Treme, Season 3, Episode 5, “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say”
Tonight’s introduction on Treme was heartbreaking. Desiree’s mother’s house was torn down by the city. It was on two lists: one for rehabilitation, one for demolition. Nobody could tell her how it ended up on either. But now it’s gone and all that’s left is the empty lot. Antoine tried to see it as a positive but Desiree knew that the land was now functionally worthless. All that was left was figuring out how to tell her mother that her home was gone. This pain would be revisited throughout this week’s Christmas themed episode.
-Albert again shined this week. His meeting with other chiefs -- including Chief Howard Miller from Creole Wild West and Chief Doucette from the Flaming Arrow Warriors -- at the beading/craft store was superlative. There’s no apparent hostility between the groups, save the sort of boasting jocularity that old men share. At other times though, he more serious. He lectures his family about this Christmas not being his last, “This is not my last Christmas dinner. Next year, I’ll cook. Understand?” But the most heartbreaking scene came after being pepper-sprayed, when he seemed like a broken man disinterest in the fight against officials who seems to have rightfully figured out as standing collectively against him and his city.
-Davis McAlary, usually a drag on the show, captures the mood running throughout, “This is New Orleans. We just let it all got to hell. Preservation through neglect.” His fight with his parents was also welcome. Unlike both Sonny and Annie (whom you can predictably find in The Bad), Davis delivers occasionally.
-Delmond’s caught between a rock and a hard-place: he can believe in the developers or believe in his father. His CD is forcing the issue, as he seems like a logical bridge between the city’s traditions and its possible path forward. The developers know that; that’s why they’re so anxious to get him and Albert to sign on as cultural attachees for their Jazz Center. It’s an abyss that multiple characters are staring into.
-LaDonna’s brother-in-law asks them to come for Christmas Dinner. It is a peace offering. LaDonna’s refusal -- she invites the entire family to a closed Gigi’s -- falls predictably on deaf ears. It is hard to imagine there being any sort of thaw between LaDonna and her sister-in-law, save some sort of unifying tragedy. If that thaw never occurs though, and all we have to show for it is Ladonna’s barely passive aggression toward that side of her family, we as viewers will benefit to a remarkable degree.
-Antoine loves Desiree. Antoine cheats on Desiree. Antoine loves Desiree. I damn the writers for making me forgive him time after time after time. His attempts to make Desiree happy after she’d seen her mother’s home turned down were…cute? Is that the word? Adorable perhaps. So to was his dancing with his classroom kids. Whether or not they were learning anything is probably beside the pointing. Dancing with your teacher is probably education enough.
-The police abuse of Toni and Sofia continues unabated, with continued police intimidation of both, particularly Sofia. The episode’s final shot -- in which a policeman comes to the door to tell Toni that somebody (he himself, in fact) had smashed her windshield -- was as to-the-point as the show can get. Who else was Toni supposed to believed had committed the crime?
-Finally, there’s Nelson. His ability to smell a rat is astounding; he recognizes that the 7-0 City Council vote to destroy some of the city’s public housing is proof positive of a conspiracy within the city government. His developer friend doesn’t seem interested in letting Nelson back into the fold -- he is, after all, an outsider -- but it seems easy enough to reason that we haven’t seen the last of Nelson’s scheming, especially given how quickly he got into the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership program.
-Remember how Sonny is addicted to something? Remember how his musician friend took him to the Vietnamese to get himself sorted out? Remember how we spent the end of last season and the first four episodes of this season accepting the fact that Sonny might have finally turned a corner? You do? Well that’s impressive. I’m constantly trying to forget the guy. But anyway, all of that progress we hadn’t really invested in because we never really cared much about the character is gone: he’s back on something. Drugs? Gambling? It was hard to tell, but he went off to do something with somebody instead of meeting his girlfriend’s grandmother, a “…real honor!” according to his musician friend. It came completely out of left field without any build-up or preparation; it was just a plot pivot for the sake of a plot pivot.
-Annie’s parents came to town, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re worried about their classically trained daughter, they’re worried about her living arrangements with Davis, they’re worried about everything and yet…and yet…they’re taken with the city and their taken with their daughter’s music and really, everything’s fine, so that’s ten minutes of your live you’ll never get back at the end. Also, her mom was played by Isabella Rossellini so, uhh, yay?
-Cooks! They’re like ronin, traveling the countryside, masterless, just waiting for an opportunity. Everything Bourdain rights is hagiography to the profession; I get that. He was a cook. He loves cooks. He wants them lionized. Fine. But David Simon’s depiction of police will always be more pleasing, but it isn’t about creating the myth; it’s about capturing the profession, its goods, its bads, its more-often-than-not in-betweens. That’s where the juice is.
-How else can you describe the New Orleans Police Department pepper-spraying and tasering a crowd of protestors desperate to see housing projects remain open as a means of bringing lost souls back to the city? It’s bad enough that the scenario Albert envisions (a 4-3 vote, all the whites for the demolition, all the blacks against) doesn’t happen; what’s worse is what does. The City Council, controlled by developers and possessed by the idea that the city itself needs to fundamentally change, decides collectively that public housing is the problem. Albert says of the plan, “They’re trying to wash us away. This is their golden opportunity.” Later, Nelson’s banker friend confirms it with his chilling, “We’ve finally have the Philistines on the run.”
What happened to Desiree’s mother’s house is a smaller domino falling in a much larger operation, one designed to change the city’s face, to monetize it in such a way as that all of the city’s bad goes away and that all of the city’s good emerges. But who defines bad and good? At Davis’s house over Christmas dinner, the family fights over who is and isn’t welcome anymore, fights over crime, fights over politicians. Delmond meet with developers who think that surrounding a museum dedicated to Jazz with fencing makes perfect sense; when Delmond says they’re keeping the “Little Louis Armstrong’s out…” it’s almost as if the thought never even occurred to them. This idea thrived throughout the show, even at Janette’s tasting, in which her partner in the restaurant loved the idea of using local sweeteners, not because cooking local is a good idea, but because the restaurant can sell the dishes using it to tourists who want the city’s genuine flavor.
--Dave Walker links to this recap every week. It is greatly appreciated. His own coverage of the show is sublime.