So what’s going on with Albert? That seems like a reasonable question to start with, since it’s the first question raised by “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky” We see him doing the fine work restoring a stately, flood-damaged home and doing it well as he listens to Del’s appearance on WWOZ. But when Del starts to play, following a touching dedication to his father, Albert decides to call it a day, packing up and going home as the song continues to play without acknowledging to his co-workers that he’s the subject of that talented trumpeter’s dedication. As he walks off, the music fades away.
His troubling behavior doesn’t end there. Later, he looks glum frying a turkey for Thanksgiving, then turns in early, well before the rest of the family. Later still, he fails to show up for Indian practice, despite Del letting him know, via back channels, that he’ll be there. That’s the most disturbing development of all. Albert simply never neglects any of his Indian duties. It’s a startling choice, one that signals one of the most indefatigable characters of the first season—the man who stood down the police and, in the first episode, donned his Indian costume to act as a kind of animating spirit to a neighborhood on a brink of disappearing—has practically given up. There are a few obvious reasons why: No longer able to sleep in the bar, he has to face the reality of a ruined home and an insurance pay out that won’t even begin to cover his losses. But I wonder if he would have gotten to this place eventually anyway and if the spiritual adrenaline that kept him running throughout Treme’s season didn’t have to empty out into some kind of crash.
We’re now 15 months after the storm, and the consequences keep rolling in. Tim Robbins directed the episode. Robbins hasn’t directed a feature film since the ambitious, troubled, largely ignored Cradle Will Rock in 1999, focusing instead on theater and the occasional television project, but he brings a nice, cinematic quality to this episode, particular the Thanksgiving montage. Taking a familiar, let’s-use-a-song-to-accompany-images-that-establish-where-all-our-characters-are approach, the scene doesn’t break new ground in the use of montage on TV. But it’s a beautifully done sequence that captures where everyone is at a moment set aside to put their troubles at rest. Some can. Most can’t, at least for very long.
The song playing over it is “Everything I Do Gon’ Be Funky,” which also lends its name to the episode. An Allen Toussaint composition made famous by Lee Dorsey, it appears here in a version recorded by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band with Dr. John. As much as I love Dorsey’s version, this insinuating interpretation finds layers of meaning beneath the obvious. Funky can mean finding a cool groove and living in it. But “funky” can also describe something once good that’s gone off, and “funk” can mean depression. Katrina provided these characters with their “from now on” moment, the point after which nothing will ever be the same. Now, it’s a question of what version of funky their lives will be.
That’s not always up to them. One of the most devastating images of the episode—of the series, really—comes shortly after that montage, when LaDonna and her family lead her mother away from her home for the last time. It’s short and virtually wordless, but it captures the finality of the moment. (And it’s made all the more effective by being positioned after the energy of Davis and his aunt’s trip to the bounce club; more on that shortly.) Things have changed. Maybe for Albert, that’s just finally starting to sink in after living through a period of shock in the immediate aftermath of the storm. But it’s not just Albert who’s starting to realize it. Antoine has a conversation with a friend moments after he’s gotten robbed. He’s now starting to realize that street crime has mutated into a newer, more dangerous form. Toni watches as her sweet daughter turns into a glum teenager prone to staying out late without warning and staring glumly at a piece of pie.
On the latter point: I’m not sure the show knows what to do yet with Sofia, whose teen angst looks a bit by the book. But Melissa Leo plays against it beautifully, capturing the terror of coming home—not long after losing her husband—to an empty house. She knows how easily things can slip away. She’d know it even without her own loss, having now become a reluctant specialist in missing persons and unexplained deaths. This week, she takes on the case of a New Orleans transplant reported to have been “killed by other looters.” But the story doesn’t quite make sense. In fact, most of the stories of looters after the storm don’t quite add up. Lietenant Colson, Toni’s uneasy ally on the police force could probably tell her why. He knows there were shoot-to-kill orders given to deal with looters, even if the official story now no longer acknowledges those orders. The police want to rewrite the recent past, but the past is proving difficult to wash away.
Other strands of this season concern a different question: Who will write the future? It might be a man like Nelson, who wants to rebuild the city and grow rich in the process. He’s got the charm and the connections, including a magic card that secures contracts seemingly nobody else can nab. Then there’s the question of New Orleans music: For Davis’ station supervisor, it means largely sticking with the tried-and-true. Not necessarily old artists but definitely sticking with established styles. That means no bounce. Or at least not as much bounce as Davis wants to play. But, as evidenced by Davis and his aunt’s club outing, bounce is giving the city a yet another music style to call its own, one that’s vital and growing, even if it does focus heavily on bouncing asses.
Meanwhile in New York, Janette still tries to find out where she fits in, both professionally and personally. She picks up guys of low character—that’s the polite term for someone who robs you after a one-night stand—and is angered by a GQ hit piece on New Orleans cuisine. (That’s a real Alan Richman piece from 2006, by the way, and the excerpts Janette’s co-worker reads aloud aren’t even the meanest parts or most tone deaf bits. To wit: “During my time in New Orleans, I sought to keep some perspective. For example, when the sommelier at August brought me an incorrect vintage of the wine I’d ordered, I tried not to be too distressed, knowing that somewhere in the Lower Ninth Ward a house was sitting atop a car.” Ha?) That from-afar anger is the only thing that makes Janette feel as if she’s part of the rest of the show at this point, but I like the show she is in. Victor Slezak’s brilliant as her demanding/crazy boss, and their scenes together have a terrific tension. She’s terrified of him. But she’s also learning. Also, one of her stoner-chef roommates is played by James Ransone, best known as Ziggy from The Wire.
Finally, Antoine starts to get the urge to play, and sing, some soul music some “Muscle Shoals/Stax stuff,” as a potential recruit puts it. And on the Annie/Sonny front—I still think of their stories as matched, even though they’ve gone separate ways—Annie meets, and hits it off, with Davis’ family and Sonny gets robbed and gets one of the best moments of the episode, when he hears a kid playing Professor Longhair on a keyboard and has to admit to himself silently he’ll never be as good.
So, all-in-all, another solid outing. But this season is taking a while to gear up, isn’t it? I know that’s the standard complaint, so I’m a bit reluctant to make it myself. Frankly, I’m happy to get a chance to hang out in its New Orleans each week, so I won’t make it. But some weeks, I can see where those who do are coming from.
- Colson’s break down of how the rules don’t quite apply on Bourbon Street was an interesting peek into an instance of a legal gray area that works for both law enforcement and those who feel the need to bend the law a bit.
- Wild Tchoupitoulas recorded only one album, but it’s an esteemed mix of Mardi Gras Indian music and New Orleans funk. (Some help from a pair of Neville brothers helps on that front.) It's worth having at least one copy of that album.
- Anyone else starting to think Annie and Davis might be a little too cute together?
- “Why hire one of me when you can get two of them for the same price?” The school scenes provide another instance of this season addressing the question of how to rebuild New Orleans, who will do the rebuilding, and what it will look like when it’s done. Teach For America means well, of course. But will its good intentions have consequences?
- “My family is… dystopic.”
- What’s Green Dot? Here’s a recent article on the issue.
- New Orleans’ Clarence “Frogman” Henry sings us out with his most famous hit, and an apt one for this episode: “Ain’t Got No Home.” (Though it makes him sound like a novelty artist, his greatest hits collection reveals him as a talented, charismatic singer who just happens to be able to sing like a frog.)