A review of “He Said, She Said,” this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, coming up just as soon as I say aloud to other men that Kathryn Bigelow should direct the next Star Wars…
“He Said, She Said,” the directorial debut of cast member Stephanie Beatriz, fits into a noble but imperfect Brooklyn Nine-Nine tradition of trying to mix serious social commentary with the series’ trademark goofiness. This time, the topic is #MeToo, as Jake and Amy‘s investigation of a sexual assault charge at an investment bank turns into a larger discussion of institutionalized sexism and whether a woman is better off fighting for other women or simply trying to protect herself in a world that’s stacked against her.
Structurally, it’s very similar to Season Four’s “Moo Moo,” where Captain Holt tried to talk Terry out of filing a complaint against a cop who racially profiled him. This time Rosa is in the pragmatic Holt role and Amy is the idealist trying to tackle each injustice head-on. That’s a smart way to frame things, rather than having Jake be the one to push back against his wife about the need to prosecute this one guy (or even whether he believes the man in this particular he said/she said incident). Making Jake the opponent would create false stakes; instead, it feels like a genuine and legitimate philosophical argument between the two female detectives(*). Jake’s role in the story is simply to provide humor in the midst of a very unfunny situation — gorging himself on the firm’s mini-quiches, for instance, while Amy is trying to get anyone to corroborate the story of their victim Keri (Briga Heelan from Great News) — and to express dismay periodically at the kinds of things that Amy, Keri and other women have to go through every day.
(*) This week’s extremely flimsy excuse to involve Amy in a detective story: She explains that she can ditch her sergeant’s uniform for a few days to work this case because she’s three weeks ahead on paperwork.
But Jake’s presence also raises one of the complications of trying to tackle a complex sociopolitical issue in the context of what’s usually a very light and exaggerated workplace comedy. At the beginning of the series, there were overtones of sexual harassment in Amy and Rosa’s primary work relationships with, respectively, Jake and Charles. For the better part of the first season, every Charles story was about him trying to get Rosa to go out with him, despite her clearly not being interested. And one of the earliest and most beloved running gags between Jake and Amy was him taking her comments out of context as “Title of your sex tape.” It’s always a cleverly-phrased joke, but she hates it before they become a couple, and sometimes after, in a way she doesn’t most of their other competitive banter.
“He Said, She Said” has a great scene — which Beatriz shot largely in medium close-ups, atypical for the series, of Melissa Fumero and Andy Samberg — where Amy tells Jake about being sexually harassed by a mentor at her previous precinct. Fumero and Samberg play it strongly, but once the show opened the door to this topic, it needed to go all the way through and revisit some of its own bad behavior. It wouldn’t have to be a full interrogation of the past; just something along the lines of Amy telling Jake that while she always knew he was a good guy, she didn’t love that he made things sexual so often. Or Rosa comparing what Keri went through to the far milder but still unwanted advances Charles used to make toward her.
Because Dan Goor and company have learned from some of those early mistakes, they might not have wanted to revisit them here. (I don’t even remember the last time Charles’ crush on Rosa was mentioned.) Or they could have feared that it would overcomplicate what was already a relatively nuanced discussion of sexism, harassment and assault within two-thirds of a 20-minute sitcom episode. But when you use your fictional platform to talk about a real issue, and it’s one that some of your characters have been on the wrong side of in the past, it feels like a missed opportunity(*) not to bring it up again and recontextualize it.
(*) Along similar lines, the story of Amy’s old mentor casts her early quest for Captain Holt’s approval in a very different light. But that’s an even easier side subject to cast aside out of time concerns.
On the whole, “He Said, She Said” does an impressive job of incorporating a sensitive discussion into the show’s usual mission of getting laughs. (And the B-story, where Captain Holt correctly refuses to believe that his oft-discussed nemesis, the Disco Strangler, has died, was pure comedy.) But it also raised some questions about the series that the episode either didn’t have the time or the interest to answer.