[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” Season 6 Episode 8, “He Said, She Said.”]
While the #MeToo era is, at this point, well-established, many TV shows are still trying to figure out the best ways to address the issues raised — and also, for comedies, be funny at the same time. Given that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has already tackled issues like racial profiling, LGBTQ issues, and police corruption, the machinery was in place to delve into sensitive topics, and so this week’s episode, “He Said, She Said,” was able to take it on head-first.
The episode, marking the directorial debut of series star Stephanie Beatriz, doesn’t start off as a story about subtleties — the Nine-Nine is called to investigate an incident at a “Wolf of Wall Street”-esque firm where a broker ended up with a broken penis. He says his female co-worker “flipped out”; she says he was trying to assault her and she retaliated.
But it’s not so much a question of what the truth is, though, as it is a question of whether telling the full truth is the best thing possible for everyone involved. Briga Heelan, previously seen starring in NBC’s tragically canceled “Great News,” gets some of the script’s best lines as the hard-edged broker who committed the assault, but is tempted by her firm’s million-dollar offer to sign an NDA and “let this slide.” It’s Amy (Melissa Fumero) who convinces her to do otherwise, which unfortunately does not result in justice — at least, not right away.
Amy’s investment in the case, it’s not surprising, has a personal component: The script falters a bit when it comes to the moment of Amy’s blunt reveal of her own #MeToo story, if only because it’s played so straight, and the story sounds so familiar that it could almost read as cliched. This is of course the point, as Amy says moments later: “this kind of stuff has happened to literally every woman I know.” But Fumero’s tight expression, from nearly the very beginning of the episode, is all that’s really necessary to sell how ubiquitous an issue this is, and how it can haunt you.
The episode subplot focuses on Holt once again trying to track down his long-time nemesis, the Disco Strangler (a feud so well-established that both Boyle and Terry can recite key parts of the story as Holt tells it). While it might have significance to the overall season arc — it’s the sort of narrative plant that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” often does — it’s deliberately secondary to the main story.
Instead, “He Said, She Said” is very much a showcase for Fumero and Andy Samberg. One interesting choice is that while the episode focuses on Jake and Amy in a way that the season hasn’t done that much so far, the emphasis is not on them as a married couple but as colleagues. While it’s touching to watch Jake’s reactions to this situation within the context of him being in love with Amy, not much would have needed to change, in terms of the execution, if the two were in a platonic relationship.
To the show’s credit, Jake’s role in the episode, beyond delivering moments of comic relief, is largely to listen; Samberg delivers just the right amount of empathy without pity, letting Fumero’s work really stand out on screen.
Fumero, from the very beginning, captures how resigned women have become to these stories — she’s not angry, but defensive, almost shut down, even when trying to figure out a solution that might actually fix things. Because the blunt truth is exactly what plays out over the course of the episode: the bad guy might eventually get outed (in this case, by a co-worker angling for his job) but it doesn’t necessarily change the system, and it doesn’t make things any better for the victim.
In a note sent to critics, Beatriz said that “don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a ‘very special episode.’ It is, I believe, ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ doing what it does best: subtly discussing social issues through a multifaceted and complex lens while taking you on a comedy joyride.” “Joyride” isn’t strictly accurate; it’s a dark episode, one which may invoke a lot of feelings in the women who watch, who recognize their experiences on screen. But “He Said, She Said” does continue to move the conversation around how to develop #MeToo stories on screen — and conversation in general around this issue, and awareness of its complexities, is essential to perhaps one day solving it.