“When the time comes, you can let that rip,” Antoine tells Jennifer, one of his students, after she throws some improvisation into a marching-band routine. It’s not the moment for riffing, no matter how good the riff. It’s a small moment, but one that speaks to one of the show’s larger themes: the tension between the characters’ needs to act on their feelings in a search for happiness and the need to act in unison for the greater good of the community. There’s a time to solo and a time to play along, and sometimes, not everyone recognizes which is which.
Other times, characters confuse acting on their own self interest with acting for the good of all or end up doing good for others while behaving selfishly. That’s part of what makes Nelson such a compelling character. This week, he stops an unscrupulous contractor from absconding with ill-gotten funds from NOAH (New Orleans Affordable Homeownership). That detail, incidentally, is taken from fact, like so much of the show. Is it a spoiler to note that NOAH was eventually shut down? It seems like an element likely to figure into the plot, and it seems like a sub-plot likely to test Nelson’s scruples, such as they are and his professed commitment to rebuilding New Orleans while lining his own pockets.
Nelson's is just one plot that really gets rolling this week as Treme’s third season starts to establish a few storylines that look to carry the series through the whole season. Some are understated: Sonny begins the episode in a state of sexual frustration, his relationship with Lynn still unconsummated under her father’s watchful eye. He ends it playing with a band. While that seems like an innocent-enough development, two seasons of watching Sonny suggest he can’t really handle the lifestyle of a working musician in New Orleans.
Other plotlines have a greater sense of urgency. L.P. (a new character played by Chris Coy and inspired by investigative journalist A.C. Thompson) is slowly piecing together the events of a shooting that took place in the wake of Katrina, one with far-reaching implications for the city and its police, and one that provides another example of how quickly the butterfly effect plays out in New Orleans, with one incident fanning out and touching many. He’s just discovering the first flutters now, but the real case, and Thompson’s article, created shockwaves. (Thompson is serving as a consultant on this season, incidentally.)
Across town, Terry has a murder mystery on his hands. Someone has killed a hair stylist—and a friend of Toni’s, glimpsed in last week’s episode—and left him to burn in a house that never ignited. As far as I know, this story has no real-life basis (please correct me if I’m wrong), and unlike the NOAH and police cover-up storylines, it could go anywhere. Currently it plays like a more conventional mystery dropped in the middle of a show that doesn’t have a lot of use for convention, but that could change. (Simon, after all, cautioned those of us who write about his shows on a week-to-week basis to consider the big picture. So consider it considered…)
Meanwhile, Davis and Annie continue their musical pursuits. Davis’ still remains mostly in the talk-about-it-all-the-time-without-producing-anything phase, a phase that includes discussing it with John Bouté, who provides Treme with its theme song. (His is one of the stiffer musician cameos the show has had so far.) Annie, meanwhile, wants a manager. And she’s even found one she mostly trusts. He even only “kind of not really” seems like he wants to sleep with her, and that’s a plus. As a couple, they seem more together than ever, but professionally, they might soon be running in opposite directions. Annie’s taking steps to go pro. And while Davis is at least able to get Clarence “Frogman” Henry into his home, he remains resolutely a scrappy amateur. Annie wouldn’t be on the path she’s on without Davis, but it’s not a path he’ll likely be able to follow.
Annie’s decision to step up to the plate mirrors a choice Janette’s about to make, too. She is pushed in all directions toward Sam Robards’ Tim, who wants to give her her own restaurant, one that could be the jewel in the crown of an otherwise undistinguished empire. “I own a lot of restaurants. Restaurants you’d never go to and wouldn’t like if you did,” he tells her. “But they’re successful.” It seems like an offer she cannot refuse: A chance to return to New Orleans and run a restaurant as she wants it run but without the financial pressure of a place she owns. So why does she have to be pushed by David Chang even to check it out? New York may be alien, but it’s safe. She has work there, and good work, too. It’s a tough town but she’s carved out a niche. And, unlike New Orleans, it’s not the kind of place where storms and their aftermath can sweep away years of hard work with little warning. She may miss New Orleans, but it also terrifies her.
She’s experienced none of the horrific violence LaDonna encountered last season, but she’s experiencing some of the same feelings that kept LaDonna away. For whatever else it is, it's also a site of potential catastophe. It’s not like returning is easy, either. For LaDonna, it means eating a constant diet of criticism and condescension from her sister-in-law. She only ever seems happy in her bar—where she’s a got a new friend to chat with in the form of Nelson—and when she’s not there she drinks as if she was. Her boys seem oblivious to it, even taking to their posh new surroundings. One even wants to be a DJ, despite his father’s offer to teach him a more traditional instrument. They haven’t had the conversation yet, but there’s no way LaDonna and Antoine aren’t on the same page about getting them the hell out of the gated suburbs and back to a real place.
Until then, Antoine has his students and some lessons to impart about how there’s a time to solo and a time to play in unison. It’s a lesson echoed at episode’s end by Delmond as he at first struggles to, then succeeds in, leading an tribal meeting. Like Janette, he’s found a home for himself away from home, a place to solo and shine. But something keeps drawing him back into the fold.
- Albert’s health situation sounds like it could be worse, and it sounds quite treatable if he lives the way he’s instructed. That’s not something he’s proved good at doing, though.
- Eric Overmeyer wrote this week’s episode, and the good folks at HBO have invited me to tell A.V. Club readers that Overmeyer will be doing a live Q&A Monday, October 1, at 4 p.m. ET at this website.
- “It’s just like high school.” “It’s not like high school in Amsterdam.” Funny exchange. And one that suggests Lynn has had some time away from her father, as does her response to Sonny’s advances.
- Speaking of high school and love, no Sofia developments this week.