Treme Season 3, Episode 1, “Knock With Me – Rock With Me”
That opening chyron – “25 Months After The Storm” – puts us firmly in the autumn of 2007, but despite it being two years later, there’s evidence everywhere of the storm. Police still living in trailers, investors still dreaming up ways to “monetize the culture down here,” and incredulous tourists who can’t believe that things still aren’t any better. Of course, amongst all this, life goes on.
For those unfamiliar, I break these recaps into The Good (what I liked), The Bad (what I didn’t), and The Ugly (an opportunity to comment upon the show’s more troubling implications).
-Any scene with live music and Antoine Batiste (played by Wendell Pierce, whom you’ll remember from The Wire). You can quibble about the show’s life music (and I will, later), but whether it’s the memorial music at the beginning of the episode (including an inspired “I’ll Fly Away”), the enthusiastic show at the bar, or the memorial parade at the end for Kerwin James (Correction: I had originally written Kerwin Williams, despite having found the video and having the right name in my notes. I both apologize and am an idiot.), Antoine is always around good music. Even his exasperated attempts to coach his high school’s marching band made for good-watching, if only because I’m desperately hoping there’s a scene upcoming in which he’s got that band into marching form. (I know what hoping’s worth with David Simon’s work, but a man can dream.)
-Antoine also stole the night’s best quotes, both with his own – “I’m no adult, I’m a musician…” – and the police officer’s advice for him – “He might want to oil that squeaky middle finger of his.”
-LaDonna (played by Khandi Alexander) is back at GiGi’s, back in New Orleans, and seemingly back to the woman she was before she was brutally attacked last season. There were hints of this during the last season’s finale, but she’s working shifts and taking no shit from her sister-in-law, a woman she and her husband are rooming with as they try to find a home big enough for their life and his business. LaDonna’s sister loathes her husband’s family being in her house and goes out of her way to make it clear at every opportunity; LaDonna’s finally decides that enough is enough, warning after an umpteenth rebuke over table manners, “Since I’m kin, I’m paying no nevermind about how I’m supposed to do.” Things are presumably going to get worse before they get better.
-Having Albert Lambreaux back was to the good. Having him secretly taking pride in the album he made with his son was to the good. Having him working was to the good. Having his son returning home to a real home that was improving was to the good. Having Albert hacking up a lung at his worksite? That part wasn’t to the good and was, in fact, downright terrifying.
-There are lots of reasons to enjoy David Simon’s shows, but I’d argue that one of things that makes me happiest are the characters that he doesn’t over-expose. If you watched The Wire, you might remember people like Blind Butchie or Serge or Valchek. They’re not necessary characters who got huge moments but they’re characters it’s awfully tough to forget. (Incidentally, I know what’s coming: a list of better occasional characters that I’ve left out.) Treme‘s got the same sort of scene-stealers and “Knock With Me – Rock With Me” brought back two of my favorites: Jacque (Janette’s once sous-chef and current lover/fling/boyfriend) and Desiree (Antoine’s absolutely fantastic wife). Jacque tends to be a quiet man of few words, but whenever he’s around, Janette’s happier; Desiree tends to be a loud woman of wise words, and her constant scolding of Antoine (who always like a child on the receiving end of parental discontent around her) is always designed to make him a better man. Having both back was nice, especially since we don’t know when we’ll see either again.
-There are also the show’s quiet moments. After Terry has a bad visit with his ex-wife – she suggests that her ex-husband is wrong for New Orleans – he comes home to his trailer before going out for dinner. Coming out of the shop with his oyster po-boy, he runs into a man wearing a ridiculous Renaissance Faire type outfit and riding a bicycle covered in Christmas lights. “Don’t ever change,” he says to the man, watching him ride away.
-Before I get into the stories themselves, a (brief) freakout: HBO’s refusal to create a Treme website worth visiting is baffling. If you’re like me, and you can only write so many notes during the show itself, it becomes almost impossible to keep up with the character names. HBO recognized this about The Wire and created the utterly fantastic character page you can see here. The Treme website offers this, which is almost exactly the same cast-list as they offered on the show’s first day (two characters from the second season have been added). As with other sprawling efforts by Simon, Treme is a show with dozens of recurring characters, none of whom I can accurately name, forcing me to write things like, “Uhhh, the formerly abusive drug addict’s girlfriend’s father who owns the fishing boat.” I’m not asking for much here. Just a list of names.
-Annie’s back! She’s the show’s up-and-coming musician, a young woman who has gone from a quiet and shy violinist to a chanteuse now singing before raucous crowds. It’s been an impressive change, and would be more so if caring about the character were any easier. But it’s not. She’s still a mannequin. Her music is still generally uninteresting. Her story remains stale. I get that I’m supposed to be interested in her rise – previews for upcoming episodes hint at an ongoing climb – but I just can’t make myself be interested. Apologies.
-And while I’m being relentlessly negative: having Janette back was fantastic, but she’s still in New York City, and that means we’re still enduring Anthony Bourdain’s tributes to that city’s high-end cooking community. So we have the cameos (Eric Ripert, Tom Colicchio, and David Chang [the best of the bunch as Janette’s boss]), the high-end chefs-only dinners (a bottle of 200-year-old alcohol is served), and the pursuit of Janette, all of which would be fine except that it seems as much about Bourdain’s masturbatory celebration of his own industry as it does about the show itself.
-The show opens with a memorial for a musician, broken up by the police. “There have been complaints,” they say, without providing further explanation, and when the musicians rebel by singing instead of playing, they’re taken to jail but never charged. Antoine is charged, but for the ominous crime of disrespecting an officer. Critics can say what they want about Simon, but nobody making television does a better job of serving up (barely) fictional red-meat for the libertarian crowd. Everywhere throughout his work are reasons to at least distrust police if not outright despise them; Antoine getting arrested for contempt-of-cop is one such example. Elsewhere, Toni’s investigations into police brutality in Katrina’s aftermath continues slowly but surely, as does the presence of a new character, an graduate student (who might have been named Lewis/Louis) who is checking into murders in Algiers. (Reference, perhaps, to this.) At almost every turn, we see a representation of police that isn’t so much positive as it is honest; there is good (as when officers at the end of the episode lead, rather than squelch, a parade) and bad (almost everything else).
-Equally distressing is Nelson’s ability to find the angles for systemic abuse. They’re apparently everywhere if you know where to look, and just as with last season, it takes him no time to figure out how to horn in on somebody else’s racket. It starts with his old friend Robinette, who tells him that there is work to be had with NOAH (New Orleans Affordable Homeownership). Robinette’s confused though, because the work he’s doing is substantive. Nelson smells an opportunity and tracks down the Floridian who seems to be profitting off the scam, which involves promising to repair properties for New Orleanianss, only instead doing an on-the-cheap and predictably substandard job. As before, the losers are the ones footing the bill and the winners are those who have figured out the game. Some things never change.
-Davis is practically impossible to like; whenever he does anything good (like be a decent, supportive human being, both for Annie and for Janette), he’s also comically wrong. His opera seems like a bad idea; so is always objectionable behavior at the radio station. But there are times when he serves a purpose, even if he himself is being a screw-up. Yes, his tour of the city was uninformed and disinterested (“Does anybody have any questionsokaynowwearemovingon,” shtick was particularly irksome, especially when the tourists he was guiding figured out that his command of local history was lacking) but the way in which he showed the city’s refusal even to celebrate its own cultural landmarks was astonishing. How could/can New Orleans abandon so much of what it was that makes the place worth talking about? Buildings are torn down or repurposed without any consideration of what they’d once been. Nelson’s banker friend suggests that he has latched onto a way to “monetize the culture down here” because god-for-f*cking-bid it just be celebrated. Why preserve something genuine when it can be torn town and allegedly recreated in a (probably costly, probably paid-for by somebody else) museum somewhere?
-1500+ words was a bit much. I’ll try to go shorter next week.