Treme, Season 3, Episode 7, “Promised Land”
Sofia is one of the characters that it often seems as though Treme could do without. After losing her father in the first season, she’s been a very young woman struggling to herself. It’s well-worn territory and the turns her life has taken – victim of abusive police, drug experimenter, dater-of-older-men – have been perfectly acceptable viewing, although nothing more. On tonight’s “Promised Land” though, she was given the opportunity to remember her father. With her mom Toni sleeping off a long night drinking with a judge she needed assistance from, Sofia takes off into the morning to watch the Mardi Gras parades. She targets her father’s favorite, one which ends at the Mississippi where marchers say goodbye to loved ones. She sits apart from the parade (she hadn’t marched) and just watches, saying nothing, looking sad and lonely, quietly reminiscing we assume about her own father. Then Annie butts in; she’s there to say goodbye to Harley, her own musical inspiration, murdered last year in a robbery gone wrong. So we watch that instead, all while this lonely young woman sits speechless in the background.
If Treme has suffered from anything during its brief existence, it is its insistence upon having so many characters, all disparate, all representative of different parts of New Orleans. That’s fine if the characters are compelling, but Treme has labored from the beginning under a brutal dichotomy in which some of the characters are interesting, and some of the characters are Annie and Davis and Sonny.
-While Janette’s behavior elsewhere in the show might have been abhorrent, her ride along with Emeril Lagasse was excellent. One of the show’s downfalls with the restaurant storylines has been Anthony Bourdain‘s insistence upon mythologizing the restaurant business. Despite Bourdain’s one-time “feud” with Lagasse, it seems impossible to leave New Orlean’s most famous chef (currently) out of the show completely, and his role tonight was particularly meaty: he has the task of demythologizing the business for Janette. She wants to know if she’s going astray as she fronts a high-end, high-profile restaurant. Lagasse shows her a small and since closed restaurant that they both agree was a favorite. It did what it was best at; it had a few tables; it was owned by people who cooked until they could cook no more. That’s the mythology. But Lagasse deflates the sentimentality. That place was one way of doing business; what Janette’s doing is another. Lagasse acknowledges that it sometimes isn’t worth it, but his response chastens Janette’s flagging confidence.
-Antoine’s students are better than ever. Anybody who has watched the show long enough to see Antoine begrudgingly take his job as a middle school’s assistant band director must have recognized that we’d soon arrive at a place where they got to perform. And they did. The band marched with pride and skill; Antoine should have been proud. And he was, particularly when stopping to regard a Marine marching band performing in the same parade. One of the kid stares in wonder, “They’re so loose, then they’re so tight.” Antoine reminds him that is precisely what a marching band is: both. Later, his best player (last week’s trumpeter) wounds Antoine’s pride badly but unintentionally; she asks if he’s good enough to play something, and he halting answers that he is before immediately giving in to doubt.
-Albert leads the Guardians of the Flame back into the city’s streets, decked out from head to toe in the most beautiful green, joined by his son Delmond for the first time. Albert continues to work his game on LaDonna – “You a handy man Mr. Lambreaux.” LaDonna tells him, seeing him dressed head to toe for the first time. He responds, “Pretty too.” Unfortunately, the process of marching badly takes it out of him; by the end of the day’s performance, he is dressed in sweat, too weak to take his clothes off, wracked by bad coughing, his cancer worsened as he continues to delay his treatment.
However, the most telling scene weren’t the performances themselves (although they were a spectacle to behold), but rather, an earlier moment in which everybody in the Lambreaux household stops to watch Trouble The Water. Everybody’s affected as the relive those days and weeks but Albert and Delmond both stand and walk back to their work, preparing to engage in their traditions, challenges be damned.
-Hinting at storylines to come, one of LaDonna’s rapists returns to Gigi’s, sitting at the bar, being generally threatening. When confronted, he leaves, but nothing without it becoming painfully clear that we’ll be seeing more of him.
-Sonny got clean. That was good.
-Where to begin? Let’s start with what I just finished on: Sonny’s clean-up. Last episode, we endured him on an inexplicable bender; now, he’s sober again and going to meetings. Although this meeting was at least briefly interesting – the collection of revelers prepared to celebrate Mardi Gras but also pledging to remain sober was great – there’s still the issue of why we did all of this in the first place. There’s no clear reason for Sonny to have relapsed so aggressively. “That’s how addiction works!” is a fair response, but I’m not objecting to the relapse itself so much as the way it was handled in the storyline. We had no hint that Sonny was struggling in the slightest, so when it did arrive, it felt out of the blue, and that was only reinforced by how easily he again abandoned his demon.
-Annie played music in Washington, D.C. She got to play with Aaron Neville, but like every other time the show has abandoned New Orleans itself, I found myself regarding Annie’s appearances as bathroom breaks and not opportunities for anything greater. She is a wasted character whose presence on the show is inexplicable at best and downright awful at worst. There’s so little of the show that it hardly matters but it is baffling that she was kept around at all. (She throws a hissy fit when the man that is paying her to perform expects her to, yknow, perform, as if every manager ought to expect that his artists get a few days to themselves during Mardi Gras.)
-Davis’s petulant rebuke of Mimi and his producer was as uncalled for as it was immature. He can’t sing worth a damn; surely he knows this, given his encyclopedic knowledge of all music ever. It ought to be noticed that Davis doesn’t appear to actually do anything; he’s independently wealthy enough to sit around all day being angry that the world isn’t giving him more. It’s tiresome.
-Although Janette’s trip with Lagasse was sublime, the rest of her episode was off-putting, especially her entirely inexplicable one-off with Davis. The show has hinted at “the Mardi Gras fuck” before, and I certainly won’t pretend like I understand the reference/tradition/whatever, but why go to Davis McAlary when Jacque is available? Who honestly expects anyone to believe that somebody of sound mind and body would choose Davis? Especially with Jacque nearby, but even if he wasn’t. Come on.
-And again, the white people versus the non-white people. Antoine and Desiree go to work at school’s, giving their lives to children. Albert continues to plaster despite having cancer, and then spending long night’s preparing for his role as The Guardians of the Flame’s Big Chief. Delmond too, grinds on music and grinds on preparation. Davis doesn’t do anything; Annie spends her time in coffee shops or on the road; Toni can get judges to buy her drinks and sign her paperwork by flashing a smile; only Sonny seems to do much of anything substantive, and that is a relatively new development. I do not know if this is the show’s intent, but I continue to have serious trouble with the show’s white characters. I don’t understand why I’m supposed to care about them.