Hello, faithful Treme viewers. I’m filling in this week for Keith, who’s still recovering from a second line held in Harley's honor. He’ll be back next week to guide you through the season finale. (Fun fact for full disclosure: I lived in New Orleans for several years, which included Katrina and the first year post-storm, the time covered in the first season of Treme.) So let’s get to this, shall we?
This week’s episode, the penultimate installment of the season, was handled by Eric Overmyer, co-creator and frequent story contributor of the series. The last installment he wrote was “Carnival Time,” the extremely satisfying Mardi Gras episode that succeeded in unifying a series that, at times, seems on the verge of losing control because of the sprawl of the cast of characters. But throughout this season, Overmyer, Simon, and the rest of the writing staff have subtly and eloquently brought these characters together, inter-weaving all these threads. This idea of interconnectedness, that everyone knows everyone, could probably be said for lots of cities, but it’s particularly true of New Orleans. Subtlety has also been in play for several characters this season, and it’s been to the show’s benefit. Sonny, humbled by finally hitting bottom at the end of last season, is beginning to piece things together, and the writers have finally found a way to use him that doesn’t make me want to throttle him every time he opens his mouth. To paraphrase Keith’s point about Sonny’s storyline in “Carnival Time,” if that’s not a sign of success, I don’t know what else is.
But there are others examples: While he remains as boisterous as ever, even Antoine seems more grounded these days, driven to make the Soul Apostles a success and taking young trumpeter Robert under his arm, and, whether through his own volition or—as happened in “Carnival Time”—circumstance, he hasn’t even had the time to step out on Desiree. Even Davis, as eccentric as always, seems to have shown some signs of calming down just a little bit under the auspices of his relationship with Annie.
As these fine-tuned adjustments have been applied, the show has found its rhythm this season, letting the storylines unfold, letting the characters evolve and breathe, and letting the city become a more subtle yet no less important character itself. While still peppered with plenty of amazing musical performances, the way in which the setting has been called out has become far less intrusive. Before the season began, Keith and I were discussing the first season and what really bugged me about it was the way the show seemed to go out of its way to show how “different” New Orleans was, pointing out every quirk and eccentricities to underscore a screaming point of, “Hey, this New Orleans is a real, wacky, crazy place with amazing culture!” Admittedly, part of that may have been my own interpretation as a former resident; it’s pointing out things I already know, so please get the plot moving. This year, the writers—and a hat tip to editing, too—have figured out how to imply that same message but without being too instrusive.
But what of this episode? It begins, appropriately, with a quiet, somber gathering outside the park where Harley was gunned down in the closing moments of last week’s episode. It’s a gorgeous, genuine moment, punctuated by the beautiful performance of “Let The Circle Be Unbroken.” This circle continues later in the episode when Annie unearths some unfinished songs Harley was working on at the time of his death, presenting her with the opportunity to both pay tribute to her mentor and let her flex those songwriting muscles she’s been struggling with. But by episode’s end, Annie is shaken to learn from (presumably) Harley’s sister that Harley wasn’t from Waco, Texas as he always told her but rather from Washington state.
In last week’s recap, Keith said of Harley:
This year, the city itself kills off a character who was no less an embodiment of New Orleans than Creighton. The place may recover from the loss and what it symbolizes, but it won’t quite be the same.
New Orleans is a town of transients and vagabonds, a city that welcomes them with open arms. If the Statue of Liberty were at the port of New Orleans, the famous poem would read, “Give me your drunk, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break free of their past and become someone new.” Treme has shown both the beauty and horror of life in post-Katrina New Orleans, and like any city, there’s always something of a divide between the natives and the transplants (see: Davis' bellyaching about the National Guard last season). But New Orleans is also a place where those with a hunger, a yearning to be something different, to be something more than they already are, can also go (see: Janette, Sonny, and Annie herself) and assimilate to the point that origins don’t matter; you become part of the fabric of the city. Harley was certainly no different; regardless of where he grew up, Harley was a New Orleanian when he died. How Annie processes all this will be interesting, but my best guess is that she reconciles these complex feelings via those unfinished songs.
David Morse’s Colson continues his own reconciling of sorts, struggling to do his new job in homicide while fighting the culture ingrained in the police department. It’s already been well established within the show the struggles the NOPD faced following Katrina, both in handling the city’s crime and incompetence within its own ranks. Simon and Overmyer have done police procedural well before in Homicide and The Wire, so its nice to see them hit on this with the series’ next solid emerging character. And nice job subtly (there’s that word again) working in Harley’s murder into Colson’s scene early in the episode. Next to LaDonna, it seems Colson is experiencing the greatest emotional crisis, struggling with his desire to do what’s right in exposing a potential cover-up while also recognizing the uphill struggle he faces against the corrupted NOPD system and how going against that system adversely affects him.
He’s also dealing with Toni, who isn’t shy about exploiting her unique connection, even as she clearly has some sort of feelings for Colson. But, hey, at least Sofia is showing signs of taking a turn for the better, admitting to actually enjoying work at the coffee shop—or at least its wannabe troubadour eye candy—and turning down some weed, recognizing it as an obstacle as she prepares for her court date.
Poor Davis can’t catch a break. Not only has Lil Calliope’s new song pushed one of Davis’ tracks off his own compilation, but he can’t even keep control of his own jam session when famed local guitarist Alex McMurray just so happens to be walking by and decides to sit in with the band. Davis is also clearly troubled by Annie’s emotional state, and, like his situation with Janette, it’s this emotional depth that continues to keep the character grounded and from becoming too much of a cartoon character, which is what he was dangerously close to becoming early in the series’ run.
LaDonna’s fall continues, anger and bitterness continuing to rise to the surface in the wake of the revelation of her rape to husband Larry. No one is safe from her rage, be it Antoine, with whom she usually has a cordial relationship, her husband, her sons, or her beloved mother, whom she struggled so mightily to protect last season. While this season has focused on the downward emotional spiral for so many characters, LaDonna has borne the brunt of this spiral, physically and emotionally. When she confesses to her therapist that it feels like “the ground has just eroded under my feet” since Katrina, it resonates. LaDonna has the most at stake of any character in the show right now, and when the episode closes with her fiercely delivering the line, “We just outta practice; that’s all” to Larry after a failed attempt to make love, it feels like we’re on the precipice of complete implosion (or explosion, given her fiery temperament).
As for Antoine, he continues to float by. Sure, Wanda quits the band because of his stage antics, his relationship with LaDonna takes a turn south, and Desiree is none-too-pleased to see the young Alison take Wanda’s place in the band, but these all feel like low stakes conflicts for Antoine. After all, he can actually afford to fully pay his cab fare these days (plus a whole dollar for tip), and despite the band's troubles, it keeps getting gigs.
Nelson’s ongoing wheeling and dealing is a secondary storyline but one that is just as important in terms of New Orleans. The "footprint" debate dominated headlines in the city in the months (and years) after the storm. Hell, it’s still a debate as the city continues to rebuld and evolve following the storm. It’s a shame more of this issue hasn’t been addressed, particularly the Broadmoor neighborhood.
There’s not much to say about Albert and Delmond’s story, other than that Dr. John sides with Albert’s insistence on recording in New Orleans and Albert smiles twice. But the slow growth of Albert and Delmond’s relationship is something positive happening in the series. Albert is actually happy with the results of the recording session, a fry cry from the despair he seemed to be mired in just a few episodes ago. This turn-around is rooted in his relationship with Delmond, and that evolution has been handled deftly by the writers, allowing it to unfold at its own pace. Kudos, as well, to Clark Peters and Rob Brown for their acting, particularly Peters who’s carried the load of Albert’s emotional layers well.
As she has most of this season, Janette continues to feel removed from the action, even as she finds success and a new nickname at her current gig. Still, she feels almost too far removed; she doesn’t appear until nearly the halfway mark of the episode. Throughout the season, there have been incidents that tie her back to New Orleans, that bring her back be it emotionally or literally, such as her burgeoning friendship with Delmond. We have to think that Simon has a long-view of her storyline with plans to merge it back with the New Orleans storyline in next week’s finale. Whether it’s through her culinary success (which feels far too soon) or through Jacque’s immigration situation (which feels more plausible), it feels something has to happen that ensconces her once more firmly with the other characters (a torrid relationship with Delmond? No? Too soap opera-y?).
Overall, “That’s What Lovers Do” is a solid episode though not quite as cohesive as some of the recent installments. Still, the series continues to fire on all cylinders, and it feels like the set-ups are there for some good emotional pay-offs in next week’s finale and heading into season three. The whole theme of this year has been the city and its residents reaching the breaking point. Toni reached hers with Sofia, Davis is approaching his with the loss of control, Colson is about to face the same within the NOPD, and LaDonna is at hers. Tempers flare, and the tension has grown tight, so what's left to snap those lines? There are a lot of different paths every character could take through next week's finale, so here's hoping the writers maintain the momentum they've built this season and give us the emotional payoff the season's been moving towards.
- “An oyster boat? That’s like … manual labor.”
- “…One of New Orleans’ sacred institutions.” “It seems like ya’ll have a lot of those.” Truer words, Allison…
- I love Melissa Leo’s performance in the series, which has reached another level as Toni’s become more beaten down. The shot of her fixing her hair in the background when Colson drops by late in the episode is a fantastic touch. If the writers stick to this case-a-season approach with her, the odds she becomes even more involved in the Danzinger Bridge case are pretty high, I think.
- David Morse has been a great addition to the cast, but if Khandi Alexander doesn’t get some sort of award recognition for her performance this year, it’ll be one hell of a travesty. The anger and venom with which she delivers that closing line is the perfect culmination of fear, rage, and confusion that LaDonna’s experienced throughout this season.
- Annie and Sonny’s interaction felt like it had the sole purpose of confirming that, yes, Sonny did indeed rescue people after the flooding with Annie being a surrogate for viewers who were skeptical of Sonny’s claim for much of last season.
- I’m not sure how far ahead the scripts for this season were prepared, but it’ll be interesting to see how much of Simon’s recent involvement and kerfuffle in preservation issues bleeds into Nelson’s story.
- Rumor has it that Jazz Fest will figure prominently in next week’s season finale. I hope that’s the case, because it could make for not only some great plot points but also some fantastic musical performances.
- Can we hurry up and get a solid Saints cameo already? You’re telling me Drew Brees wouldn’t happily pop up? Not like they’ll be playing football soon, anyway.
- Thanks for indulging me this week. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this Gateway to Geekery on New Orleans Brass Bands (my most glaring omission: Free Agents Brass Band), and hopefully some of you had the chance to check out the excellent “Night in Treme” musical tour (I reviewed the Chicago performance here).
- Next week’s episode is titled “Do Whatcha Wanna” after the famous Rebirth Brass Band song, so prepare for the season finale by giving the song a whirl.