Hello. Keith Phipps sitting in for Scott Tobias this week, who’s off attending a party limited to musicians and beautiful women. He picked a hell of an episode to leave me with, too. The Wire always packed a lot of incident into each season’s penultimate episode, a writing slot traditionally handed to the great crime novelist George Pelecanos, who takes those duties here. The Wire also tended to use these episodes to bring every plot strand to the brink of conclusion, if not wrap it up. But Treme—as everyone has noticed by now, I’m sure—isn’t The Wire. It’s less about plots than the way lives bump up against one another in a richly detailed environment in a troubled time. The sorts of stories Treme tells don’t lend themselves to conclusions quite as easily as crime stories. Or, put another way, “There is no closure in life. Not really.” But sometimes there are endings. (Spoilers follow right away, so any casual readers might want to come back in a bit.)
I had a feeling John Goodman’s Creighton Bernette wouldn’t make it out of the season alive when I learned he was inspired by a real-life New Orleanian professor and blogger named Ashley Morris who died in 2008. I’m unclear on the cause of Morris’ death or any relation it might have had to post-Katrina depression, but as the season progressed it became clear that Creighton wasn’t doing well. [Update: Found Morris' obituary here. He died in his sleep.] Creighton was, to use an unavoidable choice of words, sinking. His anger had changed from red to black. Even Mardi Gras gave him no pleasure and he started to think of New Orleans’ future as a postscript to the real history that had come before. And his novel? It wasn’t going anywhere either.
Yet as convinced as I had become that Creighton would die, I wasn’t sure he’d commit suicide until this episode’s second classroom scene, as he waxed rhapsodic about the finale of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. “The ending of the book is not the end,” he says. “It is a transition.” After a day experiencing New Orleans for the last time, and enjoying a first cigarette after a long stretch of abstaining, he follows the example of Chopin’s heroine and drowns himself. (The sequence seemed inspired at least in part by Spalding Gray’s suicide.)
I don’t want to make light Creighton’s suicide in any way, but it seems like the act of a man who's forgotten he’s not the protagonist of a novel. He leaves behind not just the city he loves after supping in its pleasures one last time, but a wife and daughter who will be devastated by his choice. However much his death would work narratively were he to write it for himself as a character, he’s in an ensemble piece, not a solo act. Suicide is an inherently selfish act and, this deep in the season, I felt like I knew Creighton's family well enough to be offended by his choice.
But in the logic of the show, he had to die. As the season progressed, Creighton’s bottomless anger has seemed less and less like the voice of Treme, which is ultimately more about the hard work of renewal than the inviting trap of despair. Creighton couldn’t see a future beyond the tragedy of Katrina and the quagmire of its aftermath. He contrasts sharply with Albert, indefatigable in the face of police harassment as he sews away on a costume for St. Joseph’s Night, a celebration that will have to make up for his missing Mardi Gras. “Every year we’re working on a better vision,” he says. And the year after the devastation should be no exception.
Davis proves just as committed to staying put and living well, throwing a party strictly for musicians and attractive women (or, in the invited-but-absent Annie’s case, both). It’s a typically self-serving gesture that, just as typically, accidentally leads to a fun occasion and some wonderful music, particularly an impromptu performance of the Irma Thomas classic that lends its name to the title with vocals by a woman who could double as a blonde Winehouse. LaDonna’s moving on as well, fixing up her family crypt before she lays her brother to rest and watching as her bar gets repaired by a Texan with a work ethic. (And I know grief and depression don’t work this way, but if anyone had reason to despair, it’s LaDonna.)
Yet for some, the future might not include New Orleans. Having already lost her restaurant, Janette loses her patience with her life as a guerilla chef when a storm wipes out her Bachanal celebration. Will Davis’ pep talk change anything? It certainly made me want to move to New Orleans (and not for the first time in this series, either.) Then there’s Annie, cast out and adrift. Gigging where she can find gigs and sleeping where she can find couches. Yet she’s still carrying on.
• Music and food. Food and music. So much of New Orleans’ identity is wrapped up in both and the two so tied together, especially in the middle parts of this episode. This show never fails to make me hungry for both.
• I’m not sure where Davis’ gay neighbors fit into this hotties and horn-blowers scheme, but their new friendship is a pretty charming development.
• Last week at least offered some shading to Sonny, who we learned really did rescue folks from the flood. Yet if the show wanted to make him anything but generally detestable, it failed this week.
• Simply pointing out cuteness: Antoine’s kid and the barbecue bottle.
• Antoine and LaDonna: just “a Mardi Gras fuck”? It certainly appears that way. They appear more companionable than ever, but the sexual tension building all season has dissipated, as if it were something that needed to happen and, having happened, need never happened again. (Reminds me of a short story I read once called “The Storm.” Who wrote that one again?)