If Brooklyn Nine-Nine felt it necessary to introduce viewers to Mama Peralta and Papa Peralta (the latter on two separate occasions), then it was only inevitable that one day we’d also meet Papa Santiago, better known by his birth name, Victor. Less inevitable was the actor who’d be cast to play him. When you think “Amy Santiago,” you probably don’t envision her as the daughter of a man who exudes as much cool as Jimmy Smits. Neuroses and control issues do not jibe with his brand of easy, macho slickness, and yet here he is in this week’s episode, “Mr. Santiago,” all handsoming up the place and being plain old awesome. You half expect Smits to play the character as insufferably persnickety, and that’s half true. He’s a bit of a fussbudget.
But standing next to Jake, all we see is Victor’s smooth sophistication. Jake, not surprisingly, is a wee bit anxious at the idea of meeting Amy’s father for Thanksgiving, and so he goes full Amy by cooking up a binder on all the this and that that makes Mr. Santiago who he is: His fondness for Nomos Glashütte watches, his preference for baby carrots over celery, his love of a good, dry riesling. Jake even has all of Victor’s old cases on file, because of course Victor used to be a cop, and of course this all leads to the pair getting sidetracked to tie up some loose ends on one of his unsolved cases from back in the day, because Brooklyn Nine-Nine can’t avoid being at least tangentially about police work on its holiday episodes. (Even “Halloween IV” lets the characters demonstrate their skills in sleuthing, just in the context of the episode’s shenanigans.)
If the series has taught viewers one thing about Jake over the course of its four seasons, and it has taught us way more than one thing, it’s that he’s desperate for people’s approval. He wants everybody to like him. This is the human condition, perhaps, but for Jake that condition is terminal: If he’s unable to attain universal popularity among his peers, his world starts to implode. “Mr. Santiago” takes that compulsion, amplifies it first by acquainting him with Victor, and then amplifies it yet again by setting their first meeting around the Thanksgiving table. Maybe it’s a good thing that they both find an excuse to get out of the house. The pressure of the holiday might have induced a coronary in ol’ Jake eventually.
Andy Samberg’s chemistry with Smits is the first point on which “Mr. Santiago” hinges. There’s little reason to assume that these two won’t vibe as actors: Samberg has a talent for playing up his characters’ choked hysteria, whether during his time on Saturday Night Live or in his big screen roles, from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping to Hot Rod. Smits, by contrast, brings an irresistibly laid-back charisma to every part he plays, most recently in Netflix’s The Get Down, as well as surprising reserves of warmth. He doesn’t exactly give us the fuzzies here, because naturally the entire outing with Jake is a component of Victor’s greater goal: To teach Jake a valuable lesson in dealing with overprotective dads.
It doesn’t come as a shock that Victor is playing Jake similar to how Jake is playing Victor. (It’s even less shocking to learn that Victor has a binder on Jake. C’mon: He’s a Santiago. You don’t ask why a disease spreads, why nations go to war, or why the sky is blue. You don’t ask why a Santiago has a binder on his daughter’s boyfriend.) But the turnaround puts us in different territory than “Captain Peralta” or “Karen Peralta,” where the endgame is cathartic by nature. We don’t really learn anything new about Victor by the time “Mr. Santiago” ends. Instead, he learns a thing or two about being a dad to a modern woman, and we see a glimmer of hope for his relationship with Jake. (Jury’s out, but then again, that’s true of how Holt feels about Jake, too. At least Rosa and Terry like the poor guy. And, ostensibly, Amy. And Boyle, obviously.)
Off in the B and C plots, Pimento (brief aside: Jason Mantzoukas, two episodes in a row?! Come come, it’s Thanksgiving, not Christmas!) pairs off with Holt while the rest of the gang faces off with a big league pissed-off turkey. It’s hard to say whether the former is more of an oddity than the latter, but if Pimento is going to be part of the 9-9’s daily existence (more or less), then it’s only sensible that he and the captain should bond a bit, even if over the two thousand-dollar loan Holt gives to Pimento to help him acquire his P.I. license, which Pimento immediately blows on a gamble. (He bets on dog shows. This feels perfectly out of sync with Pimento’s image.) And at Amy’s place, Boyle has the bright idea of slaying their turkey in-house, a bad idea that gets worse when Gina and Rosa have the brighter idea of letting the son of a bitch loose in the apartment.
Ever met a turkey in the wild? They’re nothing nice. A wild turkey inside a human residence is a whole other story, but it’s the kind of story that fits snugly into the zany tenor of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, right alongside a bar full of football fans erupting in cheers at the outcome of a dog show. “Mr. Santiago” glosses over opportunities for sweetness in character development—the accord Victor and Jake reach at the end is one of mutual respect mixed with mutual love for Amy—but it’s suitably loopy and never less than hysterical. (Psychotic Amy is the best Amy. Her thirst for blood outmatches even Boyle’s.)
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.