Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Treme: “Don’t You Leave Me Here”

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I know I’ve singled this element out for praise before, but I love the way this season of Treme draws graceful parallels between lives that seemingly have nothing to do with one another. This week, it’s between Toni and LaDonna, both of whom are seeking justice for unpunished crimes. The latter faces intimidation from criminals, the former intimidation from cops, but in both cases they’re similar sorts of intimidation: Threatening men showing up just to let their targets know they know where they work and where they live, and they can make both into dangerous places. (That LaDonna also pays out for “safety and permits” deepens the connection between the threats.) Toni’s faced this before, but never quite like this, and never to the point where she feels compelled to send her daughter away. This is a show about New Orleans and characters who love it so much that they don’t take leaving it lightly. For Sofia, leaving is like being sent into exile. Similarly, LaDonna has fought for the length of the show to reunite her family in the city she loves, and now, at the end of that battle, she doesn’t feel she’s safe.

Last week’s Mardi Gras episode saw Toni and L.P. achieving what felt like a triumph and LaDonna largely just enjoying the celebration. This week, it feels like everything they’ve worked toward will be undone. Despite some lighter moments, this is one of the series’ darkest episodes. Even if nothing outright awful happens to anyone, the sense of dread hanging over many of the characters is thick. Dread and disappointment. Davis has seen his R&B-opera dream fulfilled, but it’s not what he expected. Aunt Mimi cheaped out on the packaging—not even allowing room from liner notes, which seem crucial for this sort of endeavor—and the finished product looks and feels lesser than what he imagined it would be. He’s gotten to the finish line and realized it wasn’t enough. Is this the end of the opera? It seems a bit too early to wrap its story up. Then again, Davis has guilt to deal with in addition to disappointment. Even without revealing to Annie that he slept with Janette he can feel her slipping away, and all the unsolicited cups of tea in the world aren’t going to bring her back.

Janette, too, has nearly achieved a major goal and is left wondering if it’s what she really wanted. Her soft launch is a hit, even with New Orleans’ brightest culinary talents—I’m assuming those in the know could name everyone at the table of chefs—and it’s all running smoothly enough, thanks in part to Derek’s skills as a waiter and ability to spot food bloggers. (Anthony Anderson brings a nice comic energy to the show. Kind of too bad he didn’t join the cast sooner.) But is it what she really wants? Kim Dickens gives her the perpetual expression of someone who’s not quite sure.

Back, for a moment, to LaDonna: Once again, Khandi Alexander’s scenes with Clarke Peters’ Albert highlight the episode. LaDonna has become his confidante to the point where he can share his cancer news with her. She’s steady, sympathetic, and unpitying, much like the show. The scenes dealing with Albert’s chemo experience are unsparing and tough to watch, but I appreciate their straightforwardness. Cancer tends to be treated with sensitivity that sometimes crosses over into kitsch. Here, it’s matter of fact: the tedium of the treatment itself, the awfulness of its side effects, and the way cancer patients don’t become cuddly and loveable the moment the medicine kicks in. It feels real in a way I’ve never seen cancer portrayed before, and watching a character we’ve come to know so well over two, going on three, seasons go through it makes it that much more powerful.

I did say there were lighter moments, right? Mostly they come from a recent source of darkness: the (once again sober) Sonny, who this week reveals he owns the biggest bike ever before asking Linh to marry him on a sunny New Orleans day. Note she doesn’t say “yes” because that’s not how it’s done where she’s from. But she’s going to say “yes.” And at this point she’d better say “yes”: Sonny had to sell his instruments to pay for that lovely ring, and he didn’t even get much money for them.

Antoine, on the other hand, wants to do more with music, picking up some modern jazz to complement his trad grounding. It’s not easy. Then again, it’s not always easy to fuse the old with the new (or in the case of modern jazz, newer). Del is getting roped into a scheme to build what sounds like a dream project that will honor New Orleans jazz’s past and present while looking toward the future. It sounds like a great idea, but given the people involved, it’s not a question of whether anyone will get screwed by its creation—or failure—but whom and how bad. This week at least, nothing goes right without something else going wrong or threatening to.


Stray observations:

  • Note the Blockbuster in the background of the scene where Sonny pawns his instruments. I wonder if that one’s still standing or if the attention to detail here is so great that the show build the façade for authenticity’s sake. Remember the early episodes involved a post-Katrina Tower Records long after that chain had gone away.
  • Two weeks with Tim Reid on the show. Can we get some momentum on putting Frank’s Place out on DVD now?
  • Old Cats Who Ain’t Been Paid is a funny title, but it doesn’t capture what I imagine Davis’ R&B opera to be like.
  • Just how rich are Sofia’s friends?
  • Here’s a question: I like Lucia Micarelli’s playing and singing, but I’m not sure I’d buy Annie’s album. Everything we’ve heard sounds a little middle of the road to my ears. I’d definitely buy Delmond’s, though.
  • No obvious musical hook this week, so let’s just go with the song that gives the episode its title: Jelly Roll Morton’s “Don’t You Leave Me Here.”