We talk an awful lot about what kind of show Brooklyn Nine-Nine is, and how its genre, tone, and sensibility generally excuse it from having to be anything more than funny to succeed. This holds true for “Paranoia,” which is often uproarious, but the episode stresses that emotion is just as important a component to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s greatness as its humor; it may also leave action junkies wishing for an alternate timeline where Dan Goor and Michael Schur hired Gareth Evans to helm the remaining installments of the series’ third season.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine rarely ever feels dangerous, and its cast of characters rarely ever wind up in harm’s way. That, again, is one of the show’s genetic attributes. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is about hijinks and antics. It is not about gunfights, fistfights, or really fighting of any kind, save for infighting and verbal fighting. But there are exceptions in its hierarchy of goofy capers and zany shenanigans, a’la “Yippie Kayak,” or “Houses Mouses,” or even Season Two’s “The Wednesday Incident.” Remember: these characters are all cops. Even if they spend most of their time clowning around, their field necessitates that on occasion they end up putting their lives on the line. Even Brooklyn Nine-Nine can’t get around that, and this is why “Paranoia” feels like kind of a big deal in the series’ canon. This is what dangerous looks like.
“Paranoia” starts with a deceptively simple set-up: Rosa and Adrian bust a drug dealer, bring him into the precinct, and in the midst of regaling their peers with the story of the arrest, they casually mention that they got engaged while in pursuit of the perp. (The joke here is also deceptively simple, though the payoff is huge. “Wait! You wanna get married?” “Yep.”) From there, the story splits into an A-plot and a B-plot; in the former, Scully, Hitchcock, Terry, and Jake take Adrian out for a bachelor party, and in the latter Amy, Gina, and Boyle take Rosa out for her bachelorette party, which is really three parties rolled into one. Nobody can agree on a single plan for feteing Rosa, though as “Paranoia” unfolds, we see that each plan is pretty great.
But while Rosa and the gals (and Boyle) pelt teenage boys with paintballs, get hammered, and smash up a defunct restaurant, stuff is getting real with the guys. We all think Adrian is a looney tune, and he really is—that’s what working for a mob boss nicknamed “the Butcher” will do to a person—but like Joseph Heller once wrote, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” and boy, are they after Adrian. Someone wants to kill him! For serious reals! We don’t learn that until the quintet sits down for dinner at a swanky steakhouse, of course, and “Paranoia” spends most of its time making us suspect that Adrian is either off his rocker, or he’s maybe just screwing with Jake et al, in the name of shits and giggles. (Be fair: that does seem like the sort of thing he’d do, right?) Wacky Adrian, being wacky—that’s all that “Paranoia” wants to lead us to think.
The reality of their situation is somewhat more dire, and the second reality is even more dire than that. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has pitted its cast against the mob before, but the ultimate reveal of “Paranoia” breaks new ground for the gang as a law enforcement unit. Thank goodness Holt is around to take charge of operations and also of team unity. (The hushed cry of “9-9!” is a classic group gag, and kind of a perfect way to end the episode.) But where do we go from here? It’d be pretty swell to see the unfettered ass-kicking side of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a spin on The Raid or even the films of Edgar Wright, whose Hot Fuzz has long felt like a big influence on Goor and Schur; bad guys gotta get got, after all, and there’s no doubt that Rosa would love nothing more than to thoroughly beat down scores of mafia thugs in the pursuit of reuniting with her man.
It won’t happen, of course. Remember: that’s not the kind of show Brooklyn Nine-Nine is. It is the kind of show, though, where two tough as nails outsiders of varying degrees of mental wellness can meet, fall in love, commit themselves to one another, and totally mean it within the span of only an hour and change of airtime. Terry immediately objects to their engagement, and in another show, we might feel inclined to take his side. This is not that show. As silly as their whirlwind romance is, and as weird as Rosa and Adrian may be, both together and separately, we do not doubt for a second that their crazy love is for real, which makes their teary farewell a satisfying emotional gut punch—and after all, that, all tomfoolery aside, is what Brooklyn Nine-Nine is all about.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant and Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.