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


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…

Treme: s03 e03 – Me Donkey Want Water

Father and son

I haven’t, exactly, been critical about season 3 of Treme so far because I have been enjoying it, but the first two episodes have felt a bit soft focus, lacking in any narrative bite. That comes to the fore in episode 3, which felt sharper and a lot more energetic from the outset.

Things feel like they’re starting to move now, the characters not just living their lives but actually set in motion towards things that will play out. For instance: Janette’s down in New Orleans, looking over the generous restaurant space her would-be partner’s eager to put up, whilst Annie’s gone for a meal with the guy who manages Shawn Colvin and who’s interested in managing her. There’s an unusually telecinematic sequence where, instead of letting each scene play out, the episode cuts back and forth, making the two strands intertwined when they have nothing to do with each other except thematically.

Both go for it, with differing aftermaths. Janette re-hires Jacques as her sous-chef, moves out of Brooklyn with a farewell hot dog blow out with her housemates, Annie goes on the road with her band for an overnight gig.

There’s a third negotiation in town too. Davis is utterly committed to his opera and is hiring old musicians left right and centre, guys who played on classic recordings but never saw a penny from them. So now he’s up on his great big ethical high horse, determined to give them payment, at the expense of not just himself but Aunt Mimi, both of then foregoing their percentages and expenses. Poor Davis. He’s still the same clown he always was, though Annie has rubbed some of the sharper edges off; I can tolerate him now because there are some tiny indications that he may be growing up, not that he ever will, completely.

Elsewhere, some more of the characters are interacting. Antoine and Delmond are playing in a gig and talk afterwards about Albert. Delmond’s taking an increasing role in organising the tribe but they need rehearsal space. So Antoine puts in a word and Delmond turns up at LaDonna’s, very clearly out of his depth with a woman like her (I loved the scene, which was a gross mis-match: when has Khandi Alexander ever not dazzled in Treme. But Rob Brown sinks it as well with a finely judged piece of underplaying).

Terry Colson and his partner, Detective Nikolich, catch up with the potential killer of Jay Cardello. Terry’s getting tired, thinking of handing in his papers. He gets a boost, and Nikolich a cynical surprise, when they stop for coffee where Sofia Bernette works and she passes on to Terry the words of praise her mother, Toni, had for him.

And the girl has a definite streak of the little minx in her, dropping onto her mother’s shoulders that she’d seen Terry and that, oh yes, he’s very tall.

Not that Toni’s interested right now. Toni is precipitating something that will run through this last full-length season. We’ve seen in the open a black Police Officer in uniform walk into a crowded bar where the music is playing and Delmond is watching along with his current girl, Alison, Toni’s assistant, collect a crate of Bud at the bar, then beat a kid who stepped in his way. Wilson is Toni’s suspect for the Arbrea murder. Now she’s throwing the cat among the pigeons by taking out a newspaper ad inviting people assaulted, brutalised and browbeaten by Wilson to contact her. There’s going to be a lot of shit coming her way, and she’s warning Sofia to be squeaky clean, because she’ll be a target if the Police can get her on anything.

Meanwhile, Nelson’s still trying to build his Empire. This NOAH thing is going to blow up in people’s faces, sooner rather than later, and if he and Robinette’s firm have done it right, even at no-profit, they’ll be first in line when the real tap opens and gushes money. There are signs that something’s starting to crumble: Antoine’s wife, Desiree, has found a NOAH sign outside her family home, she’s see Nelson, she’s started digging, along with others, into what’s going on. Nelson don’t mind, Nelson’s taking out Cindy who wanted a job but who settles for an evening’s wining and dining and getting all her kit off in Treme‘s most comprehensive and gratuitous nude scene so far.

In fact, Nelson’s not the only one getting his end away. As the episode slows down towards the end, it’s in the air. Antoine’s on a five night tour in Texas, the suspicious Desiree is phoning him every night and, what do you know, the pone rings unanswered whilst Antoine is screwing this fat, bouncy bird.

And Sonny and Linh are finally grated an hour away from her chaperoning father, which they use to finally get it on, in a scene that, for all its sordid setting in the back of a car, is a delicate, gentle and touching counterpoint to Antoine’s crude thrusting.

Which makes all the more effective the transition to a Doctor’s surgery, where Albert Lambreaux is being told he has Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. There is a treatment, with a 50% survival rate. I’m betting he doesn’t tell Delmond any time soon.

It’s a closing scene to its roots, which is why I was surprised, and a bit shocked, that the actual closing scene was the relatively unimportant one of L.P. Everett following up the death he’s investigating, by being taken to see the overturned, burnt-out car, down by the river. It’s a morning scene, and it couldn’t have gone anywhere else, chronologically, nor could it have been placed between the Life of sex and the Death of Albert, but I wouldn’t have finished with that.

Treme: s03 e02 – Saints

Annie T and The Apostles

To my surprise and pleasure, this episode took it’s title directly from Shawn Colvin’s track, ‘The Neon Light of the Saints’ from her 2011 album, All Fall Down, which played over the credits. This was doubly apt in that Shawn’s manager from the episode in which she guested last season reappeared, to take Annie T and The Apostles on as a client, and that much of the music in this episode was trad jazz, which I and most of those ignorant of jazz will always instinctively link with that hoary old classic (here being a word meaning, song you wish you could never hear again), ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In’.

Besides, it was the only music in the episode that I could properly appreciate!

I’m not knocking the music, which I’m enjoying immensely as both an integral part of the series and for the undoubted life and energy it brings to everything, but I neither know nor understand it, it represents a culture of which I am ignorant and which would take a lifetime to absorb, and underneath it all I am wedded to the sound of the guitar, not horns.

What of the drama? I was taken aback when the scene in which Delmond Lambreaux, in the bar, raised an Indian chant for Albert, who has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cut into the credits as I had no idea 55 minutes had already gone by. Once again we faced the Treme kaleidoscope and, as in episode 1, there was little sense of the season’s themes beginning to develop.

Little things: Albert’s condition. Antoine finding out his sons don’t want to learn music but a couple of his girl pupils are getting into the trad. LaDonna walking out on living with her in-laws after Virina ‘forgets’ to put Antoine’s name on the list of permitted visitors at the gatehouse. Davis putting together his ambitious but we-can-all-see-this-coming, futile Opera.

And more medium-sized things, from which the early signs of stories can be seen. Annie beginning her ascent to the success that awaits her. Terry Colson opening up the first signs of a r’approchement with Toni, bringing her the news personally that a friend she knows has been brutally beaten to death instead of her learning it from the news.

Nelson gets himself back into the game by trailing our successful Florida developer, Loretta Mortensen, finding what a piss-poor job she’s doing and getting the spin-offs that he and his contractor partner Robinette will do properly.

Sonny badly wants to screw Linh’s brains out and the feeling’s mutual but they can never get far enough away, or for long enough, from Mr Tranh to so much as get her knickers down. Now he’s got a gig again.

Janette is in demand, with the chance to run her own place again, back in New Orleans, with a partner to keep the bullshit (i.e., the administration) off her shoulders. David Chang reckons she’ll go.

L.P. Everett is pursuing a case of Police brutality, murder or negligent homicide, criminal damage and destruction of evidence, or so the possibilities seem to stack up from what we see. At the moment, he’s acting independently of Toni Bernette and/or Terry Colson, but let’s see.

No Sofia Bernette this week.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is a David Simon project, with all due respect to Eric Overmyer, and these are invariably structured as novels: you don’t get climaxes in chapter 2, you’re dealing with strands, lines, things slowly being set in motion and, in the case of an ongoing TV series, and a slice-of-life, not even necessarily in episodes 9 or 10.

Let’s continue to roll.

Treme: s03 e01 – Knock With Me – Rock With Me

New Boy

Rollin’ back on into town.

We’re six months on from the end of last season, twenty-five from Katrina, and as the new credits demonstrate, there’s a lick of paint brightening things up in New Orleans. This made for a relatively light tone to a lot of the episodes, as things seem to be going well for many of our cast, with only a few cloudy horizons being delved into initially.

Those for whom gloom is developing are Antoine, LaDonna and Terry Colson. And Nelson hidalgo’s still on the outside and looking for a way back in that isn’t opening as quickly as he would like. Our main trombonist is feeling hemmed in by his job, by being a houseowner, by having a wife who expects him to start acting like a damned grown-up. Particularly galling is how he gets arrested at the start for throwing the Police a finger when they bust up a night session honouring a dead musician, yet two guys whose charges are dismissed at the station become the ‘Treme Two’ and get all the publicity, and the gigs.

But all it takes is the length of one opening episode and the next night the Police turn up to escort the parade. Go figure.

LaDonna and Larry are staying with in-laws whilst they find a place in New Orleans to double as home and his Practice and that is not going to last. LaDonna’s sister-in-law looks down on her from a great height and you know LaDonna will always piss up. The tension is rife.

And Terry’s feeling the blues. He’s on his own out there in Homicide, the corrupt Captain’s gone, the detectives all hate him, the Deputy Chief won’t transfer him back, he hasn’t got Toni’s friendship any more, and his ex-wife ain’t letting the boys come visit whilst he still lives in a trailer. Colson is in isolation.

And Nelson still isn’t being let back in the game of FEMA money, not whilst the erstwhile Councilman Thomas is in Federal Prison and can yet drop a dime on him. So he tries to find another way in but his fresh-faced, boyish charm cuts no ice with the steely Mrs Mortensen, who cuts him off at the balls.

So these are our current losers. Everyone else looks like they’re on the up. Annie T. has her own band, is going down a storm, and she’s so gleeful she’s jumping Davis at 6.00am in a seriously shortie nightie which makes me seriously jealous (and I mean jealous, not envious) of Steve Zahn, who’s composing a Poverty Opera and getting Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry involved.

Janette’s going down big in New York and jumping Jacques’ bones in New Orleans, whilst breaking with the grand television tradition of women having sex by not keeping her bra on.

Toni and Sofia are on a much more even keel. Mom is still working the Arbrea case, and is finding a new ally in investigative journalist L.P. Everett (Chris Coy, new to this year’s cast). Sofia’s got a boyfriend, the musician guy outside the coffee shop whereshe works, and Toni’s cool about not having met him yet.

Delmond’s CD has been released to good reviews and decent advance sales. Albert’s proud of it, he’s even smiling, but he’s coughing a bit too.

Sonny’s going out with Linh, though her father still isn’t give in them enough leeway for much more than, say, half an hour’s kissing. He’s cut his hair, looks clean too.

Have I left anyone out? No, the show’s back on the road, the lives have resumed, but we are now nearer to the end than the beginning. There is now a time limit on what I am watching and I was oddly conscious of that from the beginning. Rock with me.

Treme: s02 e11 – Do Watcha Wanna

And all of a sudden, the season that had no endings in sight pulled a shitload of them out of its back pocket and spread them round like there was nothing to it, and we rolled through an extended eighty minute finale of ups and downs and a sideways or two, and the ground is free and clear for another base to be laid in season 3. Sometimes it’s like magic, but what it really is is art.

I really didn’t think you could have done it. There have been twelve named cast members in season 2 whose mixings have often, over the past eleven weeks, seemed to be following no particular route, just bouncing off what I’m trying desperately to avoid calling the vicissitudes of life, but that’s been the effect David Simon and Eric Overmyer have been concentrating upon.

But one after another carpets started to get rolled up under certain people’s feet, and in both satisfaction and disappointment, things rolled round to places not unadjacent to where they began. Take Antoine Batiste in a memorable open: after Wanda’s walkout on stage last week, the rest of the band, or at least too many follow her out of the door. In no time at all, there’s no band and no point and a massive fuck you from the man with the ‘bone, who don’t need this shit.

And Davis sees his precious band slide out from under him by the most basic law of talent: when everybody’s a Mississippi river width better than you, you’re looking at the door. Praise the lad for growing up a little, stepping out on stage making fun of himself and embracing his white privileged background on a truly non-funky ‘Sex Machine’, immaculately swallowing the ‘ess’ word.

Delmond gives up his New York apartment, and his New York girlfriend to fund his share of the fake royalties that can pay for Albert to fix up the house.

And Nelson has the rug spectacularly pulled out from under him, in a manner he still doesn’t quite understand. He’s played the game, taken the opportunities vouchsafed to him and now he’s been cut off. ‘For now’. Because the FBI are investigating Councilman Thomas, who’s rolling over and resigning, and Nelson’s fed the jukebox in that corner so he’s no longer Mr Anonymous through whom the big boys can weave their nets. And his cousin’s asking him what is it he actually does, and Nelson doesn’t have a real answer for him. He makes deals. He makes money. He makes, in actual fact, nothing. Ever heard of a President like that?

But they’re the obvious losers, though Desiree gets what she wants, she and Antoine moving into a house of their own, and he’s leading a new bad, the more talented kids from school, setting up on the streets.

Others have a more equivocal time of it. Janette flies down to N’Awlins for Jacques’ bail hearing and helps him get loose. Later, they go to the Jazz Festival, and later than that they shag each other’s brains out. This is a bad move, because you never, never, never sleep with your sous-chef, and this guy’s setting up an offer to finance a new restaurant for the fair Ms Desautel, back in New Orleans, and she#’s wavering.

And Terry turns up at Toni’s, demanding the shell-casings so the Arbrea case can be properly matched in ballistics. He tells his Captain they could have a match, two linked Police shootings, and, guess what? A casing goes missing. Colson’s had enough. He’s taken it to the FBI, wants the Department swept clean in the Augean manner. Toni’s taken Arbrea to the politicians, but there’s an Election coming up. Sofia’s taking things seriously, hurt enough again over Councilman Thomas to talk about her Dad. As one door begins to swing open, the one between Toni and Terry is now firmly shut.

But others fare better. Sonny gets traded to Linh’s Dad’s shrimp boat for the weekend, an ordeal that results in his being given permission to pursue his suit with her. Though the collapse of Antoine’s band leaves him hocking his guitar.

And Annie’s starting to work on Hawley’s music.

But best of all is LaDonna, LaDonna who drops into a bar five blocks from her own and finds one of her rapists sitting there drinking beer. Who demands the Police in to haul him back, and then taunts the bastard and starts kicking him. Who unloads an expletive laden tirade at the DA over the technical cock-up that let him out, who’s breathing fire and flame out of every nostril, and Larry follows her out with this quiet little grin on his face and says they ain’t selling that goddamned bar, instead they’re moving back to New Orleans, because maybe he hates that goddamned bar but it’s a part of LaDonna, and she’s who he fell for again, nd she looks at him like she’s shell-shocked and as the lift doors slide shut, we catch this glimpse of her going to him and hugging him, and she is back and man is it glorious!

In the end, Davis can’t sleep. He’s back at the radio station, playing a little slow something old and mournful, that’s New Orleans to the core and the soul, and maybe it’s not what it used to be or what it ought to be but where else would they go and who else would have them, and that’s David Simon saying that through him, and the last is an apology for dead air, because that kinda got Davis there, and it did anyone.

Next week, we go into season 3. Maybe I ought to slow down, space them put, make it last, but you know I won’t be able to. Down in the Treme, down with the Treme. And the music goes round and round.

Treme: s02 e10 – That’s What Lovers Do

Still fitting in

We’re almost at the end of season 2 and this felt like a downturn episode, a low-key affair whose strongest element was the aftermath of Hawley Watt’s killing. Annie T seems to have become, by default, his legatee, responsible for clearing away what little he left, taking on the part-written songs and music with a view to completing it, seeing away most of the rest of it to Goodwill, all with a calm emotionless that worries Davis. And me: it’s all very well for her to protest that everyone’s treating her like a china doll, in need of special handling, that she’s fine, but people rarely are when someone important to them is gunned down in front of them.

Hawley’s death impinges on other branches of this story. Colson’s arrived in Homicide and this is one of the cases that’s not being worked too seriously, what with the complete absence of evidence or leads and the investigating detective at least unconsciously dismissing it as unimportant: only a street musician, shoulda kept his mouth shut.

Toni’s already trying to use him to get the Arbrea case file. Terry’s none too happy about it, a sense that he’s feeling a bit used, especially after last week’s rebuff. He finds a more-than-sanitised file and a prefab full of mixed evidence, left to rot, but he swings by Toni’s to tell her there was no file.

Sofia’s talking to her now, though the attitude’s not left town totally. She’s working as a part-time barista, enjoying it too, fancies the guitar player in the street band outside but, sensibly and reluctantly, turns down the offer to go out backk and smoke some weed.

There’s been an FBI raid at City Hall, over the weekend, with has got Toni worried and excited. Not Councilman Thomas, though.

Sonny’s affected by Hawley’s death too, still using equipment borrowed from him. He wants to return it, talks a little with Annie, keeps the guitar a couple of weeks longer. He’s trying to get a date with the Vietnamese girl from the fish market, Linh, but he has to ask her father first, and he has to approve, and Sonny doesn’t want to have to do that.

Antoine’s show-stealing gets him a mid-stage walkout by his singer Lucinda and the band don’t want him taking over. When he lets Alison fill-in – a young, attractive woman, Toni’s assistant – Desiree kicks off at him, fearing the worst. LaDonna’s kicked off at him too, denouncing him for everything. She’s full of sudden aggression, against salt on the table, underlining her interactions with her therapist, and the failure of an attempt to resume ‘relations’ with Larry: both breaking off thinking the other wasn’t into it. Dark times lie ahead.

Davis’s musical ambitions are slipping away. Lil Calliope’s dance track has to go on the sampler and one of Davis’ two has to make way. Delmond’s shipped everyone, including Doctor John, down to New Orleans at Albert’s insistence, killing any chance of the record ever making royalties: Albert’s happier than we’ve ever seen him, Delmond can’t hear the difference, but everyone else can. Janette’s earned the nickname ‘Gator at the restaurant, and is being encouraged to expand her repertoire. Nelson’s slowly compiling a parcel of land for city redevelopment.

In a week’s time, we’ll see what temporary resting places these stories come to. But we come back to Hawley, in the end as the beginning. From Susan Cowsill leading a funerary rendition of ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken?’ to an unexpected sister arriving to collect the ashes and Hawley’s favourite guitar – This Machine Floats – and spring a gentle laugh on us, blowing Hawley’s pretence at a Texas accent, when they came from Washington…


Treme: s02 e09 – What is New Orleans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treme: s02 e08 – Can I Change My Mind?

Last week’s episode, with its focus on Mardi Gras, felt like something of a one-off, as I imagine Mardi Gras must feel, interrupting the normal course of life. And with that same sense of life regathering momentum, we roll back into the river and where it is leading us. And as we do, there’s a growing sense that the concerns and cares of this second season are now beginning to come to various heads, and that we are no longer watching quite the same mosaic as hitherto.

Episode 8, written by James Yoshimura, a shout-out to an old and valued Homicide: Life on the Street hand, had a pleasing circularity to it in that, after coming out of the credits into Annie and Harley incessantly rehearsing her first song, we closed out the show with her performing and singing it publicly for the first time (under the proud and watchful, yet necessarily invisible eye of Davis). And a gentle, sweet tune it is. I predict a future for Annie T.

But it was not a complete circularity, though the theme was continued partway by a gig for Annie and Harley with Susan Cowsill and her band, where Susan offered Annie the chance to do her song and she bottled it. The open was in purely serious mode, with a gaunt-looking LaDonna enduring medical tests over whether she’s been infected with HIV/Aids and getting a clean bill of health at last. And admitting that she still hasn’t told Larry that she was raped as well.

That boded trouble, in the first thing since Treme started that was pure TV cliche, because the moment you knew that Larry didn’t know, you knew he was going to find out. A new DA wanted to review the case with LaDonna instead of meeting her for the first time in court, and Larry is being utterly supportive and insisting on going with her, and the DA let’s slip… No secret is ever kept on TV, and it’s not done Larry and LaDonna’s relationship the least bit of good. Still, at least we got to the halfway episode in the whole of Treme before giving in to TV drama.

And there was another emotional explosion to face, though this might just begin to close a rift instead of exacerbate one. Sofia’s flirtation (at least I hope it’s a flirtation, the kid’s too nice for that) with the wild side reaches its peak when she and her classmate go out for a ride on a schoolnight. With two older boys they met in a bar. In a stolen car. With an open alcohol container. And marijuana in Sofia’s purse.

A horrified Toni has to get her released from Juvenile Detention where the kid is in manacles, jumpsuit and ankle-chains (she’s about five stone, soaking wet, jesus) and Sofia’s quickly back in determined silence mode again, until finally, finally, she confronts Toni over Crei’s suicide, and why he did it, and how everybody says it’s not her fault, but if she doesn’t know why, how can she know it’s not her fault, and Toni, who’s been trying to hold everything together for the sake of her daughter, faults apart, in pain and anger and despair, exactly reflecting what Sofia’s been going through (and not incidentally sweeping me up in their pain as well). But it’s broken down the barrier that’s been growing between the pair all season and whilst that’s not original in itself, this time it’s less cliche than human psychology, and the final, true sharing of pain.

That’s not all Toni is involved in this week, as she hires a PI, Charles King, ex-military police, to investigate the Ardea kid’s death, and the ball starts slowly to roll there, with three episode’s left.

I’ve mentioned a fun appearance with Susan Cowsill, far-removed from the little kid of The Cowsills, The Partridge Family template, but our other musical guest of the week was the rather more famous Mac Rebennack, aka Dr John, the Night Tripper, called in to play piano for Delmond’s new proposed jazz fusion project, drawing together New Orleans jazz, modern jazz and the Indian chants. Given that these are intended to be supplied by Big Chief Albert, partly for authenticity and partly as an underhand method of slipping him some money, the good Doctor foresees what will likely come from Delmond and Albert in the same studio, and had me giggling with his dry response that he wouldn’t miss this for nothin’ on the whole planet.

Add in Albert being awkward about the whole thing (in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, under awkward, there is a photo of Clarke Peters as Big Chief Albert), and this looks good.

What else of our wandering players? Sonny, starting slowly to shape up. Antoine, starting to get into the music teaching. Janette making a sideways move to a different restaurant, one where she may be able to express herself more individually. Davis being Davis. Nelson, in the most political part of the episode (eat your heart out, McAlary) learning that saving the city money only reduces the margin for skimming (nice to see Mr Hidalgo being out-cynicaled for once).

There’s no such thing as an end. But there are such things as goals, whether we are seeking them or not, and after a long middle-game, Treme feels as if it’s working towards them again. Feel the music.

Treme: s02 e07 – Carnival Time

And so we come to a – the? – Mardi Gras episode on Treme, the city and the episode consumed by the famous annual event, the one thing this week’s episode was about, even as far away as New York, where Chef gave Janette the day off and she took one of her housemates to the restaurant for dinner.

In a way, this was a curiously cool episode, interested mostly in seeing ‘Fat Tuesday’ from all kinds of angles and letting the music and the carnival have the stage. In terms or arcs, little was done to take people in the directions they are going, minimal gestures reflecting lives overwhelmed by the moment. LaDonna stays at home, relaxing with a glass. Antoine’s plans to tour a succession of off-book ladies founder on his having to take the boys around.

Colson gets through a one-murder Mardi Gras, and that afterwards and elsewhere. Big Chief Albert leads the Indians with a massive detachment but nevertheless scores. One of Antoine’s band takes it on himself to get Sonny straight and moves him out oystering for the night.

Nelson gets pointed in the direction of the Zulus by Cuncilman Thomas, which further cements him among friends. He scores too, only a lot more explicitly.

Hawley’s invited Annie T to the cajun celebration. Davis has never missed Mardi Gras in his life and the selfish little bastard slithers away to do his own thing, but he redeems himself at the end. Toni and Sofia are going to sprinkle Crei’s ashes in the river, a moving ceremony, except that Sofia sidles off and goes drinking whilst Toni, after a tearful farewell, gets increasingly frantic. The little girl winds up getting drunk, getting hit on by someone a hell of a lot bigger and older in the same bar as Davis… and Annie gets back to find her asleep on the floor in a tartan bra, but that’s only because she threw up on her shirt whilst Davis was getting her home.

He didn’t even go hunting for her phone because he wasn’t putting his hand inside her jeans. Toni’s relief is palpable but it’s compounded by the misery of realising Sofia knows her Dad killed himself, and there’s a lot of helping needs doing.

Carnival Time. But interludes are only interludes, and aftermaths still come.