“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy” is the full quotation from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Notebook E, and in David Simon and William Zorzi’s miniseries Show Me a Hero (2015), this epigram casts an ominous shadow over the story of Nick Wasicsko and the fight for housing desegregation in Yonkers, NY.
Early in the miniseries, Nick Wasicsko’s political star is on the rise. He mounts an upstart campaign against a long seated incumbent and becomes the youngest Mayor in the United States. Once in office Wasicsko finds his support has dried up and he must support the housing desegregation decision to which he ran in opposition. Shortly after he takes office, he is informed that the city has lost its final appeal and must comply with the ruling to build low income housing in affluent (and white) neighborhoods whose residents are dead set against it. He and an aide discuss whether or not his constituents can blame him for following the law, which it turns out they absolutely can. In the middle episodes, Wasicsko is fighting to get city council approval of the housing order under threat of exponentially increasing fines that would bankrupt the city, while his political prospects narrow in the face of overwhelming disapproval from the people who elected him.
By the midway point of the series Wasicsko is ousted as mayor by Frank Spallone (Alfred Molina) who capitalizes on Wasicsko’s unpopular stance in support of integrating public housing into white neighborhoods in Yonkers. Even before the show concludes, the title has has revealed its foreshadowing nature. Wasicsko’s meteoric ascent into the mayor’s office comes to a shuddering halt when his rhetoric no longer suffices.
But the clearest analogue to the tragedy half of the Fitzgerald’s quote comes at the end of the series, though it’s been hinted at from the first scene. Wasicsko has become beaten down by his own political failures, alienation from his friends and colleagues, and the prospect of a corruption investigation that could ruin his chances to run for office again. He goes to the cemetery to visit his father’s grave, but he lingers around the headstone and has a brief vision of his father. He reaches for the gun he keeps strapped to his leg and shoots himself. The show’s title is revealed to be prophetic, as the descent of the hero, Nick Wasicsko, ends in a tragic suicide.