But, title notwithstanding, few of these characters can be defined by such simple classifications as heroes or villains. Yes, sure, Alfred Molina’s Spallone is a villain, a cynical panderer sorely lacking anything resembling a moral compass, but the other “no” votes are written and played with at least some sympathy; they’re trying to do what’s their constituents want them to do. And, for that matter, we’re not lulled into assurances that their fears about the crime and drugs that run rampant in the projects are totally unfounded; the intimidating, wordless scene in the elevator near the top of part four is but the most effective of those moments.
But just as glimpses of humanity peek out from behind the ideologies of those council members, or of Catherine Keener’s Mary (her reasonable question, “What are we trying to accomplish?”, hints at a turnabout that’s one of the series’ few entirely predictable elements), match the complexity given to the handful of project denizens whose stories fill out these episodes. The fall of widowed mother Doreen (Natalie Paul) into addiction is gingerly choreographed, a reminder that not everyone who fucks up sets out to do so. Her story is a well-balanced contrast to Alma (Ilfenesh Hadera), who attempts to simply keep her head down, work as hard as she can to support her family, and assume the rest will take care of itself. And the quiet dignity of Norma (LaTanya Richardson-Jackson) not only gives us a window into the least-mentioned members of such communities, the elderly and/or infirmed; it’s through her outspoken friend that a key theme reveals itself. “They don’t want us livin’ over there,” she says of the all-white rabble-rousers at the council meetings. “But they don’t know us.”
Throughout the series thus far, Simon and co-writer William Zorzi have quietly folded in these stories, intercutting them without creating explicit interactions. Presumably those will occur at the end (it seems safe to bet most/all of them will become residents of the new public housing), but it’s admirable that we’re not seeing the kind of clean, schematic intersections typical of something like, oh, for example, Hero director Paul Haggis’s Crash. But people don’t collide like that in the real world; in the real world, these stories only intersect by co-existing. It just takes writers like these to draw the lines between them.