Treme‘s Mardi Gras episode always comes late in the series and it’s always more about what MardiGras is and all the kinds of music than it is about what the series is about. In that sense, it fits right in because the series is about being in New Orleans and all the colours of it. But this year’s was made up of little pieces, too many little pieces really, little scenes and moments that made tiny advancements, or set off new snowballs that, further down the mountain, could be bloody great avalanches.
Too many little pieces to maybe put in one blogpost: you’d be better off watching the episode than having me list A did this, and B did that, whilst E and L… Nah.
To keep the pot boiling, let’s just say that Toni tried to talk Sofia’s boyfriend into dumping her because he’s too old, only to find that she’d dumped him a week ago, Nelson schmoozed in Washington, Terry’s frustration at NOPD caused him to let slip that shit is coming down the pan for them when he really shouldn’t’ve, Big Chief Albert got himself through Mardi Gras unscathed by force of will, but the coughing is taking him down.
There were larger movements surrounding Annie, Davis and Janette. Annie’s in Washington, doing their Louisiana Mardi Gras, and sitting in with the Neville Brothers. She does the song that’s this week’s title, Johnnie Allen style, but she also does Harley’s ‘This Town Won’t Drown’, beautifully. The advancement of her career stuffs up her intent to properly do Mardi Gras with Davis (who’s quite clearly being squeezed out of his Jazz Opera on the basis that he’s nowhere near as talented as everyone else) but she flies in for one day only to oversleep, leaving Davis to go out alone, whereupon he bumps into Janette (who’s fretting over how her restaurant is building up, the publicity aspects and the ever-growing sens that it isn’t her restaurant and never will be). She’s dressed as a mini-skirted nun with a long, pale violet wig, and I’m going to be exceedingly shallow here for a moment and go Hoo-wah! And of course, after a day’s wandering and drinking they wind up back at Desautels for a Mardi Gras fuck over which only Janette seems to be having misgivings.
Mind you, he said, doubling up on shallowness, we saw a lot of Annie T today as well.
But there were three things in this episode that stood out for me, that will stick with me for when I come back to this one. First was the school marching band, marching in the parade, with Antoine helping to direct, and a decent job of it they made, playing SteveWonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ for one. They’re following a Marines marching band when, at a break, a half dozen of the Marines wander back and put on a mini-jazz show in the street. The kids watch, fascinated, and then some of them, their confidence visibly swelling, join in, and everybody plays together.
There’s a little snowball after, when Antoine hears young Jennifer playing a Charlie Parker phrase, leading into a discussion about whether Antoine, who’s mostly traditional, could play modern: it catches Antoine on the quick, and it messes with his head.
And there’s the brief closing scene. Sonny’s going it clean, he’s making the real effort, going to meetings, even religious ones. Mr Tran’s not got a crew during Mardi Gras week, but he’s kept Sonny on. Even though it’s the morning after, he calls Sonny to the boatyard even though it’s only going to be the two of them. Sonny arrives first: he’s early.
But in the middle there, Annie’s finally woken by Lucinda, Harley’s sister. The two go down to this ceremony on the riverside, all Mardi Gras noise and colour. Until the silence drops and we understand why everyone is here, as people carrying little boxes and bags, including the one Lucinda removes from Harley’s guitar case, and with Spider Stacey also sharing the moment, people pour the ashes of loved ones who loved New Orleans into the Mississippi.
The ultimate heartbreak is not this tender farewell to an old friend, but the person sitting on the stony bank off to one side, not part of the ceremony, not part of having remains to spread but sharing the pain and the loss: Sofia Bernette, arms and legs twisted round herself, caging in her own loss. As do we all.