Treme: s02 e06 – Feels like Rain

He’s starting to get annoying again…

This week’s episode of Treme pulled a dirty trick on us right at the start: Toni Bernette’s in her kitchen and a male voice is singing and she follows it to the dining room and it’s Creighton, large as life and twice as cheerful, in Hawaiian shirt and panama hat, with garlands round his neck, and the scene is superlit, and it’s obviously a dream, and Toni is acting like he’s only been in Hawaii all this time, and Sofia’s dressed up for the parade and she’s smiling and talking to her Mom,and we know it’s a dream, and Crei pops a hat on Toni’s head so that though she’s in pyjamas and dressing gown, she’s costumed, and they’re out through the door and dancing and it’s oh so bright outside.

And Toni’s in bed and there’s a smile on her face, until she wakes from her dream and then it changes. And it’s heartbreaking, and my heart breaks again.

And from there on it’s pretty much more of the same as last week which, though I don’t mean to denigrate the series, makes it difficult to talk about. There isn’t the same sense of urgency as in season 1, the sense that everyone in their different stories, are part of the same thing. There doesn’t seem to feel to be the same degree of interplay between characters.

Some of this is the introduction of Nelson Hidalgo, taking us across ‘the line’ and onto the other side, among the forces that everyone was struggling against. Equally, the promotion of Terry Colson to cast is doing a similar job, by placing us amongst the NOPD and giving us a sympathetic character, trying to do a better job.

And Janette’s removal to New York, and the fact that she’s beginning to mingle with Delmond – who manages to get Albert to come to NY for a couple of days – is splitting the focus and furthering the feeling that there is no connection between the characters (even as I just said two of them are now moving into each other’s spheres!), and that only place connects their stories.

But that isn’t borne out by the actuality. Some stories are overlapping. Sonny was doing good with Antoine’s band until his lateness, after a warning, cost him his place. Antoine’s appointing a straw boss, someone to do the admin, and the first fine is his, for missing a gig to sit in with Henry Butler, who’s practically auditioning for a world tour that could see Antoine in Japan. He’s also starting to take over his music class, expanding the curriculum, so to speak. Big Chief Albert’s definitely giving up. Not going to do Mardi Gras this year. Delmond visits him in Houston, tempts him to New York, where he’s been sewing. Albert’s his usual, self-contained, don’t want nuthin’, don’t need nuthin’, certainly ain’t gunna ask for nuthin’ self only worse, though we see he’s touched by Delmond having sewn – and sewn well – something for the Big Chief’s costume.

Sofia finally realises, or learns, from one of her schoolfriends, that Crei’s death was suicide, driving an even deeper wedge between her and Toni. Toni’s having a nice lunch with Terry, and inviting him to the Pigeontown Steppers Parade: smacks of maybe not a romance but something personal there, which maybe isn’t that comfortable for Colson. The Pigeontown Steppers get the money they need to march off Nelson, tipped off by Councilman Oliver Thomas. Nelson’s getting tips from people.

LaDonna’s equilibrium is shattered again when the Police arrest a couple of thugs and she identifies the photos. Janette’s back in New Orleans for the second time this season, flying down to help Jacques who’s been threatened with deportation as an illegal immigrant (a contrast in Chef’s as Picard lets her go graciously – but then this does involve a sous-chef!).

Annie’s spending more time with Harley at the moment than she is with Davis, whose starting to slip back into his really-wish-I-was-a-black-rebel mindset. She’s still trying to learn how to write songs. He takes her to see John Hiatt, and she analyses, quite perceptively, in terms of New Orleans’ current circumstances a song he wrote twenty years earlier; “that’s what makes it a great song,” Harley concludes. The girl might be going to get there.

If she does, it would get her out of there. If Antoine tours, it would get him out of there. LaDonna’s not going to come back from Baton Rouge just yet. Treme‘s toying with an exodus it is deliberately not advertising. Interesting.

We’re halfway through season 2, Treme‘s longest season. Where are we going? With the flow, people, with the flow.


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


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…

Treme: s01 e03 – Right Place, Wrong Time

My daughter said asshole on the Internet?

There’s still not yet any great momentum building up under Treme‘s first season, nor is there any feeling of loss without such. Our cast of players are still following the disrupted rhythms of their lives, but in a few places, here and there, their ragged trajectories are beginning to overlap.

Take Antoine, to begin with, as the episode does. We begin with a squeaking, rocking trailer. The rhythm’s familiar, and indeedy there are folks screwing inside and one of them’s Antoine and the other’s not Desiree, she’s this hot, young chick from the Bourbon Street titty bar Antoine’s playing because he got nowhere better.

And Desiree calls him out because he’s been out all night, and he lies sufficiently, for now. Delmond’s in New York, recording with Dr John, the big charity concert’s coming up, the rest of the boys are ragging Antoine that he’s not been called to perform. Antoine gets thoroughly drunk.

On the way home he crosses the path of Annie and Sunny. Lucia Micarelli is already performing a minor miracle in presenting Annie as sweet and earnest when 80% of the time she’s playing, and Antoine’s charmed by the music to sing to her tune, one of those small-time showstopper moments that Treme will instinctively never overdose upon.

Then, drunk, he stumbles and his trombone clatters along the side of the Police car across the road, and two neanderthal cops are out instantly, cussing and aggressive, demanding he drop the horn. Antoine, possessive of his horn that has no case, is merely slow to react and is viciously and unnecessarily beaten down.

The next morning, he’s bailed out by Toni Bernette, still not aware of what he’s done, fat lip, loose tooth, and desperate to find his horn, which you suspect the bastard cops just left on the street (if so, my bet is Annie rescued it) because without it he can’t make a living.

Toni’s path, still trying to track down LaDonna’s brother, lost in the prison system, just as LaDonna still can’t get her bar insurance, or the roof fixed, crosses over with Davis McAlary even earlier and for the same reason: he’s been picked up overnight. Breach of his civil liberties, he’s going to sue, the same old Davis, never does anything wrong, it’s everyone around him interfering with his urge to do whatever the fuck he wants to do at any given time, for which he is always justified, for he is always right, but as Toni points out, in New Orleans, four months after Hurricane Katrina, in the midst of all this shit and tension, you cannot shout “motherfucker” at the National Guard.

It turns out this is the fourth time Toni’s hauled McAlary’s ass out of jail for free so, feeling some sense of responsibility, he offers to ‘pay’ by giving free piano lessons to Sofia (who has meanwhile discovered the early delights of YouTube, though her mother is not happy with her daughter being recorded saying asshole to the entire world.

So Davis turns up and meets Creighton, who definitely doesn’t think much of him, who thinks less when Davis tells Sofia to forget all her classical training to date, the only God is Professor Longhair, and less still when he raves about her potential as a musician: Davis is not going to be an influence on young Sofia, not is Creighton has anything to do with, and he’s very definitely got his head screwed on about that.

It’s Annie’s birthday, and Sonny has bought her a good Beaujolais to celebrate tonight. But for a second day running, Annie is approached in the street by Tom McDermott, who likes her playing and invites her to accompany him at a private gig that night: no pay, but free food and bar and Sonny as a guest. So she plays her heart out, he goes from stories of the Hurricane to morose silence and an early departure, drinking the wine at home alone. The man’s a now clean drug addict, but for how long?

In all this so far I’ve left out the strand following Albert Lambreaux and the rebuilding of the tribe, because it’s still running separate. The kid Albert beat up is in hospital in critical condition: Albert’s part in this is not unknown on the street. There’s almost a repeat, as Albert gets back to the bar late night, senses an intruder and threatens a similar beatdown, but the kid is much younger, is cowering, is only there to screw his girl in the back room.

The next day, the kid’s aunt offers him as cheap labour, needing something to do, all unaware he’s been round there.

But before and after this, another of Albert’s tribe makes it back from Arizona, where he kinda likes it. Jacques’ Dad Jessie is also of the Tribe, but he ain’t been seen since the Hurricane. Albert goes with Jacques to look at Jessie’s house, see if it’s fixable. It doesn’t look much, but Jessie’s boat’s in the shed outside. Neither can understand why it wasn’t used, but it’s upside down, and when they turn it over, there’s Jessie, four months dead and showing it. It’s a sober moment, and for once I didn’t anticipate it, even by a second.

So Jessie needs a send-off and more of the Tribe gather to practice a chant that’s obviously ingrained, and near-hypnotic, until the episode’s closing moment, and most serious of all. Their dance is interrupted by a tour bus, Katrina Tours, tourists and flashing camera lights. The sense of dignity interrupted is immense, and Albert is not the only one to tell the driver to drive on which, after a moment’s hesitation. he does, with a quiet apology.

In away, we’re tourists too, eavesdropping on something beyond our capacity to understand. But we are not just looking at surfaces, but within, and there is no need for ‘plots’ or ‘momentum’, not when we can just partake of the stew. More of the rhythm next time.

Treme: s01 e02 – Meet De Boys on the Battlefront

Sonny and Annie

I remember an interview with David Simon earlier this decade, probably about Treme, in which he articulated a principle that underlies every piece of television work he has been involved with: “Fuck the ordinary viewer.”

Now you may think that a mean-spirited and unsympathetic attitude to take, and if you were the head of a major television network, an intolerable one, because network television is all about the ordinary viewer and attracting him/her in mammoth numbers.

But what Simon is about is the other kind of television, the one that doesn’t impose classic dramatic structures upon its stories but instead presents them as a rolling tide of event, reaction and result, that, in short, presents the world we inhabit, with all its messy, arguable, inconclusive naturalism, without wrap-ups, neat introductions and its never-ending lack of conclusions. We have to work the world out for ourselves, and we have to work David Simon shows out for ourselves.

Treme episode 2 demonstrated that. If you wanted a formal ‘plot’ breakdown, I would have to tell you that little happened. LaDonna went home to her family in Baton Rouge for a couple of days but when she returned, the contractor who’d bummed more money off her for shingles still hadn’t repaired the bar’s use.  But Toni was there with news that they’d found her missing brother, except that when they took her mother to the jail he was in, it turned out to be Dave Brooks, but not their Dave Brooks.

Antoine drifted around, being Antoine. LaDonna brought a papier-mache elephant made by their younger son to his door,discovered he has a baby girl with his new wife, muttered something about ‘another one’ and buggered off.

David lost his gig at the Radio Station and, in order to get a loan from his wealthy parents, took a job as a Check-in Clerk at a hotel. He didn’t even last twenty-four hours, directing three young Christians (one boy, two girls) to an unrecommended night spot, from which they didn’t return all night. Cue panic, police manhunts, Church franticness, parents flying in from Wisconsin, and Davis being, shall we say, released? That they were safe, having had the time of their lives and effervescently cheerful was irrelevant.

We meet street musicians Sonnyand Annie, played by Michiel Heusman and Lucia Micarelli respectively, credited as cast last week, but only now being introduced, and he looks set to be a junior league asshole like Davis.

Delmond Lambreaux did a recording session with Allen Toussaint, Elvis Costello sitting in, and got busted for smoking a ‘roach. Creighton’s got his novel out again: they’re cutting back at the University. Practically the only thing pertaining to an orthodox plot is Chief Albert Lambreaux. Whilst still trying to get the tribe back, Albert’s tools are stolen. Because he’s who he is, they are returned, but Albert’s set on finding the thief. He comes across him at night, stripping out new house fittings. Albert tries to reason with him, make him see the error of his ways, but the kid’s having none of it. Abruptly, it turns into a fight, or rather a beatdown. The kid ends up flat on his back. Albert has blood on his shirt, and is hands, which he washes off. Is that kid still breathing? That’s going to be important to know.

Incidentally, speaking of blood, do you want to know why Davis got fired from the Radio Station? He’s got in a local musician, Coco Robicheaux, doing a set in the studio. They spitball about the station’s new home, how it’s soulless and plastic. Coco’s setting up a voodoo ritual as they speak, get some soul, some ancestors in here. Davis is into it, but you can see his enthusiasm for the authentic start to take a turn for the worse as Coco produces first a live chicken, than a very large and sharp-looking knife…

Cue credits, but as Davis leaves with his things in a box, we see this big red stain on the wall. That’s what he couldn’t scrub off…

No, it’s a great wave of people’s lives,what we ;earned last week advancing like tide along the beach, some pushing forward, some dragged back, with no particular plot. It has the thickness and solidity of good gumbo from the pot, and those moments of out and out hilarity that people produce, with a cynical comment, or even an exchange of looks, and I haven’t got a lock on these people yet but the more time I spend with them, the more I’ll know.

As for the ordinary viewer, who resents being fucked, well, maybe this type of television programme just isn’t for you. Don’t be greedy, practically everything else is, and there’s already more of it that you can watch anyway. Diversification is paramount, there must be different things, and that includes the series where you actually do have to watch.