First Item of Business
“Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fateful words — verbalized by a reporter after Nick’s failed reelection bid in Part 4 — summed up co-writers David Simon and William F. Zorzi’s tale of politics gone awry almost too simply — a somewhat ironic note after hours and hours of council chamber complexities. After all, the six-part story of one man’s ill-timed and all-consuming bid for political power was about much more than one quest. Though the screenplay conveyed as much a little too bluntly from time to time, it’s the gray lines shading our hero that made him such a fascinating figure to follow.
Despite losing his political career (in part) because of what happened, it can’t be said Nick was a martyr. He died for his own sins, not the town’s. Nick Wasicsko didn’t believe so strongly in the housing initiative that he died for it. Those houses were built in large part because of him, but his reasons for fighting so hard were out of necessity, law and bad luck much more than any actual passion for any justice he may have desired.
“Show Me a Hero” painted its titular central figure without a spandex suit and billowing cape. He was career politician at the green age of 28 (when he was first elected mayor), and thus driven mad after being barred from the only life he wanted because of something he didn’t start. He may have finished it — if finishing means seeing the houses built — but Nick’s death felt more adherent to a politician’s quote than a writer’s: John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, once said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The latter half may not apply to Mayor Nick Wasicsko, but the former feels more applicable to this devastating story.
I don’t know if Bob Mayhock’s (Clarke Peters!) climactic statement for Mary Dorman (Catherine Keener) was as viscerally satisfying as intended, but I feel as though her arc —punctuated by “You’re a good neighbor, Mrs. Dorman.” — may have been the best of the supporting players. Rather than a simple transition from riotous crowd member to welcoming neighbor, Mary began as a disinterested party, was swept up in the group mentality, suffered immense dissatisfaction upon defeat, struggled to accept her frustrations, and finally found a proper outlet to better understand the issue.
While using it as an example in a project like this may broaden the impact, Mary’s journey is still one that feels so rare among efforts to curb ignorance. Not everyone is willing to listen as she did, let alone work toward betterment above all else. (Even Mayor Wasicsko exemplified the latter, choosing to push his own agenda after leaving office rather than be satisfied he did the right thing.) This made her character all the more compelling for viewers, especially among a supporting cast with less dimensionality.
“You can’t confuse votes with love. They’re not the same thing.”
This simple exchange may have captured Nick’s overarching problem better than any other. He’s exposed his inner confusion in the past, most notably when he tearfully asked Nay if she would still love him if he lost the mayoral race. But we only saw the dark side of Nick’s dependence on public support when he was kept without it time and time again. The man — at least the man depicted in this miniseries — killed himself because he’d lost two elections and was thus out of the game. Before that, he drank himself stupid weighing the decision of whether or not to run for mayor, and then nearly broke down entirely when he almost lost the city council race. Even Nick’s nomination for the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award meant more to him because it got him back in the game, not that it validated everything he worked to accomplish.
Such a stark ending note puts a stronger emphasis on the politics at play, and somewhat lessons — or at least reframes — many of the miniseries’ other more personal stories. Billie Rowan’s (Dominique Fishback) through-line never paid off, especially when her eviction from the projects was telegraphed from the start. (Was there any doubt Santos would get her kicked out after the “illegal activity” ban and his parole officer’s visit?) Doreen’s arc was better, though her interest, rejection and then embracing of politics wasn’t as detailed as it could have been.
Norma (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) may have been the best of the bunch, as we got to watch her not only reject the “privileges” offered with her new home but also have a telling exchange with Nick. After remembering him as “the man they sit on,” Norma stared quizzically at the man outsider her door late one random evening. “You happy with the house?” Nick asked. “I’d like to think it was worth it.” “I could ask you the same thing,” Norma replied. If only Nick could have found satisfaction there, perhaps he would’ve made himself a better future.
The Boss’ Order
Part 5 Song:
“Racing in the Street’ (as Nick tells Nay his plans to help get her boss fired)
Part 6 Song:
“My Beautiful Reward”
When Nick was driving to the new townhouses with Nay, a song that sounded a lot like the Boss played in his car. We again heard it when he stopped to ask if Billie was all right, but I couldn’t recognize the tune. If you know it, please let us know in the comments. Thanks!
[Update: Trese Myers was quick to point out the song described above was “My Beautiful Reward.” Thanks Trese!]
Part 5 Grade: B
Part 6 Grade: A-