I know viewers were meant to root pretty unambiguously toward the end for Mary Dorman, but to me the truly heroic characters were Doreen and Pat. Doreen’s arc from a single, drug-addicted mom to a community advocate felt organic (not like a forced, pull-up-your-bootstraps story) and respectful (not implying that every woman in her situation has the support or means to do the same). Both she and Doreen championed others, but they also helped give those others the confidence to champion themselves.
Maybe (and this is a big maybe, but it’s the interpretation I prefer), Show Me a Hero is a slight subversion of Fitzgerald’s line about heroes and tragedies going hand in hand. Maybe Wasicsko’s insatiable need to play the hero—not the fact of his heroism—is what led to his death, a kind of recontextualization of Newman’s words about a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe the better wording, at least for this show, would be “Write me a tragedy, and I’ll show you a hero.” Both Pat and Doreen (and Carmen and Billy) endured trauma and loss in their lives: poverty, addiction, illness, death, as well as racism, classism, and sexism of all kinds. And yet, they emerged heroic, even if they don’t have awards or fancy victory parties to show for it. They, I think, wouldn’t confuse votes with love.
Still, the show very clearly feels that Wasicsko is some sort of martyr, even if he comes off onscreen as an unwilling one who had no other real choice. Like you Brentin, I didn’t totally understand Wasicsko’s suicide, but suicide is often incomprehensible, so I can’t completely blame the show for not “explaining” it. I just wish we had more than a beautiful, bokeh-dappled shot of Wasicsko weeping alone in his attic to sympathize with his pain toward the end.
While I was confused by its radically ambivalent view of Wasicsko (one that doesn’t even fall into antihero territory), at least the show managed to avoid overly romanticizing him. As it did with Mary Dorman. As it did with Billy and Norma and Carmen and Pat and Doreen. I would’ve liked a longer epilogue that offered some modern context for the series and hinted at the work that still has yet to be done. For all Show Me a Hero’s relative lack of historical grounding, the series pulled off an impressive degree of emotional and sociocultural complexity in its short span. I found the ending satisfying, if not all rosy. Wasicsko had a major hand in getting the public housing built, but—and the show makes this clear—his was just one of many.
David, did you enjoy these last couple episodes as much as I did? What, or who, makes a hero, in the eyes of this series? And did Billy and Doreen’s first nights trying to sleep in their new townhomes terrify you as much as they did for me?
David Sims: I’m glad you mentioned that, Lenika—those scenes were remarkably well done in how the biggest threat was silence (aside from occasional car noises), the “sound” of a community being absent. Not that the noise of life in the projects was always reassuring, of course, but that silence confirms the fear these new residents have: They’re not wanted, and the white residents of east Yonkers aren’t being asked to learn how to be good neighbors. I feared that something truly awful would happen—like that pipe bomb left when the houses were still under construction. Thank God that isn’t in the historical record, of course, but I was happy the final episodes of the show focused mostly on that transition to the new townhouse life, and the complications therein.