'Hightown': Jackie using a badge and gun to lure women is problematic but excusable thanks to her sexuality
Spoilers for Episode 1 'Hightown'
At first glance, 'Hightown' protagonist — gun-slinging, badge flashing, proud lesbian Jackie Quiñones (Monica Raymund) — is a classic Elmore Leonard character. Precisely cut out to fit into the thrilling puzzles of procedural dramas, the Starz crime thriller sees Jackie do almost every horrible thing a regular white cop would.
And while it's not certain if 'Hightown' is trying to uphold a flawed female character as their token representation of women in service being just as controversial as men, based on the pilot, it is obvious that somehow we are going to feel bad for this problematic cop who stays immersed in alcohol and drugs. However, is Jackie really more than her explosive stance when she is reminded she's not a real cop? Or is all of that okayed and excused because she is lesbian?
Set in the backdrop of Cape Cod, the story unfolds with Jackie as a resident of Provincetown — an ode to rainbows and good times and all things gay during the carnival weekend. Jackie is being constantly asked by her peers and seniors to "take it easy" at the carnival, and soon we find out why. Jackie is your Jim Hopper from 'Stranger Things' brushing with beer and chugging things down with somber contemplation. Cynical and fiery in equal parts, works for the National Marine Fisheries and loves to bust people for young lobsters and pregnant crustaceans, her job-integrity goes for a toss just as easily when she realizes filing a complaint will take considerable time off the carnival.
She is friends with local fishermen like your regular buddy cop dynamics, but they are the ones buying her drinks because she is the lady, or so tries to hint the pilot. At the carnival, Jackie parties a little too hard, not shy of flashing her badge at college students whose hearts race at the simple thought of Jackie carrying a gun. All of this is consensual, and there's no coercion so Jackie is not entirely unredeemable at this point. But the only interesting thing about Jackie — her sexuality — looks like a prop. And the only other thing that propels her arc is yet to happen at this point, and when it happens, it's just a dead body washed ashore.
Jackie borders on the fine line separating nice guys and creepy cops — a line blurred by the fact that she is a lesbian and a woman — the product of tokenism going far too wrong. It's also funny how far into denial Jackie is when it comes to her personal flaws. Snorting cocaine out of a bag in bright street light and using "I'm in law enforcement" as a pickup line as if it's supposed to work is only excused because she is a "hot" cop and by out of town women looking for an escape. In short, if it wasn't for the authentic setting and non-preachy tone of the narrative, Jackie would be quite insufferable.
Jackie's addiction and imminent spiral after spotting a dead body on the shore also take center stage in the pilot. The latter ends up becoming one of her pick up lines for yet another random hookup whom she almost ends up killing someone in a drunk driving accident. And predictably enough, enlightenment dawns on Jackie as she takes her senior's advice and commits herself to rehab. There's a dysfunctional cop, and then there are dysfunctional cops excused by a minuscule moment of realization of the person they have become. Jackie is both, and hard as they might try to blend her into the heroic epidemic surrounding plot, the character comes off as a lesbian caricature of all cop-tropes bundled into one.
Raymund tries doing the utmost for a role that was meant to be meaty and juicy, but now just tastes like it was cooked for too long. Without seasoning. Perhaps later episodes will both marinate the character and season it enough to become more than just the poster child of what the uncool kids call "lesbianism". Maybe there will actually be enough going on to excuse why in a world of shitty white cops Jackie is trying so hard to be another one. But for now, the only thing that supposedly separates her from what would otherwise be labeled problematic is her gender, sexuality and race. And there's not enough going on in 'Hightown' to distract us from this tokenism.
'Hightown' premieres on Sunday, May 17, at 8 pm on Starz.