Screens: HBO

If You Change Just A Little, Then Yonkers Might Change, Too

Show Me A Hero demonstrates the sweeping power of individual growth.

As history insisted it must, integration has come to Yonkers (that's "Yonkers") on Show Me A Hero. But even though we knew the story was headed this way, the show used its middle two hours to demonstrate exactly how much change was required to get us here.

I don't just mean institutional change, though that's obviously afoot when formerly recalcitrant councilmen finally vote to follow the law. Nor do I simply mean communal change, though we get a sense that the people of Yonkers are shifting toward integration (or maybe were there all along) when Mayor Wasicsko learns how well he's doing in the election polls.

No, I'd argue that the change we primarily witness this week is personal. Whether it's an African-American woman deciding to meet the white people who don't want her to move in or a muckraking politician realizing his gasbaggery can't stop history, we see how almost everyone on screen (and by extension, all of us at home) can contribute to the larger narrative of a community.

Which is powerful stuff. I mean, I also enjoyed the facts 'n' figures speeches about strategies for creating successful low-income communities. That's interesting, by god! But when those elements are threaded through with emotionally involving stories of personal change? That's great TV.

With that in mind, here's a least-to-most ranking of the characters who changed the most profoundly this week (for good or ill).

  1. Pat

    Granted, we only meet Pat this week, so it's hard to evaluate how different she is now than she was before. But given her (beautifully written and acted) conversation with Norma, it seems clear that she's tired of not participating in the fight over integrated housing.

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    Why are there only white faces discussing this issue on the news? she asks. It's a damn good question. Her gumption even leads her to introduce herself to Mary, who is sitting fearfully in her car as group of black Yonkers residents stages a protest march. That simple gesture of kindness carries a lot of weight, since it's maybe the first time anyone on this show has stopped shouting and just started talking to the people who scare them.

  2. Spallone

    Though hardly as inspiring as Pat's, Spallone's evolution is also important.

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    Alfred Molina does sensational work showing us how much this slimeball enjoys riding his racist fearmongering into the mayor's seat, but about one second after he gets elected, he starts hedging his bets, saying he will concede to court demands if necessary. Even more importantly, once he realizes how uninterested he is in actually running a city instead of just grandstanding for the public, he loses his fire. That change proves he's an asshole, but it also opens the door for other people to get something done.

  3. Carmen

    We've known all along that Carmen loves her family and will do anything for them. Hence her move to the Dominican Republic and back again. Now, though, she is through waiting for other people to do right by her kids. After flatly explaining to her friend that she will kill anyone who tries to keep her children from thriving -- she says it so matter-of-factly that you know she means it literally -- she works up the will to ask her boss for an advance on her pay so that she can fly her remaining children back to New York.

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    When Carmen greets her kids at the airport, promising they'll never be separated again, her jaw is permanently set. She's here for her family, and that commitment will help her a lot when she (presumably) moves into housing among white neighbors who seriously don't want her there.

  4. Mary

    I've got to give props to Catherine Keener for playing Mary as a basically decent woman who is making racist choices because she's so anxious about losing the home and community she loves. She's playing the fear and not the hatred, is what I mean, and making it clear that Mary might normally be the kind of person who would welcome new neighbors, if only she hadn't been convinced they were going to undo her neighborhood.

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    Mary's better nature seems to be emerging by the end of these episodes, however, when she finally clocks that the leader of the "Save Yonkers" movement is just a garden-variety bigot. She cares too much about the place she lives to let it be taken over by that kind of nastiness, and by standing up to him, it seems she's ready to fight a nobler fight.

  5. Nick

    Oh look! Another great performance! Oscar Isaac does the most emotionally open work I've ever seen him do as Nick grapples with life after losing an election. But for all his anxiety, he doesn't mope. He fixes up his house, listens to a lot of Springsteen, and brings his wife into his inner life.

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    It makes him seem a like a deeply good person, and when he finds out he's won a JFK Profile in Courage award, he discovers a new fervor. All of this makes me care about him, and I'm excited to see what happens as he moves forward as a crusader. (Note: I'm choosing to ignore what the real Nick Wasicsko did with his life. Google it if you care to find out.)

  6. Doreen

    Oh my god, Doreen. Her first major change is just devastating, since she descends into drug addiction while trying to raise her baby. But when she's told she has to start trading sex for chemicals, something in her clicks.

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    Doreen finally breaks down and calls her parents -- who live in a middle-class neighborhood and have offered to help -- and that phone call is one of the most quietly obliterating things I've seen on TV this season, because it carries the seeds of someone who has decided to climb back toward the light, and that kind of determination (coupled with the support network she is lucky enough to have) could positively affect whomever ends up lucky enough to be Doreen's neighbor.

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