Utterly magnificent. Treme has always been a thing of parts, co-advancing but without links beyond those of the natural interplay. When a creation is deliberately made that way, we look for the sum of the parts to exceed the whole, a phrase that automatically categorises the individual parts as weak, unsatisfying. But this first series has from the first been one where the whole equals the sum of the parts, and each part in itself has been magnificent.
This extended (80 minute) first season finale was a things both of endings and beginnings, but the endings predominated, and Khandi Alexander as LaDonna Batiste-Williams and Melissa Leo as Toni Bernette were superb as women struggling with loss, and having to stay in control. We began with Toni, trying to contain her fear, reporting Crei as missing, and not being allowed to continue in denial long, as his body was lifted from the river. Toni’s innate intensity burned all the stronger, the more so for having to allow daughter Sofia to scream, deny and mourn.
Midway, there was a scene where Crei’s abandoned car was found, in the car park. The Police moved in, but the sympathetic Lt Colson gave Toni time, privacy and permission to take anything personal.
Even before she got into the car, found Crei’s jacket, and his wallet, Toni was close to cracking as each and everyone of us would. Melissa Leo incarnated the pain of loss, the utter confusion that lies beyond it as you struggle to imagine what it even could be like without them, and to find in that wallet Crei’s last message, was beyond bearing, and she ran because there was no other choice betwen that and falling apart.
LaDonna was different. LaDonna had already experienced her loss, her brother’s death in the system. She’s been in control throughout, has had to be. Someone always has to be, to steer the ship onwards, do the things that have to be done whilst everyone else gets the release of grief, helplessness, even hysteria. LaDonna elected herself into that role, the price of which being that you can’t crack up, you can’t just give in to loss and pain. You enable everyone else to do that, but you have to be strong and hold your emotion in.
It’s part of why she won’t authorise the second autopsy on Damo, won’t dig deeper into why he died, who was responsible. LaDonna’s carrying the eight for everyone and at the funeral, we see her struggling, and how hard a fight it is, to keep composed, to be the one around everyone must circle, and not to collapse because you can’t bear it an instant longer.
This led to a confusion in one viewer: mid-ceremony, a mobile phone rings as we focus on LaDonna, a phone out of nowhere that no-one seems to answer. It’s not immediately clear but this ushers in an extended flashback, to the day of Katrina, the hours before Katrina. The division between present and past is deliberately blurred from the outset by having Janette arrive home at her parents, having seen her leave in the present before this begins.
For this flashback is mainly the run-through of everything Toni and LaDonna learned about Damo’s fateful day, but it expands to show everyone else we know, preparing and not-preparing for something that will change everything. These are our cast of characters, before they were affected, and as we see these glimpses of Before Disaster, we get time to recognise them as the people we already know. We are who we are, our natures don’t change that much after experiences like Katrina.
But LaDonna are Toni are not the only one in this episode, and there are indeed some endings, and maybe-beginnings, among this departure.
Janette is going back to New York, despite all Davis McAlary can do. He demands a day off her, a day in which to persuade her, by giving her N’Awleans in all its irreproducable glory, to stay. It’s a glorious day, and we find ourselves starting to like Davis, which I wouldn’t have bet on nine weeks ago. He goes back to work at the radio station, accepts and follows the rules, to raise money to record a CD of his music, he spends all this time and effort to keep Janette here, not for his own selfish and lustful reasons, but because he genuinely believes in New Orleans as no better place to be, and in Janette as someone who is in place here.
It’s fun, but it’s all in vain. Janette’s booked her ticket before the Day. Jacques delivers her to the airport. Delmond Lambreaux’s there too, returning to New York now that St Joseph’s Day is done and the Indian Tribe under Albert has performed, without incident (more or less), and we see her back at her parents, but this is with Katrina brewing, so has she left or have we been fooled?
We like Davis even more by the end. Annie’s had to move out of her lodgings because the girl whose place it is is coming back. She goes back to Sonny, only to find a naked, tattooed girl in their bed. Sonny has to pull on pants to run after but she just walks away, back to him, not listening, not looking back. They have coffee later, try to sort out their relationship. Annie makes clear to him that she needs to play with whoever she wants, and he must accept it. We’ve already see her just chatting to the character Steve Earle is playing, whilst he’s writing a song. She’s putting herself down, a player not a writer, fearful of trying to sing her own compositions, but spontaneously she provides a couplet, sung sweetly. In the cafe, Sonny admits she is the better musician, and that’s she’s leaving him behind. “I wasn’t,” she says, and the past tense ends the conversation: he gets up and leaves.
Later, we see him composing, until frustration and rage causes him to smash his portable keyboard. He hits a bar, scores and sniffs cocaine, is last seen stumbling around at night, a calamity looking for somewhere to happen.
And Davis comes home after his Day for Janette to find Annie sat on his porch, his Party flyer in her hands. He said to come round anytime, can she crash. What did I do right? Davis wonders rhetorically, and you know I’m wondering about that too. He has a sofa. He can sleep there, she can have the bed. Endings. Beginnings.
All endings are beginnings unless you die. The Indians marched, in all their marginally compromised finery. They marched, in abandoned areas, with few followers, doing their traditional thing with due pride and dignity, into the night. And then three patrol cars, lights flashing, pulled up before them. Trouble was brewing, the threatened trouble, Albert the marked man. But a sergeant appeared, sent the cops home. Respect. Dignity, for once on both sides.
Albert achieved his goal, of marching on St Joseph’s Day. It’s an ending, but only for what was wanted. There is more to do, more to bring home.
The only one for whom this closing episode had no even temporary resolution was Antoine Batiste, spending most of it rehearsing and playing a gig with/for the legendary Alain Toussain, and not even in New Orleans. The music went well, but Antoine developed an itch for poker, and lost most of his $1,000.00 fee to his fellow players.
So Treme ended, for a season, in the only way it could end, without endings, just temporary pauses and not necessarily pauses either. I’ll be starting to watch season 2 next Thursday. That’s seven days of disciplining myself not to check imdb or Wikipedia: has Janette gone or not? Please, no spoilers.