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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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”.
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.