When I put together this list of the 9 best episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, back when the long-running series had just hit its milestone 99th episode, I landed on the theory that Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s comedic strength lay primarily in iteration. Ever ready to tap old set-ups for new punchlines, Brooklyn Nine-Nine had made an art, even by then, of building (and building, and building) on its own best jokes. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” I wrote, “works to ensure that its signature gags are not repetitive, but iterative—familiar enough to invoke excitement and/or fondness, but with a fresh enough twist that the gag […] gains a new layer each time it’s called back into service.”
Which is all to say, duh—what else was this week’s blow-out series finale going to be than one last heist? It had to be! And while, sure, pretty much 99% of it was utterly predictable (the remaining 1%? Chekhov’s Kool-Aid Man), there wasn’t anything disappointing about that. Rather, all that utter predictability let Brooklyn Nine-Nine do what it’s always done best: It let the characters showcase all the growth they’ve undergone across the eight years they’ve spent honing this exact set-up, filled with these exact jokes.
To that end, I’ve iterated on my own past work, and pulled together this list of the 9 best callbacks Brooklyn Nine-Nine packed into this, its final juggernaut outing.
While it would have been an absolute delight to see Craig Robinson’s Doug Judy pop up in the middle of the squad’s final heist, the fact of the matter is, the show already gave him a perfect send-off back in “PB & J.” Bringing him all the way back from Amsterdam now—even to blow Jake’s mind mid-heist!—would have felt like a real letdown.
Enter, then, basically every other (male) comedian B99’s ever brought in for a multi-episode arc. Tim Meadows as Jake’s mellow cannibal prison buddy, Caleb John Gosche? You got it! Jason Mantzoukas as Adrian Pimento, the 9-9’s deepest undercover detective and Rosa’s one-time wildman partner? Obviously! Fred Armisen as Melipnos (er, “Jerry Barkanklinantsan” [sp], from “the country of Honolulu”), Jake and Amy’s… whoever he is? Sure! Why not!
Would I have liked to see a few more women—say, Allison Tolman, Vanessa Bayer, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Maya Rudolph—get similar final cameo treatment, or for Kyra Sedgwick’s Madeline Wuntch get her nod via one last video dig (rather than Holt’s viciously celebratory balloon arch at her gravesite)? Yes, of course. But I guess that’s what a good imagination is for.
As obvious as Jake and Amy might have seemed initially as the answer to Terry’s final “perfect kiss” scavenger hunt clue, it’s even more obvious (and lovely) in retrospect that, nope! The kiss Terry actually meant was Holt and Kevin’s rom-com make-out session in the rain from just a few episodes ago. I mean, sure, Jake and Amy had the slow-burn romance that ‘shipping was basically made for. But it was Holt and Kevin whose rock-steady romance was in place from the very first episode, and whose love proved to be a model, time and again, for everyone in the 9-9. When Jake was looking for a model as to how to be a good partner to someone incandescently smart and intimidatingly empathetic, there was Holt and Kevin’s marriage. When Terry was looking for a model as to how to strike a healthy balance between being a Black man in NYPD leadership and being a husband (and a dad), there was Holt and Kevin’s marriage. When Rosa was looking for a model as to how to be out as a queer woman while still on the force, there was Holt and Kevin’s marriage.
Most beautifully of all, though? When Holt himself was looking for a way to capitalize off the value his own love story held for the rest of the squad, there, at last, was his secret tattoo reveal. AKA, a sketch on his lower back of Kevin’s head on Cheddar’s body. AKA, the ultimate distraction.
Talk about the long game!
Look, when it came to squaring the final send-off of one of network television’s warmest, goofiest sitcoms with the sharp turn public opinion took towards the need for police reform that followed the murder of George Floyd last summer, I’m not sure there was ever going to be a perfect approach. Cop culture in the United States is still broken, and Hollywood is still a part of the machine maintaining that brokenness. Hell, halfway through what should have been escape from all but the most superficial NYPD aspects of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, NBC ran an extended, fear-centering promo for the Law & Order: SVU / Law & Order: Organized Crime programming block scheduled to start later that night. It felt bad!
That said, if anyone was going to weave the acute need for police reform into a sitcom format, I’m glad it was the team behind Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and I’m glad they had as justice-oriented and astronomically ambitious a character as Amy Santiago already in place to spearhead it. Honestly, giving Amy that arc, this season turned out to be such a perfect fit, I can’t imagine what they could have had in mind before they threw their first few episodes out and shifted storytelling gears. Sure, it still feels like an utter fantasy that anyone, even Amy and Holt, could push even a *pilot* reform program through an institution as enormous and rickety as the NYPD in less than a year, but it’s at least a fantasy I can get behind. Well done, Queen of the Nerds! I’m rooting for you (and, of course, your new functional binder necklace).
On the one hand, it was Hitchcock and Scully’s lifelong friendship that led to this final heist’s Grand Champion moment being such an enormous bummer. On the other hand, it was beyond lovely to have one of the last exchange of “I Love Yous” be spoken between Amy and Rosa, in honor of the much harder-won friendship they built up together these past eight years. To friendship!
Man, it was INCREDIBLY stressful how long they kept up Amy’s “Jake—you’ve been in a coma for seven years” bit here in this final episode, even knowing it has to be a double-cross, but to have it end in such a killer Die Hard reference? Just golden.
I can’t say I relished the naked dead leg they added to Jake and Boyle’s BFF flashback this episode, but I can at least appreciate how much care the show put into commemorating the third half of Jake’s central 9-9 relationships—and yes, I know the math doesn’t work, but that’s because when it comes to Boyle and literally any relationship boundary, the math never works. A little bit too much, too much of the time: The Jake and Boyle story.
Truly, nothing about this finale was less surprising than every last SURPRISE REVEAL of one Gina Linetti, because of course Brooklyn Nine-Nine could never take its final bow without one Gina Linetti. Not even the repeated, pre-planned ANOTHER SURPRISE REVEAL sweatshirt costume changes were a surprise, but of course, therein lies the joy that is Gina. (May she ever reign.)
When Jake reveals to Amy that his grand scheme for their final heist is to get everybody to the Brooklyn Bridge so he can announce his retirement/throw himself the Perfect Goodbye, Amy comes back with a very important question. Namely: “Have we ever even been there as a team?” To which Jake answers, obviously, yes! Dramatically, for falafel. Falafel that was apparently so good, it was worth committing to weekly (opening credit) memory. Now that’s a callback.
“If I had had a son, and he had turned out like you…” Holt says as this, the squad’s final heist winds down [long pause lasting approximately twelve more ellipses here] “…I would have been proud.”
Over the course of the last eight seasons, Jake’s dad issues have run the gamut from mostly harmless running gag to deeply affecting emotional drama. (Thanks, Bradley Whitford!) That the series would end on a heart-to-heart between Holt and Jake—Holt leaving the 9-9 to lead the NYPD to greater accountability (AKA, be a dad), Jake to go home and be the dad to Mack he never had growing up (AKA, show great accountability)—was a tender, perfect choice.
In the end, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I guess all I have more to say is, thank you: You always served us well.
…title of your sex tape.
Seasons 1-7 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine are currently streaming on both Hulu and Peacock. Season 8 (at least for now) is available on Hulu exclusively.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.