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

Treme: “Tipitina”

Illustration for article titled Treme: “Tipitina”

There are five more episodes of Treme to come but I couldn’t help watching “Tipitina” and thinking about how it would work as a series finale. My conclusion: Not bad, though I’m glad it’s not the end. Some of the final glimpses we get of the show’s characters—presented in a montage sequence set to “Tipitina” and reminiscent of the final episode of The Wire—make sense as the conclusions of their stories. Others feel like their narratives remain very much works in progress.

I’d file Toni, Terry, LP, and Sofia in the first category. Since Terry’s introduction, a romantic relationship with Toni has seemed like an unlikely inevitability and with the revelation that both are working on the side of right by getting on the wrong side of the law its last roadblock has been removed. They’re happy together but they live under a cloud of dread, forever watched by an NOPD that sees them as the enemy. It’s not the calmest end they could have reached but at least they have each other. Getting there hasn’t been easy. Here Terry finally realizes he has nowhere to go within the NOPD, that he can’t get transferred and only scandal—in the form of a police cruiser planted with drugs—awaits him if he stays. He fights the crookedest of the crooked cops only to discover that nobody has his back. Terry isn’t trying to go down swinging, but there’s no doubt he’s going down, one way or another. So, despite a lifelong commitment to his career, he makes a graceful sidestep out the door just as Toni and LP wrap up the Henry Glover case and Toni uses the momentum to push the Abreu case further. LP moves on to the next story. Toni keeps fighting the good fight. Sofia exits for college. All feel like they could be at their proper ends, even if they’re not.

Davis, on the other hand, I’d file under “work in progress.” Annie has followed her natural trajectory up and out of street performances as Davis has looked on, pursuing a grandiose project to its doomed end. Or half-doomed: Turns out the “fuck you” bonus track appended to the opera sampler has caught on with a little help from his friends. It’s part of a virtual conspiracy to keep Davis in the business of being Davis, a conspiracy spearheaded by Kermit Ruffins. We haven’t seen much of Ruffins in a while, but he’s used here as he was used in the première: as the embodiment of a musician happy to live under what Del’s agent last week described as the low ceiling of New Orleans, so long as it allowed him to play, eat great food, and get high. Those aspirations line up with Davis’ own professed ideals—to a point. With Annie he knew he was taking on a girlfriend who outclassed him and in the R&B opera he knew he was taking on a project far more ambitious, and earnest, than his previous. Over time, Davis has come to want more than what he has and that story still feels incomplete.

So does that of Janette, Davis’ erstwhile (and still once-in-a-while) lover, who finally realizes just how over her head she’s gotten with Tim when they clash on, of all things, a benefit for LaDonna’s bar. In the end, she realizes she doesn’t even own her name. And that’s the compromise you make when creativity gets into bed with business. Both parties have clearly defined ends: one to make something creative, the other to make money. So long as those ends overlap, everyone’s happy. But when one doesn’t, say, want to keep making crawfish ravioli just because it’s a moneymaker, problems start. Janette’s case is a specific example of a universal truth, whether the field is food, films, music, or what have you. Cash is what keeps the lights on, however noble the intentions of any venture. And when the cash insn’t there, those who don’t want to make crawfish ravioli to satisfy the hunger of diners who they feel ought to want something else have to either suck it up or move on. I’m not sure what Janette is going to do, but I know what she wants to do, even if leaving would come at a tremendous price.

Elsewhere, Albert and Del avoid getting bogged down in a similar situation by exiting the jazz center project. It is, clearly, the right choice however much money they turn down to make it. It almost feels like the show could leave them there. Albert’s fate remains undecided, and if the last we saw of him was an image of him stitching for the next Mardi Gras while receiving chemo treatment it would still feel like a fitting end to a man defined from the first episode by his resilient character. Like the song goes, he won’t bow down. Antoine, too, seems to have found his groove, teaching and realizing the limits of his talents. He’s trad through and through. And if he’s not the best trombone player in New Orleans, he’s not far from the top and that’s not bad. Elsewhere, Sonny’s story is, in some respects, just beginning with his marriage to Linh, but it wouldn’t be a bad place to leave him, far removed from the troubled young man we met in season one.

LaDonna, on the other hand, is in a bad place, or at least a resigned place, giving up the fight after losing her court case even as she works to bring Gigi’s back. That doesn’t seem like a good place to leave her, but the image of Gigi’s in ruins serves as a reminder of how much she’s lost and how much work lies ahead to bring it back. It’s the series in miniature, really. Treme has been a show about the great loss of one cataclysmic event and the many failures and fewer triumphs of those who try to rebuild in that cataclysm’s aftermath. It’s a cycle that keeps repeating, kept in motion by a city that can be cruel to those who love it most and by the stubbornness of spirit that defines those who choose to call it home, a cycle Treme has illustrated frequently and well through many variations. If this were the end, it would go out as a memorable, moving show, though I look forward to spending at least a little more time with it before saying goodbye.


Stray observations:

  • LP may not have taken to New Orleans culture in full, but he leaves with a love of sea shanties.
  • Here is “Body Of Evidence,” the real-life A.C. Thompson story that served as the source of the Henry Glover storyline.
  • Last shot of Nelson has him fondling money. Of course.
  • Do we know where Sofia is going to school? Could she really be leaving New Orleans?
  • Until next time, “Tipitina”