A review of “Cinco de Mayo,” this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, coming up just as soon as I know the associate principal cellist in the New York Philharmonic…
I was once in the Parks and Rec writers room to watch the staff pitch ideas for their fourth season premiere. Several writers, including future Nine-Nine showrunners Dan Goor and Mike Schur, had pitches revolving around summer holidays, but Parks co-creator Greg Daniels said they weren’t worth the fight they’d have with NBC about them. Network executives, he explained, prefer their shows to roughly follow the calendar, so that, say, a Christmas episode isn’t airing in May(*).
(*) Occasional exceptions get made, and St. Elsewhere actually did a Christmas episode or two in the spring, but as part of a gambit to keep their young cast together by treating each season as half of one year of their medical residencies.
Remembering that conversation when NBC rescued Brooklyn and set it for a midseason debut, I wondered what would become of the series’ most beloved annual event: the Halloween heist. Would they try to sneak it into an early episode that wouldn’t be that far removed from October? Or just skip it and treat Jake‘s proposal to Amy in the Season Five heist as a fitting end to this great running gag?
Instead, the creative team figured out a clever way around the calendar conundrum by relocating the heist to this episode’s titular holiday. We get flashback glimpses of the failed attempt to do it back in the fall, and that winds up being part of the elaborate plan Terry has concocted to finally win the contest.
With each new heist episode, the show has slowly expanded the conflict from just Jake vs. Holt to what’s now a squad free-for-all. “Cinco de Mayo” leans hard into this idea, by showing that everyone has started to take the competition way too seriously. That Rosa would not only drug Charles but try to mail him to New Jersey(*) is insane, but no more extreme than Jake interfering in a feud between the Scully twins, or Charles faking the death of his creepy homeless doppelganger Bill. It is an addiction, this heist, and by the end of the episode, even snooty Kevin has been sucked into the damn thing.
(*) Hi, I’m 12, and thus the joke where Charles says you can bust out of any cardboard box if you get it wet — followed by Jake demanding that no one ask any follow-up questions — is the hardest I’ve laughed at this show at least since the Scully fidget spinner joke, if not all season.
This makes it fitting that Terry would be the mastermind and victor of this year’s event. His historical lack of interest in the contest, coupled with his usual superhuman renaissance man schtick, made him an easy target for the other cops in previous heist episodes. For the most part, the Brooklyn writers just let Terry wallow in frustrated disbelief when he’s the butt of a new squad joke. But Terry hates being mocked as much as Terry hates tests, and it stands to reason that he would stand up for himself sooner or later. While all the other characters are losing their minds trying to win this silly gold cummerbund, the show’s most sensible character gets his revenge on all of them. It’s perfect.
Now, everyone goes to such ridiculous lengths to try to win this year that I might worry there’s nowhere left to take the heist in Season Seven. But I’ve had that fear before, and the heist episodes keep working. Even the show seems aware of the pressure to keep topping the last one. “Five heists was enough,” Rosa insists early on in this one. “Literally nothing new can happen.” But something new did happen, and it was delightful. So I look forward to what comes next, presumably closer to the actual Halloween.