While the first episode of the night, “PB&J”, felt like the weakest showing of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s final season, S8E6 “The Set Up” finds the show roaring back in full force with one of its strongest episodes yet—and, as we’ll see, one of the most uncomfortably real ones from the show’s entire run.
Jake Peralta has made no effort to hide his love of cop movies and their depictions in popular culture—his son, Mac, is named after John McClane from Die Hard, and one of his defining characteristics has been the childlike glee with which he dives into any case that bears even a slight resemblance to any of the cop movies he loves. What “The Set Up” does is take this “hero cop” fantasy to where it would naturally go in a realistic world—and forces Jake to deal with the consequences.
“The Set Up” opens on a harrowing announcement from Captain Holt: there’s a bomb on a bus in downtown Brooklyn. The crew of the Nine-Nine is understandably alarmed—except Jake, who’s ecstatic at the prospect of getting to work a case similar to the movie Speed. But by the time they get there, the bomb has already been defused and the FBI has taken over the case, informing Jake that the bomb was rigged with a cheap watch and that there are likely prints all over the place.
But Jake isn’t convinced that the FBI is taking the case seriously, and after debriefing with Rosa at the bar decides that there must be something more to the case, so he goes back to the bus lot at midnight to investigate. When someone comes through the parking lot, Jake’s instincts kick in and he arrests the man—only for Holt to inform him that the FBI had solved the case hours ago. There were prints all over the place, the prints led to a suspect who confessed immediately, and that the person Jake arrested is innocent.
Meanwhile, Amy has gotten a threatening visit from O’Sullivan (head of the police union), warning her that there will be consequences if she doesn’t drop the pilot program for policing their precinct with fewer cops that first started in “Blue Flu”, and Terry and Boyle have started a battle over who is going to score Scully’s annual oversized order of candy for their kid’s fundraising. Both of these subplots are mostly just there for some much-needed lightness in the episode, but they do both become important to the main plot later.
Things get worse for Jake: the innocent man he arrested winds up suing both him and the department for wrongful arrest, having been in processing for ten hours and losing his job over it. But before their conversation can proceed further, O’Sullivan barges in and states that he’s there to protect the uniformed officer who had given Jake the location of the bus lot—and offers Jake the promise of making the lawsuit against him go away. But this only leads Jake to another conclusion: the whole thing was a setup by O’Sullivan to try and blackmail Jake to pressure Amy to kill the pilot program.
So, Amy and Rosa agree to conduct an impromptu investigation into O’Sullivan, with Amy meeting up with him at the bar to discuss business over drinks to try and get him drunk enough to admit that he had set Jake up. In the meantime, Terry and Boyle appear to be sabotaging each other, as Boyle’s delivery of Scully’s order winds up being filled with sand and Terry’s delivery of that same order winds up being a box filled with apples.
But, Amy and Rosa’s investigation hits a major snag: O’Sullivan winds up having a much higher tolerance for alcohol than Amy, so she and Rosa decide to try switching off to try and outdrink O’Sullivan, determining that even sober he won’t be paying enough attention to notice the difference between the two of them. In the meantime, Jake has found some things about the man he arrested that don’t appear to add up, so—despite Holt directly forbidding it—he decides to tail the man, convinced that he’s being paid by O’Sullivan.
Then, things go horribly wrong. Amy and Rosa both wind up getting too drunk and accidentally going out at the same time instead of switching off, and when they confront O’Sullivan directly, he tells them the truth: the “consequences” that he warned Amy about was just the sabotage of the vending machine and Terry and Boyle’s candy orders, and that he had nothing to do with the person Jake arrested.
Amy and Rosa race off to warn Jake that he’s following an innocent man, but they’re both still drunk and only wind up drawing attention to him being there—and when the victim notices he’s there, it only leads to intimidation charges being added to the lawsuit being filed against Jake.
In the episode’s climax, things come to a head between Jake, Holt, and O’Sullivan. Holt informs Jake about the intimidation charges that have been added onto the lawsuit, only for O’Sullivan to barge in once again, stating that the department is going to settle without admitting wrongdoing and that neither Jake nor the uniformed officer who helped him will face a suspension or any sort of punishment. Things get heated between O’Sullivan and Holt, leading to this brutal moment of truth from Holt:
Do you know what happens when you refuse to punish cops for their mistakes, when police are treated as a separate class of citizen above the law? It breeds a lack of trust in the community, and that lack of trust means people won’t help us with our investigations or testify or even call us when they’re in danger. It makes them more scared of us than of criminals and gangsters. It makes them run when we approach even though they’ve done nothing wrong. It makes the people see us as the enemy, which leads to more confrontation, more distrust. You wonder how Peralta can do his job when he’s held accountable for his actions? I wonder how any of us can do our job if he’s not.
But, as expected, O’Sullivan refuses to budge, so Jake finally does the right thing: admitting he made a mistake and apologizing for it, leading to a bombshell announcement from Holt: effective immediately, he’s being suspended from the force for five months.
“The Set Up” is quite possibly the most uncomfortable episode that Brooklyn Nine-Nine has ever aired throughout its eight-season run. Jake does almost everything exactly by the book of what the “hero cop” does when these situations come up in cop movies and TV: digging further even when the case is solved, going against his superiors, following his instincts, but for the first time it shows what actually happens in these cases. An innocent man winds up arrested, losing his job, then followed and intimidated despite having done nothing wrong, essentially caught in the crossfire of one of Jake’s hero cop fantasies.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has always existed in a weird fantasy bubble, a what-if asking what it would be like if a police precinct was staffed entirely by a diverse group of well-meaning, progressive individuals. Almost every other cop that the Nine-Nine has interacted with has been corrupt or bad in some way, and even when the season premiere suggested that there were no such things as “good cops”, the show never went so far as to suggest that there might be anything problematic with any of the detectives of the Nine-Nine—until now.
“The Set Up” goes into territory that the show has never dared approach before, indicting one of its primary protagonists for his problematic behavior—no matter how well-intentioned he might be. It’s also a shot taken against TV and film’s long love affair with the “hero cop”—and the consequences that follow when people grow up with these ideas in their head—especially when these people go on to join police forces in real life—and it’s yet another piece of the puzzle in what’s looking more and more like Jake’s eventual departure from the Nine-Nine.
In short, “The Set Up” certainly lives up to its name, setting up Jake’s storyline for the remainder of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s final season—and finally forcing him to get real about his cop movie fantasies, and the consequences that follow when he tries to bring those fantasies to life.