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

Treme: “This City”

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There’s something about the health problems of Big Chief Lambreaux that really packs the extra lead into the Treme writers’ pencils. Tonight’s episode begins with the Chief in his doctor’s office, brimming over with heartfelt but unjustified optimism. But the Chief doesn’t just say that he feels like a million bucks; he stands at the window, beaming at the wonderful weather: “We get these warm spells in December, sometimes, with no humidity.” Since “New Orleans without humidity” is closer than most poets could come to summing up Heaven in four words, the viewer knows that Albert is about to hear disappointing news even before the doctor uses his serious voice to bid him to sit down. He tells the Chief that they’re not getting the desired results from his chemotherapy. (It might go without saying that going through chemo for no reason is the poets’ best definition of what the devil would consider cruel and unusual punishment.) But I feel so good, so energetic, Albert says. It happens, says the doctor; it’s called “the Indian summer effect.” You might feel like waving a white flag at the TV, yelling “Fine, we get it! Weather metaphors are awesome!”

This brief taste of Treme at its most creative-writing-flavored is the price to be paid for what turns out to be an excellent episode, long on slow, simmering scenes full of fond memories and regret. Clarke Peters gets to be one of the major beneficiaries of this; after leaving the doctor, Albert drifts through the city and the back pages of his mind, taking his daughter on a guided tour of the spots that have meant something to him. “What’re we looking at?” asks Davina. “You’re looking at an apartment building,” says Albert, who’s imagining the vacant lot that used to be there, where he and his friends played as children: “I don’t mind telling you, I was the leader.” There used to be an oak tree there, and “we used to climb all over it. Right in the center of that tree, there was this big branch that grew right up to the center of the sky. There was a crown in the top of it you could sit in. Up there, you had a view of the city. I felt like a young king,” he says, without adding that it’s a feeling he’s held onto until just now. When he heads back to car and says, “I’m ready to go,” there’s a finality to it that later episodes will be hard-pressed to improve on.

Elsewhere in the city, characters who would appear to have more a future to look forward to are too busy beating their heads against the wall. They’re living in a dangerous city, full of violent threats, none of which are scarier than some of the cops. (One of the killer cops targeted by Toni stops by her table at Li’l Dizzy’s to flash a bone-chilling smile and remind her of his unfettered existence—“Ruining lunch,” she says later, once it’s been well-established that to ruin a lunch at Li’l Dizzy’s is no small accomplishment.) The saddest and most enraging development line brings Terry Coulson together with Antoine, one of whose students has witnessed a street murder. Antoine visits the girl at home, finding her there by herself—her mother’s parole officer is very insistent on her not missing work, she explains—and cautions her very gingerly, telling her that, until things cool down, “You need to be aware of your surroundings.” What’s really saddest about this is that she understands him perfectly.

On the authenticity front, Annie is torturing herself over whether to give in to her manager’s demand that she record with a bunch of crack Nashville studio musicians instead of her live band, and Nelson Hidalga introduces Davis—“I like him; I can’t help it”—to his big money-bags boss, in a long-shot attempt to get the little loudmouth a real job. (Realizing whom he’s breaking bread with, David sneers, “I’ve been boycotting your bank for 10 years.” “I’d been wondering where that $300 had gotten to,” comes the reply. I’d say the forces of mammon won that round.) Janette, though, has them all beat: She learns that she has contractually signed away the rights to her own name to her former employer and cannot do anything to advertise her own participation in the new restaurant she’s trying to get off the ground, just at the time when her own name has become a potential selling point.

On the other hand, there’s a standout scene between Antoine and LaDonna that makes the case for, if not selling out, then at least adjusting your schedule enough to allow for regular working hours. (Antoine hands LaDonna a wad of money for his sons, and says, “I got a steady job now, and I’m still their father, and you’re still gonna give me your look?” She readily apologizes for having gotten too much in the habit of not expecting much of him.) Wendell Pierce and Khandi Alexander are so great together that you find yourself fantasizing about their past together, especially in the moments that simultaneously suggest what the good times were like and what made them go south. When he walks into her bar, she’s blasting Gary Walker and the Boogie Boys on her CD player. “You in that old stuff mood today?” he says. “Just in the mood,” she shrugs. Good over-informed music obsessive that he is, he automatically recites all the info he can off the top of his head about what’s playing. “I wouldn’t know,” she says. “I just like it.” And then they dance.

Stray observations:

  • This week’s line that is best calculated to mean something to New Orleans music freaks and locals and bupkis to anyone else: “Ain’t that something. An OffBeat Award!”
  • Special citation for obscure pop-culture reference that, so far as I know, has no specific connection to New Orleans: Janette’s impression of Donald Sutherland in Kelly’s Heroes.
  • Turns of phrase that will either be recycled in conversations about people’s bosses or be appropriated by people looking for a name for their band: “douche nozzle”; “scrotum-chinned fuck void”; “greed-headed cock knob.”