Treme, Season 3, Episode 9, “Poor Man’s Paradise”
I’ve argued through my recaps this season that we’re seeing a very defined cleavage between the behavior of the show’s white characters and the behavior of the show’s non-white characters. I have spent the season confused if these differences were intentional; after tonight’s episode – in which at least three of the show’s white characters (Janette, Davis, and Toni) behave abhorrently – I’m starting to suspect that this is intentional. But are we meant to take from it?
-After a few weeks of struggling with his own music, and after absorbing last week’s rejoinder from Desiree (“I don’t think you’re gonna be happy getting good at something you don’t love.”), Antoine sits in with Lionel Ferbose, taking one of his students along for the show. Afterwards, they sit and talk, and Antoine asks if there’s one thing they should know about the world, and Ferbos replies, “There’s a lot to be said for doing one thing right.” Later, Antoine goes to see his young student play at church. She plays the intro to “I’ll Fly Away,” a song the show has used repeatedly and to great effect. Tonight’s usage was no different. The smile on his face – the pride – was stunning. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe teaching was that one right thing.
It’s that sort of thing that keeps me coming back to Treme.
-Albert continues to his adjustment to cancer and chemo in the least healthy manner imaginable: by acting as if nothing is happening. Delmond arrives at the homestead to find his father looking exhausted before he heads out to a day of plastering. It’s a one day job, but there are signs that the chemo’s influence has begun, including the patches of hair missing from Albert’s head. Delmond tries to dissuade him with a check for $20,000 – a payoff of sorts to endorse the proposed jazz center – but Albert can’t be dissuaded. Later, at his second chemo session, he is chastened by a visit from LaDonna. Although he recognizes something is wrong, he doesn’t pursue the issue.
-What’s wrong for LaDonna is that her bar has finally been burned down. The weeks of threats have culminated in a depressingly predictable outcome. Although subsequent shots showed LaDonna’s troubled reaction to the arson, the first captured her looking almost relieved that her bar was gone. That passed though, and the previews for next week’s episode suggest an effort to rebuild.
-Terry Colson’s investigation into his own police department hits a significant snag after his partner-for-the-day Serpicos him, sending him into an investigation without back up. He is attacked and beaten. He later asks for a transfer and is rebuffed after confirming to his commander that he has spoken to the FBI on several occasions. His commander tells him to take the consequences or walk away. David Simon’s shows always have a habit of excellently portraying everything that can go horribly wrong with bureaucracy. Toni visits later, bringing beer, and he’s able to laugh off what has happened.
-I’ll keep this as brief as I can, not because there isn’t more to write, but because thinking too seriously about this is frustrating beyond words.
-Davis spent the first three quarters of the season pursuing his operatic dreams, creating an album that was supposed to provide an opportunity for the city’s older musicians to finally get something for their decades of hard work. As viewers, we were forced to tolerate Davis’s behavior, as it gave us access to some of these musicians, including Fats Domino. Fine. But tonight, Davis scraps the entire project after receiving the sampler. It isn’t up to his exacting standards, and by exacting standards, I mean that it isn’t sufficiently about him for his tastes. Those musicians he says he cared so much? Their time was wasted and they’ll get nothing for their work. Davis then spends the rest of the episode getting drunk and getting high, and why wouldn’t he? He’s a spoiled child whose worldview extends no farther than his own immediate needs. Later, he tanks Annie’s recording session by proposing that he can do a better job mixing music than the producer who has been paid to do the work. At the end of the episode, Annie leaves, and it seems clear that she is unlikely to return.
-If Davis’s behavior was that of a spoiled toddler’s, Janette’s is downright absurd. She’s upset that her restaurant is hugely popular and that one of her recipe’s is doubly so. She says inexplicably, “I didn’t sign up for this.” For what exactly? For success? For popularity? For adoration? You’ll excuse me if I have no interest in the inexplicable whining of a character who really ought to know better; she lost her own restaurant to the storm, so the idea that we’d accept that she didn’t sign up for having a better experience is as laughable as it is stupid.
-And then there’s Toni, who decides that her case against Officer Wilson can’t go forward because the New Orleans Police Department has attempted to intimidate her family as revenge. When the man who went out on a limb to get her stories blows up at her, “But that’s what they’re doing to us every day!” there was nothing else that needed to be said. Later, Toni takes a file on Colson to the FBI, alleging misconduct, and the agent wonders aloud if she actually believes she’s the only person wearing a white hat in the city (the alleged misconduct was actually Colson’s own investigation into NOPD, the same one he ended up taking a serious beating for at the beginning of the episode). So, to recap: Toni jumps ship at the first sign of trouble after asking her witnesses to risk their own well-being for her and then she tries to turn one of the only officers in the city doing his job into a conspiratorial criminal.
-Annie insists, barely, that Harley get credit for his song. Great. Then she sings it again and it is the most boring performance in the history of music. Well done.
-Seriously, what are fans of this show supposed to take away from an episode like tonight’s? Is it that the city’s white people can’t help but think that their own challenges are in fact crises? Is it that the city’s non-white characters stay strong and carry on, no matter how awful things get? Albert’s got cancer; LaDonna has been sexually assaulted and then had her business literally burned; Desiree’s mother lost her home to an out-of-control bureaucracy; Antoine has been arrested; each of them puts their head down and faces the world again tomorrow. Meanwhile, Davis doesn’t have his own name pasted on everything; Janette’s a bit too successful; Toni’s daughter got some of the police department’s blowback; each of them either quits or proposes to quit.
In the first season, Creighton committed suicide, an inexplicable and tragic act. If you knew the man that the storyline was based on, I can understand it being devastating to watch, but if you didn’t? Then it looked like Creighton’s meltdown about his own situation was writ large what is happening with many of the show’s white characters this season: minor inconveniences are turned into historic crises, all without even the faintest hint of shame at such plainly self-centered behavior. What, in other words, do any of these characters have to complain about? And why on Earth should I care?