Things got ever more problematic for poor Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac) this week, as he received bullets in the post, faced down furious citizens, attempted to fend off grand-standing and side-switching councillors, and saw his hard-fought deal collapse after the Catholic Church had second thoughts about supporting him. As an examination of just how frustrating being in power really is Show Me a Hero is proving second to none. As a product of his time and background, Nick probably doesn’t feel that different from most of the white constituents at this meeting, but as he explained to Mary (Catherine Keener) in the oddly touching conversation at the episode’s end: “I’m supposed to be a leader. I’m trying to lead”.
In other words, just because you don’t personally agree with something doesn’t mean that it isn’t the right thing to do. And it was hard not to sympathise with the increasingly beleaguered Nick. There he was thinking becoming Mayor would finally allow him to lay his daddy issues to bed, and instead he finds harmless-looking grey-haired old ladies telling him his father would be turning in his grave and shouting “shame on You!” every time he attempts to hold a meeting.
There has to come a moment of truth, a moment of reckoning… a moment when the city of Yonkers decides not to become a symbol of defiance of civil rights.
Sometimes it’s the smallest moments in this show are the most powerful—for example, the growing realisation that not a single black person attends the Yonkers council meetings. All this legislation is being battled over and fought about by white people tearing themselves apart in fury and rage, and yet the other half of the population, who will be equally affected, don’t even get in the door to have their say. Not that life was much better outside the courtroom or Mayor’s office, as Norma (LaTanya Richardson) was forced to quit her job thanks to her failing sight (and, oh, how the actress broke my heart with her softly-spoken admission that she’s only 47), Alma (Ilfenesh Hadera) realised that the only way she can make her life work is to leave her children in the Dominican Republic and head back to New York to work and, devastatingly, Doreen’s (Natalie Paul) young boyfriend died of an asthma attack, leaving her eight months pregnant and very alone.
Hey this Mayor thing? When does the fun part start?
We also spent more time this week with Mary, in what is turning out to be a fascinatingly nuanced performance. Maybe its because I grew up in an Irish Catholic family but I know hundreds of Mary’s: good-hearted women, who do their best to serve everyone, from their husbands to the church where they religiously hand over money every week. They’re solid, hard-working, uncomplaining types—and they’re also terrified of the unknown. Mary’s racist comment “these people don’t live the way we do, they don’t want what we want” is a comment that’s been echoed down the years, all over the world, yet it is to the show’s credit that even as we reject her fear and ignorance we understand where it comes from and why it is she feels this way.
The Mayor’s Minutes:
- Another cracking performance from Alfred Molina this week, whose Councilman Spallone really turned the pressure on Nick, courting popularity, grandstanding and generally behaving like the worst person on earth. The terrifying thing about watching his performance in the court was the recognition that these tactics are still effective today—just ask Donald Trump.
- There was a curious sense of déjà vu about listening to the good people of Yonkers worry about the possible introduction of drugs, crime and ruined property values—ah, falling property prices, the battle cry of Nimby’s everywhere.
- One of the episode’s best scenes was the brief meeting between Winona Ryder’s defeated Vinni (who lost her seat in the election), and Nick. As Vinni lamented her lost political life you could feel the fear that dogs all politicians—”once I leave office? What then? What then?” Has there ever been a better summation of power than her wistful remark: “It’s addictive, once you get that taste in your mouth…”
- I’m growing quite fond of Nay (Carla Quevedo), Nick’s girlfriend. There’s something watchful and sardonic about her that’s quite appealing, as though she sees through politics and views it as merely a game…
- … of course it’s far more than that, as this week’s events demonstrated. I loved Jon Bernthal’s increasingly cynical NAACP lawyer, recognising that people would cry “it’s the Jews’ fault” minutes before they did, and it was also a good week for Judge Sand (Bob Balaban) who, tiring of all the game playing and contempt, not only fined the city of Yonkers but also the four council men who voted against the motion. A moment that had me, at least, cheering out loud.
- Finally, I might be raised Catholic but I wasn’t surprised that the church backtracked on its agreement to build public housing. Few things hurt as much as parishioners withholding the weekly donations to the cause…
Latest Sign That Nick is Doomed:
As if the show’s title wasn’t evidence enough that things aren’t likely to end well for our man in the Mayor’s Office, this week Bernthal gloomily remarked that “the kid, this is going to eat him up”—which, given that Nick was adding stomach acid aid Maalox to his whisky by the episode’s mid-way point, seemed a pretty fair assessment all round.
So what did you think—are you enjoying the way this is playing out? Will the housing ever get built? Can Nick get the better of Spallone, or is he obviously doomed? As ever all comments and theories are welcome below.