Sunday, August 30, 2015

REVIEW: 'Show Me a Hero' - Nick Struggles to Hold Onto Relevancy as the Residents Move Into the Townhouses in 'Parts 5 & 6'

HBO's Show Me a Hero - Episode 1.05 "Part 5" & 1.06 "Part 6"

The residents for the new townhouses are screened and chosen. Many incoming residents have second thoughts about moving into neighborhoods that don't want them. Mary is recruited to serve the incoming residents in a way that even she finds startling. A second act for Nick, the wounded young politician, proves elusive.

The debate about public housing shaping the conversation in Yonkers, New York in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. It forced the government into a standstill while hundreds of peoples' lives hanged in the balance. Nick Wasicsko was a first time Mayor. The youngest big-city mayor in the entire country. This issue dominated his administration. More importantly, it dominated his life once he left the office. The houses were built and communities were formed. He did great things for the city of Yonkers. And yet, that wasn't enough to shape him as a great politician.

Nick really is spiraling throughout these concluding two hours of the miniseries. He has gotten validation that he was on the right side of history when it came to his handling of the lawsuit and the court's order to build the public housing units. Enough time has passed for the units to be built and for the election cycle to come around again. He was faced with a very crucial choice - to run or not to run for Mayor of Yonkers again. That election determined his fate for the next four years. He chose not to run. He wanted to be a helping hand for the party and the city. That way he could make an ever bigger political comeback later on in his career.

And yet, Nick spends so much time in these last few years trying to regain the momentum and relevancy. The city has started to move on from this problem. Sure, the neighborhoods in which the housing units have been built are still filled with racial hatred and violent opinions. But the race for Mayor isn't decided based on where each candidate stands on the housing issue. The people of this city are ready to move on. They fought passionately about this issue. But now, there is nothing more to fight for or against. Some individuals are still trying to rally support in order to get the government to change their mind. But the situation of the city has moved past that. Nick wants to be heard because of what he did for the city in its most desperate time. Instead he is faced with a Mayor who doesn't care about him and who only stands in the way of his success.

Nick turns against his closest friends and family in order to maintain political relevancy. He reverses his position on a key issue - that could inadvertently cost Nay her job - just so that he can be heard by Mayor Zaleski. When that backfires on him, he turns against the one true friend he has on the council - new city council president Vinni. He opts to run against her in the next election because the chances of him winning as a councilman again are slim to none in his own district. He is losing a grasp on control of his life. He is flailing around trying to land on his feet. But that only leads to ruining the friendships he still has. He is at a loss over his own life. He no longer can run as a politician. He has lost too many times to ever be taken seriously again. That is so defeating for him. He made a difference. Just as quickly as that fame came though, it went away.

Nick wants to know that he accomplished some good in his time in politics. He attends the lottery that determines which residents will move to the new townhouses. He visits the residents after they've settled into their new neighborhoods. He wants to know that lives are being changes because of something that he did. No matter how irrelevant he becomes, he needs to know that he did that. Instead, no one recognizes him at the grand selection ceremony and most residents shut their doors in his face when he comes knocking. He has no direction for his life. He has a loving wife. But he also has crippling fear that an investigation into his time as mayor will lead to a big corruption scandal. He maintains that he did nothing wrong. But his paranoia and knowledge of how politics works keeps him from seeing what his life could be with Nay. He never finds out what she was trying to tell him with that 911 page. Once again, he visits his father's grave. But this time, he takes his own life with his gun. He was sick to his stomach over this whole investigation. Instead of finding out what would happen, he maintained his innocence and killed himself. That's such a tragic end to this story. Fame and importance was thrust onto him. It changed him in a very personal way that ultimately couldn't be sustained. The future overwhelmed him with the uncertainty.

But Nick really was able to impact a lot of lives. Because of these housing units, he was able to put many families in places that could actually foster happy and healthy living habits. The units of the past created destruction, desperation and tragedy. The families who lived there have been suffering because that's the only place they can go. Norma has a loving family who can help take care of her but her blindness keeps her from getting the help she needs. Billie kept falling into the same pattern of falling under the spell of her boyfriend and getting pregnant - only for him to get arrested. Doreen fell into a drug addiction because the dealers were right down the stairs. Carmen struggled to support her three kids in a world where the neighborhood is horrible but the money she gets at her job is better than where she came from. All of these families were able to thrive because of the move across town. The lottery scene is so breathtaking and thrilling to watch because of seeing the amount of change that can happen in that room. They all are patiently awaiting news that they have won. That they will escape the horribleness of their existence for a life that is different but much better.

Of course, the neighborhoods around the new townhouses are still violently opposed to the new residents and the drugs and gangs they'll bring along with them. But a change starts to happen as well. That all starts with Mary. She was one of the people most opposed to the housing. She is still upset even when the government has chosen to move on from the issue. She is given a chance to better understand the community and the families whose lives would be benefited from this change in setting. She goes down to the projects and sees how horrible the living conditions are. The drugs and crime do exist. But there are people there who are responsible and kind too. Mary forms a bond with these residents. The world has been opened up to her. She never stops fight. But now, she is fighting on behalf of the public housing residents who need an advocate more than the privileged whites of the neighborhood. That character transformation is so beautiful to watch and Catherine Keener does such amazing work in this finale.

The move doesn't instantly fix things though. Norma's kids are told to go back to where they belong when they come to visit her. Doreen struggles to get her voice heard by both the residents and the people of the neighborhood. Billie continues to fall into the same pattern until her baby daddy almost gets them evicted for murdering someone. And Carmen isn't lucky enough to get into the first housing unit. She has to spend several more years patiently waiting for more to be built in order to accommodate her and her family. And yet, they do get to move to a new apartment eventually. The racial politics of the neighborhood do start to soften as time goes along. It still exists until the very end. But a community is starting to form. It's different than what was there before. But in this case, different was most certainly better.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Parts 5 & 6" was written by William F. Zorzi & David Simon and directed by Paul Haggis.
  • "Part 5" opens in February 1991 while "Part 6" begins in June 1992.
  • I love that the miniseries ends with title cards sharing what happened to all of these characters after all of this. The most noteworthy thing was the fact that the case at the center of Yonkers wasn't settled until 2007!
  • Also great was seeing the comparison pictures as the credits rolled between the actors and the real-life people they were portraying. Oscar Isaac really was a perfect fit for Nick Wasicsko.
  • This miniseries really does deserve to win a ton of Emmys next year. I'm unsure if it actually will though given the track record of David Simon's other shows. And yet, so many people both on and offscreen deserve accolades for their stunning contributions to this piece. Oscar Isaac would be the top of that list, but Paul Haggis is a very close second for the phenomenal direction he brought to all six hours.
  • By the end of this review, I now correctly know how to spell Wasicsko correctly the first time without looking. A skill I will never need again after this...