Writer Lang Fisher and Melissa Fumero go for broke when Amy takes on a sexual assault case in an awards-worthy episode.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn’t the easiest show to review. While it is frequently hilarious and very witty, oftentimes its plot is a bit slight and a touch facile. It’s a 22 minute sitcom with a relatively large cast spread out across A, B (and sometimes C) plots and its primary goal is to generate laughs, which can make a recap little more than a play by play.
Which is why when a “very special episode” comes around, it’s often a doozy. Think of ‘The Last Ride’ from S4 and its sensitive and touching treatment of racial profiling and that’s what to expect from ‘He Said, She Said.’
The most simplistic characterization would be “the #MeToo episode,” but to label the sexual assault case at the heart of the A plot in such a way undermines the hard work that writer Lang Fisher and actress Melissa Fumero put into the episode. At its heart, ‘He Said, She Said’ is an exceptionally poignant and well-executed treatise on the daily abuses that more than half of the world’s population experience in a myriad of ways on a daily basis.
The case of the week involves a dude-bro finance guy named Seth Haggerty (Jonathan Chase) who sexually assaulted his co-worker, Carrie Brennan (Brigga Heelan), who responded by breaking his penis with a golf club. Jake (Andy Samberg) is assigned to the case, but Amy is quick to volunteer to help out; she encourages Carrie to press charges against Seth, despite Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz, who also directs!)’s warnings about how Carrie could be negatively affected.
Despite obvious signs that the office is a hotbed of disreputable behaviour, the employees all dispense the same lawyer-rific jargon, and it is only when another reprehensible (and opportunistic) idiot comes forward with a damning text-thread that the case is closed. The sad reality, however, is that Carrie has already been socially blacklisted and winds up quitting, just as Rosa warned. The glimmer of hope is that another woman has come forward at episode’s end, inspired by Carrie’s actions and suggesting a small, albeit significant, change in the culture.
‘He Said, She Said’ features numerous stand-out sequences, but for my money they are not the more emotionally driven sequences when Amy tearfully confesses to Jake about her own sexual assault or when she and Rosa bond at episode’s end because one step forward is still progress. These are significant moments, undoubtedly, because they tie the characters personally into the drama, but (cynically) they’re also mildly manipulative tropes to make the audience care more.
At its heart, ‘He Said, She Said’ is an exceptionally poignant and well-executed treatise on the daily abuses that more than half of the world’s population experience in a myriad of ways on a daily basis.
The same is true of ‘The Crime Scene’ a few episodes back – which also relied heavily on how Jake and Rosa’s personal maternal issues played into their treatment of the case (in fact Amy literally re-enacts the ill-advised behaviour of promising Carrie that she will receive justice).
Just to be clear: this plot point still works incredibly well, particularly Fumero’s performance. She acts the hell out of her tearful confession to Jake in what is easily her best chance in six seasons to win an Emmy.
For me, the most devasting moment of this incredibly powerful episode is the montage of sexual assaults, harassing encounters and sexist interactions that comprise Amy’s daily existence. These range from groping on the street, being creepily hit on, and professionally diminished; all of these are infuriating enough on their own, but their impact is deepened by contrasting them with Jake’s completely innocuous experiences.
If Amy’s story is about how her past trauma informs her present day approaches to sexism and sexual assault, Jake acts as the newly enlightened ally who was oblivious to the lived realities of the women in his life. Samberg tends to function well in this role: the well-intentioned but slightly dense individual caught in the middle (at one point literally, when he sits in the middle of Rosa and Amy’s disagreement about how to proceed with the case).
Interestingly, at first glimpse, the Holt (Andre Braugher) B-plot about his pursuit of the Disco Strangler seems intentionally wackier and less substantive. Clearly this is merely a subplot intended on adding levity to a very heavy episode.
And yet, upon closer examination, Holt’s obsessive behaviour regarding a significant case from his past is actually mirroring Amy’s experiences: his past with the yo-yo serial killer, however ridiculous, reiterates the idea that significant milestones from the past cannot help but inform the person you become in the present. Regardless of how silly the B-plot is, it is covertly working to support the A-plot in a surprisingly clever way.
- A great short hand way of demonstrating how deplorable Seth is in a highly relatable way is when he tells Amy and Jake in his interview that “Kathryn Bigelow should direct the next Star Wars”. It’s very reminiscent of the desperately overcompensating commentary from privileged white people that Jordan Peele wove into his Oscar winning screenplay for Get Out.
- It’s great to see Heelan (late of Great News – RIP) back on TV. The episode unfortunately doesn’t capitalize on her impeccable comedic timing due to the nature of her role – the closest it comes is Carrie’s delight in reciting the crude nicknames of her colleagues – but I appreciated that Carrie is pragmatic, smart and witty. She’s just like Amy: she didn’t deserve the shitty treatment from a walking penis joke like Seth.
- The conversation between Rosa and Amy about the need for victims to come forward in order to break the stigma vs the realities of their treatment stung. It’s so on point that they literally could have been describing Dr. Christine Ford’s hearing.
- My favourite nicknames are obviously Beefer and Skidmark.
- Dirk Blocker‘s Hitchcock (when Holt asks for a partner for Jake on the sex assault case): “Me? Because I’m the best at sex.”
- Joe Lo Truglio‘s Charles (suggesting old people “I’ve made love to many”
- Holt (when Charles suggests the Disco Strangler looks sweet): “Sweet as poison pie.”
- Holt (when the bus driver explains that the breathing tube came out): “But they left the BS in?”