Treme: s02 e09 – What is New Orleans?

You know I do my best to avoid spoilers. Each week, as I watch any of the regular series I comment on, I approach each episode as if it were being freshly broadcast for the first time, on schedule, as television used to be. Only afterwards do I go on-line, to read, research or check what I need in which to write my posts. And sometimes, despite my efforts, I catch glimpses, little mentions, of things that are going to happen, that I’d rather not know.

That’s how I knew, in season 1, that Creighton Bernette would commit suicide. Then it was just a case of waiting for it to happen, and it duly came in episode 9. This season, I knew that Hawley, Annie T’s street mentor, played by the versatile Steve Earle, was going to die.  This too was episode 9, though I didn’t make the connection before hand. But, just as in season 1, somebody we knew, somebody we had come to care about, was lost to us, and it dominates my response to another busy, full episode.

Hawley has been a gentle, nurturing presence, advising, guiding, encouraging Annie. He’s versatile, philosophical, contented. A calming, warming presence. This week, he was entertaining a London street musician, penny-whistle player James ‘Slim Jim’ Lynch, played by Spider Stacey of the Pogues. All good fun,as they say, until someone loses an eye, and I expect David Simon and George Pelecanos had that bleak and bitterly comic line in mind when, after a successful three-handed street performance, Hawley walks Annie over to catch the end of Davis’s set. The pair are stopped by two young muggers, with a gun. They surrender the money. As the kids ran off, Hawley said, without heat or anger, “You’re making a bad choice, son.”

The moment the kid stopped and turned back, I knew what was coming. I’d have known already, even without foreknowledge. The kid walks up to Harley, who still has his hands upraised. “I ain’t your son,” he says, and shoots Harley in the face. As Annie screams for help over Harley’s massive body, we fleetingly see he has been shot through the eye.

Tellingly, the episode cuts to Antoine’s band, slipping away after a semi-successful gig at the prestigious Blue Nile Club, about which a good comic business over stealing audiences was played earlier. Sonny, who’s eyeing up a Vietnamese girl he met last week at the Seafood Market, is next to last to leave, leaving only Antoine and his ‘bone, looking in vain for a taxi.

So much emphasis on a minor, a supporting character, not even a member of the cast. Yet though there are twelve named cast members in Treme‘s second season, this is not a show about them, any more than any other ensemble series, especially not a David Simon helmed show. Annie has spent more screen time with Hawley than she has with Davis this season, vastly more so, and he has been of greater assistance to her. Davis has his own preoccupations, his fervent but ultimately ridiculous commitment to insurrection in political and musical terms, this week pushed so easily aside by his far more talented protege, Lil Calliope. Hawley may only have the same faith in Annie as her self-centred boyfriend, but he’s the one who’s encouraged her.

And he’s shot dead on a New Orleans street, in front of her, in an utterly pointless act of hatred. Wonder why we Britains think America is mad for its embracement of gun culture? You look at scenes like this, where someone thinks that a gun gives him the power, almost the right, to execute someone for anything perceived as disrespect.

I fear for the effect on Annie. We’ve already seen how LaDonna has been broken, and whilst I understand where husband Larry is coming from, part selfishness, part tough love, I question how helpful he’s being in ranting at her to get her ass, sorry, I mean her act together. Sitting up with a bottle all night, detached from her family, her kids. Shape up woman, and either get your bar re-opened or (and we know which option he prefers), sell the thing and come back to Baton Rouge to become a mother and a housewife.

But this kind of ‘shock therapy’ doesn’t do well, in fact it doesn’t do shit. The DA admits that the case against LaDonna’s rapists isn’t going well. The victim in the other case has declined to testify, meaning they’re reliant on her, and if she declines there ain’t no case at all, and they walk. From there, LaDonna goes to the bar, only she can’t even get out of her car. Sale it is, much to Larry’s satisfaction, though he covers it up. He goes to put a hand on her shoulder, to squeeze it, butat the last moment grips the chair instead. I fear for Annie.

The rest, though continuing to mix the stories, was overshadowed by the ending. Despite the presence of real-life, ultra-top-notch musicians, Albert is being as cussedly awkward as you could expect in New York, pissing Delmond seriously off with his insistence on moving everything to New Orleans.

Terry Colson’s reward for going back channel, bypassing Homicide and seriously pissing off its Captain, is a lateral ‘promotion’ into Homicide. They’re already speculating around the station about his friendship with Toni, which puts into his head the idea of asking her out for a beer. He explains the logic of this seriously unpleasant move inflicted on him: either he gets the goods on Captain Gidry that enables the NOPD to get rid of him, or Gidry fucks Terry over and they get rid of him. Either way, the problem’s ‘solved’. Terry enjoys Toni’s company. She’s enjoyed it too, but a more regular thing? Not ready yet, she says, but the panicked look on her face invites us to think a bit deeper.

Then again she has her case of the Police shooting, in which more potentially incriminating evidence is secured, and Sofia, who’s only gone and picked the worst possible place to be tried on heroin possession charges. The girl’s still playing the resentful teenager card, but separate talkings-to by her specialist lawyer, and Councilman Thomas provide a plausible platform on which to build a revaluation of her attitudes.

And Nelson Hidalgo’s getting into actively trying to buy properties for redevelopment, in a move that feels like setting a platform for season 3.

I’ve got the boxset for that standing by. There are only two more episodes of season 2 left. But there is still a long way to go.

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