Things got ever more sticky for our increasingly beleaguered hero this week as Nick (Oscar Isaac) found himself desperately trying to save Yonkers from Judge Sands’ (Bob Balaban) bankruptcy measures, even as his own lawyers conspired to keep him out of the most important conversations. From attempting to cajole figures within the Democrat party (a lovely little montage which neatly captured all the frustration of political office), to working on two of his fellow councilmen to come over to the right side and save the city from going under, Nick was on fire this week—allowing the audience to see beyond the charm and polish to the fighter beneath.
People just want a home, it’s the same for everybody.
It helped that Isaac’s performance during these scenes was little short of magnificent; ensuring that it’s increasingly hard not to feel deeply sympathetic to Nick. He may not have known what he was getting into, but the longer he spends on the public housing issue the more he realises how important it is that the project goes ahead. Thus, while he started out simply trying to lead, as he explained last week, the once cocky boy has now grown up. It’s no longer a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons; increasingly, Nick Wasicsko is trying to force through the public housing because it’s the honourable thing to do. Of course he’s almost certainly doomed because of this—we ended the episode flashing-forward again to that opening scene of a sick, harassed Nick ignoring a 911 call and vomiting at the side of his father’s grave. And while we don’t yet know what’s left him that way, the signs throughout the episode suggest that the mounting pressure on the young Mayor isn’t easing up any time soon.
I could really use a little hope right now.
Nick wasn’t the only one finding the going tough. Norma (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) continued to struggle with a sight (a situation that was made worse by her newly-hired white nurse’s refusal to visit the project in which she lives); Doreen (Natalie Paul) struggled with life as a single mother (the letter she wrote to her son at the end was among the episode’s most heart-breaking moments), but also found the strength to fight the bored housing officer for a better living space for her child; Alma found that life in New York without her children was no sort of life at all and, in a rare glimpse of happiness, successfully petitioned to have her youngest son, Felipe, a U.S citizen, returned. Billie (Dominique Fishback) ignored her mother’s best attempts to keep her wild young daughter on the straight and narrow, dropping out of school, quitting a swiftly arranged job as a carer and hooking up with a bad boy. That’s another thing that’s clearly not going to end well, but which was sensitively handled in that it’s easy to empathise with Billie—who might be young and in some ways stupid about life, but who is also desperate to escape the world she’s been born into and latch onto any promise of a different, less worn-down life.
Her boyfriend, too, was not a villain but a lost boy, admitting early on that both his father and stepfather had left and is clearly desperate for someone to love. Finally, Mary (Catherine Keener) continued to protest the public housing, giving an interview to the local paper in which she stressed she had no problem with black people and then announced “they shouldn’t take people with one lifestyle and put them smack in the middle of another.” The journalist’s face in response was a picture of perfect restraint.
The Mayor’s Minutes:
- One of the best things about Show Me A Hero is its willingness to show all sides and to carefully unpick the racism behind so many of these character’s assumptions. Thus NAACP lawyer Sussmann (Jon Bernthal) called out housing expert Oscar Newman (Peter Riegert) for his insistence on spreading the housing throughout the city in small doses to allow them to properly integrate with the middle class. Newman’s policy is racist in that it clearly sees black people as ‘other’ and less likely to ‘behave well’, yet at the same time the ends he is trying to achieve are not bad ones. He’s right that houses are better for public houses than flats, that people want a house of their own rather than a place with shared public spaces that can quickly break down. And this episode’s debates on this subject were fascinating, nuanced and all the more interesting for the way in which they let the audience make up their own mind.
- There was also a beautiful contrast between the dream offered by the new public housing and Nick’s own dream house on the hill. When he finally moved Nay (Carla Quevedo) in it was a lovely light-hearted moment in an increasingly fraught show, but it also served to illustrate how much easier it is for the Nick’s of this world than the Doreen’s. While he paid up and walked into his dream home, she fought bureaucracy, produced doctor’s notes, and tried desperately to carve out a place of her own for her and her son. And this is the true awfulness of someone like Mary’s position—she remains entirely unaware of how much privilege she starts with in life—yes, she and her husband worked and saved for her home, yes she is rightly proud of that, but Doreen too would like a place of her own, and so would Alma. They just have to fight that little bit harder than the Mary’s of this world. They’re fighting just to get a toe in the door.
- Alfred Molina’s Spallone continues to be the most enjoyably hissable villain on an otherwise balanced show. The way in which he casually propped his feet on the ledge in city hall a wonderful demonstration of the contempt he clearly feels for everyone around him.
Latest Sign that Nick is Doomed:
“Justice isn’t about popularity” – “No but politics is”—which is unfortunate when it turns out that the Mayoral position is a two-term position; meaning our hero has to run for re-election, but this time facing the wrath of the very constituents who voted him in. Oh Nick, no one ever said politics was easy…
So what did you think? Are you intrigued by the way the story is unfolding? Do you have sympathy for Nick? What about Doreen and Alma? What do you think about Mary? As ever all theories and discussions are welcome…