Brooklyn Nine-Nine 6x08 “He Said, She Said” Review
The detectives of Brooklyn’s 99th precinct have solved plenty of gory murders, drug rings, B&Es, and cases of identity theft, but one area the show has steered clear of — until now — was the subject of sexual assault. And with good reason: how does a comedy find the humour in a situation that is all too distressingly real for the majority of women?
In the wake of the #MeToo movement (it’s worth mentioning that Terry Crews, who plays Terry Jeffords, has been one of the most vocal supporters of the movement since the beginning, sharing his own story of sexual assault), it seemed it would only be a matter of time before Brooklyn Nine-Nine turned its attention to the sensitive subject; and, in the same vein as episodes such as “Moo Moo” and “Game Night”, manages to make its point authentically and succinctly, while still providing laughs.
During the morning briefing, Captain Holt tells the squad about their newest case: Seth Haggerty, who has had his penis broken by a golf club. Jake’s game of guessing how such an injury could possibly occur is ruined when Holt somberly informs them that Seth was attacked by a female coworker who claims he had sexually assaulted her.
Jake is assigned to the case and Amy, who is somehow three weeks ahead in her paperwork, offers to jump on with him. As we learn later, Amy has ulterior motives for wanting to work the case, outside of getting back in the field: it hits close to home for her, as she, like many, has also suffered through workplace harassment.
First, Jake and Amy interrogate Seth, who is wearing a comedic diaper cast. Predictably, he claims that he did nothing wrong. Next, they bring in Keri, who tells her side of the story: Seth had been drinking, he got her alone and tried to take her clothes off, so she took his golf club and hit him in the “cookie monster” with it.
Right away, this episode did something I was impressed by: it would have been easy for Jake or someone else to want to take Seth at his word, to question Keri’s version of events, or to suggest that her response was the wrong one; but no one does. (In fact, the show sends Hitchcock, perhaps the one most likely to make any such comments, home for the week in the cold open, perhaps realizing that such a storyline is one Hitchcock can’t live in genuinely.)
It’s one thing to say the woman needs to be believed; it’s another to show it, and show it without saying that that’s what you’re doing.
After discussing it, Jake and Amy decide that Keri should file charges against Seth for sexual assault. But she refuses, because her company has already offered her a $2.5 million hush money payment and a promotion in exchange for her silence.
It seems like an easy decision to make: $2.5 million to pretend nothing ever happened; or open an investigation which has little chance of finding any damning evidence, relive the assault, and open yourself up to being disbelieved, ostracized, and punished for telling the truth.
Assaulters don’t deserve to walk free.
This is the crux of Me Too: it takes an inordinate amount of courage to make oneself so vulnerable in order to stop the same thing from happening again, to someone else, when there seems to be so little possibility of success.
After some encouragement from Amy, Keri decides to press charges and an investigation is officially opened, but it doesn’t get off to the most auspicious start: Jake and Amy arrive at Keri’s workplace to conduct interviews with her coworkers, hoping someone else will corroborate her story, but everyone seems intent on toeing the company line and insist that Seth is a “great guy” and the company is a “very professional place.” (This, while some employees are openly drunk.)
Not only do Jake and Amy not get the evidence they need, they find out that Keri has been fired and her settlement retracted because acts of violence won’t be tolerated. Distressed, Amy throws herself into the case, desperate to find evidence so that Keri doesn’t lose her job because of Amy’s advice.
Later, Amy comes clean to Jake about why exactly this case hits so close to home for her: at her first precinct, she was approached by her commanding officer after being promoted to detective, because he seemed to think she owed him something in return for her career. Amy never told anyone about the incident, in which her boss tried to kiss her, because she felt that maybe her promotion hadn’t been earned in the first place and that any future promotions wouldn’t be offered to her. (This particular backstory seems to be lifted right from the Harvey Weinstein scandal that started the whole Me Too movement in the first place.)
Another thing this episode did very well — as it did in the aforementioned “Game Night” episode, also — was let Jake sit back and be a comforting presence and ally rather than an active participant. As “Game Night” was Rosa’s episode, “He Said, She Said” is Amy’s. (Jake himself brings attention to the role of men in this topic while Rosa and Amy are having a back-and-forth about the merits of pursuing a sexual assault charge: should he leave the room, or should he be a part of the conversation? In the end, he decides to be an active listener and stop interjecting, which is exactly the right call.)
Because this is Brooklyn Nine-Nine and, above all, it’s a show that’s meant to make you feel good, Amy and Jake do end up with the evidence they need: one of the employees at the firm comes forward with a text chain in which Seth tells the same story Keri did. However, even with the conviction, Keri still quits her job because she knows she’s being isolated from her other coworkers and that will have ramifications of her career.
Two step forward and one step back. As the show is sure to iterate, doing the right thing isn’t always easy.
It’s not all bittersweet, though; the episode ends with Rosa revealing that another female employee from the same firm has come forward to share her story, which leads to my favourite line of the episode: “Two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward.”
If this plotline does all the heavy lifting of the episode, the B-plot works hard to add in some levity: Captain Holt learns that one of his greatest-ever collars, the Disco Strangler, has died when his transport van flipped and caught on fire. (This is a reference that goes waaaaaay back: the Disco Strangler was mentioned in the show’s pilot episode, when Terry uses the story of his capture to convince Jake that their new captain is the Real Deal.)
Although all evidence — including a charred body and the word of a badly injured van driver — points to his old nemesis actually being dead, Captain Holt refuses to believe it, thinking instead that this is the Disco Strangler’s great escape.
Is this a case of Captain Holt’s detective senses being right despite having no evidence to go on, or is he making up a case because accepting that the Disco Strangler is dead would also mean accepting that his best years are behind him?
Terry and Charles seem to think it’s the latter, and as Holt investigates and the evidence mounts against him, it seems they’re right: Holt’s main clue, a piece of string that he believes belonged to a yo-yo, turns out to be part of the sign the Strangler had to wear that declared him a fall risk, and seeing the van driver badly injured in the hospital makes it seem ridiculous to think that she could be in cahoots with the criminal.
Just as Holt is ready to admit that he’s wrong and he is no longer the young cop he used to be, he receives aerial footage from a helicopter of the Disco Strangler walking along a highway. Holt orders a team be dispatched to pick him up. The thirty-odd intervening years since Holt last caught the Disco Strangler make themselves known though, as Holt’s triumphant moment is somewhat ruined by the fact that the old Strangler is too deaf to hear what he’s saying.
Working off a reduced cast for this episode (as previously mentioned, Hitchcock is sent home in the cold open, Scully only has a minor role to play, and Stephanie Beatriz, who directed the episode, only appears as Rosa a couple of times) works in the show’s favour: the two main plots balance each other nicely, and each is given room to breathe, with especial attention given to Amy’s story in a way that doesn’t feel rushed or overbearing. As usual, the show handles delicate subject matter with deftness and finesse, and I’m grateful for it.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine airs Thursdays on NBC at 9/8c.