Treme has advanced its characters’ plots steadily throughout its third season, but this year’s Mardi Gras episode is largely a break in the action. Sure, there are some developments, which we’ll talk about below. But for all the celebrating going on in “Promised Land,” the pace slows to a crawl. That’s not a complaint. Like Mardi Gras, it’s an episode that takes place in the time between times and it captures that spirit of abandon and the reflectiveness that stepping away from everyday life allows.
My favorite shot in the episode, the second Treme installment to be helmed by Tim Robbins, is one in which two characters’ lives quietly intersect without either of them noticing it. Sofia couldn’t bring herself to go down to the river and scatter her father’s ashes last year, but she’s there this year, watching others do it as if to make up for the chance she missed. She’s kept in the background throughout the scene, but she’s impossible to miss as Annie and Harley’s sister pay tribute to him by sending him down the river. It’s a beautifully staged sequence, and the episode nicely captures the contrast between where Sofia and Annie were last year and where they are now. Sofia’s grown out of her reckless youth stage and Annie’s barely in town, kept busy by her burgeoning music career. This, however, she can’t miss.
Otherwise, she’s barely there, spending most of Mardi Gras playing to a chatty Washington, D.C. crowd at an event offering a theme park approximation of New Orleans culture. (The food looks good, though.) Even the Neville Brothers, playing a moving rendition of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927” can’t get their attention. In her heart, Annie has become a New Orleanian, but now she seems to be in the business of selling the idea of New Orleans, and a vision of a city wounded but unbowed by Katrina, to the rest of the country. The show—which could be said to be in something of the same business—hasn’t faulted her for it yet. But there’s clearly tension building between the artistic integrity she’s cultivated and the demands of the industry. For now she’s making it work, but the fancy suite she’s been given doesn’t inspire her to write the songs her manager says she should be writing.
There’s trouble at home, too, even if she doesn’t know it yet. Davis and Janette, who previously seemed to have settled into a nice, companionable friendship, hook up this week, insisting it’s no big deal even as they both seem to recognize that it’s a bad idea. Will it be no big deal? Or will it be like Antoine and LaDonna’s tryst: a true one-night stand never spoken of again? Janette seems like the type who could forget it but Davis is another matter. In spite of his glib persona, he’s dogged by his failures, personal and professional. This may not end well.
It may be a professional failure, or at least a setback, that drives him into Janette’s arms in the first place. After insisting he sing on the R&B Katrina opera, he’s given the thumbs down from both his aunt and his producer friend Don Bartholomew. He appeals to a higher court by insisting Don bring in his father, Dave Bartholomew, for a second opinion. Dave Bartholomew is one of the architects of New Orleans R&B, a man who co-wrote many of Fats Domino’s songs and who worked with everyone who was anyone. That includes Cosimo Matassa, owner of the J&M Recording Studio (located in what’s now a Laundromat, as we’ve seen a couple of times this season), who also shows up to pass judgment. More thumbs down. For Davis, being rejected by a jury of R&B elders has to sting.
Mardi Gras is, of course, a big day for Albert, and one of the great pleasures of this episode comes from the scenes in which we see the Mardi Gras Indian culture in action—after spending much of the season watching all the sewing and stitching, here’s the Big Chief and the Guardians Of The Flame. It’s not the first time Treme has shown this, but the episode dwells on the details, as if conveying the mindset of Albert and Del, both of whom know this might be the former’s last go-around. That’s the thing about traditions: They give order to life, but in time they have to go on without you.
- The film Delmond and his family watch, Trouble The Water, is real—and so is the couple behind it. Tia Lessin and Carl Deal were stranded in the Ninth Ward and filmed what they saw; their documentary played to a receptive audience at Sundance in 2008 and in theaters later that year. Here it provides another example, like Annie’s songs, of how portrayals of Katrina have started to find their way back to the city.
- Toni finally meets Sofia’s boyfriend, only to find out he’s now her ex-boyfriend, and that it’s Sofia who did the dismissing. Later, Sofia’s none-too-pleased to learn the L.P. tipped Toni off but that mostly seems because she’d hoped to move on to another older man: L.P. Toni might be right about her bringing a need for a father into her romantic life. Or maybe, as Sofia seems to feel, she has gotten too old to be treated like a child.
- Terry gets the best line of the night: “I’ve come to believe that there’s a big difference between vice and sin. New Orleans gets it. The rest of the world…” New Orleans doesn’t get, on the other hand, what police are supposed to do and there may be a reckoning for that coming.
- Janette gets a taste of celebrity, and its consequences, first by talking to Emeril Lagasse—who seems… okay with his choices even as he points her toward an example of a purer way of making a living cooking—then by an appearance on the Today show that doesn’t go so well. Can she do this? At this point she has no choice but to try.
- Anthony Anderson shows up again as Janette’s favorite waiter. It seems late in the season for a major addition to the cast—though we previously saw him acting in Godot—but he looks as if he’ll fit right in.
- Then again, sadly, there aren’t that many episodes left.
- Note the guy in the Obama shirt. Barack Obama’s presidential run has gone from background noise to a topic of conversation over the course of the season. That Obama’s ascendancy seemed so unlikely—and then suddenly less likely—in 2008 alone makes it seem like this season takes place a long time ago.
- Antoine’s interest in learning bop is unexpected. He seems inspired to learn by teaching.
- Let’s go out with a track on which Dave Bartholomew took center stage as a performer: