It’s one thing to be obvious. It’s another thing to be boring. If there’s a single word that we can use to describe Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s fourth season, it’s “predictable,” and anybody who keeps up with Paste’s weekly recaps probably saw this one coming from a mile away. Let’s get more specific than that, though, because the same applies precisely to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s annual Halloween antics, too: Every year since the show’s first season, the precinct’s ongoing contest to crown the ultimate detective/genius telegraphs its outcome more and more, sapping the thrill of good old fashioned guesswork from both the contest and the episodes staged around it.
Put another way, you’ll see Gina coming from a mile off. “Halloween IV” barely even bothers to disguise her chicanery, in fact, or at least it doesn’t put in much of an effort to trick the audience into believing that Jake, Amy, or Holt is pulling the wool over everyone else’s eyes. We don’t even buy the increasing pile of red herrings that point to Terry as the culprit, either. But that doesn’t really matter. If you’ve ever engaged with a mystery yarn, then Gina’s early exit from festivities is all the evidence anyone needs that she’s the ultimate detective/genius. It’s fine: No one watches Brooklyn Nine-Nine in the expectation of being stumped. Puzzles are not what Brooklyn Nine-Nine is interested in. Instead, it’s interested in a good time.
And hoo boy, “Halloween IV” is a good time. It’s a great time, even, pure Brooklyn Nine-Nine silliness, which makes for a nice refresher after last week sprinkled an excess of New Girl’s quirkiness into Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s reliably wacky bouillabaisse. (Even five minutes of New Girl crossover is five minutes too many). Here, we see the series swinging for the fences, building a half hour sans some change around strong plotting and stronger punch lines: “Halloween IV” has momentum, a real sense of propulsion rocking the story forward without dragging or letting the audience come up for air. There isn’t even a lead-in to the competition. As soon as the episode begins, we’re in it, with Amy, Jake, and Holt making grand, grander, and even more grand entrances, all in the pursuit of one-upping one another. It’s a parade of absurdity.
The opener, of course, is only the opener, and part of what makes “Halloween IV” work is how hard it tries to outdo itself as its characters try to outwit each other. It’s been said before, but it’s a marvel that anyone is able to catch crooks or do anything related to their jobs when it’s October in Brooklyn: The show’s greatest surreality, in an installment in which Holt breaks through a window just to keep Jake from literally walking away with the prize—a plaque that bestows its bearer with the title of ultimate detective/genius, naturally—is that a bunch of grown-ass police officers would actually take a dumb game like the Halloween heist so seriously as to put off their duties as enforcers of law for an entire night. Maybe being on the night shift is more conducive to All Hallow’s Eve shenanigans. Then again, you’d expect allllll the weirdos to be out on Halloween.
Whatever the case may be, seeing these characters go to such extreme lengths for the sake of bragging rights is a hilarious delight: Jake hires a Boyle lookalike (Wilson Story), who may just be a male prostitute; Holt trains Cheddar, the world’s most adorable corgi, to fetch plaques; and Amy goes ham with her binders. This last bit is totally expected, because it’s Amy, but her team-up with Rosa enhances the nerdy effect of Amy’s binder obsession. The more Rosa gets into it, the more we do, too. (Aside: Whether in a foxhole or a totally dumb Halloween caper, Rosa is the person you’ll always want by your side.) Throw in the pitch-perfect use of Scully and Hitchcock, who together steal some of the best lines of the night, and you’ve got a thoroughly wonderful episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
But then you factor in Gina, and “Halloween IV” becomes something even more special than that. Gina talks a good talk about her indomitability, but we rarely see her knack for being amazing at everything in action. This year’s heist lets her make three seasoned and gifted cops look like total dumbasses, and she pulls off her own scheme with frightening ease. It helps, certainly, that nobody thinks she’s got it in her, which is exactly what’s frosting her cake: She feels left out. (“Discriminated against” would be more accurate, per her own words, but if Gina’s a bit of a loon, she’s not a moron, and she backs off on that one pretty quickly when Holt and Terry put in their two cents.) Sure, maybe Gina’s just a product of the “everyone gets a trophy” generation, but then again, who wouldn’t feel a little underappreciated pulling an administrative gig in a police station? No one gives medals and commendations to administrators.
Except in “Halloween IV,” although, in fairness, the plaque is not “given” to Gina: She straight up takes it. And she deserves it.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He writes additional words for Movie Mezzanine, The Playlist, and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.