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SHAH: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ addresses #MeToo

Opinion Column: The Progressive's Hot Take

This week on my column, I reprise my title as a "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" fan as I write my second article on the show, discussing its most recent episode: “He Said, She Said.” Written by Lang Fisher and serving as cast member Stephanie Beatriz’s directorial debut, the eighth episode of the sixth season of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” — its first season since being saved from cancellation by NBC — took on the daunting task of tackling #MeToo through the lens of a female New York Police Department (NYPD) detective without sacrificing the comedy. 

Despite dissecting everything from cold-blooded murder to racial profiling, for a detective show based in Brooklyn, the show has deliberately avoided issues like rape and sexual assault ... until now. 

Just in its existence, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is socially progressive. Its main ensemble subverts toxic tropes with ease and casually consists of two Black men and two Latinas. But as the show has grown into itself, the writers have made an active and noteworthy effort to subtly discuss longstanding issues both within the NYPD and beyond. 

While weaving serious, contemporary issues into a show that is predominantly meant to be funny is a bit of a mixed bag, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is able to do so successfully. Its comedy is based on kindness, authenticity and respect. Jokes are never made at the expense of disenfranchised minority groups, but instead are made in good faith. 

Still, I, like many other fans, felt apprehensive at the thought of my favorite show trying to portray an extremely controversial, complex and emotionally-fraught issue in a 22-minute sitcom episode. There are far too many ways to get it wrong, and only a small fraction of ways to get it right. 

And yet, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” managed to get it right by allowing itself to create a conversation rather than a moralistic lesson. In “He Said, She Said,” married couple and NYPD colleagues Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) partner together for a case that involves investment banker, Seth (Jonathan Chase), who had his penis broken by his female employee, Keri (Briga Heelan), who claims it was self-defense in the face of sexual assault. While Keri maintains that Seth attacked her, Seth tells a completely different story, calling Keri “crazy,” while touting his so-called feminism. 

Instead of getting bogged down by issues such as believing women, the episode chose to focus on honestly acknowledging the complexities that women must navigate when coming forward with sexual assault allegations. While both Jake and Amy believed her and sought justice, Keri considered taking a $2.4 million settlement in exchange for dropping the charges simply because she knew that the only evidence is her word against his, which she pessimistically believed would not be enough to convict Seth. She was not wrong to think so. Out of every 1000 rape cases, 995 perpetrators will walk free, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

The situation pit Amy against Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz). Both are proud feminists, but at opposite ends of the issue. While Amy urged Keri to forego the settlement and pursue the case further, Rosa implored Amy to consider what is best for Keri. While ensuring justice is important, so is maintaining Keri’s integrity, which would ultimately be lost if they find no evidence or in a public trial where her name is dragged through the mud. 

Rosa deftly said, “Even if she wins, she still loses.” The episode ended on a bittersweet note — while they were able to find enough evidence through a male colleague who wanted Seth to be convicted so he could take his job, Keri still had to quit her own because her career and social life at the company were irreparable. Still, Keri concluded that if she had to do it all again, she would.

What is particularly noteworthy in this episode is the way it skillfully handles male ally-ship through the show’s protagonist. When Jake noted that women have it incredibly hard in finance, his wife took him on a journey through the microaggressions she faces daily when they are together. As the episode progresses, Amy revealed why this case was so personal to her. She herself had been sexually harassed by her former captain, who claimed it was payment for “preferential treatment.” 

Instead of making it about himself, he simply said, “Every time I think I understand how bad it is, it’s just way worse than I imagined,” to which Amy said, “This kind of stuff has happened to literally every woman I know. I just wanted to help make it better for this one woman.” In a perfectly poignant moment brilliantly showcasing Fumero’s dramatic acting chops, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” reminded us that men can be a part of the conversation in a healthy way, as long as they are willing to listen and learn first. 

As a show that carefully treads the line between a cute workplace sitcom and socially woke commentary, this episode was an ambitious and successful undertaking of yet another social issue, saying more about sexual assault than any hour-long drama could. But, first and foremost, “He Said, She Said” spoke to the idea that episodes about sexual assault should not have to be special, separate entities that spark intriguing, but temporary conversations. They should be everyday discussions we all take an active role in, despite how uncomfortable and unnerving it may be to dissect. 

Most importantly, the episode closed with Rosa saying, “Two steps forward, one step back is still one step forward." Winning can be bittersweet, but "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" asks us to keep trying anyway. Because the system needs work, and we are the only ones that can fix it.  

Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School sophomore, contemplating   her primary major but minoring in political science and philosophy.  Her  column, “The Progressive’s Hot Take,” runs on alternate Fridays.


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