Treme: s02 e03 – On Your Way Down


Her episode

Objectively, there was little about episode 3 that was any different from episode 2, but my response to this was completely different. In part this was due to the elements in this episode, the individual storylines, starting to firm up, to take more distinctive shapes, but a larger part of it was me: the place I’m in in my head right now isn’t a good place to be, and I was grateful for the chance to be in another place, to immerse myself in the culture and milieu of a completely different place and time.

There was another of those brilliantly effective opens, the genius of which you don’t really understand until it’s done. A sweet, low-key violin theme, underpinned by piano, meanders like the images do, silent snippets of early in the day, people being the people they are. This leads us to a Gallery, an exhibition of photos of Katrina, of New Orleans under water. A piano/violin duet are playing for the visitors, and of course the violinist is Annie.

Thhere’s not much more of her this week. She leaves her pianist to improvise whilst she looks at the pictures, and she finds one of Sonny (I was ahead of the camera there), on a roof, helping get a baby handed out. A weird moment for Annie.

But that was it for her, and there was a theme among the stories this week, and it wasn’t a very nice one. Davis has been checking Janette’s house for mail and discovers its been robbed, very thoroughly indeed. Janette flies back from New York to try to resolve everything in one day, having been lectured very patronisingly and demeaningly by Chef Broulard about commitment, and character.

Sonny’s slide continues. He’s getting nowhere and the rate accelerated when his pad was raided by the cops and he got away by not having gotten home quite early enough. But the cops left the door open and when he did venture back, the place had been robbed and trashed. His guitar had been taken, his keyboard just smashed, like everything else, because those who don’t give no shit don’t give no shit.

But worse, far worse, was LaDonna. She was closing up the bar, on her own, but there’s some mumbling guy outside, seeking directions hedoesn’t seem that eager to follow. The Police won’t come out: it’s not an emergency, at least not yet. But when LaDonna figures it’s finally safe to go outside, it ain’t safe at all, and there’s two of them, and they’re inside…

The ‘R’ word is never mentioned but enough is done, in terms of examination, treatment and medication at the hospital to exclude any doubts, without any sense of hedging round things. All there was was the determination not to be melodramatic, to be human. But above all, there was Khandi Alexander. Anybody who knows her only for CSI: Miami saw her operating on maybe one-tenth of her ability. Here, in the complete change in personality that follows the assault, the utter brokenness of the woman, she told us everything we needed to know just in who she became.

The ever-growing lawlessness of New Orleans was also a theme of Toni Bernette’s part of the mix. Pursuing the issue of the dead Arbea boy, with a degree of help from the ever-sympathetic Colson, Toni learns that the circumstances of his death were radically different from those few, empty words told to his father: his body was found inside a looted bar/hall, shoot through the head, with bullet casings on site. The evidence was memorable: lacking paper, the officer wrote his report on a paper plate he found within.

But that evidence went only so far and then vanished. Toni’s still pursuing, though Colson’s backed off this one. Toni’s also concerned about Sofia. Her YouTube rants are still channeling Crey, but she’s even more unresponsive to her mother. The best option seems to be an unpaid internship at City Hall, get into politics. Toni’s got an in with Councilman Thomas.

Which is more than Nelson Hidalgo has. It’s the first set-back to Nelson’s sweeping plans, and it’s everything to do with Thomas correctly identifying him as a carpetbagger, an out-of-stater here to siphon off large chunks of the money meant to aid New Orleans. There’s also an ambiguous scene where Nelson offers to take on his best demolisher – the builder guy LaDonna was trying to get fix his roof in season 1 – to work for him as Vice-President in charge of Demolition. The money was 5% plus any of the work the guy allots to himself. The man’s suspicious and I couldn’t work out whether he’d said yay or nay to it.

Who else? Antoine Batiste and his Soul Twisters were in rehearsal much of the episode, and real fun we had with them. Desiree is less impressed: if they want to get a mortgage, they have to have two incomes, which means Antoine’s got to get a Job. She’s got him an interview at a school so he’s got to wear a suit. Unfortunately, the appointment’s at going home time. Antoine emerges from his taxi, looks in horror at the dear little boys and girls enthusiastically milling around, and gets straight back into it.

Delmond’s on the road, playing to acclaim, but not to audiences that show wild enthusiasm for him. His CD’s sold 2,300 copies, but he’s not even aware of the internet, of Facebook, MySpace, web-pages, and when his manager (good old Jim True-Frost) shows no enthusiasm either, Del sacks him.

And to round things of and draw a ring, Big Chief Albert’s finally got his appointment at the insurers and all his paperwork is in order. He’s sat next to Janette… who hasn’t got an appointment, is due back in New York tomorrow, and who I predict will shortly have all the time in the world on her hands.

Shapes. Patterns. A little more focused. A little more kinetic. An hour in New Orleans with other people’s lives. Just what I needed.

Treme: s02 e02 – Everything I do Gonh Be Funky


Older than her years

I’d hesitate a long time before calling any episode of Treme a flop, but this is the first so far which failed to convince me completely. This was an hour of rolling, following the experiences of our cast, but it was too much an extension of the season-opener, last week, in passively standing by and letting things move slowly.

Not that there wasn’t any movement at all, it just felt as if it was only in inches. On one level that’s good, it’s what David Simon (who wrote this episode) has always aimed for: real life, in all its awkward refusal to conform to dramatic presentation. On the other, it’s not always good to watch. With only eleven episodes in total in season 2 (the longest season), time has to be considered as a factor.

What did we see? Antoine’s got the bug to set up his own band. He has a vision, of the music, the clothes, he’s talking to people, getting a line-up. It’s maybe a foundation, but for now it’s just building work.

The same goes for the newly-arrived Nelson Hidalgo, already into the hustle. he’s plugged himself into a network, got his first commission, is hiring crews to do his first job. Easy and smooth, all smiles. Early days yet, but the suspicion lingers: why is it so easy, why are rich white males making it so easy for a johnny-come-lately Latino with nothing behind him to claim a share of the pot? Is the pot that damned big that everyone can dip in and there’s still more left? Or is there something waiting in the background, some hook to reel in Nelson’s money just as he thinks it’s his?

We get scenes from the life. Sonny gets robbed on the street by two enterprising young boys playing the classic dodge, one to distract and one to run off with the money jar. Annie and Davis are settled in together, and her sweetness and all-round Annie-ness (yes, I know, but I really love how Lucia Micarelli plays her) is rubbing off on him. It doesn’t stop him getting fired by his altogether shit of a station manager, but he’s no longer screaming self-entitlement and privilege. And she goes to his family for Thanksgiving and gets on with them far better than he does.

In contrast, Toni and Sofia are not doing well. There’s no talk, not from Sofia (India Ennenga makes no dialogue very effective). Toni’s taken on a new case, a guy from Massachusetts who just wants to know the name of the street on which his son died. Maybe it’s another cause, like Delmo, we’ll see. But Toni’s getting seriously worried abut her daughter, who’s now started sneaking out, dressing up to look more than her age, and drinking.

Out of town, in New York, Janette’s still having a shitty time of it. A well-respected food critic savages New Orleans, the city and its over-rated cuisine. Chef Broulard (who doesn’t care if people leave because the food preparation takes too long) singles her out for treatment that, whilst it isn’t savage, angry, full of f-bombs, is worse for being patronising. Then the guy she’s brought home to fuck empties her wallet before leaving to do this thing he gotta do. Come home, girl.

Delmond’s in town for Thanksgiving. He has a new CD out. Big Chief Albert though is going through depression. Clarke Peters has built Albert as a rock, completely certain, unwavering. But he’s lost the never-his-but-still-inhabited bar he’d made his and the Tribe’s base, the insurance check for his losses is a joke, and when Delmond calls Practice, Albert diesn’t show.

Have I missed anyone out? Only LaDonna, whose bar is slowly dying. She’s thinking of live music, Eric is(silently) thinking of shutting the place and selling.

But it’s all just building blocks, with little in it to invoke enthusiasm now, only in a future that we trust to unroll over nine more weeks. Not a flop. But not great either. In episode 3, I trust.

Treme: s02 e01 – Accentuate the Positive


Hero or Villain? Or Mr In-Between?

So it rolls on. An oddly subdued, quiet and moving open set the scene, fourteen months after, seven months on, St Joseph’s Day in the graveyard, people visiting stones, Antonie Batiste playing at the stone of his mentor. Mostly silence around them, the first sounds of cars speeding up the day. Down in the Treme…

So where are we? We are where we always are in life. Some things are the same, some things have moved on, on being a direction that can be positive or negative, though the episode title, and the song itself, which pops up, invites us to accentuate the former, even as the City of New Orleans and what is happening to it, or rather not happening to it, nudges us very firmly in the direction of the latter.

David Morse, as Lt Terry Colson, and India Ennenga, as Sofie Bernette, have stepped up into main cast whilst there’s a new but old face in Jon Seda, of fond Homicide: Life on the Street memory, as newcomer Nelson Hidalgo, from Dallas, here to sweep up as much as he can get of that dinero that is undoubtedly lying around on the street for that sharp-minded guy who can seize the opportunity to make New Orleans the model 21st century city, eradicating crime, drugs and poor education. Or, in a word, White.

Let’s roll round everyone. Antoine and Desiree finally revisit their old home, like so many places irreperable. Antoine’s still gigging, but they need more money, regular money. Antoine’s starting to consider forming a band.

LaDonna’s mother’s moved up to Baton Rouge to live with them, but LaDonna’s still running the bar, and William’s even more urgent abut getting her to sell up, move out, come home to him. LaDonna’s heels are firmly dug in.

Big Chief Albert Lambreaux’s nose is firmly pushed out of joint. That bar he took over? That he made habitable and turned into his domain? The owner’s finally back and it’s his and the silent, resentful Albert has to find a new place.

Toni Bernette’s still crusading. She’s collaborating a lot more with Colson now, who’s job is being made worse by the rising street crime: a shooting in a bar where the increasingly drowning Sonny is drinking, a dead blonde on the street after a mugging. Sofie is still severely depressed over her Dad’s death, over the stasis in N’Awlins, the endless, ongoing struggle just to live a life. She’s followed in Cray’s shoes with a YouTube blog. Toni’s very worried.

Some people are out of town. Janette’s in New York, saucier in a restaurant with a genius chef of the explosive temper, this-is-not-fucking-good-enough, fuck you over to show that I can fuck you over kind.

Delmond Lambreaux’s career is advancing. The critics want to praise him for transcending New Orleans, for completely obliterating all trace of it from his music, and it is seriously pissing him off. It’s true and it’s only what he’s said himself, but Delmond still thinks of himself as New Orleans, even if he doesn’t know that yet: he can say that sort of stuff but they ain’t earned it.

And just as Sonny is falling downhill, musically at least, Annie’s ascending gloriously. She’s on a tour with The subdudes (they of the glorious a capella harmonies on Shawn Colvin’s version of ‘Tenderness on the Block’), a rising star, and her singing’s coming on too. She’s living with Davis McAlary now, and seriously impressed that he cleaned his pad for her homecoming, though she hasn’t seen the gloriously funny ‘cleaning’ taking place: thank the stars that we still don’t have Smell-o-Vision.

As  for Nelson, well, let’s keep our eyes on him. He’s there to make money in property, in redevelopment. He’s a smoothie, flirting with LaDonna at her bar, and she flirting back. Which side of the increasingly easy to see line are we talking about here?

Down in the Treme, just me and my baby. It rolls on.

Treme: s01 e10 – I could fly


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.

Treme: s01 e09 – Wish Someone Would Care


Negation

I knew it was coming, and I watched the pieces lock into place throughout episode 9, even to the point that, when it was imminent, I knew how they would play it, and so they did. But Creighton Bernette’s suicide, though the dominant element of this episode, was not the only story bearing the sense of a closure.

It was there from the outset, an open of Annie and Sonny, sat by the river, breaking apart. It was only that Annie, for a while, wanted to play with other musicians, extend herself. Temporarily. But Sonny, demonstrating that horribly male instinct to want to control, made it about them and threw her out.

Naturally, he rapidly decides it was all a mistake, starts trying to build bridges back, but it’s like that first punch: nothing can ever really be trusted afterwards. Annie drifts from street gig to street gig, Sonny, when she decides to make peace, has already built a band round himself. I feel no fear for Annie, she’s far too obviously talented, and she arouses the instinct to care for her, look after her.

But, at least for a moment, Annie and Sonny’s path has forked and their joint story is at an end.

So too, it would seem, is Janette Desautel’s. Her parents are down from New York, to see the wreck of her restaurant, to plant the seed of her coming home, giving up being a chef. She rejects the idea, not wanting a future of marrying a lawyer and pumping out grandchildren. The guerilla chef business is going great guns, that is, until the outdoor gig she’s catering very successfully dissolves in torrential rain.

The roof’s fallen in on her apartment, she turns up at Davis’s to find the end of a massive, post-Mardi Gras party (for musicians and hot women, one of whom is not only amazingly gorgeous but is a stunning singer), to which she was not invited.

They spend the night in bed anyway, but in the morning, Janette talks about leaving, going back to New York. She loves New Orleans but it has beaten her.

LaDonna and Antoine did indeed fuck last week (don’t look at me, that was LaDonna’s exact word) but it was purely a Mardi Gras thing. She’s got Toni Bernette pushing her to agree an autopsy, pursue Damo’s death, find outwhodunnit, but she won’t take it no further. What does it matter, finding someone to hate, this is hard enough as it is? A guy from Texas, a roofer, turns up, set to fix the bar roof, and in two days too, with no extra payment. True, the family mausoleum has been ruined by Katrina and it’ll take $2,000 non-insured cash to fix it. She’s got $1,100 and won’t borrow the rest for her husband. At least, until Antoine lends her money, at which point, rather than be indebted to him, she phones up Larry.

Not all storylines, or should I say current concerns, are being put to bed. Big Chief Albert Lambreaux is preparing for the Tribe to march on St Joseph’s Night. Community Officer Lt Colson comes round to try to broker peace. This is the first we learn that the Tribes and their parades aren’t necessarily a blessing: last year, massive trouble was caused. The Indians do as they please, they don’t get Licences, they march through traffic, they ignore Police suggestions. But Colson can see nothing he’s saying will change Albert’s mind, even though he’s a marked man. That one’s for next week’s finale, with Albert commenting that sometimes the most important battles are the ones you know you won’t win.

But throughout all this is the rising, or descending arc of Crei Bernette’s ending. We see him in the lecture hall, trying to get an audience of young men and women interested in an important and vital book from the end of the Nineteenth Century. John Goodman exudes a massive calm and patience in the face of their complete indifference and unwillingness to understand what he’s saying. The book is beyond their experience as 21st Century students, they try to deal with it by pigeonholing it in modern terms, they don’t want to know.

At home, Crei manages two sentences of his novel, not even a line, then deletes them. He types rubbish when Sofia appears, to call him to dinner, so that he looks like working. Later, we just see a lit, blank screen.

It’s all there to see. Then one final day: an extra cheerful farewell to Toni, with a long kiss. Telling Soofia how pretty she looks. Wandering and drifting, savouring New Orleans. $20 in the hat for Annie’s playing. Taking a ferryboat ride across the river. Bumming a cigarette, telling the guy he gets it from to never let anyone tell him to quit. Standing by the rail, taking deep drags as the boat moves away from the dock. The guy with the pack looks across to him, moves away for a few seconds, returns. There’s no-one by the rail. Toni and Sofia are getting worried. Crei’s car is the only one left in the car park at night.

Crei’s story is over. It’s the second of two stops in Toni’s story in one episode, but this one is also a beginning. Life after suicide: how much did Crei really care about his wife and daughter that he puts this on them? We have one more week in which to find out and then it’ll be season 2.

But there was music in this episode, lots of it, live, hot, alive, keeping the flame burning even in an episode in which flames were going out.

Treme: s01 e08 – All on a Mardi Gras Day


I make no apologies…

Something that I’m not immediately able to define has taken over me at the end of this episode, something that in a single instant stilled all the warmth and buoyancy of what came before. Not merely stilled it, but undermined it. A moment of chill, a moment of emotional shift that ran backwards across everything and everyone there had been, and left the feeling that it had always been there, and had been the only true underpinning of the day.

For this was Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the first Carnival since Katrina, and everyone’s going to give themselves up to the day, because it’s Mardi Gras, because it’s what New Orleans is. Little snapshots of everyone preparing in their own way.

Not everyone. Big Chief Albert Lambreaux’s going to miss it. Vindictively, the Police are keeping him in until Ash Wednesday, as punishment for last week. Delmond’s not into it, arguing that the effort and energy should be going into clean-up instead of something he’s emotionally distant from – though it doesn’t stop him getting laid.

LaDonna’s bearing the burden of her secret, but her face is growing ever more drawn, and before the day is out she’ll need support from her ex-husband, Antoine, protecting her from the angry builder she sued, helping stock the bar, massaging her tense shoulders, kissing her deeply.

And Creighton Bernette’s not feeling it. He takes Sofie for a walk, shows her some of the disaster areas, injokes The Big Easy (an Easter Egg I had to have explained for me). The Bernettes dress up in blue, costumes, masks, wigs, it’s all fun, but Crei can’t feel it. He’s going downhill massively. He has lost faith in New Orleans. It is dead, and it’s future is to be a ghost of its past.

Annie wakes up to find Sonny about to go. They were going to do Mardi Gras together but this is do what you want day, and he wants to do it without her. He wants to get high. And he does, and he gets a fuck. Annie goes alone, in costume, a pirate wench, and I know I say it every week, but she looked gorgeous and had I been at that Mardi Gras I would have followed her around all day just to enjoy the sight, except she bumps into Davis, who’s dressed as Jean LaFitte, and they spend the day together, and have a good time, and he isn’t an arsehole once (and I couldn’t believe it either) and sees her off in a taxi, alone, after midnight, with no more than a goodnight kiss.

And there is a treatise to be written about the sexist assumptions that create scenes like that, where the woman is the good one, who retains her purity, preserves her relationship-virginity in the face of her man shagging about unheedingly, a bit of a cliche in itself, but it would not apply here because we already have a sense of Annie as she is, and this is not simplistic good girl and bad boy, Annie as she is, as the person we understand her to be, and what we foresee happening.

Janette splits the day between work and play, her mobile grill going great guns then a change into white, tight fairy-top and short skirt, purple tights and wand, and bouncing around getting drunk, until she’s singing ‘Iko Iko’ at night, but she’s still on her own.

Antoine gets back late. What happened in the bar, after? Crei reads all his recent writing, rejects it. He gets pissed and sleeps on the porch. Toni has a cow at him, in case Sofia sees him. Albert gets released. The music’s been hot and loud wherever you go. It’s been a small Mardi Gras, but it’s been Mardi Gras, without defiance or bluster, at least so it seems. New Orleans is still New Orleans.

And we close on LaDonna, a close-up, first thing Ash Wednesday morning, the Catholic mark on her forehead, smoking. First thing. Carnival is over. At the Mortuarists. A body to reclaim, to bury, a secret to be shared. And that one undemonstrative moment on which we fade is the moment of all that dominates this episode and casts everything in the minimal light it throws.

I wish I didn’t have to wait,under the terms I’ve set myself. I wish I could binge the last two episodes, here and now. Get it over with. I am dreading what is to come.

Treme: s01 e07 – Smoke my Peace Pipe


Parallel lines. Stories taking place, rolling forward. They slide past each other. A couple impinge on each other, the centre of one playing a subsidiary role in someone else’s. David McAlary’s still pushing his candidature for City Council, selling CDs, thinking of another song, maybe even Mayor. Gets approached by a Judge offering a favour of Davis steps down, stops taking votes from their candidate. A handshake.

But then he discovers Janette’s restaurant is closed down. She’s bought herself a trailer, going to be a mobile grill-chef. Davis turns up, offering (genuine?) sympathy and friendship, mans the counter for her.

Toni Burnette’s a tangent to two stories, LaDonna’s and Creighton’s. Crei’s trying to write, to go back to the novel. Toni’s pleasure is nothing but an interruption to the flow, but another Rant – quieter, more sober, level-headed and oddly defeatist – is an easier interruption. I know Crei Burnette’s outcome. I wish I didn’t. I wish I could watch these scenes in ignorance, and only fear for what they might import, instead of knowing why John Goodman isn’t in any more seasons after this one.

LaDonna… well, no, we’ll come back to her. Let me just note here that I always suspected Khandi Alexander was being wasted in CSI: Miami and Treme confirms this because she is so bloody good in this, and in this week.

There are others whose stories unfold in isolation. Antoine plays down at the airport with the little band, to ordinary folks and visiting star musicians who jam, but his old mentor dies in a hospital bed and there’s also a funeral to play at.

Annie’s back with Sunny. There’s the chance of a three week Canadian tour playing fiddle with a Cajun band: he’s outwardly supportive but, well, you know. Annie flubs the audition, though it all sounded good to me, because she’s got troubles in her heart. Lucia Micarelli is my favourite thing about Treme, even when she’s not lost in her playing.

And Big Chief Albert Lambreaux’s latest stunt is to invade the fenced off projects, take up (permissive) residence in a home belonging to a tribe member’s mother, expect to get arrested. It’s to draw attention to how many people, especially black folk, are being prevented from returning to N’Awleans, especially before the Elections, when there is well-constructed, undamaged housing available to them.

It’s all Politics, talk of reducing Orleans in size, a smaller footprint, let the swamp reclaim black districts. It’s part of Creighton’s Rant, it’s in Davis’s possible political manifesto, it’s here in Big Chief Albert’s faux-naive questions to the Press. The Police let him alone as long as they can but the arrest has to come. On your knees, motherfucker, hands on your head. Albert will go, but with dignity, on his feet, with handcuffs before him. Won’t Bow Don’t Know How. But that’s too much of a defiance, and he is beaten to the ground, beaten by four cops, with batons and an arm across the throat. Uppity niggers don’t get to defy White cops. Who does he think he is? Rodney King?

But LaDonna Battiste-Wiliams, still searching for her brother Damo. A Judge, disgusted at a system that’s lied, prevaricated, obstructed, hidden for six months, orders production. But Damo’s not in the system. Not of live prisoners, anyway. Nor on the master list that includes both the released and the dead. LaDonna spots a name, though, cousin Jerome, no record, and at home.

So poor Damo is tracked, to a body-bag in a refrigerated truck, shunted around a system, dead of a cerebral haemorrhage, ‘falling from a top bunk’. And LaDonna, having discovered her brother’s been dead for five months, five months, dealing with shock, dealing with misery, dealing with anger, summoning up a fearsome coldness: no removal of the body, no funeral arrangements, not now, not during Carnival. She’ll hold on to it. Her mother, their family, they will have Carnival, right and proper. Then it can be done, be told. Until then, LaDonna will be the only one. She’ll hold it in.

Khandi Alexander deserves every plaudit for her performance in this episode. She is better than you can imagine anyone being. And when Carnival is over…

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Treme: s01 e06 – Shallow Water, Oh Mama


We slide over easy into the back half of the series, a cool, laid-back episode for the most part that saw most people spinning their wheels whilst concentrating on advancing only a couple of the stories.

This feel came from the episode’s opening scenes. The open itself centred upon David McAlary and his joke of a campaign for City Council, roaming the streets in a truck, surrounded by tall, slim, beautiful women handing out copies of his campaign CD (for $3 each). Funny in its way, it was the epitome of all self-centred jerks who think that the system will crawl away whimpering and broken if they point out its absurdity, and the people will turn their iconoclasm into a raging movement, sweeping all before it, which only happens in fiction, not real-life.

Please excuse me for that rant: I really don’t like Davis McAlary, which is a testament to how well Steve Zahn plays him.

After that, we swung round several of the characters, doing nothing significant, doing things and preparations. Only three stories made significant movements this week.

The briefest of these was with Annie and Sonny. He’s getting more and more fucked up, spending more and more time high. It’s affecting his performances on the street, and his attitude is getting to Annie. Sonny’s getting ever more resentful of Annie getting gigs – real gigs – elsewhere without him. She wants to do them, she wants to play. He complains that it ‘dilutes’ what they’re doing. When she turns on him, angry at his resentment, contemptuous of the idea of her real gigs ‘diluting’ their playing in the street for small change, Sonny slaps her across the face.

Annie leaves immediately, in silence, taking her violin. She goes to an all night cafe, but in the morning she comes back. He’s apologetic, says some of the right things, says lots of the same old things, blames it on being high, it wasn’t him, promises it will never happen again. Lucia Micarelli is wonderfully expressive in saying nothing.We’ve all heard it all before.

The most devastating is Janette Desautel. The restaurant’s reached the end of the line. She can’t pay her suppliers.  She can’t bring herself to ask the staff to go one week without pay, though she manages to ask them by saying she can’t ask them. In a lesser story, they all rally round, wholeheartedly, but this isn’t a lesser story. The next day, not even Jacques is there. Janette takes a few things, leaves a call ringing, locks the door.

There are several scenes with Delmond Lambreaux, on the road, playing with his band, ending up in New Orleans. I mention these here for the screen-time he got, and for my slowly growing ability to distinguish between the cool jazz he plays, and the New Orleans jazz he avoids playing.

But the bulk of things revolves around the Burnettes this week. Toni’s on the road to Texas, tracking down the last Police Officer who might have pulled in Delmo. The guy’s quiet, polite, but he isn’t relinquishing the beer bottle in his hand. He might recognise Delmo as the guy he pulled up for running a red light but he can’t honestly say. It’s another dead end until he mentions arresting this guy on an old warrant. Toni tracks down the carbon in the abandoned police car and she has her physical evidence.

We’re starting to watch Creighton drown under too many pressures. His agent arrives from New York, not to start reclaiming Random House’s advance, but because Creighton’s internet fame has made him hot and they want to cash in. They want something contemporary, in the style of his rants – “Fuck the Fucking Fuckers”? he suggests as a title – and they want his novel, soon.

Only they want it to cash in. It’s about the 1927 flood, but they want something Katrina-esque shoehorned in. John Goodman’s massive form visibly shrinks. He’s hurt and resentful. He’s refusing, as a writer, to accept it. And it’s ever more clear that his ‘fame’ for his YouTube videos is embarrassing him even more. It’s not what he wants to be known for, he doesn’t want to be known, he wants to do it from hiding, from some form of protective covering, some immunity.

And he’s helping Sophie with her costume for the parade. They’re all going to wear costumes, identical costumes, all white, with a hood and with tails coming off their heads. Toni can’t guess what it’s meant to be, even though the viewer has got it in one, especially if he’s once seen Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex. 15 year old Sophie is a sperm. It’s to walk in front of a carriage with a giant papier-mache Mayor ‘pleasuring himself’.

Toni’s disgusted, and angry with Creighton. She won’t go along. But she does, in her own sperm costume, because when she takes the physical evidence to the assistant DA, proving New Orleans has got Delmo, an innocent man locked up for nearly six months, they won’t join her in a Joint Motion. It’s policy. So from embarrassment at having to go in Monday morning and try to talk serious business with people who only want to talk about her daughter and husband dressing up as sperm on Sunday night, Toni dons her own suit. Fuck the Fucking Fuckers.

Down in the Treme, just me and my baby…

Treme: s01 e05 – Shame, Shame, Shame


Wouldn’t you just want to punch him in the face, too?

If you had told me that this episode was twice the normal length, I would easily have believed you. So many things went into it that by the end of only 59 minutes, I was having trouble exactly what had happened at the start. Yet, at the same time, for a large part of it, this was the first episode – halfway through the first season – in which it felt as if nothing was happening.

Not that I cared overmuch about that. Since Treme is a reflection of a real world situation, and one that had/has neither a plot nor a solution, it was would not just phoney but also ‘television’ to seek to impose an overall story arc. How would you build such a thing, draw all the strands together, into a finale without destroying both the show’s ecology and its ability to continue?

This of course begs the question as to whether Treme is much more than a glorified soap opera. Equally of course it is. Soap operas have no purpose beyond prolonging themselves, as a purported slice of life, a soporific. Treme is taking place in extraordinary times, and is engaged in explaining a time and a place and a culture unique to its setting. I have no idea whether it is authentic, but it has been acclaimed as such by those who would know, it stems from David Simon, in company with like-minded minds and his passion is the accurate construction of a setting, and it just bloody well feels right. Currently, I am spending an hour a week in a place I have never visited, and I am immersed.

Episode 5 was, like all its predecessors, a continuation of the multiple strands established. Everything moved along. Slowly, and not necessarily in the directions people wanted. The episode more overtly challenged Dubya Bush over his failures in respect of N’Orleans: Creighton Burnette recorded another YouTube video directed to the President, all the more effective in its deadly calm, quiet and gravity, asking Dubya to ‘keep (your) fucking promise’. David McAlary browbeat a session band into (gloriously) recording his rewrite of a jazz classic into a half-sung, half-spoken polemic attacking the Commander-in-Chief.

The episode also introduced David Morse, once of St Elsewhere, as Police Lieutenant Terry Colson, an honest cop in a dishonest force, helping Toni Burnette where he could, but towards the end, over a stupid misdemeanour (the cops who beat up Antoine Batiste did not turn his ‘bone into Temporary Evidence, they sold it to a pawn shop, where Antoine found it), gave a brutally black assessment of what was to come: that as more people started to come back, crime was coming back, to a city with a decimated, demoralised, traumatised, inadequate police force.

Colson will be a recurring character for the rest of season 1 and a cast member thereafter.

Little pieces. Janette got a boost when four hotshot New Yorkers (none of whom I recognised) turned up at the restaurant unbooked, and she impressed them mightily.

Creighton was doubly embarrassed in a restaurant at night with Toni, being recognised by an old friend (?) from outside New Orleans  and praised for his videos. Embarrassed by being recognised, embarrassed that this guy has picked up primarily on the fact that Creighton uses the f-word in his videos, which the guy repeats far too loudly and far too frequently in an upmarket restaurant. An object lesson in writing: many still loathe the use of the f-word on TV, in anything, but in the mouth of this uncomprehending clod, for the first and only time in this series, it felt intrusive, and embarrassing to hear, whereas it’s not when anybody else uses it. It’s like my use of ‘f-word’ in this paragraph, instead of spelling it out.

I know one thing too many about what is to come and maybe I’ve seen the seeds of it this week. Creighton’s literary agent is flying down from New York to see him, which he interprets as being on instructions from Random House, his publisher: he’s six years late on his novel, they want the advance back, he hasn’t got it.

Chief Albert tries to speak to his Councilman about opening up the Projects. They weren’t flooded, they weren’t blown over but they’re still shut. Seems like it’s the rich people who are being brought back and the poor kept elsewhere. Councilman Singleton brushes him off, but his door is always open to Chief Lambreaux. Albert puts a hand on his chest to stop him, but then lifts it, tight-lipped, swallowing what he would otherwise have said.

Davis gets what he’s deserved all along. Too loudly, too late, too drunkenly, and in a bar too black, he uses the N-word (ironically quoting Antoine). He gets called out to ‘repeat that, white boy’. His black friends try to get him to shut up, but he’s Davis, he’s a fucking idiot, he can’t keep himself from following it up and he gets one almighty punch in the face, which has him leaving, swearing, near-crying, still completely oblivious as to why a black guy might take it amiss that a white guy should be talking about Niggers.

Then he comes to, having collapsed in the street and been taken in by his gay neighbours, the ones he so arrogantly torments because they are as nothing to him, they don’t fit in with his narrow perspective. They took him in, let him sleep it off, because they were neighbours. Very reluctantly, he removes the massive speakers he had aimed at them, but you don’t get the impression he’s learned anything, because Davis’s don’t learn.

Towards the end of the episode, there’s a joyous scene in which practically everyone is present, though not together. It’s a ‘Second Line’ parade, all dancing and music. It’s utterly joyful, exuberant and unforced. More people are, slowly, getting back. The draw is unstoppable. Things have been tense in Annie and Sonny’s home since he brought back one of his musician friends from Houston. Annie susses that Sonny copped in Houston. Then the parade is disrupted by gunshots, three people shot, panic. Annie is protected by Houston guy, Sonny is separated. Straight after, Houston guy moves out. It’s between the lines so you don’t know if it’s there or if the show is telling you to look carefully, but has Annie copped as well? In revenge? In anger? In the tension that arises from the prospect of death?

I’m sorry, I do love Lucia Micarelli so, she is my favourite in this show.

And so to Antoine. who gets a brand new ‘bone today, courtesy of a rabid Japanese jazz fan, before discovering his old one, a prolonged scene that gets excrutiating before it’s over, in a good way.

So many people, so many things, so many subtleties that it’s impossible to point out, man, I really should have watched this sooner. Gone to N’Orleans, baby, here for the ride, the ride.

Treme: s01 e04 – At the foot of Canal Street


Janette Desaunel

I’m currently kicking myself for having had this DVD boxset for so long and not having watched it before now. This great, gorgeous, rolling thing has sucked me in and it’s getting increasingly harder, after another episode, not to fire up the next one.

And at the same time, it’s becoming a little bit hard to describe each episode without reverting to the same words each week. There is a story here, or rather there are several, spreading in different directions but all charged by the same binding energy, the thing that is New Orleans and its culture and the refusal to give up on what that means to our band of players.

The biggest element this week came from Antonie Batiste, that force of nature that is Wendell Pierce. Antoine’s a large man, in both body and presence, yet he’s a small man in terms of importance, a musician without an instrument, with a split lip and a lost tooth. This forces him up to Baton Rouge, to spend some time with his two sons, in awkwardness and professions of love that don’t quite carry off, whilst his ex-wife’s Dentist husband fits him for a bridge that will enable him to play again – if Toni Bernette can find his missing ‘bone in Police Evidence.

Toni’s still working with LaDonna to find her missing brother. The guy using his name, Keevon White, is happy to recount how he persuaded the too-soft David to switch bracelets with him: Keevon is wanted for murder and David for ‘bullshit charges’, but he ain’t signing to it.

Christmas is coming, Creighton’s between semesters, he’s getting a bit too reclusive for Toni’s liking. There’s Davis arriving late for Sofia’s piano lesson: his care wrecked by an inadequately treated pothole, his keyboard stolen when he gets Creighton to give him a lift back, his self-entitled petulance turning into a song after Janette, her restaurant closing after the gas cuts out, blows him off to go home, sleep despair. Creighton records another expletive-ridden YouTube rant that gains him recognition and applause when he does go out in public, adding a degree of buoyancy to his step and making me wish I hadn’t read the spoiler I read last week.

The Tribe are practicing. Darius, the kid from last week, wanders in and picks up the rhythm. His Aunt Lula follows him to find him, and invites Albert to dinner: she’s definitely got her eye on him, and Albert knows what’s going on.

But Jessie’s funeral is coming up, and his Mother doesn’t want the Tribe to chant, nor Albert to speak, even as just a friend. She always found something a bit disgraceful in Jessie being the Wild Man for the Tribe and doesn’t want the reminder. Albert respects her wishes, though it pains him as much as Jessie’s son telling him he’s leaving N’Awleans after the funeral.

Whilst Delmond’s agent is trying to talk him into a nationwide tour, all down the West Coast, ending in New Orleans, but Delmond isn’t comfortable. He’s from New Orleans but he doesn’t play New Orleans music.

And there’s Annie. It’s only three weeks, and Lucia Micarelli hasn’t done much more than play music, whenever and wherever she can, throwing herself into what she does with all her heart, but I am so looking forward to her onscreen. It’s not just that she’s sweet, and gently pretty, but that Annie is like a beacon: brilliantly talented, genuinely modest, seemingly without a shadow, or is that, not yet? Her shadow is Sonny, who’s from Amsterdam but is fixated on New Orleans. He’s on the road this week, a trip to Texas, trying to build his own rep and play, but he hasn’t got talent, not when set against her, one of those middling musicians who’s good at what he does but who will never be exceptional, and he’s paired with someone who is and can be, and no matter how near of far beneath the surface it is, he knows it and it’s going to be a problem.

Life going on under impossible circumstances. What can I say that I won’t find myself trying to say again next week? Broad canvas. Kaleidoscope. Sprawling lives. This is, according to everybody who had reason to know, a faithful, impassioned portrait of life after Katrina, but you get the sense that if this had been happening in ‘normal’ times, without the disaster that’s both at the heart of the series and which is carefully played around its perimeter, not much would be different for these people, for whom life is uphill anyway.

I have season 2 sitting waiting for when the end of this road is reached. I’ll take my time getting there. There were only 36 episodes all told. Let’s make this last. Down in the Treme, just me and my baby…