Accountability is a journey that many people want to engage in — but one that often sounds lovelier in principle than in practice. The rigor required to engage in the proper retrospection, reflection, and growth that accountability involves isn’t for the faint of heart. It demands a certain level of discipline and a willingness to surrender to any potential outcomes that may befall someone on a journey of atonement and regrowth. Often, the risk of that unknown is what restricts someone from taking the necessary plunge. Dan’s character in Flatbush Misdemeanors is plagued by this anxiety. Remorseful for his actions but rarely willing to have the integrity of character to own up to their consequences, he scampers from one unfortunate event to the next, bemoaning his life as if his misfortunes were entirely a result of happenstance occasions that he has no control over.
In this episode, however, he begins to step up to the challenge of atoning for his proverbial sins, working his way through his rather limited inner circle and coming to terms with his varied tics that have affected his personal relationships. He starts with his mother, apologizing for resenting her for finding happiness with Kareem — an act of contrition that ultimately backfires, as it leads to his mother briefly separating from Kareem. What is most telling about their exchange, however, is how much of the dynamic between Dan and his mother, Maria, it exposes; while his addiction might be uniquely his own to untangle, the codependency, anxiety, and variety of other neuroses are absolutely a learned trait. It’s only natural, then, that we have made it seven episodes and the revelation that Dan is responsible for getting Drew arrested is still lingering between him and Kevin; avoidance is all that he has been taught. As Kareem pointed out as Kevin and Dan feebly attempted to get him and Dan’s mother to reconcile, The Parent Trap style, “Y’all always fighting with each other. What do you know about conflict resolution?”
Zayna, on the other end, is very much in conflict with the world her family wants her to live in and the world as she sees it, navigating the realities of the generational cycles around her. With a father still in jail and her uncle back to serving as the proxy authority figure in her life, reestablishing balance and restrictions that go against how the rest of her family members operate their day-to-day lives is a tough pill to swallow. Her defiance is more than just teenage malaise over wanting to have a boyfriend at her leisure, however; it’s also imbued with a sense of resignation to the circumstances life has presented her with, in which her father remains incarcerated despite being up for parole multiple times and the boys next door may engage in a few light scams to keep their pockets full. It’s why the name of the first segment — “We Do This ’Til We Free Us” — is so apt; it’s a reference to organizer Mariame Kaba’s seminal book of the same name, speaking to how broken the current carceral system is and how we need to transform how we deal with harm, accountability, and communities affected by our current systems of punishment.
In an ideal world, the episode would conclude with Dan coming to terms with what accountability really meant and going to Drew to atone for his behavior and withstanding whatever punishment or consequences befell him. But Misdemeanors is not a universe of happy endings, which makes the show all that much stronger. Dan’s foray into “moral inventory” has led him to conclude that, despite Kevin’s repeated requests, he share his wrongdoing with Kevin, who naturally does not take kindly to the idea that Dan set up a drug dealer with a short fuse, much less a Black man, for arrest and saddle Kevin with the burden of this information.
The title of the episode, “Scorpions and Frogs,” refers to a popular fable. In it, a scorpion wants to cross a river and asks a frog for help. The frog hesitates, but the scorpion promises not to sting it, pointing out that it would drown too if it killed the frog. Finding this reasoning solid, the frog agrees to transport the scorpion — but midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog anyway, dooming them both. The dying frog asks the scorpion why it stung despite knowing the result, to which the scorpion replies, “I am sorry, but I couldn’t resist. It’s in my nature.”
Despite his docile demeanor, Dan functions as the scorpion in his ecosystem, striving for his own self-interests at all costs, even when the risks may ultimately involve dooming his friendships, his moral high ground, and his tenuous social standing. His limited progress in recovering his friendship with Kevin evaporated as quickly as when Dan chose to relieve himself of a burden of which his friend had no desire sharing the culpability. It’s a betrayal that’s further etched in by the fact that Kevin had begun to legitimately make bonds in the bike shop, slowly letting his guard down after the fracas of the past year — all for Dan’s boundary-crossing to yet again ignite friction between the two.
As a direct result of Dan’s choices, not only is Drew now firmly ensconced in Kevin’s art-fellowship world with no immediate exit plan, but he is also relying on Zayna’s boyfriend’s family to maintain financial solvency, placing his short-term safety in the hands of foolhardy and reckless young kids. This episode might have been a moral inventory for Dan, but the calculus is firmly not in his favor.