City on a Hill Recap: The Women Get To Speak “I’m out of practice at being nice.”

4

Summary

“The Wickedness of the Wicked Shall Be Upon Himself” is the best the show has given us, and it has largely nothing to do with the actual plot or premise of the show thus far.

This City on a Hill Episode 4 recap for the episode titled “The Wickedness of the Wicked Shall Be Upon Himself” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.


The plot recap of “The Wickedness of the Wicked Shall Be Upon Himself” is simple: everyone keeps on doing what they’ve been doing. Jimmy got arrested last week, but he’s back and trying to get out of Jackie Rohr’s (Kevin Bacon) doghouse by wheedling information from his brother (who doesn’t trust him, for some reason). Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge) tries to use a grand jury for something other than what it’s intended: to get information about a separate case. This rattles the bad guys pretty significantly. That’s it for the men of City on a Hill Episode 4 – the rest features each of the major women of City on a Hill, to great effect.

“The Wickedness of the Wicked Shall Be Upon Himself” is a treatise on the way that women were treated in the 90s—and lest we forget, so many women still endure this deep lack of basic respect and understanding from society. These portrayals aren’t one-note caricatures, but nuanced and varied. To that end, City on a Hill Episode 4 is the best the show has given us, and it has largely nothing to do with the actual plot or premise of the show thus far.

City on a Hill features four women prominently (and is giving increasing time to Kick, Frankie and Cathy Ryan’s oldest daughter). The first is Cathy Ryan (Amanda Clayton). Cathy is Frankie’s wife, a hairdresser, and is the true mastermind behind the armored car robberies. We also follow Siobhan Quays (Lauren E. Banks), Decourcy Ward’s wife and political partner, trying to foster a political career for the two of them in Boston. Jenny (Jill Hennessy) is Jackie’s much put-upon and ignored wife who wants to make something of her life because her husband cheats on her and her daughter is basically a cartoon 90s party girl. And finally, Rachel Benham (Sarah Shahi) is one of the four people working the armored car case – a single, world-weary detective just trying to make it alongside the sexist pigs with whom she works.

Each of the previous episodes has given a bit less than equal time to these wives and partners (I still say we have too many storylines overall), but “The Wickedness of the Wicked Shall Be Upon Himself” puts each of them into the spotlight. This episode seeks to focus on different facets of women in 90s society. First, I recognize that I’m a white male writing this – I’d love to hear women who lived (and live) through this weigh in on the portrayal. That said, I think that City on a Hill has finally hit a stride, albeit one that it seemed not to intend. It should run with it.

Cathy is the quintessential working wife, a housewife desperately trying to be strong and to manage not only her family but a criminal enterprise. Cathy has a meeting with her daughter’s teacher because Kick (short for Catherine, somehow? Played by Blake Baumgartner) has been having nightmares and seems agitated. Possibly because her parents and uncle are running a massive criminal conspiracy around her. She may have subconsciously picked up some tension. Clayton’s performance has also been getting consistently stronger — she’s been getting more screen time—showing her struggle to keep her family from spinning out of control. And yet, when she confides in her husband, he talks about the kids being his, rather than theirs. To be fair, they’ve actually had probably the best marriage on the show, but this subtlety is key.

Rachel is an intelligent, ballsy investigator who does the grunt work while her partner plays the hero and then goes home. She repeatedly shows herself to be incredibly capable, often more than the men around her. Yet she’s relegated to getting coffee or to endure Rohr’s smelly advances. But her wit shines through each time: “Yeah, a saggy-balled whiskey dick old man is exactly what I need.” And then later: “I’m not gonna be your minor conquest because you’re feeling vulnerable.” She’ll have none of his faded, beer-soaked charms. Rachel has steadily become one of my favorite characters — a rare bright light in this inconsistent show. And somehow she’s still just a guest star…

Siobhan is an equal political partner with Decourcy (Aldis Hodge) and has the unenviable but all-too-typical task of decrying Kayla’s confessions about the reverend as merely political, rather than real (all the more potent in our #MeToo world). Siobhan meets with Kayla (MaYaa Boateng) in City on a Hill Episode 4, “The Wickedness of the Wicked Shall Be Upon Himself”, to get dirt on Reverend Fields (Seth Gilliam) who’s trying to organize an anti-cop/anti-crime association called The Genesis Coalition. He put some decidedly inappropriate moves on Kayla while on a humanitarian trip to Haiti, hinting he could advance her career if she reciprocated. Siobhan, being the 90s lawyer that she is, states matter of factly that this was years ago and there’s no proof, even suggesting that Kayla may want money from the Reverend. Then he hits on Siobhan, demonstrating how systematically true it is that power corrupts.

Jenny is easily the most sympathetic of the women in City on a Hill. Her husband Jackie is a corrupt cop and philanderer of the highest order. He stops her from even attempting to gain any freedom of her own while deriding her very existence at every turn. She registers for college and becomes a teacher’s aide. While joyfully announcing this new phase of her life to her family, to literal sidelong sneers from her husband and daughter. To her face. then Jackie bribes the Irish Pastor who has been counseling Jenny to stop her from getting the aide job. He’s truly the scum of the earth. 

In each case, these women are composed of stronger stuff than the men around them recognize. This actually feels like a strange reset for the show, as we saw very little of the actual criminal case. I predict, however, that we’ll be back to the usual tapestry of confusion we’ve had thus far. Balance is not City on a Hill‘s strong suit.

I have many complaints about this show in terms of plotting (that there’s too very much of it!) but the actual writing is simply excellent at times. I just wish the plot would get out of the way of the writing and let it shine! We got this well-composed nugget in “The Wickedness of the Wicked Shall Be Upon Himself” from Rachel: “Yeah well, you know, that’s how life gets you. You tend to think that you’re the hero in your own ******* story until that thing happens that lets you know that there’s a whole other story going on that you never even imagined. Life will constantly find a way to mark us for our lack of imagination.” Each character in this show is the hero of his or her own story – that’s what great films and shows and novels are made of: flawed characters trying to exist in this world as the heroes of their own tales–only to find out that this world doesn’t just revolve around them.

I’m hoping that City on a Hill can keep this stride going – though I won’t hold my breath.

Tyler Howat

Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.

3 thoughts on “City on a Hill Recap: The Women Get To Speak

  • July 11, 2019 at 12:44 pm
    Permalink

    I believe Kick is short for Kathleen – a Kennedy homage perhaps as one of JFK’s sisters was Kathleen Kennedy, known to family as Kick. She died in a plane crash after WWII.

    Reply
    • July 11, 2019 at 2:37 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks! How have you felt about this episode’s shift in focus toward the women’s stories?

      Reply
  • July 20, 2019 at 11:38 pm
    Permalink

    Episode 4 is my favorite so far, and for me it’s ALL about the women!

    I’m not a fan of the Cathy Ryan character- she’s a criminal just as much as her husband and brother-in-law, and not all that believable. I was in my 20s in the 90s, like Cathy, but I never could imagine myself in that kind of marriage or treating my children that way (or living in such a dark, dreary, and ramshackle house). Though I did find the projectionist’s rage Cathy displayed to the teacher credible (and not to Cathy’s favor).

    Then again at that point in the 1990s, I was a career woman like Rachael, albeit with an Ivy graduate degree. But the routine sexism and discounting of my work and pay compared to less qualified men rings true. I identify with her dedication to the job, and with the BS she has to put up with. Similarly, I understand Siobhan’s wrestling with Kayla’s story about Reverend Fields. She wants to believe her, but knows that by doing so, she’d be sidelining herself to “women’s stories”, or causes, which in the 1990s definitely didn’t get you a seat at the big table.

    The way a woman got ahead in the 90s was by being alert, and deflecting inappropriate advances by a creepy dude (in her personal and/or professional lives, with a boss, peer, or subordinate) by herself, one-on-one. At least, that’s how I did it: in one instance, I told my older female coworker about an advance a male client had made to me, under the table in her presence, and she wanted to tell our boss. Our boss was a good ole boy, under-educated and over-promoted, and though I knew he liked me and I liked him, I didn’t want him getting involved, nor did I want my female co-worker to get involved. It worked out for me, I guess. I confronted the guy over the phone the next day and made it clear that what he might have interpreted as my interest (there was none, absolutely) was incorrect, that I was literally his daughter’s age, and that I trusted my calling him on his wandering hand up my thigh the night before would in no way hinder my reputation or career as far as he was concerned. I’m happy to say it didn’t, but I shudder to think today about the responsibility and possible fear of reprisal that put on me. I also realize most women can’t afford to take that risk (luckily, I didn’t even think about that before I called him).

    Finally, Jenny’s story really breaks my heart. I’m so glad to see Jill Hennessy back on TV in a good role; her portrayal of Claire on Law and Order was my favorite of all of the ADAs. Plus, she’s my age. But watching her play Jenny Rohr is really bringing home to me choices of women my mom’s age made, that didn’t work out for them.

    I know Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson (from Homicide and The Wire) are behind this series, and it’s currently projected to occur over five seasons, but I hope they tap in to the power the women characters have, realize Jackie Rohr is a brutalist thug to his wife and not even close to the love-to-hate Jimmy McNulty, and let the women reign. It’s about @#$&*@#$ time!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: