Treme: s04 e05 – …To Miss New Orleans


One last time

Of course it ended with Mardi Gras. And with the song that gave the final episode its title, played over a montage that took place some time in the future, showing the fruition of certain things, showing that life never really ends.

Everyone was here. Sofie Bernette returned from college to drag her mother out to Mardi Gras. Sonny, happy and resolved with Linh, was led back into street gigging again by a wife who understands him and loves him. L.P. Everett made no traction over New Orleans. These were our minor players today, showing their faces so we could see them one last time, and say our private goodbyes in the knowledge that their lives continue to develop.

There was no place for Clarke Peters, except in a photo of Big Chief Albert Lambreaux, in costume, the prettiest, behind the bar at LaDonna’s bar, where the Indians rehearsed for Delmond’s walk as Big Chief: over his reservations, he stood in his father’s shoes (or boots), just once.

There were departures. Terry Colson got his transfer back to the Eighth authorised but, as he said, too little, too late. He testified before the Grand Jury then handed in his papers, to preserve his pension. He’d rendered his job untenable, burned his boats in New Orleans, went to Indianapolis, where his sons are, breaking up his brief relationship with Toni, who threw herself back into her work.

Nelson Hidalgo signed himself out of his contracts in New Orleans, to go to Galveston, but not without a goodwill gesture on departure: knowing that the National Jazz Centre was dead, dead, DEAD, he conned Feeney into accepting an exclusive on restaurants there in return for his letting Janette off the hook about using her own name.

Delmond Lambreaux half leaves, returning to New York where his music plays, but keeping a foot in New Orleans, promising to bring his child up in the tradition. You knew Big Chief Albert would be honoured.

And Annie has moved on and upwards, towards the career her talent demands. She had to make compromises along the way, accept being prettified with expensive dresses and short skirts (that was a real handicap) and the glossy look, but she insisted on only making her own compromises to her music.

Davis McAlary turned serious now he’s forty, intent on becoming a sober citizen (don’t laugh). He even told Janette he loved her, which she was wise enough not to repeat back to him. She’s not in love with him anyway. I doubt anyone ever truly would be. It didn’t last. Still, he’s mellowed, so we’ll have to settle for that.

Antoine got the schoolband a rehearsal space through the good auspices of a fellow musician. He got his boys living with him to get straightened out. He got called on to play with Dr. John. He got a wandering eye at Mardi Gras, but only the eye wandered this time. LaDonna got scared when gunshots were fired, but she and her boys escaped unscathed.

Have I left anyone out? The series didn’t. Only Clarke Peters and John Goodman were missing, and though I wondered if an accommodation would be made, especially for the former, there was no trickery, no dream sequences or flashbacks. The dead stayed dead and we missed them.

And their lives go on. Nothing ended except our ability to be with these people. The music went on and we closed on ‘…To Miss New Orleans’, and I will, and I’ll miss my weekly incursion into this musical gallimaufrey thaat’s already led to me buying a Lucia Micarelli CD…

The closing shot, after which all was silence, was of Davis’s pothole, decorated New Orleans style. Some things will never die.

This city won’t ever drown.

Treme: s04 e04 – Sunset on Louisianne


By a mad coincidence, my two current weekly TV blog’n’watch series will be coming to an end at the same time, next week. My feelings about this couldn’t be in more contrast if I tried. I’m eagerly anticipating the end of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but when it comes to Treme, I’m diffident, even reluctant to watch the last couple of episodes, because after that, it’s over and there’s no coming back from it.

But the distinction in my feelings is inherent in the difference between the two programmes. Deep Space Nine was purely entertainment, a show based upon artificial, unrealistic settings, with a cast gathered to aim for a more-or-less cmmon goal, the achievement of which is the programme’s purpose and it’s end-point. By its very nature, it has to come to an end, in Victory, however that’s defined.

Treme was never so simple. It took a cast of people who were not so much disparayte as disconnected,sharing only a setting that, whilst extraordinary in the sense that it was the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina, was nevertheless both naturalistic and unconcerted. The men and women of Treme all have goals and reversals, but these are not part of some shared effort or achievement. They are living their lives alongside each other. And they, like we the audience, are not in control of their destinies, unlike the cast of Deep Space Nine.

To my mind, that makes the characters of Treme superior. They have lives that stretch before and after those thirty-six episodes of the four seasons it existed, whereas the characters of Deep Space Nine don’t. When it ends, they end. Whatever ends the people of Treme come to next week, when I watch the final episode, whatever wins, losses, draws or just plain every days they come to, are not ends at all, any more than that it would be the ‘end’ of my life if I were to, say, get a dfferent job.

My New Orleans friends will live on past the final episode, still going through the things that make their lives so fascinating to have watched. Being reluctant to face the last two episodes, because there are no more episodes after that and by not watching I am single-handedly keeping these people alive, is an illusion. All it does is stretch them out. They will still be there when the theme music plays a final time, they will still be doing what they be doing, only without a season 4 episode 6 to bring it to us. I don’t want to watch the end of Treme because it isn’t the end, just a walking away, not to meet again. I want to watch the end of Deep Space Nine because it is the end. One is like death, the other isn’t.

Heavy thoughts to taake into the penultimate episode. This was written by David Simon alone and, in its many ways, it seemed an episode of small movements, little adjustments, the taking of positions that might signal where people are going to stop when the roundabout takes its last spin.

Some of these implied a circularity: David and Janette are back together again, as they were when we all started this again, whilst Antoine, frustrated that the after-school programme in which he’s safeguarding his band and those future musicians, faces killing off due to insurance issues, reverts for twenty four hours to being wjat he was when first we met him, a playing musician, pushing himself round the clock. But he at least isn’t going backwards: hungover and cynical he’s back with the band, coping with their pointed laughter and still the big daddy of them all.

Elsewhere, Terry Colson’s contemplating retirement from the force, trying to get himself on the stand for whatever case the FBI are bringing against NOPD despite his vulnerability, L.P. Everett’s back in town and being approached by the FBI for contacts to the Glover case, Toni’s got a witness to the death of the asthmatic, and Everett’s bringing her word that the FBI seem to be coming iin on everything, even back to LaDonna’s brother in season 1.

Nelson Hidalgo’s detaching himself, withdrawing to Galveston, following the money. Davis is trying to enlist him to reopen clubland on Rampart Street, but that isn’t going to happen. Jazz is to be controlled in New Orleans under the new regime (they intend).

Annie T’s being pushed to the outer limits by her management, and much as she wants to stay with her band, they agree she should take the Nashville recording gig. The brass ring beckons and Annie has too much talent to ignore it, though nothing can be set in stone.

But there’s a hole in the middle of the programme and the water is swirling around it, and one of our people is being sucked down it. The beginning could not be brighter and lighter, live music in Davis’s studio at the radio station, Louis Prima’s ‘Sing Sing Sing’, as vibrant and joyful as anything in this series. I still know no more of jazz than when I watched season 1 episode 1, nor would I seek it out on disc or in real life live, unless I were to be in New Orleans, but though i have listened bemused and ignorant, I have enjoyed every moment of it and this not least.

Beginnings in life, but even here we think of death, for in a manner that foreshadows where we will go at the end, Davis is full of musings of his legacy, as in whether he has any, it being his 40th birthday tomorrow, and he full of what he or anyone else may leave behind.

And Albert, growing weaker, admitting he won’t do that walk this year, and placing it upon Delmond’s head to become Chief. Delmond, testing a composition on his Daddy, admitting it was music written for his father, who had detected it from the love in each note. Albert collapses in the night. Everyone gathers at the hospital. They let him go home, with Home Care and morphine. He lies in bed, his breathing rough and wheezy. Davina sleeps, LaDonna reads. And a moment that stabs me through the heart as the wheezy breathing stops and Big Chief Albert Lambreaux lies silent, recreating for me a moment I lived through and can never forget, because I know instantly what that silence means, and so does LaDonna, and she sends in Delmond to say goodbye and she stands outside alone, in the dawn where I stood in the dark, contemplating the world without.

One more meeting. One last passing hour.

 

Treme: s04 e03 – Dippermouth Blues


An odd, almost dangerous episode, to run as the midpoint of a season of only five. With time as short as it is, it was a perverse yet entirely typical step to base an entire episode around New Year’s Eve to Twelfth Night and immediately after, with all the steps tiny and private ones, leading towards no conclusions, final or temporary.

We begin on New Year’s Eve, with Davis alone in a fairy-light decked studio, playing and talking seriously about jazz. He’s more his typical self when the bar he’s supposed to play, enabling him to quit music (again), is closed down without warning, a victim of noise control licencing that threatens to destroy live music on Rampart street and which, through Toni Bernette, Davis hopes to challenge.

Janette’s out of champagne, and customers, by 9.45pm, unable to get credit for more. She’s out of her mind too, taking Davis back into her bed, and she’s shit out of luck on her contract with the egregious Tim Feeney: maybe she could call her restaurant ‘Janette’s’ her old-fashioned parody of a bow-tied lawyer suggests.

Antoine’s concerned about Jennifer, who’s gone missing since Cherise was killed. He and Desiree go hunting for her, finding her dreaming outside a club in which a band of young girls play. With the thought that if she trains she could be one of the Chosen Ones herself, the Bapistes tempt her back to band practice.

Antoine gets two moments. In the second, he has twenty four hours to teach a young white actor how to look authentic playing the ‘bone to ‘Dippermouth Blues’, written and recorded by the man this kid of an unknown is playing. A black musician, from New Orleans. A message sent, and received.

We’re nearly halfway through when Terry Colson walks into the squadroom to find the Feds raiding the place. Everyone’s blaming him, and why not? His FBI connection won’t use him on the stand, much as Terry wants to testify, to drag his own career down if he has to: he manufactured evidence to set a trap: he’s tainted. Toni will support him: she’s still following the case of the lad who died in episode 1, a wholly preventable death, a pattern of destruction. How far will things go? I doubt we’ll see. The response to Terry is a dog turd on his car bonnet and a spray-painted ‘Snitch!’ on his car windows.

Annie T gets a warning from her manager, who doesn’t turn up when he should, but instead sends a little girl in his place, an enthusiastic young woman, younger than Annie, eager to meet her. The choice must be made: either accept his advice, sack the band, move on, move up, or sack the manager and start again.

LaDonna has become accepted in the Lambreaux family, for her devotion to Albert, who’s still the stubborn bugger we’ve seen from the very beginning. Albert’s holding out for Mardi Gras. He’s gonna walk. But the signs are not good that he will last to do so. Who will lead the Indians? Tradition says that goes to the Wildman, but the Wildman reckons that Albert will want another this year, if it can’t be him. Delmond faces up to the shock of what may be asked of him.

Slow steps, tiny steps, advancing no whit ways. The middle of the end. Soon, a Black President will be inaugurated.One of the two remaining episodes is bound to show that. Which one, I wonder?

Treme: s04 e02 – This City


The nearness of you

That’s the second time in as many weeks that the closing credits in Treme have taken me by surprise by arriving long before I expected to see them. There’s an oddness to this half-sized season, in that, without seemingly having altered its laconic pace, it’s moving far faster than we are used to. There were two instances this week of issues being raised and resolved in the same episode, and that’s not what we’re used to.

Much of this week’s episode was taken up with two stories being allowed room to breathe, whilst others fitted around them. The first of these was Albert Lambreaux who, in the open, was given the news by his Doctor that his chemo has failed, and that his cancer has spread to his liver.  Albert is under a sentence, and we see its effect on those around him, his daughter Davina, angry and hurt that he won’t fight for every day more he can possibly claw back, his son Delmond accepting Albert’s decision that those days be about quality than quantity, and his lover, LaDonna, simply enjoying his relaxed presence.

And relaxed Albert is, even mellow, and full of nostalgia. Now he knows, the uncertainty is lifted, and he can get on with his life, and concentrate only upon what matters, including his grandson-to-be.

The other long strand centred upon Antoine. Music lesson is held up as the kids gather and talk, but this is about a boy who has lost his life: Cherise’s brother, Durond, shot in the street, with her as a witness. Later, we find he was mistaken identity, his killers had a beef with his elder brother. The nearness of violence, in this city, to one of his favoured pupils, disturbs Antoine. He offers help, warns Cherise to take care for she is at risk, but before long Terry Colson is called out to a murder, a fourteen year old girl, shot dead in the street coming home after walking her kid brother to school.

That the killers are known, that they will at least be arrested, is no consolation to Antoine, who’s lost a young girl he had high regard for, a girl with musical strength. The episode ends with a vigil at the school, the band with their instruments, calling on Mr Baptiste to play. But Antoine, who has already heard ‘noises’ from his daughter’s bedroom and feared, cannot do so, not tonight.

It’s a shitty day for Terry, coming across a murder like that, but it’s a worse one for Toni. She’s following up the death of the asthmatic in the holding cell last week, uncovering a massive increase in Jail deaths, but what’s the point, what’s the point of anything? Officer Wilson’s walking around free and arrogant, the FBI are doing nothing and nothing and nothing, and Terry gets in the way of a rant that’s fuelled by anger, frustration, despair and, thanks to Wilson’s reappearance, fear. He moves out, back to his trailer for the night.

But thanks to the lack of time, that’s not spun out, and it’s all the more effective for it, as Toni ‘ambushes’ him at his car in the morning, smiles through the fear of having blown things, and the two hug back on track.

Who else? Janine hits a snag, a serious snag, as her ex-partner Tim Feeney comes back at her with a lawsuit: he owns her name (she should have read that contract, always read the fucking contract, what do you think us – once upon a time – lawyers are about?) and she can’t use it on her new restaurant, and he’s suing her over the interview in which she slagged off the official Desautels.

For a moment there, it looked like Janine was going to compound her problem by jumping into bed with Davis again (it’s coming over as she would but he’s avoiding going there). He’s more interested in using her restaurant to meet up with his new buddy, Nelson Hidalgo, and Nelson’s money-man backer, whose name I’ve finally got for the first time! He’s C.P. McGrory, a banker! Davis has been boycotting McGrory’s bank for ten years, which means Davis is highly unlikely to be the Civilian Liaison to the National Jazz Centre, though as Davis learns that the job drags down 30,000 big ones each year, that stunned look on his face may actually signal a betrayal of his principles.

And from Davis we get to Annie, and the overwhelming question of her choice between success and loyalty. She’s still undecided, but her manager Marvin has made it plain. She’s only got one choice, and it isn’t loyalty to her band.

There’s no place for Sofia or Sonny this week, and I know L.P. Everett will be back because his face is all over the DVD menu screen. But time is tight, people. What stories will resolve, and which will hang? We will know entirely too soon.

 

Treme: s03 e09 – Poor Man’s Paradise


And so we gather momentum into the final episode of the series. Season 3 has been the most diffuse of the series to date, and has left me wondering more than once where this is going, knowing full well that this is also the last full season, but the penultimate episode seems to be drawing strings together with the sense that there will be some form of ending.

The open focuses on Terry Colson, being shown just how isolated he has become in Homicide, left without back-up to be beaten, not badly in absolute terms, but painfully enough to register for the whole hour, and for bad bruising to register. It’s known he’s been letting the FBI in, it’s made known to him that he’s made a breach that can’t be healed, but he’s denied a transfer out by a vindictive Captain. The only was Terry’s getting out of a Department that will give him nothing is to quit.

How he will react we have yet to see, but in one quarter the sun begins to shine. Toni Bernette takes her findings, her suspicions, her own year-old breach with Terry, to the FBI, but to the Agent with whom Terry is liaising. Who can tell her, in no uncertain terms, that she’s not him wrong. For Toni, who’s backing down on the Arbrea case because she can’t protect her own daughter, let alone any witnesses, it’s a moment of sunshine too. She turns up with beer, and more importantly a smile. We won’t get to see the apology, but we know it’s due and she won’t be afraid to make it.

And Toni’s decision to let things simmer down brings its own reward, a eye-witness to identify the brutal Officer Wilson as the killer – executioner – of Arbrea. At the same time, Everett has written his story on Glover’s killing, has armoured himself against the smears NOPD are preparing, and is going to print.

But if these strands are positives, as is Sonny’s acceptance into Linh’s family, as her fiance, there are negatives and negatives. LaDonna is being screwed by neighbours and noise inspector alike over the music from her bar, but the threats being made by her assailant’s cohort come at last to fruition: a late call summoning her to Gigis, a burning Gigis, destruction of that independent part of her life. She comes to sit with Albert, undergoing his chemo, in need of peace and quiet.

Janette Desautel has peace and quiet, and silence, but doesn’t want it. The restaurant is a success, but not the success she wants. They have a signature dish that the public loves, that they’re flocking in too eat, in such numbers that they can almost cook nothing else. It’s not the restaurant she wants and she’s taking it out on her old New York room-mate and going to the flat alone, with nothing but takeaway and Graham Crackers to eat.

And there’s a crash elsewhere. Davis McAlary’s R’n’B Opera has nose-dived. Aunt Mimi won’t finance it, all it will be is a limited CD sampler. Melodramatic and petulant as he has not been since the first series, pre-Annie, he hollers and boozes, he swears off music, he turns up at Annie’s mixing session and tries to take over, goes home and writes a screamingly petulant Fuck You song…

In the morning, she’s leaving by taxi, a gig in Texas, she told him. When are you back, he asks? Annie gets in the taxi.

Desiree is getting more deeply involved in the campaign against the City knocking down viable homes. Nelson Hidalgo slickly walks away from NOAH, looking to the bigger picture. Delmond’s being warned about the National Jazz Centre. Albert’s dubious about letting them have his Indian costumes, for ‘posterity’ at an admission charge. Antoine’s concerned about members of his school band, about potential and continuity and music.

And Sofia’s offstage, in Florida.

Next week…

Treme: s03 e08 – Don’t You Leave Me Here


A couple of weeks ago, I spoke of Treme coming into focus as it entered the back half of the season and yet, without meaning this in any disparaging way, it once again seems to be a thing of process, without any seeming signs of resolution to any of its issues.

On the other hand, there’s even more winding together of characters who, so far, have been grooving in their grooves more or less independently, and whose stories are starting to mingle.

The two major threads this week involved Janette DeSautel and LaDonna Batiste-William, even though this pairing never happened or came close to happening. Janette’s restaurant opened, despite all misgivings: the open suggested that they weren’t ready, especially not the waiters, but preview night and opening night both went down tremendously well, without the slightest hitch.

There wasn’t too much more to that side of things, though this strand was given a goodly share of the time, enough that you still feel something is going to go wrong and it’s all going to end badly.

That’s rather closer to the surface with LaDonna. The trial date for her assailant is nearing, and she’s starting to get harrassed, threatened into dropping the charges. Last week’s kid in the bar, who gave LaDonna the stare then lit a match was in court for the preliminary hearing, and now she’s getting phone calls at home, on their private number, and a closing shot of someone – we know who – outside the house. Lighting a match.

Let’s spin the wheel, count the connections. Albert’s dropped into LaDonna’s bar even though Indian practice season is over: there’s definitely a spark there. He’s started his chemo and it’s not going well, Delmond and his sister are having to cope with him. Delmond’s got the dissatisfied Antoine asking him questions about modern jazz, sitting in on a session. Delmond’s also meeting Nelson Hidalgo as part of the planning for the new National Jazz Centre, a Nelson back from Washington with new contacts, new info, and parlaying this to a seat at the table again.

Davis went to Janette’s preview night alone because Annie was working. She’s working a lot and he’s feeling neglected. He’s also being his usual immature, self-entitled self, enough so that Aunt Mimi gets seriously pissed off at him over the CD that isn’t to the great and glorious extent of his vision. Annie’s getting deeper into her career, and facing the moral barrier of whether or not to take the writer’s co-credit on Harley’s song that she supplied the original idea for, that he says she’s entitled to but she doesn’t feel right about.

Outside these loops, Toni and L.P. are working their ways towards their cases. L.P.’s getting fobbed off with tales of Glover being a bad guy, the death drug related not NOPD, Toni’s got the Police files and is thinking that Terry Colson is bent, in on the cover-up, when we know he’s working with the FBI and getting a lot of unfriendly looks in Homicide, especially when a case blows up in Court through no fault of his own. And Sofia’s pulled in for being at a teenage party where others are doing grass and drinking beer. She doesn’t violate her parole but Toni wants her to go to her Gran’s in Florida for a couple of months, cease being a lever to be used by the Police: Sofia hates it, and who can blame her?

All things in motion with no sign of a resting place, even with only two episodes left this season.

But one happy scene. Sonny’s pawned practically all of his music gear, packing away his dreams. His sponsor joshes about how he might as well marry Linh, he’s already whupped. But in a moment of great and simple delight, that’s exactly why he’s doing it. He’s bought her a ring. She’s happy. Now he just has to convince her father…

Treme: s03 e07 – Promised Land


Ain’t he pretty?

Treme‘s Mardi Gras episode always comes late in the series and it’s always more about what MardiGras is and all the kinds of music than it is about what the series is about. In that sense, it fits right in because the series is about being in New Orleans and all the colours of it. But this year’s was made up of little pieces, too many little pieces really, little scenes and moments that made tiny advancements, or set off new snowballs that, further down the mountain, could be bloody great avalanches.

Too many little pieces to maybe put in one blogpost: you’d be better off watching the episode than having me list A did this, and B did that, whilst E and L… Nah.

To keep the pot boiling, let’s just say that Toni tried to talk Sofia’s boyfriend into dumping her because he’s too old, only to find that she’d dumped him a week ago, Nelson schmoozed in Washington, Terry’s frustration at NOPD caused him to let slip that shit is coming down the pan for them when he really shouldn’t’ve, Big Chief Albert got himself through Mardi Gras unscathed by force of will, but the coughing is taking him down.

There were larger movements surrounding Annie, Davis and Janette. Annie’s in Washington, doing their Louisiana Mardi Gras, and sitting in with the Neville Brothers. She does the song that’s this week’s title, Johnnie Allen style, but she also does Harley’s ‘This Town Won’t Drown’, beautifully. The advancement of her career stuffs up her intent to properly do Mardi Gras with Davis (who’s quite clearly being squeezed out of his Jazz Opera on the basis that he’s nowhere near as talented as everyone else) but she flies in for one day only to oversleep, leaving Davis to go out alone, whereupon he bumps into Janette (who’s fretting over how her restaurant is building up, the publicity aspects and the ever-growing sens that it isn’t her restaurant and never will be). She’s dressed as a mini-skirted nun with a long, pale violet wig, and I’m going to be exceedingly shallow here for a moment and go Hoo-wah! And of course, after a day’s wandering and drinking they wind up back at Desautels for a Mardi Gras fuck over which only Janette seems to be having misgivings.

Mind you, he said, doubling up on shallowness, we saw a lot of Annie T today as well.

But there were three things in this episode that stood out for me, that will stick with me for when I come back to this one. First was the school marching band, marching in the parade, with Antoine helping to direct, and a decent job of it they made, playing SteveWonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ for one. They’re following a Marines marching band when, at a break, a half dozen of the Marines wander back and put on a mini-jazz show in the street. The kids watch, fascinated, and then some of them, their confidence visibly swelling, join in, and everybody plays together.

There’s a little snowball after, when Antoine hears young Jennifer playing a Charlie Parker phrase, leading into a discussion about whether Antoine, who’s mostly traditional, could play modern: it catches Antoine on the quick, and it messes with his head.

And there’s the brief closing scene. Sonny’s going it clean, he’s making the real effort, going to meetings, even religious ones. Mr Tran’s not got a crew during Mardi Gras week, but he’s kept Sonny on. Even though it’s the morning after, he calls Sonny to the boatyard even though it’s only going to be the two of them. Sonny arrives first: he’s early.

But in the middle there, Annie’s finally woken by Lucinda, Harley’s sister. The two go down to this ceremony on the riverside, all Mardi Gras noise and colour. Until the silence drops and we understand why everyone is here, as people carrying little boxes and bags, including the one Lucinda removes from Harley’s guitar case, and with Spider Stacey also sharing the moment, people pour the ashes of loved ones who loved New Orleans into the Mississippi.

The ultimate heartbreak is not this tender farewell to an old friend, but the person sitting on the stony bank off to one side, not part of the ceremony, not part of having remains to spread but sharing the pain and the loss: Sofia Bernette, arms and legs twisted round herself, caging in her own loss. As do we all.

Because I’m me

Treme: s03 e06 – Careless Love


A legend

I should not have doubted: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

But first: a moment that delighted me, a moment in which my basic ignorance of the musical roots this amazing programme investigates so thoroughly gave me a wonderful thrill that could only happen out of lack of knowing, but which was in its way worth the whole hour by itself.

Davis McAlary’s Jazz Opera is still sidling forward. He’s got an invitation to meet another musician. Someone so important that he’s put on jacket and tie just to go to this man’s home, someone referred to only as Fred. Old guy, bit on the heavy side, sat on a sofa wearing a bright yellow Hawaiian shirt, says he doesn’t sing any more. Then Davis’s companion starts hammering out a rumbling piano riff that sounds very familiar and the little old guy smiles one of those rueful yet happy smiles, the kind you get when you trick someone into doing something they don’t really mind doing, and he opens his mouth and sings “I found my thrill”, for this old guy in the Hawaiian shirt is Fats Domino, and age has not taken away his voice, or not enough of it to matter. Utterly wonderful.

Mind you, he still won’t do Davis’s opera so the lad has to fall back on Irma Thomas. Life can be so rough.

But back to the episode in full. We’re into the back half and suddenly there’s a sense of sharpening. There’s nothing that can be specifically defined as such, but it was as if a focus had been made that little bit more sharp. We’re no longer building up to things, such things as may be planned upon the base constructed over the past five weeks episodes, but we are engaged with them.

Not that this necessarily involved anything tangible. The most positive line of development lay in Toni Bernette and L.P. Everett’s by now joint investigation, which pulls in an out of state pathologist prepared to testify that there were post-Katrina deaths that showed clear evidence of potential homicide, shunted into ‘undetermined’. These cases include L.P.’s Glover and Toni’s Arbrea.

Whilst she’s away, Toni warns Sofia to avoid driving so as to avoid persecution. So her musician boyfriend takes the wheel and promptly lights up something not containing tobacco, the jerk. Naturally, it’s her being paranoid, though Sofia is starting to see through the immature jerk, it seems.

Janette’s dream restaurant is slowly turning into a nightmare, the more corporate policies start to apply, to the point that, during the photoshoot to manage her and its image, you can see the smile draining off her face, literally. It’s got get back to N’Awlins, but it’s not going to make her happy. I give it, oh, four more episodes…

And there are other things coming into focus. Nelson Hidalgo’s off to Washington to access the money trough at source. I’m interested in where this is going to go: his current position is an anomalous one because he doesn’t really have anything to do. More so than the other characters, Nelson has never been a totally natural character: he’s a figurative, a type, and in this season he’s beginning to feel like a dangling plotline that’s got no true hold in the story.

But Nelson leads us to both Antoine and Desiree Batiste, taking up crusades. Desiree’s mother’s house has been flattened and Desiree is strong in demonstrating that they’ve fucked with the wrong person. She’s moving closer to the campaign to put a stop to this, to stop the carving up of the city for its rich men and against its still largely displaced people.

Antoine’s is more personal. He’s discovered that his favourite pupil, the trumpet girl Jennifer, has learning difficulties, that she can’t read. She’s come to live with it, at the age of 14, resigned to a life of getting by, but Antoine knows that she can do more, go further as a musician if she can learn. Without ever calling her a cause, she’s become his cause, in the space of an episode.

Albert’s being stubborn again, refusing to start his chemotherapy until after Mardi Gras. Daughter Davina, ready to take leave from her job and move back to support him, is horrified, but Delmond knows his Daddy needs to have his Big Chief costume ready, like always.

But the biggest element of this episode was Sonny. Last week, we  saw him fall of the wagon. Today, oversleeping, missing Mr Tranh’s boat, we got an up close and personal demonstration of him doing a flaming triple-salcho under its wheels: booze, drugs, trash, and pointless sex with a fortysomething year old stripper. His former bandmate, the one who became a semi-sponsor to him, analysed him as making an attempt to get away from Linh, despite Sonny’s avowal of loving his Vietnamese girlfriend.

In the space of an episode. The stripper appears to be Sonny’s equivalent of the pit of degradation. He pulls out without even coming, or so I infer, and next, night though it is, he’s at Mr Tranh’s, not to speak to Linh, but to her father. She watches, from the door to the street where sound doesn’t carry, Sonny talking excitedly, and sinking onto his heels, a squat that approximates the semi-legendary foetal position. And the screen turns to black and something soulful and lovely plays (I guessed it was Irma Thomas and it was ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will understand), and season 3 is now wonderfully alive.

Treme: s03 e05 – I Heard Buddy Bolden Say


Our girl’s gonna be a star!

Season 3 of Treme is proving very difficult to blog because even here, at the midway point, it still feels shapeless. It’s a collection of mostly unrelated stories, rolling onwards, without any pattern. That that is what it has been from the start, and makes for a fascinating mosaic, is what frustrates me about why it’s so difficult to think about now.

It’s easy enough to summarise the various steps in this episode, which revolved around a New Orleans Xmas. We saw everybody except Everett celebrating the day in one fashion or another, though the episode gave quite a lot more time to Toni and Sofia on the one hand and Anne T., with some embarrassing inserts from Davis on the other.

Others had little more than cameos. Sonny fell off the drugs wagon at the first visible opportunity, having put up no more than token resistance. Nelson appealed to his contact to end his period in purgatory only to be told that they don’t see what he brings, ‘as an outsider’, to the project.

There’s a strong political issue over the City Council’s unanimous decision to demolish the Project Housing. The trickery over the meeting denotes an obvious fix, the white, rich community celebrate (even at the Xmas dinner table in the McAlary household, dissenting opinion McAlary D, stridently) and Nelson’s contact rejoices over the eclipse of the ‘Philistines’ even as he co-opts Delmond into the Jazz Heritage Project (without actually agreeing to tear down the fences that keep the black kids out, shudder).

But let’s look at Toni and Sofia, eating out on Xmas Day, with no real delight, both too aware of the massive missing presence of Creighton. In trying to aim for new traditions, Sofia’s interest is raised, though there’s the slightest of hints she might not be there for next Xmas. Sofia’s getting harrassed by the Police, which Toni determinedly takes up with Captain Grayson, who hates her. Not that she’s completely innocent, she’s had her PI run a check on Sofia’s musician boyfriend. It’s come out clean, but it confirms he’s 27, and she’s, what, 17 at most (though she has her own car and is licensed): Toni’s worried.

And the straits her pursuit of the Arbea case and Officer Wilson have landed them in are exemplified when Toni’s windscreen is smashed. Outside their house, at night. By the Police.

The most buoyant part of the episode was Annie’s parents coming to New Orleans for Xmas. This has Annie, in short shorts, never an unpleasant sight, cleaning furiously to try to evade the disapproving eye of mother Theresa. a splendid cameo by Isabella Rosselini. But Theresa is focussed upon her disappointment at Annie playing jazz, folk, creole, the whole mixture, and not the classical music on which she was trained. Though at the band’s performance – a band that’s now got a recording contract! – Theresa is won over by the jaunty ‘Louisiana Christmas’ Annie sings for her with best glee.

That was a fun part, deserved of its extra time.

Just to mention that Delmond has told his sisters about Albert’s lymphona, ensuring everyone turns up for Xmas day, and Janette hires one of her New York room-mates for the restaurant, even as her doubts about Tim grow ever darker and everybody else has little moments.

Season 3 is playing even more cavalierly with the conventions of television story-telling. It’s even more novelistic in its approach. Which makes for good, strong television, but hell to blog. I hope they’ve balanced it right.

Treme: s03 e04 – The Greatest Love


Indians

I don’t know if it was me or the episode but I found it hard to get engaged with this week’s Treme. In many ways it was simply how the series operates, a disparate group of people, each representing strands in the afterlife of a city of distinctive cultural heritage after a massive disaster, with only minimal and most often passing links between them. And as usual it was distinguished by superb acting, some of it overt, as in the case of Khandi Alexander: brittle and angry in the search for a house, confident and strong negotiating with Big Chief Albert over space for the Tribe to practice and play, then slipping into the background as they do their thing.

But I couldn’t engage properly. I think that, more so than in its predecessors, third season Treme is taking more time to just simply witness lives being lived than in sharpening stories towards any kind of dramatic point. Lives are just going on, everybody is in the middle but without any better aim than tomorrow.

I know that’s unfair. Several of the cast are building towards things: Annie T., over in Austin again, working towards the successful music career that is hers by the right of abundant talent, Davis feeling lonely without her in New Orleans, hitting an obstacle in building towards this Jazz Opera of his.

We intercut again, like last week, between Janette interviewing chefs for her restaurant whilst her business partner Tim interviews pretty but not necessarily skillful girls as ‘waitresses’, and Toni trying to get potential witnesses against Officer Wilson to testify.

Melissa Leo deserves mention in the acting stakes for a typically aggressive performance rounded out by firstly inviting L.P. Everett to dinner and then going along with Sofia (whose boyfriend is turning into a right little shit, refusing to go with her too anything she wants to do that doesn’t tickle his fancy) to a street performance of ‘Waiting for Godot’, rewritten for black voices, that brings Toni to barely restrained tears.

The harrassment of the Bernettes, and its potential spread to L.P. (this initials affectation has quickly become irritating) becomes more than a shadow, and a Police car following Sofia giving the reporter a lift to a gig by Goatwhore (I am not googling that because I know they won’t have been made up and I’d rather not find out any more) is the closing scene.

Going back to Toni, and keeping in with the Police, there was another neat little juxtaposition. Terry Colson’s having a downbeat thing. He’s getting nowhere trying to clean anything up in Homicide, his FBI contact can do nothing with the files Terry handed over and, when he books a room at a decent hotel so his boys can stay with him, they dump him for dates. On the other hand, manageress Megan, clearly an old friend, upgrades him to a suite free, persuades him to use it anyway and the two jump each others bones enthusiastically.

Which contrasts with Janette and Jacques when she summons’ him to the walk-in store, except that, unlike his expectation, it’s not to jump his bones but to discuss a planned local recipe.

Returning to Albert, he’s revealed his lymphoma to Delmond, but wants it kept from his daughters, thus far. It’s a mark that a shift has taken place in their relationship, which has been closer to equals this season already, that when Delmond says he’s going to get medical assistance for his Pop, Albert doesn’t argue, or resist.

And Antoine engages in a bit of a fiddle over a bill to get money to his favourite marching band pupil Cherise to get her family’s electric bill paid, whilst Nelson’s growing disenchanted about his limited participation in the money game and talking about finding a better (i.e., more easily monetized) disaster to move on to.

Bits and pieces: either I or they are not quite cohering, and next week is halfway.

There is one thing I do want to record, and I’ve been wracking my brain to try to remember if it’s happened before in Treme: the Indians are in LaDonna’s bar, Albert and Delmond, and Antoine’s at the bar, watching, and I think that’s the first time, in the twenty-fifth episode, that we have had as many as four cast members appearing in the same scene. Three at a time, like Toni, Sofia and L.P., often. But i can’t remember four simultaneously.

It’s almost like an ensemble show…