It’s been eight months since the end of Part 2, where a defeated Mayor Wasicsko was answering his own office phone and enraged citizens of Yonkers were calling for his head. Not much has changed, either, as the youngest mayor in America dialed up everyone he could think of to try get some help from anyone in the Democratic Party before ramming the bill through on his own in order to save 600-plus municipal jobs. All it cost him was his career, as shortly after the bill passed, his two-year term came to a surprising end and Nick found himself failing to fix up the house he once dreamt would provide his kids the perfect view of his mayoral office.
What felt fresh and gripping in the first two hours starts to show some redundancies in Parts 3 and 4. Despite some well-shot action items — passing the bill, the election —these two hours ran through at a similarly meticulous pace, conveying the necessary dramatic beats of an impending tragedy, but a few too many heavy-handed moments bogged things down. As soon as Nick gave the go ahead to leak poll numbers, thus going against his “clean campaign” initiative, it was clear they’d be his political downfall. The same predictability plagued Billie Rowan’s (Dominique Fishback) plot, as we knew she’d get pregnant as soon as she shut the door to her bedroom just as we knew her baby’s father wouldn’t make good on his promise to stay out of trouble. Even the titular inspiration was a little too on the nose, as a reporter — David Simon’s former profession — gave campaign manager Jim Surdoval (Michael Stahl-David) the bad news about heroes and tragedies.
Despite these drawbacks, “Show Me a Hero” nevertheless pushed forward. Even if progress felt as slow as the city’s adherence to Judge Sand’s orders, there’s more than enough evidence to trust these steady hands for two final hours of must-see TV.
Say what you will about the dry nature of city council meetings, but the carefully chosen information included on both the how and the why of it all is a master stroke by David Simon and William F. Zorzi. By the end of Mayor Wasicsko’s term in office, you feel like you’ve been with him through every step of the fight. His frustration over a lack of help from his own party, a lack of understanding from the townsfolk and a lack of progress overall become your frustrations, too. His eagerness to actually see the sites where the townhouses will go up — to play on the bulldozer like a little kid — gives the audience an apt sense of pride and despair. He lost his job for this, but at least it’s here.
As for the why, my favorite scene came when Oscar Newman (a perfectly cast Peter Riegert) explained why the city couldn’t try to save money on construction by building apartment complexes instead of townhouses. It looked like he was fighting another losing battle, but he eventually turned people around to his thinking — including the audience at home. “Problems arise when there’s a ‘no-man’s land’,” Newman argued. Those are the areas that get vandalized, creating opportunities for loitering and crime, because no one has any ownership over them. “We are going to build these houses. […] But do we want this to succeed or not?” Simon has always had a knack for blending education with entertainment, and he and Zorzi are putting on a clinic here.
I know above I mentioned how one subplot revolving around the future tenants of these vehemently-protested townhouses simply wasn’t working for me — Billie’s single parent status was too predictable and redundant for my liking — but how does everyone feel about the rest of these characters? Norma’s friend may have put it best when she said, “How come the only faces you see talking about the housing thing are white?” The blunt statement was strongly inferred in the first three parts, as we met more and more struggling African American citizens in need of affordable housing in a safer neighborhood all while the white residents bitched a blue streak about their own oh-so-unfortunate plight. But did we need to have it spelled out for us in a rather forced scene to establish a connection between our characters? Whether this is was a lingering aftereffect of director Paul Haggis’ “Crash” mentality or not, I was hoping to move away from the white people problems vs. real world problems structuring by Part 4, or at least see more of a meaningful crossover between characters.
Carmen Febles’ story (the Domincan mother working to protect her children) is still intriguing to me, despite its somewhat circular path, as is Doreen Henderson’s (Natalie Paul, as the pill-popping single mother who may or may not have traded sex for drugs near the end of Part 4). But I’m curious if everyone is having a similar reaction, or if their tragic tales take a backseat to the political machinations of ex-Mayor Wasicsko and ex-Spallone advocate Mary Dorman (Catherine Keener). Do share your opinion in the poll below or give us your take in the comments section.
Part 3 Song:
“Brilliant Disguise” (moving into the new house)
Part 4 Songs:
“Cadillac Ranch” (driving through town)
“Valentine’s Day” (“If I’m not the mayor of Yonkers, will you still love me?”)
“Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” (home improvement montage)
“Secret Garden” (houses being built/Nick’s marriage)
If there’s one song you don’t want associated with any big romantic moments in your life, it’s Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise.” The first single from “Tunnel of Love,” his synth-heavy follow-up album to “Born in the U.S.A.,” serves as a cautionary tale for jealous lovers. “So tell me who I see / When I look in your eyes? / Is that you, baby / Or just a brilliant disguise?” While there’s been no indication of cheating on the part of Nick or his new wife, Nay Noe (Carla Quevedo), the conversation between the couple has been awfully one-sided. Nick has confessed his dreams of becoming mayor, his aspirations for higher office, his desire to buy a house and his terror at losing the one job he truly loves. Meanwhile, all we know about Nay Noe — whose name I had to look up on IMDB — is… she’s supportive of all that?
Her lack of a strong identity is either indicative of Nick’s one-track mind (and who could blame him, what with angry citizens jumping on his car, cracking his windshield?) or the writers’. We could be seeing everything from Nick’s point-of-view, leading to a reveal later on about what’s actually going on with his wife, or the writers merely treated Nay Noe like a sounding board; someone only present to provide our hero with a reason to speak. Given the song placement — including a diagetically-inaccurate “Secret Garden” playing over their wedding — and a few small moments focusing on Nay Noe’s discomfort (that proposal, like most big moments in their relationship, could have been handled better), I’m leaning toward the latter while remaining wary of the former.
On the resolution to avoid pulling a Mary Dorman — a.k.a. falling prey to uninformed mob mentality and deeply regretting it soon thereafter — by following one or all of the following three options:
a) carefully researching all issues relevant to the community’s greater good
b) trusting politicians who win debates with simple, logical answers and are unanimously supported by all unions, local leaders, and the New York Times
c) doing whatever Bruce Springsteen tells me to do
Managing Editor Kate Erbland: Aye, with additional resolution to attend a local city council meeting to compare and contrast Simon’s series versus reality, just for funsies.
TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller: Nay, because pulling a Mary Dorman might make me more like Catherine Keener and being more like Catherine Keener is one of my only life goals.
TV Critic Ben Travers: Aye, in sole adherence with Part C of the ordinance’s execution.
Editorial Assistant Zack Sharf: Aye, in sole adherence with part C as well. If Bruce thinks falling prey to mob mentality is the answer, I shall humbly oblige. Bruce knows best.
Multimedia Editor, Chief Justice Jon Fusco: Aye C, with the stipulation that all further matters be decided by cage match: Bruce Springsteen v. Billy Joel.
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