bomb also left fingerprints everywhere, but Jake is unwilling to give up on his Speed — after all, the film notoriously had a second bomb! What if the bomb was intended to go off in the middle of the night? What if there was a different target than a group of Rachel Brosna-fans?
Jake goes to the lot to investigate, against Holt’s orders, and everything starts to unravel. He spots a guy near the buses and takes him in, leading the suspect to lose his job. Of course, he’s innocent, an ordinary dude who was just cutting through the lot. Jake learns from Holt that they have already arrested a suspect who has confessed. Uncool, uncool, uncool.
Meanwhile, it’s time for Cagney & Lacey’s annual school candy drive, but Terry has competition this year for his No. 1 client, Scully, a man whose main dietary supplement is sugar. It turns out that Nikolaj is selling candy now, too, which leads to a sugar war between Boyle and Terry over their candy addictions. Things turn violent enough to break Terry’s mouth with an apple.
The episode turns when Jake and Amy become convinced that the false arrest Jake made was actually a setup by O’Sullivan. It’s an episode that almost certainly would have played out differently in previous seasons. For the first seven years, Jake’s instincts were nearly infallible, and he would have been proven right about his Speed, but the world has changed and the writing on Brooklyn Nine-Nine is trying, sometimes too hard, to reflect that change by not allowing inept police work to win out for the sake of comedy.
It’s also revealed that the cop that Jake got the parking-lot address from has Internal Affairs investigations open on him and changed his name to David Duke Marzipan (and has 15 recent cases against him on his record). Not the most reliable ally. O’Sullivan comes in to claim that the perp Jake falsely arrested must have been guilty of something and offers Jake the police union’s assistance if he “plays ball.” That’s when Jake comes up with his setup theory. O’Sullivan is trying to get Jake on his team and the upper hand at the 9-9 and get Amy to drop her new program. After all, O’Sullivan told Amy that she’d be sorry. Is he trying to lean on Amy by setting up Jake to get her program to go away?
Amy’s lousy plan is to get O’Sullivan drunk enough to confess while Rosa listens in the bathroom. It falls apart instantly because O’Sullivan is the kind of guy who drinks “breakfast beers” and doesn’t easily get drunk (meaning he’s soberly saying creepy things about his mom), while Amy is getting totally hammered.
It gets worse when Jake interrupts Amy’s increasingly drunk sting operation with yet another theory that the perp he falsely arrested is actually guilty. (Again, in past seasons, he’d probably be right.) Since Amy is too drunk to keep up with O’Sullivan, Rosa and Amy switch places because guys like O’Sullivan can’t tell the difference. Beatriz’s Melissa Fumero impression here was too brief and should have gotten more screen time. Jake goes down a deeper rabbit hole of theories, insisting to Holt that he needs to tail his suspect now, before he jets off to Florida.
Amy and Rosa’s plan to switch back and forth and match O’Sullivan drink for drink goes off the rails when they both get too wasted and end up in the booth at the same time. Since the jig is up, they accuse O’Sullivan of blackmailing Jake. But O’Sullivan “owns” his blackmails and admits to being the one who broke the vending machine and the one who messed with the candy shipments to drive Boyle, Terry, and Scully crazy. O’Sullivan is passionate about only one thing: “Getting cops off without punishment.”
Amy tries to stop Jake from making a bigger mistake, but she doesn’t get there in time (at least she doesn’t drunkenly ride a bike into a fruit stand like Rosa). At that point, the suspect spots Jake, likely leading to a pretty big harassment lawsuit. It almost brings out Holt’s huffy side.
Enter O’Sullivan and Mel Jenkins, City Attorney in Charge of Payoffs and Bribes, to save the day! The department is going to settle without admitting any wrongdoing. O’Sullivan goes into his script about split-second decisions, saying that not only will Jake be cleared, but the very dirty Marzipan will be too. Yes, the lovable, bumbling idiot Peralta is receiving the same treatment and benefits of police corruption as a clearly bad cop. The whole thing leads to a speech from Holt about how cops acting as though they’re above the law is what breeds the community’s lack of trust in law enforcement. It’s wordy and a little simplistic, but Andre Braugher pulls it off. After all, this isn’t the first season that Holt has eloquently taken the moral high ground. While a lot of this season has felt different than the previous seven, it’s not hard to see Holt giving this speech at any point in the run of the series, which makes it work.
Instead of taking the free pass courtesy of O’Sullivan, Peralta holds himself accountable, dropping the S-word (sorry) and the M-word (mistake) for arresting a suspect without sufficient evidence and police intimidation, which means he will be suspended for five months. With only four episodes to go? Will he come back? And the main theme of the season feels like it’s expressed in one of Holt’s final lines: “Things will be a lot better when a man doesn’t have to lose his job for you to learn a lesson.”
• Does Jake get random pizzas when he’s having a hard day? How do I sign up for that?
• Love Hitchcock but the FaceTime stuff really isn’t working. It’s been consistently unfunny.
• Meme Holt saying, “He’s made me huffy.”
• A great Braugher delivery on “I don’t hate actors — I hate colleges that award diplomas for acting.”
• Who else would watch Stephanie Beatriz in a Sister Act remake?
• Four episodes left! Do you think there will be any major surprises? Will there be finality or an open ending? We’ll know soon enough.