Sunday, August 23, 2015

REVIEW: 'Show Me a Hero' - Construction on the Public Housing Begins as the Public Outcry Gets Uglier in 'Parts 3 & 4'

HBO's Show Me a Hero - Episode 1.03 "Part 3" & 1.04 "Part 4"

Mayor Wasicsko finally achieves some consensus and rams through a housing plan with a tough vote. Housing officials begin to build the new townhomes. But even as they do, the political cost to Nick becomes apparent. A new mayor pledges to oppose the housing. Nick tries to reconcile himself to life out of power.

Nick Wasicsko starts tonight's episodes at his most broken and defeated. He is desperately trying to rally support from other officials in his party in order to save the city from going completely bankrupt and shutting down. He then ends the two hours at his most happiest. He is out of the Mayor's office and marries Nay while also being a candidate for a John F. Kennedy Courage Award. It's a transition that gets much worse before it gets better. But it does for him. That stands in contrast to what the city is feeling in regards to the public housing issue. The public's stance just gets more uglier the longer it drags on. It has been years since this first started and things are spiraling more and more out of control.

Despite so many on the city council being held in contempt by the court and facing fines, the true stakes of this debate doesn't become real until they all face the threat of cutting government jobs in order to keep the city operating. Schools and libraries will shut down. Police and firefighters will be let go from their jobs. Trash collectors won't be able to run on a weekly basis. All of this is what motivates Nick and the majority of the council to get a housing plan through the system. It's a violent vote. Everyone is so desperate to get some action accomplished while the crowds who have gathered inside and outside the hall only grow more passionate.

The public rallies around Spallone as the only councilman who is willing to listen to them and put a stop to this before the housing structures ever break ground. He is passionate in his beliefs of being a man of and servant to the people of Yonkers. It is once again time to elect a mayor for city. Spallone decides to challenge Nick for the seat. He runs essentially the same campaign that Nick successfully did all those years ago. During the heat of the campaign, Nick and Nay drive down a street filled with signs for Spallone. It's the exact opposite of how things were when Nick first ran for the office. It's defeating but not completely hopeless for Nick. Spallone is a lot of talk but isn't able to come through with any of it. Nick understands that Spallone can't follow through with any of his promises for the people. And yet, Spallone creates the most noise in the race and gets elected. He wins on the basis of this one issue. It's the only issue he cares about but he never seems like a man who can actually accomplish anything in this office.

That's important because work on the housing projects has already started. Nick was able to use his final days as Mayor to convince Judge Sand to take all control of this project away from the council. They have been deadlocked for so long that it was miraculous that they were able to decide anything. They were split. If this project is going to get done, the lawyers and city planners needed to take over. Three people sitting in a room got more accomplished than any of the city council meetings so far. They still received major criticism and faced huge hurdles. But they were able to make decisions based on well-informed opinions. They understand the citizens fears that these housing units will lead to gangs and drugs entering their neighborhoods. Spallone has made that issue abundantly clear throughout his campaign via pictures he has purposefully sought out from the neighborhoods. It's not as if those problems don't exist. The housing as they are now on the other side of the town only seem to be getting more tragic for the people who live there. But the lawyers and consultants also have a solution for how to confront this problem head on.

People are still adamantly against the housing though. They see the library shutting down as a threat from the Mayor's office. They see their voices being silenced. They want to believe they have the right to express these well-meaning opinions. But as these two episodes go along, it's easier to see that many of these folks aren't listening to every detail about this case or recognize what the purpose for any of their actions actually is. They can chant during the council meetings. They have a right to voice their disapproval. But showing that anger through attacking Nick and Nay in their car isn't going to do any good. Nor is spitting in Nick's face. The project is moving forward and they listen to a delusional man who has no basis for any of claims to do right by the city and its citizens. Mary seems to be the only person who notices that. Spallone is doing the exact same thing as Nick did and it's disgusting to her. She cares about her community and wants to protect it. This is her home. She loves the character of its streets and its buildings. She sees that it is changing right in front of her. She has been voicing her opinion. But the longer things go on the more it starts to wear on her. Protesting at the construction sites isn't going anything meaningful.

In fact, those protests only lead to the issue hiding underneath the surface all along actually coming out in all of its horror and ugliness. Everyone wants to say that they aren't racist for being opposed to this project. They just don't want to impose a lifestyle on people who have no business being a part of it. That is racism of a sort. But no one wants to say that. Even the people on the other side of town in the public housing don't want to go where they aren't welcome. They are aware of this huge housing debate. They notice that it's largely white people voicing their concerns. These housing units could drastically change their lives. They could put them in communities that could actually help them prosper as healthy human beings. They are being given a voice and protesting as well. But they also have to have a willingness to go and live there. If enough people scream out that they are unwelcome, then they won't come. That will be the chief concern and fallout from someone vandalizing the construction site in order to spray paint racist words and phrases on the sides of the buildings. The core issue is rising to the surface and it promises that things will only continue to get worse for this community.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Parts 3 & 4" was directed by Paul Haggis with story by William F. Zorzi & David Simon and teleplay by William F. Zorzi.
  • "Part 3" opens in September 1988 while "Part 4" begins in April 1989.
  • Getting that letter in the mail is the one thing that got Nick happy and content with his life again. So much has changed since he became Mayor. The people of this city actively dislike him and everything that he stands for. He was in despair and being alienated to the point where he was seeing his dead father at his gravesite. That letter gave him the courage to embrace the amount of good this housing project can actually do for people.
  • Did someone actually have to quote the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that gives the show and the book it is based on its name? It happened just as Nick lost the election and one of his advisors tells the other one - "Show me a hero, I'll write you a tragedy."
  • Spallone continues to be a tad too over-the-top and hammy to be taken seriously. He literally spends his first meeting as Mayor passing the responsibility off to someone else so he can put his feet up and sleep until something important happens.
  • Situations continue to arise that show just how the trajectory of the citizens of the housing projects' lives will vary based on the units they live in. Everyone on the other side of town is being faced with hard times. They are struggling to support their families when the temptations of violence and drugs is literally just downstairs. They need optimism and hope in their lives. If they get that, they will thrive as good and respectable citizens.