If you’d told me in 2013, when Brooklyn Nine-Nine debuted, that a cop comedy starring the guy most famous for “Dick in a Box” would end up producing one of the best #MeToo TV episodes ever, I’d have thought you were bananas. Actually, if you’d told me in 2013 that #MeToo would exist, I’d also have thought you were bananas. Bamboozlement all around! But that’s actually kind of the point: The cultural conversation today is a very different than it was even just six years ago, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine has relentlessly evolved and risen to the occasion. Never was that more obvious than in the Stephanie Beatriz-directed “He Said, She Said,” which aired Thursday night.
The story starts in the cold open when Captain Holt announces a case with a man who has a broken penis. The guesses get more wild about what happened to him, with Jake ultimately landing on a scenario involving a Bentley and a goose. But no, actually, a man got rammed in the balls with his own golf club by a woman employee he sexually assaulted. It’s the set-up for the tone, too: Brooklyn Nine-Nine planned to be as ridiculous and funny as ever, while being real about what it’s like to be a woman moving through a violently misogynistic world. Amazingly, they almost completely nailed it.
The guy with a broken penis, Seth, is a manager at a hedge fund. The woman he assaulted, Keri, is a super successful investor at the firm. She comes in for questioning at the Nine-Nine and says immediately that she doesn’t want to press charges, because she doesn’t want the drama to derail her career, and also because the firm offered her 2.4 million dollars to keep quiet. Amy convinces her to decline the money and go after her boss. Jake and Amy don’t get anywhere when they show up at the firm to question the other employees. Everyone just keeps saying it’s a great place to work and Seth is such a nice guy.
That sets up one of the most important juxtapositions of the episode: Jake and Seth. “I’m the kind of guy who thinks Kathryn Bigelow should direct the next Star Wars — and I’ve said that to other men,” Seth proclaims, as a way of defending himself against the accusations. It’s something earlier seasons Jake would have joked, along with “Title of your sex tape!,” with impunity.
But he’s grown with the social conscience of the series, and some of the sweetest and funniest moments come from Beatriz pushing the camera in on his face as he tries to navigate whether or not he should be part of the argument between Rosa and Amy when they discuss the case, and when he realizes how different his day-to-day interactions are than his wife, even when he’s literally standing right beside her. He watches a kid play a video game at the bus stop; she gets groped. The coffee cart guy wishes him a nice day; he tells Amy she has a nice mouth. A man looking for a cop asks Amy — who is in uniform — where to find a cop, and recognizes Jake as a cop, on sight, just by his badge. To his credit, Jake doesn’t make it about him. “I’ve settled on active listening; I will no longer be chiming in,” he says to himself, and expresses sincere sorrow about what the world is like for Amy, how she’s been forced to get used to it, and how he often doesn’t even notice. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has done a really excellent job making Jake a lovable ally, mostly by giving characters a chance to talk about their own experiences, and him a chance to speak up about what he’s learned to other straight cis white dudes.
The other big juxtaposition in “He Said, She Said” is between Rosa and Amy, who almost always agree on how to handle things, especially things that require them to lean on the feminism they share as two Latina women in a very white, male-dominated workforce. Rosa reminds Amy that this isn’t some theoretical case about sexual assault; there’s a real woman on the other end who is now getting no settlement and who also probably won’t get justice because they don’t have any physical evidence (and even if they did, they’d still be lucky to convict). That’s when Amy admits the case isn’t just about Keri, or about what women go through on a daily basis, but about a specific thing that happened with her and her first Captain, who felt like she owed him for her early success and promotions.
The episode doesn’t clown on any women, not even in the gentle way we’ve grown accustomed to. The jokes — and there are plenty — are the expense of Seth’s broken dick, Jake’s discomfort, and men’s shittiness, in general. One of Seth’s friends, Beefer, comes through with the evidence they need to charge Seth with sexual assault, but only so he can ultimately get Seth’s job. The conclusion isn’t wrapped in a tidy bow, either: Keri leaves the firm because now she’s a “narc,” so she won’t get invited to the social stuff, and if she doesn’t get invited to the social stuff then she won’t get the leads she needs on accounts, and so her career at this company, at least, is over.
There are shades of season four’s “Moo Moo” here, where Holt tries to convince Terry not to file charges against a racist white cop, for the sake of his own career. Holt endured dogged racism and homophobia on his rise through the ranks. He knew if he ever made any noise about it, his trajectory to Captain (and hopefully ultimately Commissioner) would be over. Terry appreciates that, but for his conscience, he doesn’t want a profiling white cop roaming the streets of his neighborhood where his girls live and play.
What makes both of these episodes great is they don’t feel like Very Special Episodes and they don’t promise easy answers to complicated questions. Holt and Terry don’t agree on how to approach racism; they just make the best decisions they can at the time, for themselves and their families. Same with Rosa and Amy. They don’t agree on what’s the best approach for prosecuting sexual assault on this specific case — but it’s Rosa who reminds Amy, at the end, that two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward. Tearing down systemic and systematic oppression is complicated, and progress is slow, but it’s still progress.
That message packs a huge punch on a show with with two black characters, one of them gay; and two Latina characters, one of whom is openly bisexual, just like the actress who plays her, the very one directing this episode. When a show practices that kind of actual diversity, we get real conversations, and plenty of guffaws in between.