Brooklyn Nine-Nine: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 3 – Amy Santiago

Welcome back to my character development masterclasses! Without further ado, I bring you an exploration of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Amy Santiago.

It wasn’t until reading this sensational article by Everydy Feminism that I realised yet another stereotype that Brooklyn Nine-Nine goes against, even though it’s so glaringly obvious that I’m kicking myself for not picking up on it. You can say plenty of things about Amy Santiago and Rosa Diaz, but one thing they are NOT is the “spicy latinia” stereotype.

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Yes, I’ve used this gif before, but I love it.

 

Let’s face it, a large chunk of Latinx representation in pop-culture hinges on a few  particular stereotypes – the curvy vixen/charming lover who’s going to seduce your partner, the housemaid or cleaner who barely speaks English, and the ‘spicy’ woman with a temper who flares up and starts yelling at the slightest provocation.

I’ve already covered Rosa’s character extensively in a previous post, however I’d like to point out that while she has a temper and is a somewhat frightening character, it is far from the ‘in-your-face’ stereotype we’ve seen over and over again, with raised voices and gesticulating. Additionally, while Rosa and Amy both talk about dating and generally enjoying sex, it’s a far cry from the virgin/whore dichotomy we are used to seeing with Latina characters. It’s as though the writers created these two women to be…people! giphy (1)

Anyway, on to Amy’s character development….

Amy Santiago is introduced as being a thorough, competitive woman who’s attention to detail and sharp mind make her an excellent detective. She has seven brothers, which fostered a thirst to prove herself.

She’s a dork and a stickler for the rules, but her constant need to impress comes over more endearing than annoying. This is because the creators have made sure that she’s more than just the ‘class swot’, they show us other aspects of her personality. Amy knows when and how to have fun and is a great friend to her co-workers. Her only real rivalry is with Jake, and even that is just a bit of friendly fun.

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To cap it, she’s good at her job but doesn’t seek praise for it – doing your job is baseline, she rightly doesn’t expect a cookie and a pat on the head for only doing what’s required. She only looks for approval by going above and beyond for people, for trying to be a better version of herself, not better than her co-workers. This, in combination with her awkward nature, makes her a hugely relatable and likeable character – she reminds me of Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter novels, and we all know how many women relate to Hermione.

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Not related to the paragraphs above or below, just a really adorkable line.

 

This combination of doing her job well by default and also going above and beyond to help people is showcased magnificently in the season one episode M.E Time. Holt is in a bad mood, and nobody can figure out why. Amy spends the episode trying to work out exactly what’s wrong. First, she thinks that it’s because he despises the framed photo of himself on the office wall. When Terry draws a spot-on suspect sketch, Amy enlists him to paint a portrait of the captain to hang in place of the photo. This does not go down as well as she expects.

Amy:  I know you’re having a bad day… I think you’re having a bad day. So, to cheer you up I had Terry paint you this painting to replace the photo you hated.

Holt:  I threw away the photo because I think it’s ostentatious to hang pictures of yourself, especially when you haven’t earned a place on the wall.

Amy:  Oh.

Holt: But you would have me hang a baroque oil painting of myself like I’m a North Korean dictator. What, no ornate gold frame? Why am I not astride my noble steed, clad in armour?

Amy:  … we could add a horse.

Holt: You just wasted your time, Terry’s time and now my time on this when you should have been filing a report on the purse snatcher.

Amy:  Oh, I did. It’s already in the system.

Holt: Oh. Good. Thank you. Dismissed.

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This exchange makes Amy realise what’s really affecting Holt’s mood – he’s worried about the monthly crime statistics (as it’s his first month as chief of the precinct). Amy then trawls through the last twelve years of crime stats, informing Holt that stats get worse rather than better in the first month a new commander takes over the precinct. The stats for Holt’s first month, however, are exactly the same as the previous month. She also tells him that “moral is much higher, people are working harder. You’re well on your way to earning a place on that wall.”

This care she shows for her friends and co-workers is something that runs through every character in the show and makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine stand out – there is genuine camaraderie among the characters.

In the episode Sal’s Pizzeria, we get to see Amy’s ambition and competitive nature temporarily get the better of her affection for her friends. When Rosa is offered a job as a police captain in Ropesburg New Jersey, Amy is stunned and envious. Rosa finally gets tired of Amy’s passive-aggressive sniping and drives her out to visit the Ropesburg PD. It’s the most boring place in the country. Their conversation on the drive home is illuminating.

Rosa:  So what did you think of Ropesburg?

Amy:  It’s, ah, quaint!

Rosa: It’s wack and you know it. Their number one crime is tricycle theft. There’s a bakery attached to the precinct. Come on, Santiago! You never would have taken that job so why do you even care if they offered it to me?

Amy:  I can’t help it! I’m competitive! I have seven brothers and I was the only girl, I always had to fight for a place at the table.

Rosa:  Well, you’re not the only girl at the table any more. We work at a police force full of dudes, we’ve gotta have each other’s backs, okay?

Amy:  You saying you have my back?

Rosa:  Yeah I got your back. Don’t smile, I’m still mad at you.

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To Amy’s credit, she never lets her competitiveness get too out of control again. She learns how to be happy for her co-workers successes.

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Amy isn’t secretive about her ambitions – she wants to be captain one day and knows that in order to get there she needs people to teach her how. This is the reason she obsesses over getting Holt to mentor her, and he knows that he’ll get the best results from her if he makes her really work for his praise. Amy has learned how to handle criticism, however. In the episode Thanksgiving she’s thrilled when Holt gives her notes on her Thanksgiving speech because it means she’s getting advice from him – she knows that advice and criticism leads to improvement.

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Amy’s biggest flaw is her need to do everything perfectly, from speaking with proper grammar, to her clothes being perfectly neat.

She’s so put off by the idea of doing the wrong thing that she’ll either take too long to make a decision, or get flustered and freak out. She’s also a smoker, and so ashamed of this imperfection about herself that she tries to hide it from her boyfriend. Holt, Terry and Gina take it on themselves to help her quit. Terry recommends getting rid of the cravings by dunking her head in ice water.  Holt recommends exercise, and Amy wants so desperately to impress him that she hides in a port-a-john to so he won’t see her smoking (it doesn’t work, fyi).Gina tries to help her meditate. It’s not until Holt tells her to stop putting so much pressure on herself that Amy actually stands a chance of quitting.

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Holt:  Santiago, you’re putting yourself under too much pressure, and that stress is making it even harder for you to quit. Some things might come easier to you if you stop   being such a perfectionist. A concept you should become….familiar with.

Amy:  “Familiar with”? A dangling preposition?

Holt:  I’m setting an example. I made an error and I’m not going to correct it. I’m just gonna let it dangle, dangle, dangle.

Amy:  (pause) Thank you, Captain.

It’s unclear if Amy ever quits, but I think it’s safe to say she won’t – she’s so tightly wound that smoking is a stress-relief, and without another outlet she’ll likely be a smoker forever.

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The writers develop Amy’s character further by forcing her into situations in which she needs to improvise. In the season two episode The Jimmy Jab Games, Amy can finally let her fiercely competitive side show without any negative consequences, because everybody wants to win. The premise of the episode is a great one – the precinct have some downtime for three hours while they wait for motorcade duty, and with Terry and Holt out at 1 Police Plaza, that means Peralta and the gang have time for the Twelfth Jimmy Jab games (named for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or at least, how Jake pronounces his name).

There are four events the competitors must complete – The eating of month-old Chinese food found in the fridge, running a foot race while wearing bulky bomb suits, crafting an undercover persona that doesn’t get recognised by other cops,

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and finally, an office obstacle course. This episode features a fantastic conversation between Amy and Jake where he is surprisingly insightful –

Amy:  I can’t believe I lost again. I was so psyched up for this, what happened?

Jake:  Well, maybe being so psyched up is what happened. Like, every time we’re doing police work you’re always super smart and you stay calm and take your time, but every time we do dumb games like this you act all frantic and act like a crazy idiot. My advice – next time, don’t act like a crazy idiot.

He’s right – Amy ultimately wins the games because she stops for a moment and calms down, sees past her own blinding panic and comes up with a solution to the problem of fire extinguishers being blasted in her face.

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Season two continues to slowly unwind Amy by throwing her in the deep end. In the episode The Road Trip, Jake and Amy have to drive upstate to pick up a prisoner and transport him back to the city. As they’re driving up the day beforehand, they are booked into a hotel for the evening. Jake invites his girlfriend, Sophia, and when Amy says that her boyfriend Teddy would never be this spontaneous, Jake calls Teddy and tells him to come up and surprise Amy. When he tells Amy of the super-awesome-best-friend thing he’s done for her, Amy freaks out – turns out she’s been trying to avoid Teddy because she wants to break up with him.

Amy:  Jake, this is gonna be a disaster!

Jake:  This is fine, alright, I’ll figure it out. I’m just gonna call Teddy, tell him to turn around and go home.

Amy: No. He’s a really good detective, he’ll figure out something’s wrong. I had an air-tight breakup plan in place. I made a reservation next Thursday at a well-lit Korean restaurant in midtown. It’s the least romantic place I could think of.

Jake:  Scully’s bathroom, but go on.

Amy:  Teddy’s a really good guy and I don’t want to say the wrong thing and hurt him more than I have to. That’s why I started writing out a breakup speech, but now he’s on his way and I’m only halfway through the outline!

When Teddy finally arrives, Amy starts to panic and say awkward things, until she finally bursts out “I want to break it up! Us. I want to break us up.” Her explanation of why she wants to break up is no less awkward and no more eloquent – “this is why I wanted to write it down!” – but she admits later that she’s happier having “ripped off the bandaid”.

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Amy’s character still has a lot of potential to be developed further. Like Rosa and Holt’s people skills, Amy’s neuroses and panic would take a long time to properly overcome. Having said this, the writers have given themselves a lot to work with, and if they continue to defy all-too-common tropes and clichés then Amy’s character development is going to be very interesting. She’s slowly learning to be more spontaneous and to trust her instincts – in my post about Holt I mentioned that Amy stood up to him in the episode Chocolate Milk, something she would never have done in season one. As the show continues, Amy is definitely one to watch… especially for her sweet dance moves.

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Yes, Hermione can be black. Stop being ridiculous, you shame yourself and the fandom.

 

I had planned to take a break from the blog this week. I’ve been busy with the holiday season and wanted to take a bit of time, but then this happened.

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Or, more specifically, the uproar by morons over this innocuous casting decision happened.

 

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I could have put in plenty more examples, but I value my sanity and blood pressure.

 

Fair warning – this post will get angry. Very, frustratedly, mind-bendingly angry.

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Full confession; like many of my generation I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter series. My copies of the books are tattered from multiple re-readings, I endured the excruciating wait between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix by writing fan-fiction, and I had a well-documented crush on Sirius Black. I know all of the words to the Hogwarts school song. I listen to the audiobooks when I can’t sleep. I was sorted into Gryffindor on Pottermore, and own a pair of Gryffindor leggings.

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Like many readers, I brought my own interpretation and ideas to my imaginings of the magical world. For example, the first time I read Chamber of Secrets I imagined Dobby being blue. I don’t know why; it didn’t say anywhere that he was or wasn’t blue. Rowling describes his bat-like ears, huge green eyes and long nose. It wasn’t until I saw the previews for the 2002 film adaption of CoS that I realised that he was never described as having blue skin in the books – I even went back and checked. My mental image of Ron was tall and rail thin like one of my cousins, whereas Rupert Grint wound up rather stocky. The look for Richard Harris’ Dumbledore was dead on how I imagined, but the voice wasn’t right. Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall was exactly on target, though.

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My point is that everybody brings a portion of their own experience and ideas to fiction, as both writers and readers. I’m a white girl who grew up in a predominately white part of suburban Australia, and I’ll confess that, unless otherwise indicated by the writer, my default setting for imagining characters was ‘white.’ This includes Hermione Granger, especially because I identified with her so much while growing up. People who lived different experiences than mine may have had an entirely different idea of what Hermione looked like; it wasn’t until I was much older that it even occurred to me that she might be black. But the fact is that bushy brown hair, large front teeth and high intelligence are the only real identifiers we are given for Hermione – the rest is up to us. Plenty of children of different ethnicities had, in fact, placed themselves in the role of Hermione in the same way I did.

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Original art here – http://mariannewiththesteadyhands.tumblr.com/post/107840627952/hermione-for-awfulreference-merry-christmas-micky

So, when I saw the casting announcement for Ron, Harry and Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, my first response was “awesome!” When I read about the credentials of the three actors and realised that Noma Dumezweni was in Dr Who I thought, “she’ll be brilliant!” And when I saw the uproar in the comments sections and on twitter, my reaction was “…of course” topped with an eye-roll and an exasperated sigh. Then I went to pace in the angry dome and swam a few rage laps at the local pool (one of those actually happened).

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As I have stated time and again on this blog, representation MATTERS. It’s important. While reading this awesome Buzzfeed article I stumbled upon a quote by Pulitzer winning writer Junot Diaz:

“There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in the mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at a cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”

You can listen to the full quote on the FanBrosShow podcast here.

To turn around and say to people “no, your imagination is wrong, Hermione can only be white” is to take away this reflection of themselves. I connected with Hermione because I was picked on for being moderately intelligent and unapologetic about it. Many non-white readers connected with Hermione because of this and/or a much deeper reason – her muggle-born status.

As much as I hate to assume that everyone notices the same clues when reading, it’s hard to miss the glaring allegories in the Harry Potter series. We have Remus Lupin, shunned from society and trying to deny himself the right to happiness and love, as an allegory for AIDS patients. Half-giant Hagrid as a lesson about judging people for the content of their character rather than their parentage or appearance. Dementors are representative of depression. The bigotry against muggles is an allegory for racism and xenophobia.

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Hermione, like many witches and wizards, is muggle born. As her parents were non-magic folk, there are many who believes this makes her blood ‘un-pure’. This topic is first raised in Chamber of Secrets, when the pure-blood Draco Malfoy calls Hermione a ‘mudblood,’ an obvious ethnic slur. That Hermione is an incredibly powerful and talented witch, or that wizards would have died out if they hadn’t started shacking up with muggles to diversify their genes, means nothing to pure-blood zealots.

When Lord Voldemort rises to power in Deathly Hallows, he and his Death Eaters take over the government and start weeding out muggle born wizards and witches. He also makes the muggle studies subject at Hogwarts compulsory for all students, and they are forced to listen to propaganda about how muggles are stupid and dirty, and the natural order is for wizards to be on top. This propaganda is analogous of Hitler and Nazi ideology, as well as right-wing KKK ideas regarding the separation of the races.

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Pretty bloody obvious, right? So it’s understandable that people of a non-white background would connect with a character who is constantly maligned because of her roots, and is give lower status in society, regardless of her talent. Add to this that she’s trying to convince house elves – essentially a race of slaves – that they deserve fair wages, time off and proper clothes to wear. Hermione is a fictional civil rights icon trying to unionise slaves, and people want to deny the idea that she could be black? Did these people miss the message of the series entirely?

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In my perusal of the social-media feedback regarding Hermione, I have seen five major arguments as to how she can’t possibly be portrayed by a black actress. I will now proceed to systematically tear every one of these arguments to shreds like Ron attacking the breakfast buffet.

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“JK’s only doing it as an afterthought to be PC, like when she said Dumbledore is gay after the books came out.”

 

J.K Rowling has stated on twitter that she loves the idea of a black Hermione. Many cynics have said that she only did this to be politically correct, and that she obviously didn’t write Hermione as a black character.

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Firstly, if you are familiar with the books at all you would know that J.K Rowling has progressive, left-wing views. She’s not trying to appease anyone, she’s just open minded. No, she didn’t write Hermione specifically as a black character, and probably didn’t have that in mind, but she hasn’t come out and said flat-out that Hermione is black. She never said that she’s white, or any other colour. The whole point is that we bring our own ideas and imaginations to the text. J.K is supportive of a black Hermione because there is no reason not to be.

And while I’m here, to those who are cynical regarding the “Dumbledore is gay” revelations…

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Have you EVER spent any time with a creative person, particularly a writer? Because if you had, you’d know writers create hugely elaborate worlds and have plenty of facts about their creations stored away in their heads that just don’t make it into the final publication. J.K first revealed Dumbledore’s sexuality during a table-read for the Half-Blood Prince movie, where they’d put in a line where Dumbledore reminisces about a girl he used to love. J.K had to let them know to change it, because it had just never come up before. Still not convinced? Watch this vid from about the 29-minute mark.

If you still have problems with Dumbledore’s sexuality, fine. Just imagine him as straight, the same way that other people may imagine that Hermione is not white. It’s your imagination, you can do whatever you like!

“Then why was Emma Watson cast in the films?”

A great deal of people are asking “Why was Emma Watson cast in the movies if Hermione is black?”

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Firstly, as stated above, her race was never specified in the books, so she could be any colour.

Secondly, I’m willing to bet a lot of people were disappointed (but not surprised) that Hermione was played by a white girl – we don’t always get what we want, even though it may seem that way to the privileged in society.

Thirdly, the films are an ADAPTATION of the books; they’re not cannon. There’s no Peeves in the movies either, does that mean he suddenly doesn’t exist in the stories?

The play is a sequel to the books, not the films. The performance is also an ADAPTION  of this play based in the world of the books.

Fourthly, the realm of theatre is far more open to casting decisions being based on acting ability rather than race and gender. If a grown woman can historically play a prepubescent Peter Pan on stage, then a black woman can play Hermione.

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Mary Martin as Peter Pan, 1960

Fifth, if we’re going purely on looks, Emma Watson wasn’t right for the part either.

Yup. I said it.

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Hermione is meant to be relatively plain, not pretty; her allure lies in her brains and personality. J.K herself says in this amazing documentary-

“…I was more worried about [the casting of] Hermione than anyone else. I thought, you know, ‘are you gonna get a girl and put her in glasses because that shows she’s clever?’ How many times have we seen that happen? And then I spoke to Emma on the phone and she was very young, I think she was ten, and I thought ‘you are going to be able to play a very bright and articulate girl with conviction because that’s who you are’ […] in creating Hermione I felt I created a girl who was a heroine, but she wasn’t sexy, nor was she the girl in glasses who’s entirely sexless, you know what I mean? She’s a real girl!”

Emma Watson, we can all acknowledge, is far from plain. But she works as Hermione because of her personality. In an interview special she did with Daniel Radcliffe (here) J.K says,

“It’s really lucky that I spoke to Emma on the phone before I met her, because I fell absolutely in love with her. She said to me ‘I’ve only ever acted in school drama plays before and oh my god I can’t believe I got the part!’ and she spoke like that (very fast) for sixty seconds at least without drawing breath, and I said ‘Emma, you’re perfect.’ And then when I met her and she was this very beautiful […] girl, I just had to go, okay, it’s film, deal with it. I still see my gawky, geeky, ugly duckling Hermione in my mind.”

 

“But J.K Rowling drew pictures of Hermione as a white girl! And she’s white in all the cover art!”

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So? That doesn’t preclude an adaptation from re-imagining Hermione as black. L Frank Baum didn’t necessarily write any black characters in the Wizard of Oz, but The Wiz is still a hugely successful and popular interpretation of his work.

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The original film cast of The Wiz

I’ll say it again, we’re not saying Hermione can’t be white, but there are plenty of open possibilities regarding her ethnicity. As soon as an artist puts work out into the world it’s open to all manner of interpretation, despite what the author originally planned, because we all bring our own experiences to the text. As much as I hate saying it, The Author is Dead.

J.K Rowling is fine with it, why can’t you just be cool?

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“HA! But what about this passage from Prisoner of Azkaban?”

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“White face” indicates fear in this instance, not race. Besides, if you’re going to play that card, I’m going to play this one from the same book.

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Yes, this is from my very old and water-damaged copy.

 

Sure, she could have got a tan from being on holiday. Or maybe not. But if you get to pull that bullshit then so do I.

 “It’s just not how I pictured her.”

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And that’s fine. But I didn’t picture Dobby as being white, either. I pictured him blue.

Some people do picture a black Hermione when they read the books. Now, they’re finally getting some damn representation.

It doesn’t hurt you in any way at all.

 

Fucking deal with it.

 

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 2 – Raymond Holt

Hi. Welcome to part two of my in-depth character analysis of the characters from Brooklyn Nine-nine. As I explained in last week’s blog, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of the few shows around that transcends stereotypes and manages to be hilarious while being unflinchingly progressive. A huge part of this is down to the depth and diversity of its seven lead characters.

This week we’ll focus on Captain Raymond Holt, played by Andre Braugher.

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We start the first episode of season one with the team at the ninety-ninth precinct being introduced to their new precinct captain. Jake immediately makes a jackass out of himself, and so becomes Holt’s first “project.”

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When he leaves the room, Gina immediately asks her co-workers if Holt gave them a slightly “gay vibe,” to which the others disagree. They have no reason to think the captain is gay – why would they? Unlike a huge swathe of homosexual sitcom men he wasn’t talking with a lisp, he didn’t mince through the precinct like a Liza Minelli backup dancer and his voice is a soothing baritone.  It’s not until much later in the episode that Holt tells Jake that he’s gay and hasn’t been trying to hide it, and we are shown the little clues that were laced throughout the episode.

The point of this reveal, of course, is that it happens after we learn so much more about Holt – that his appointment as Commanding Officer is a huge deal to him, his record as a detective is exemplary (in 1981 he caught the Disco Strangler), and his sense of humour is so dry it is often mistaken for being non-existent.

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His race and sexuality are only really brought up because it’s the reason that he was kept from his own command for so long – in the nineties he couldn’t progress past detective, and after the old-guard died out he was promoted to a public affairs unit.  They made him a poster-boy and yes it helped recruitment, but it wasn’t what he wanted. They kept him pushing papers and trotted him out like a show pony, but kept the real street-level police work for the “real men.” He deserved his own command but didn’t get it, first because of racism and homophobia, and then later due to benevolent racism and homophobia.

 

I say “benevolent homophobia” for want of a better term, but the idea is similar to benevolent sexism and benevolent racism – the singling out of people due to their sexuality, no matter how well-intentioned, is still wrong. In this case it was putting Holt out there as an example of how the police department has changed, despite his own wishes. His sexuality is one factor of his being, and they were praising him to prove how open-minded they are without acknowledging that Holt has his own ambitions and is a complete person. By contrast, the TV show itself treats Holt’s sexuality the same as everyone else’s in the precinct, rather than constantly singling him out. The only time it’s really brought up as a taboo is when Holt is referencing his past experiences as a detective in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and when he mentions that his wedding had to be extremely fast because they didn’t know if marriage equality laws would be repealed.

 

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Part of the reason that homophobia is rife in the media is because of heteronormative expectations of relationships. Simply put, when two people of the same gender become a couple, people often ask which one is the ‘man’ and which is the ‘woman.’ In other words, who is dominant and who is subservient, who works and who stays home, who wears the pants and who wears the skirt, who cooks and cleans and who sits on the couch with their hand in their pants. We automatically attempt to put people in these categories despite the fact that many hetero couples don’t even adhere to them. Part of the reason homophobia is rife is due to antiquated gender roles, the mindset that one person in a relationship is a man and the other is a woman, and so in a same-sex relationship a man has to debase himself by becoming more feminine or a woman has to pretend to be masculine. This notion is outdated and ridiculous for a number of reasons – Firstly, two men in a relationship are still men, two women in a relationship are still women, end of discussion. Secondly, it relies on the idea that to be feminine is shameful – let me set that straight for you, it’s not. Thirdly, it assumes that men are incapable of tackling domestic chores and child-rearing and that women aren’t suited to the workforce – this is bullshit.

How does all of that relate to Raymond Holt? Well, like every other character in the show we eventually meet his romantic interest – in this case his husband, Kevin. If we adhere to the strict and outdated gender roles above, we would assume that Kevin is the ‘sissy’ Nathan Lane to Holt’s relatively masculine Robin Williams.

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While there is absolutely nothing wrong with men being flamboyant and feminine, it has become such a huge trope in pop-culture that its absence is glaringly obvious. Kevin is introduced in the season one episode “The Party” where we learn that he heads the Classics department at Columbia University. He acts curtly toward the detectives and has been “needling poor Peralta so much, (he) practically made him a new suit!”

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It’s revealed that Kevon a well-educated man who is fiercely protective of his husband; he dislikes cops because of the discrimination that Ray had to put up with.

“Because he’s gay, Raymond has been put through hell by his colleagues, many of whom, quite frankly, look exactly like you,” he tells Jake.

Kevin and Raymond have a strong relationship, and their characters are well fleshed out given their respective screen time in the first two seasons. My point is, they’re not a stereotypical goofy “opposites attract” couple, and they aren’t carted out as an oddity. The story revolves around the cops at the nine-nine trying to impress Kevin because they care about Ray, there’s no awkward and clumsy “hetero trying not to offend the gays” moments that are also hugely common in pop culture.

They have a relationship of intellectual and humorous equals which goes through trials like any other marriage, as we see in a later episode when Ray neglects to tell Kevin that he was hurt while fending off some muggers.

Holt’s character development is successful because, like the rest of the cast, he has multiple aspects to his personality that the writers can build on. Obviously there’s his iconic deadpan demeanour and lack of emotional expression, but that’s just the superficial stuff. Determined to succeed in his new role, Holt does everything he can to make his squad more efficient. He does this by helping them overcome personal obstacles. He gets Terry back to working in the field, gives Gina more responsibility so she can learn how to handle it, and refuses to mentor Amy because making her work for his approval is far more effective. He also cares about his fellow police officers, starting a foundation to support black homosexual officers in the NYPD.

As with Rosa, the biggest changes we see in Holt occur in season two when the show really hits its stride. His competitive nature is introduced in season one, but this is the first time we see Holt engaged in something as petty as a feud. We are introduced to the NYPD’s deputy chief Madeline Wuntch (Kyra Sedwick). She first appears in the episode Chocolate Milk, when she’s sent to assess the precinct.

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“But if you’re here, who’s guarding Hades?”

 Holt and Wunch used to work together as partners, but as his career stalled and hers flourished the two became hostile. Holt is convinced that the feud began when he refused to sleep with Wuntch and she, in turn, refused to write a letter of recommendation to help him get a promotion. When Amy does some digging and finds the original letter of recommendation, she learns that the feud has gone far beyond the point of repair.

Wuntch:  You thought I cost you that promotion because you’re gay? That’s what you’ve been mad about all these years?

Holt:  It’s… one reason.

Wuntch:  I don’t care that you rejected my advances. Your sexual identity is the one thing I respect about you.

Holt:  Then what are you mad at?

Wuntch:  I’m mad because you tried to get me thrown off the force.

Holt:  Yeah, because you shot me.

Wuntch:  I shot you because you weren’t in the proper position, you weren’t following procedure.

Holt: What about the time you destroyed my personnel file while I was undercover?

Wuntch:  What if there’d been a mole?

Holt:  You tried to make me disappear.

Wuntch:  You embarrassed me in front of Derrek Jeter!

Holt:  You embarrassed yourself in front of Derek Jeter!

Later, when Wuntch is about to leave she tells Holt that she’s going to give the precinct a failing grade. Amy asks Holt what he’s doing, and makes him realise that the precinct’s grade is far more important than his petty feud or his pride – if they fail the assessment they lose him as captain, and Amy needs Holt as her captain so she can learn enough to get her own command one day. Her unusual show of backbone shocks Holt into action. While Holt teaches those in his charge, they also teach him.

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Hot’s feud with Wuntch becomes a battle of wits when he has to go to her for more funding in order to curb the outbreak of a new amphetamine, Giggle Pig. Holt intentionally makes a grammatical error on his paperwork which Wuntch uses as an excuse to dismiss his application, but Holt has already made an appointment to see her boss and go over her head due to such a petty dismissal. The meeting with the Chief Commissioner goes so well that they not only get their funding to update their narcotics field kits, but enough to run an entire task force. Holt is thrilled at this result, and at getting one over on Wuntch…

Terry:  That was amazing! We got a task force!

Holt:  More importantly, Wuntch got served. Oh my God… “Wuntch” sounds like “Lunch”! This opens up so many new avenues.

…until Wuntch reveals that she knew what he was doing the whole time, got him riled up so he’d oversell Giggle Pig, and now he’s running an expensive task force in a time of budget cuts.

While this meeting is happening, the rest of the nine-nine are hosting the “Jimmy Jab Games.” I won’t go into the specifics behind the tradition, but it ends with Amy finally winning something and Holt and Terry returning in time to catch her victory dance and find the precinct in a shambles. Rosa, fearless Rosa, is the only one to step forward and explain what is going on without any apology offered. Later, in his office, Holt confides in Terry that the meeting had been a disaster.

Holt:  I need this task force to succeed and there’s not a detective here who’s adult enough to lead it. Peralta and Santiago were cowards, Diaz was disrespectful, and I just saw Hitchcock and Boyle fighting like children.

Terry: Sir, I know you think Rosa disrespected you, but I found her inspiring. She did what I should have done – stand up and tell you the truth.

Holt:  And what truth is that?

Terry: First, everyone made this Wuntch/Lunch connection instantly. Second, Wuntch didn’t beat you!

Holt:  She saddled me with this task force!

Terry:  You think she’s consumed with pettiness? You’re no better! Yes, the taskforce is risky but it gives us a chance to do a lot of good in the community.

Holt then concedes that he’s been letting Wuntch distract him from the bigger picture. Still, when the task force succeeds a few episodes later, he can’t resist rubbing her face in it.

 

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“Wuntch Time is over! Ha!”

 

These occasional moments where Holt breaks his deadpan and shows some emotion are interesting insights to who he is beneath the administrative exterior. He’s a teacher and father-figure to his squad, a loving husband, and a diabolical strategic mastermind when he gets competitive (as Peralta learns in the second Halloween episode). He’s not above listening to the advice of his squad, because he is a flawed man who knows that even though he’s the boss he’s not always right.

And seriously folks, listening to him say “Giggle Pig” is hilarious. But, as I couldn’t find a video of that, here’s a montage of Holt’s fantastic Wunctch insults. Enjoy!

 

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Brooklyn Nine Nine: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 1 – Rosa Diaz

There are very few cop shows that are both hilarious and progressive, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of them. In fact, its humour is of such a high calibre that I’d suggest that many people don’t know how progressive it actually is. It features a cast of seven from a range of backgrounds and ages and covers a variety of social topics. While the characters cover various archetypes, they are all distinctly different and given enough time to develop depth. The main characters are actually very good at their jobs – they put in a lot of hard work and are dedicated to solving cases, the comedy comes from their individual quirks and personality clashes.

Most of the action occurs in the police station itself, and solving crimes tends to be a secondary storyline compared to events that are plaguing the personal lives of the main characters, giving it the feel of a workplace comedy. They do go out and solve cases, though, and this coupled with the lack of soliloquising to the camera creates a perfect blend between cop show and workplace comedy.

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 Much of this show is improvised, due mostly to the high calibre of comedic talent present in the cast – Andy Samberg, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio and Chelsea Peretti all have comedy backgrounds. The quality of writing lies in the foundations of the show and is reinforced with each episode, keeping the story’s chugging along but also adding layers to the characters with each instalment. This combination of improvised humour and scripted plot progression allows for the actors to have more input on the progression of the characters that they know intimately.

Strap in and, as always,  SPOILERS AHEAD: I will be referencing seasons one and two. If you’ve not seen them, tread carefully.

We begin with Rosa Diaz, played by Stephanie Beatriz. Beware – abundance of gifs ahead.

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Rosa is smart, enigmatic and tough. She’s honest, often brutally so, and doesn’t believe in sugar-coating the truth. She’s also lacking in social skills – her inability to empathise with others, coupled with her short temper and overall scary demeanour, can often lead to misunderstandings with her co-workers. 3tfzqQhShe has the “don’t fuck with me” look down pat, and this accompanied by a few well-chosen phrases will often get her the results she requires from others. This doesn’t necessarily make her a bad person – she’s still a great police detective and she does genuinely care about her friends’ well-being. If we were to put it in gaming terms, Rosa is like doing a Mass Effect play-through as a renegade Commander Shepherd – sure, diplomacy might get you what you need, but so does fear.

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One of the great strengths of Nine-Nine is that the writers give the characters learning moments that stick – they don’t generally go back to repeating the same old bad habits, experiences are actually valuable to their development. The season one episode Old School is a brilliant example of character development for  a few of the cast, but especially Rosa. In the B story line, Terry and Boyle are trying to prepare Rosa to give testimony in court. They have good reason to worry –

Rosa finally admits that she might need help. Boyle says that all she needs to do is get the jury to like her.

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Unfortunately, All of their tips are confusing and Rosa’s time on the stand doesn’t work so well.

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It’s not until Terry and Boyle cotton on that Rosa is just nervous that they’re able to give her proper advice – to go to her happy place. When she goes to finish giving testimony, it goes off without a hitch. Then they make the mistake of asking where her happy place is…

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So far, the writers have managed to avoid a major pitfall that’s common with this sort of character – making excuses for her lack of ‘feminine softness’. Often, if we see a female character who is tough or assertive writers feel they have to explain why she’s not the soft motherly sort, and usually they get super lazy and put it down to something shady that happened in their past. Rosa is aggressive, but not because of any past trauma (that we know of). They don’t make excuses for her being who she is. In the season one Halloween episode, Rosa mentions having to leave Catholic school before graduating. Terry asks what she did to get kicked out, and spends the entire episode trying to crack it. We learn by the end that Rosa wasn’t expelled, but got into an elite dance school and had to transfer.

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Terry is highly amused by this (as are we all) because it shows a soft side to Rosa…until she knocks an escaping perp to the ground and tells Terry that she was kicked out of dance school for “beating the crap out of ballerinas.”

 

There’s another aspect to Rosa’s character in season one that made me realise just how different this show is to the average sitcom – the way they handled the ‘unrequited infatuation’ shtick. In this case, it involved her fellow detective Charles Boyle having a huge and obvious crush on the completely disinterested Rosa. She tells Charles multiple times that she’s not interested and that he needs to look elsewhere, but he still follows her around like a lost puppy no matter how many times she kicks him. He likes her so much that he takes her side in a debate over who sells the best pie in New York, even though he knows she is very wrong because he is a crazy gourmand geek who takes “foodie” to a whole new level.

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This concept is done so often and is so hackneyed that we can usually tell how it’s going to end – either she ‘comes to her senses’ and realises she’s in love with him, gets worn down by his constant haranguing that she agrees to go out with him on a disastrous date, or he moves on and she gets jealous and possessive. Nine-Nine does none of these things. Instead, when Charles meets someone new Rosa is genuinely happy for him. In the episode The Apartment, after spending the entire show planning an elaborate prank together, he actually apologises to Rosa for being such a creep all year. This is the moment where they really become friends, without any pretext or weirdness.

In the episode Tactical Village Charles gives out save-the-date cards for his wedding but neglects to give one to Rosa, who gets angry about being left out. So angry, in fact, that she points a directional ultrasonic weapon at him that causes him serious pain. She also fires a net-gun at him, causing him to spill boiling hot coffee all over himself, and shoots him several times with paint balls. When Terry confronts her about this, the conversation goes about as well as can be expected –

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“Whoops. Sorry. Net-gun.”

Rosa:  Look, I get it if Vivian doesn’t want me to come, but Boyle should have said something. We’re finally getting along.

Terry:  Well, talk to him! That’s what friends do.

Rosa:  Nope. I’m gonna wait until I’m on my deathbed, get in the last word then die immediately.

Terry:  That’s your plan for dealing with this?

Rosa:  That’s my plan for dealing with everything. I have seventy-seven arguments I’m going to win that way.

Terry:  Seems like a bad plan.

Rosa:  Now I have seventy-eight.

Later on, she steels herself, confronts Boyle about the issue and the two are fine. Diaz realises that agonising over it was worse than actually confronting her problems head on. In the very next episode their friendship is cemented when Rosa agrees to go to Charles’ ex-wife’s engagement party. By the end of the second season, Charles even arranges a romantic birthday dinner between Rosa and her new boyfriend Marcus, because he values their friendship. They steer away from this entire issue in season two and tie it up neatly, and not once is the phrase “friend-zone” uttered (although this could be because Rosa isn’t nice about rejecting Charles at all, in fact she even calls him creepy once or twice).

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Early on in season two, Rosa is put in charge of a drug task force with the goal to arrest the distributors of an amphetamine with the street name “Giggle Pig” (chosen, I’m sure, just to have Captain Holt say “Giggle Pig” with that amazing voice of his). This is the storyline that took Rosa from the relatively flat, angry character in season one and gave her a lot more depth. The Giggle Pig plot showed us that Rosa is not only good at her job, but is passionate about it.

She’s been given a leadership opportunity and isn’t going to squander it, and we can actually notice her improved diplomacy skills. She goes above and beyond to get the results that the taskforce needs, with hilarious results, including dressing up to go to a silent disco.

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There’s a couple of times where she has to kick Jake’s butt, which is awkward because they’re friends and she needs him to take her seriously. In the episode USPIS,  she gives Jake and Charles a lead that leads them to working with the United States Postal Service. Unfortunately their contact at USPS, Jack Danger (pronounced Dong-er), is a man with a hugely undeserved superiority complex who out-ranks them because the postal service is a federal agency. Jake keeps complaining to Rosa about Danger, and it’s a mark of their friendship that Rosa is able to get Jake to keep working with him. Unfortunately, Jake still manages to screw everything up.

Rosa:  I told you to work with USPS.

Jake:  Okay, I know I didn’t do it exactly the way you asked me to –

Rosa:  The way I ordered you to. As leader of the taskforce. Do you think that just because we’re friends you can do whatever you want? Danger’s furious, he’s on his way over here now because they’re taking over the case.

Jake:  What? He can’t do that.

Rosa: Yeah, he can, they’re a federal agency. From now on any bust that comes from this […] goes to USPS. My taskforce get’s nothing, so thanks “friend.”

Rosa has evolved to the point where she’s able to get people to do what’s required without threatening violence. She’s still direct and bluntly honest – which is key to her character – but she’s managed to make her style work within a leadership role.

 

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Rosa, high on cold medicine, talking to Hitchcock.

 

In the next episode, The Road Trip, Rosa comes into work with the grand-mother of all colds. She’s become so determined to get a result for the taskforce that she refuses to go home until the criminal they have in holding gives up his supplier. She winds up getting high off cough syrup in one of the funniest scenes that I haven’t been able to find on YouTube. Terry asks Gina to “keep Diaz occupied,” which Gina does by locking her in the break room. Rosa falls asleep shortly after, for a good ten hours.

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She wakes to find that Terry has gotten the guy to give up his dealer, and that Gina has put together a care package for her. Of course, this is after she smashes the window on the break-room door in order to escape. Still, she realises that asking for help when she needs it isn’t the end of the world, and that she needs to trust the people who care about her.

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When they finally rid the streets of Giggle Pig, Rosa can’t stop smiling, wondering how people do it all the time.

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Season two is also the first time we see Rosa with a boyfriend. We haven’t seen any of the other paramours she’s mentioned occasionally in the past because she has a very strict rule about keeping work and personal lives separate, but Marcus is different – he’s Captain Holt’s nephew, and he’s living with the captain until he finds a place of his own.

Holt and Rosa are both very closed-off characters, so this new interaction outside of work is uncomfortable for the both of them. Many of us have experienced the deer-in-the-headlights embarrassment of being caught by a significant other’s family while still in their house the next morning, but Brooklyn takes it to a whole new level by putting the two most uncomfortable characters imaginable in this situation. When Holt and his husband, Kevin are eating breakfast, Marcus comes downstairs with Rosa. The only person who can fully appreciate how amusing the situation is Kevin, who spends the entire interaction trying not to laugh.

 

Holt:  Marcus, have breakfast with us.

Marcus: You’re up early…okay…

(Rosa walks down the stairs)

Holt:  …and detective Diaz is here…as well

Rosa:  Hey. Hello Kevin.

Kevin:  Rosa. Marcus.

Marcus:  Kevin. Uncle Ray.

Holt: Marcus. (looking around for the dog) oh and Cheddar, Cheddar is also here.

Kevin:  Uh, would you care to join us?

Marcus:  Sure. (to Rosa) Shall we sit?

Rosa:  I don’t think sit…

Holt:  Good, then, feel no obligation to stay, Rosa. (shakes his head) Detective Diaz.         Detective Rosa Diaz is in my breakfast nook.

Kevin:  So who would like French toast? I can put a bacon smile on it?

Rosa:  My being here is weird. This is a bad idea. We shouldn’t see each other again.       (walks out)

Holt:  Well, Detective Rosa Diaz has left. Hmm.

 

The episode ends with Holt calling Rosa to his office. He takes off his badge as a symbolic gesture to speak to her as a friend, not a captain.

 

Holt: And as your friend, I have this brassiere you left behind in Marcus’ room.

(Holt places the neat paper bag containing Rosa’s bra carefully on the desk in front of her. Rosa looks at it, then quickly snatches up the bag and stuffs it under her jacket)

Holt:  Also, I just wanted you to know, um… I think Marcus is great and, uh… And you’re great.  And I hope the fact that you and I work together won’t prevent you from dating. If that’s what you want to do.

Rosa: I might. But I don’t want to talk to you about it.

Holt:  Perfect. Because I’m not comfortable knowing about it.

Rosa: Great. Then let’s never talk about it.

Holt:  Let’s never talk about anything.

Rosa:  Done.

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So, for the next few episodes we’re treated to Rosa learning how to be in a relationship and open up to someone. In Beach House, Marcus buys her a new phone charger because her old one dies, and she says, “Thanks, what do I owe you?” When Marcus explains that they’re dating so she doesn’t owe him anything, it was just a nice gesture and that a ‘thank you will do,’ she gets mildly aggressive, saying “I said thank you! That was the first thing I said!” But then he smiles at her, and she realises it wasn’t an attack and apologises. Still, this doesn’t stop her from threatening Charles, who calls Marcus her “boo.”

Rosa:  Say “boo” again I will shoot you in the stomach.

Charles:  Fine. Lover boy it is.

Rosa:  What did I just say, Charles? What did I just say?

Charles walks away in a hurry. I’m with Rosa on this one, “boo” is a terrible pet name and it needs to go the way of frosted tips.

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Never again.

Rosa and Marcus’ relationship progresses relatively well, mostly because Rosa gets help from her friends and Marcus has infinite patience. She get’s weird about inviting him to a wedding because she doesn’t want him getting too romantic, she gets help figuring out how to send relationship-y text messages, and slowly learns how to care about somebody (this isn’t to say that Rosa doesn’t enjoy sex- the show treats her mentions of casual encounters as no big deal because contrary to popular belief, repeat after me: women are allowed to enjoy casual sex).

Really though, apart from this basic ‘how to function’ stuff, this relationship serves another (and, in my opinion, better, purpose) – giving Rosa more of a connection to Ray Holt.

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Captain Holt is a mentor to every character – he’s giving Amy Santiago the skills to become captain one day, he’s getting Jake to take the job more seriously, he’s helping Boyle to gain confidence from his strengths, he’s putting Gina in positions of responsibility to help her realise her potential, and he’s helping Terry return to the field by compartmentalising work and home. But Rosa has the job down – she is already a fantastic cop without any self-esteem problems, and we know from the Giggle Pig taskforce that she’s a strong leader. Where she falls down is letting people in, dealing with emotions and confiding in her friends.

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In the episode AC/DC, Holt’s husband Kevin has asked, yet again, that Rosa and Marcus join them for a dinner party. Both Holt and Rosa aren’t overly thrilled at this idea – this is too much vulnerability for the two of them. In intimate setting means opening up and being emotionally intimate, which is why Holt invites Gina and Amy as ’emotional buffers.’

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When Amy and Gina are running late, dinner has to begin without them. The conversation turns to family, and Rosa quickly leaves the table. When Holt follows her, she reveals to him that she might be pregnant. Fair to say that Holt hasn’t really had to deal with this sort of situation before, but considering that he’s one of the most emotionally closed off people on the planet he handles the situation relatively well. After asking a couple of awkward questions he states, very reasonably, that Rosa needs to get a pregnancy test before freaking out too badly. He then helps her make an excuse to leave the party (she’s not pregnant, just fyi. But even thinking that for a millisecond is fucking scary, so I don’t blame her for freaking out).

Holt teaching Rosa how to get in touch with her feelings would be a serious case of the blind leading the blind, and thankfully the writers don’t take us too far down that road, but it’s telling that the first person Rosa talks to is the Captain, because he’d understand how hard it is for her to talk about it at all and he is a surrogate father figure for the entire squad.

So, there you have it. Within two seasons Detective Rosa Diaz goes from being a moderately flat character to having a decent amount of nuance. As I haven’t watched the third season yet I can’t speak for how she progresses in the rest of the show, but I sincerely hope these trends continue.

Thanks for sticking with me this far! Next week I’m going to talk about another character from Brooklyn Nine Nine, but I haven’t decided who yet. Until then, take this piece of advice for next time you hit a slump –

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Character Relationships Masterclass – Whip It.

I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for a movie with a killer soundtrack. The right music goes a long way toward enticing me to watch again. It wasn’t until my subsequent viewings of Whip It that I realised exactly how interesting the character dynamics and comparisons are, and it wasn’t until my partner mentioned in passing that it might be a good blog topic did everything properly click. So I watched it again. If you haven’t seen it already I suggest doing so before you read any further. Alternatively, you can read on and get pissed at me for spoilers because unfortunately I’ll have to talk about the ending. You have been warned.

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From the outside, Whip It is a fairly typical coming of age story. Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is a misfit indi-rock teen girl who lives in a small Texan town. When she finally finds the place where she belongs she has to learn how to balance her new hobby without alienating friends and family. Throw in a romantic subplot with a cute boy and a yelling match with her parents, end on a feel-good fuzzy finish and you have the bare bones of a story we’ve seen a thousand times. But you know what other stories we’ve seen over and over? “Man reluctantly saves the world and gets the girl who’s always mad at him.” “Orphaned child learns they’re special and also the saviour of their people.” “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again.” The trick is to take these common storylines, use them as the foundation of your story and build from there. Take some of the predictable plot elements and turn them on their head, give your audience something new to focus on and, above all, give your characters proper development. That’s exactly what the Whip It author and screenwriter Shauna Cross did. Bliss’ character development comes, primarily, through her connection with other characters.

Whip It focuses on five key relationships – Bliss and her parents, Bliss and her best friend, Bliss and her boyfriend, and Bliss and the ladies on her roller derby team. Wait, did I not mention roller derby yet? Well, it features as this films’ “something new and exciting”.

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The film opens by establishing the relationship between Bliss and her mother, Brooke. We begin at a local beauty pageant where Brooke is eagerly awaiting her daughter’s appearance on stage. Bliss walks on in a white dress with her hair dyed blue.

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When her mother is yelling at her afterward, Bliss timidly says she dyed it as a dare, and allows herself to be dragged to the local hair salon to have it fixed. This dynamic of Bliss going to lengths to rebel against her mother while being too afraid to actually state what she wants – in this case to not be involved in pageants any more – becomes a pattern.

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Later on, Brooke takes Bliss and her younger sister shopping in Austin. They go to what looks like a trendy, independent vintage clothes store, where Bliss convinces her mother to buy her a pair of combat boots. To her credit, Brooke doesn’t seem overly reluctant (as she is trying to bond connect with her child by doing something Bliss would enjoy) until she spies some “pretty vases” in the display counter. When the sales clerk laughs at her, she realises they’re spun-glass bongs and refuses to buy the shoes out of embarrassment and not wanting to be a customer at a “head shop.” Bliss attempts to timidly talk her mother around before giving up and paying for the shoes herself, another way of acting out rather than saying what she really wants. When you look at it like that, it’s not a surprise that she’d act out by secretly going to a roller derby exhibition match in Austin with her best friend, Pash.

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Going to watch this first bout is pretty simple – Bliss and Pash just tell their parents they’re going to an away game for their high school football team. Bliss’ Father, Earl, loves football and offers to go with them – he seems really excited by the opportunity to bond with his daughter, but winds up being shut down. Later in the film, Earl and Bliss have a sweet scene while watching football together where he tells her that, when it comes to her mother, she needs to pick her battles. He says this while they’re sitting in his van watching TV, because Brooke doesn’t approve of football and he needs to watch it in secret. These are two people who just want to keep the peace, but who also want to do the things that make them happy.

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After the exhibition game, the derby girls are outside the venue spruiking fundraising merchandise. Bliss talks to Maggie Mayhem (Kirsten Wigg), who casually encourages her to try out for the team. That Maggie assumes she’s over twenty-one (the legal age to participate without her parents’ permission) and talks to her like an equal seems to be Bliss’ tipping point; the outing goes from medium-scale rebellion to an opportunity to hang out with a bunch of women she admires while secretly rebelling against her mother. Pash telling her she doesn’t have the balls to try out only seals the deal.

So, Bliss digs out her old skates with Barbie on them and practices, then catches the regional Bingo bus to Austin for the tryouts. Long story short she makes it on to one of the teams, the Hurl Scouts, but manages to piss off the captain of a rival team in the process. To be fair, Iron Maven seems easy to tick-off anyway, Bliss didn’t do anything intentionally. Her acceptance into the Hurl Scouts makes Bliss finally feel like she belongs – here are several women who she looks up to as role models, but who unlike her mother have plenty in common with her. They’re tough, stand up for what they believe in and don’t take themselves too seriously. Bliss adopts the derby name “Babe Ruthless.” It’s not until later that she realises where she learned this ruthlessness.

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After one of Bliss’ games is shut down by the fire marshal, Pash gets arrested for being underage and holding an open container of beer. She was arrested while waiting for Bliss to talk to her new boyfriend, Oliver, and Bliss forgot about her completely while she and Oliver went off for a romantic evening. It’s implied that Bliss and Oliver slept together here, and the next morning she gives him her favourite shirt – a vintage T-shirt shirt for the Christian heavy metal band Stryper. He gives her his jacket. Oliver then leaves to go on tour with his band.

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Pash’s arrest, meanwhile unravels the lie. Her parents call Bliss’ at three in the morning, and they are waiting for Bliss when she gets home. Her father is mad about the deception, but her mother is more concerned that Bliss is falling into the wrong crowd, saying “what do you think that the world thinks of those girls with all their tattoos? Do you think they have an easy time finding a job, or getting a loan application, or going to a decent college?” Bliss’ reasonable response of “I think it depends on the girl” is drowned out by Brooke continuing with “Or finding a husband?!” Finally, Bliss is able to say what she really thinks of pageants and of her mother’s idea of 1950’s womanhood. The argument ends with her being banned from derby. Her father even confiscates her skates, at which point Bliss yells at him to “go back to (his) turtle shell so (he doesn’t) have to confront anything.”

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Bliss then goes to talk to Pash, who is so mad that she lashes out. She blames Bliss for her leaving her alone to get arrested, clearly violating the sisters before misters rule. With nowhere else to turn, Bliss goes to live with Maggie Mayhem for a while. It’s here that we learn that Maggie is a mum herself. Meanwhile, Oliver isn’t answering Bliss’ calls while he’s on tour and Pash still refuses to talk to her. She’s also forced to reveal to the team that she’s only seventeen.

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The next day she has a heart to heart with Maggie, who says, “I know what it’s like to want to do your own thing, I do, but maybe there’s a way you can do it without making your parents feel like crap?”…”I’ve just been thinking, and I think maybe you’re being a little selfish with your mom.” When Bliss disagrees, Maggie says that she’s lucky to have a mum who cares at all, “and just because she’s wrong about derby doesn’t mean she’s wrong about every single thing…just because you found a new family doesn’t mean you throw the old one away.” This advice, coming from someone who Bliss thinks is cool but who also happens to be a mother herself, makes Bliss start to think about the people who she looks up to. Maybe her mum and Maggie aren’t that different after all?

That same day, Bliss logs on to the website for Oliver’s band. There, on the front page, is a photo of him with another girl who is wearing Bliss’ Stryper shirt. Devastated, she goes home.

This leads to a poignant scene with her mum. Bliss is sitting in front of the fridge, tears in her eyes. Brooke knows right away what the problem is – “whoever he is, he doesn’t deserve you.”

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Bliss reveals to Brooke that she “gave him everything,” and after a moment Brooke stands up and leaves the room, apparently angry, but returns a moment later smoking a cigarette. “It’s a lot to process.”

“She was wearing my Stryper T-shirt. How could he do that?” Bliss asks.

Your T-shirt?”

“It’s the only cool thing you own.”

“That you know about,” Brook laughs.

This opens up their conversation to some of the things that really matter. Bliss realises that there was far more to her mum than she realised; that she got her ruthless streak from the strong woman in front of her who only wanted the best for her children, who had already lived a life full of mistakes and love and laughter, and who maybe had some good advice to give when they laid down their arms. Maggie is a mother and Holly used to go to metal concerts; Bliss’ separate worlds are suddenly merging.

This scene also a display of how important a child’s relationship with a parent is – no matter how old we get, if you have a solid and trusting relationship with a parent you will always turn to them when things get tough. I still call on my mum for help (hi, mum!), and she turned to her own mother for advice until the day she died. We fought like cat and dog from time to time, but if you’re lucky enough to be on good terms with your family they can be an invaluable source of emotional support.

The scene ends with Brooke explaining that she doesn’t want Bliss to do the next pageant unless she wants to, not because it would make Brooke happy. Bliss lies and says she wants to do it. She also apologises to her dad, who accepts it without a moment’s hesitation. Bliss then apologises to Pash and tells her about everything that happpened with Oliver. Together, they burn Oliver’s jacket.

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Unfortunately, she still can’t go back to derby. The final bout is on the same day as the pageant, and she has to tell a disappointed Maggie that she can’t do it. Teammate Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore, who also directed) offers to kick her mum’s ass, but it’s no good. But then Earl looks up the derby league’s website and sees his daughter’s photo on all of the advertising, and a video of Bliss performing one of the team’s favourite moves – the whip – and he is blown away. He goes to the team himself and convinces them to talk to Bliss in person. Meanwhile he talks to Brooke, saying he thinks Bliss should go back to derby.

When Bliss chooses to leave the pageant her mum isn’t happy about it, but she goes to the championship to watch anyway. Brooke doesn’t like what she sees – Bliss gets hit hard. After the bout Bliss explains that she wants to continue derby and move to Austin, and her mum says that it’ll be hard to accept. The movie ends with Brooke reading the speech that Bliss wrote for the pageant, saying that the person she admires most is her mother.

“The person I admire most is my mother because she’s a fighter who never gives up on what she believes in and she never gives up on me. Obviously I would be delighted to win the Blue Bonnet pageant but knowing my mother is proud of me means more than any crown.”

Will Brooke finally accept Bliss’ choice to stick with derby? Probably, but she probably won’t like it. But what matters most to her is that her daughter is happy. A predictable ending? Yes. But it’s balanced out by the resolution of the two other main storylines. Bliss dumps her boyfriend when next she sees him, mentioning that “my mom wants her Stryper shirt back!” It’s very possible that his story is true – that the girl in the photo was a random chick who put the shirt on and nothing else happened – but Bliss reminds him that he never called, even though he admitted to getting her messages. Pro tip dudes: if your girlfriend calls you and says she’s going through some crap, CALL HER BACK.

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Also… the Hurl Scouts don’t win the championship. They come close, but they still don’t win (hey, I warned you at the top about spoilers!). This isn’t a Mighty Ducks plucky-underdogs-take-the-win sort of flick, it’s about more than that.

Bliss’ friendship with her team mates gives her camaraderie and older role models for who she wants to become – they’re her antidote to growing up in a town where she didn’t fit. Her friendship with Pash is born from being in the same situation, going through similar struggles at the same age. Her relationship with Oliver is that of a reasonably typical first love – they tend to get screwed up somehow. Bliss and her dad share a sense of humour and a similar outlook, but he sees more of her mother in her than she realises. Brooke and Bliss are too similar to be friends, and while she disapproves of her daughter’s choices there is still so much love between them; both think they know best but don’t want to hurt the other.

Without the exploration of these relationships this film wouldn’t work. It would just be another movie about sport, albeit with super awesome ladies on skates. Character development is crucial to making a story interesting, and if you can make your characters grow and learn from each other at the same time then you may actually have a decent idea on your hands.

Whip It is on Netflix. If you’ve gotten this far still without having seen it, I still think you should, even if it’s just to hear Drew Barrymore scream “FOOD FIGHT!” in the middle. Oh, and for the killer soundtrack.

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