Treme usually doles out airtime democratically but some episodes belong more to one character than to others. This week, it’s Sonny at the center of things as the addict/musician turned recovering/addict fisherman turned relapsed drug user/musician wakes up in a state that puts to rest any ambiguity as to whether or not he succumbed to temptation in last week’s episode. Speeding down the street in a truly scary sequence—hats off to director Anthony Hemingway—he recklessly tries to catch Linh’s father Tran’s boat before it leaves, his desperation seemingly fueled by his recognition of what the boat symbolizes. Miss it, and he loses Tran’s trust, and with it, he loses Linh. He already knows what comes next, too, even if he doesn’t know the specific forms his descent will take: booze, coke, and tear-inducing sex with a Bourbon Street stripper.
At the episode’s end—and the final scene of the aptly titled “Careless Love” again proves that Treme knows how to end an episode like no other show—he’s come crawling back, not to Linh but to Tran. Played by Lee Nguyen, Linh’s father began as a mostly comical figure, the stern Vietnamese patriarch who put up a wall of suspicion and protection around his daughter. But the character’s grown richer with each episode this season, and it’s in the final moments that Sonny recognizes he’s the key to avoiding the life of drugs and squalor to which he so easily returns. Life on the boat working for Tran means hard work and order but also discipline and self-respect. There’s nothing all that surprising about the dramatic beats of Sonny’s fall off the wagon and return to the fold, but it’s beautifully played by Michiel Huisman and, however brief his appearance, by Nguyen.
Earlier in the episode, a concerned friend offers some amateur psychoanalysis concerning why Sonny would choose to fuck up his relationship with Linh. To continue that line of thinking, there must be something missing in his life that would lead him to respond so powerfully to a father figure like Tran. Sonny, often detestable in the first season, has become a different sort of character in the second two, one about whom it’s much easier to care. (That he’s not beating up the ever-vulnerable Annie doesn’t hurt.) There’s a lot about him we don’t know, but his behavior suggests it’s not all that pleasant.
It wasn’t just Sonny’s show this week, however. Antoine and Desiree had some fine moments where first one, then both of them come to be concerned about Jennifer, the talented trumpeter who, Antoine discovers this week, cannot read. She’s fallen through the cracks of a system that’s almost rigged against those who need help. Her own school can’t provide special instruction, and she won’t be admitted to a charter school lest she bring down its all-important test scores. Hers is a story of neglect and institutional failure. Desiree’s story—or at least the story of Desiree’s family home—is one of institutional malevolence. That it doesn’t seem improbable that one character could be dealing with two different ways the city can fail its citizens just shows what a great job Treme has done in establishing the difficulty of living in New Orleans. But not everyone takes it. “I need to find a way to fuck these people up the way they did to me,” Desiree vows. It should be interesting to watch her try.
Meanwhile, Davis’ seemingly quixotic attempt to put together his R&B Katrina-themed musical actually seems to be coming together. He doesn’t get Fats Domino—who makes a thrilling cameo, nonetheless—but he does get Irma Thomas. And, as his new songwriting partner Paul Sanchez (best known as a member of Cowboy Mouth) notes, it sounds pretty good, like something people might want to hear and not just listen to indulgently out of goodwill for Davis. (Davis’ station boss is out of goodwill, at least for now. I honestly could watch a show that’s just those two fighting.)
It’s Albert, of course, who’s facing the greatest struggle, although he delays his chemo until after Mardi Gras. He refuses to miss the event that most defines him, and, it’s suggested at least a little this week, he would miss hanging out with LaDonna. I’m not sure where that subplot is going, but I love watching Khandi Alexander and Clarke Peters play against each other. Those are two tough characters who recognize how much they have in common without needing to say it out loud, and it’s compelling just to watch them share space. But then watching compelling characters share space is at the heart of what makes the show work.
- Other plots continue apace. LP and Toni reach a breakthrough to two cases at once when they talk to an out-of-town coroner who confirms their suspicions. Meanwhile, Sofia grows disenchanted with her beau, who doesn’t put her safety and well-being above the need to light up, drive around, and check out the ruins of Six Flags New Orleans. (Don’t skip on clicking that link.) Her rebelliousness ends with older men, though that particular strand of rebelliousness looks like it may wrap itself around the metal-loving LP. Or maybe not. Like Albert and LaDonna, their pairing doesn’t seem quite right (and sure to cause trouble). But the possibility is there.
- Janette’s initiation into corporate restaurant life doesn’t look to have too many upsides yet, does it? She looks uncomfortable on camera and seems to feel guilty about leaving New Orleans and exploiting Katrina to promote her restaurant. On the other hand, Tim’s not wrong: Walk-in traffic will not fill that space. So it’s show time, though it remains unclear whether she’ll whither under the lights.
- Squandered Heritage is a real site.
- Just a reminder that you should always read Times-Picayune reporter Dave Walker’s “Treme Explained” columns.
- Let’s go out with some Fats this week: