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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Treme," Episode 9, Season 1

ANNIE GET YOUR BOW: Michiel Huisman and Lucia Micarelli
  • Courtesy of HBO
  • ANNIE GET YOUR BOW: Michiel Huisman and Lucia Micarelli
I remember reading a Newsweek article about the corporate downsizing trend of the early 1990s, and one laid-off white-collar worker remarked, “You can love a company, but it won’t love you back.” New Orleans demonstrates a similarly casual indifference to its love-struck citizens. If one of the “Treme’s” dysfunctional relationships symbolized the one-way love affair between the city and its people, perhaps it would be Sonny and Annie, with New Orleans being the substance-abusing musical bon vivant who takes his long-suffering partner for granted.

Janette certainly isn’t feeling the love this week: her character seems to catch the fewest breaks of any in the “Treme” ensemble. Her “guerilla chef” gig at the open-air Bacchanal gets cancelled because of an unexpected downpour, which knocks out her house’s electricity and sends water through her roof for good measure. For her, it’s like Katrina in miniature. She’s ready to pack it in and cook in New York: "This town beat me. Much as I love it, I'm not trying to fight with it anymore."

This week, the characters that fare best — the ones who New Orleans isn’t “beating” — are those with the fewest cares and loosest sense of their responsibilities. Davis, having abandoned his bid to become a political influence with nary a second thought, throws a party for “musicians and beautiful women,” with no recorded music, just an all-night jam session. He roams the streets giving out invitations, and though Annie doesn’t come, the neighborhood strippers do (and one of them sings the heck out of an Irma Thomas song at his party’s all-night jam session). He’s the man of the hour — and yet, surprisingly, he doesn’t hook up, and was alone when Janette shows up at his door seeking a place to crash.

For his part, Antoine seems to have totally found his groove playing for Kermit Ruffins. He shows up late for one show and turns his arrival into a big entrance. He brings his baby girl to another gig, where she drenches herself in BBQ sauce until her mother can pick her up. He even freely offers Ladonna some money, who’s nonplussed by Antoine’s transformation. This episode does an extremely nice job of crosscutting between the music at Davis’s party, Antoine’s gig and Janette’s Bacchanal, creating an appearance of narrative momentum even if Davis and Antoine’s plot threads don’t advance this week.

New Orleans gives another musician a blessing in disguise when Annie tries taking a break from playing music with Sonny, who petulantly breaks up with her. A sax-playing pal tells Annie that she should’ve seen it coming: “Fucking is fucking. But the music? That’s personal.” (Sometimes the writers seem a little too proud of themselves for lines like that.) Annie’s baffled and bummed about it, but things start picking up for her immediately when she busks with a new keyboardist/fan. Micarelli strikes me as a musician first and actress second, but her ecstatic, full-bodied fiddling is one of my favorite things about the show. It’s like the violin is playing her.

Characters who fight against the city have mixed results. Ladonna doesn’t want to pursue possibility that her brother was killed in jail, despite the suspicious-bordering-on-laughable claim that he died falling out of bed. The family crypt sustained hurricane damage not covered by insurance, forcing her to raise $2,000 to bury her brother. The silver lining is that a Texan, sniffing at the New Orleans work ethic, swoops in to repair her roof at long last.

Albert and his tribe prepare for the Indians’ parades on St. Joseph’s night: will Albert’s prodigal biological son or his surrogate teenage son become honorary Indians on next week’s season finale? Will Albert use the occasion for another defiant act of civil disobedience? David Morse’s cop makes another appearance, here trying to preemptively defuse violence between Albert’s tribe and the police. Morse’s repeated and deliberate characterization of Indians as a “gang” goes a long way to show how some in the New Orleans law enforcement establishment view the Indians. I wish “Treme” had included a scene like this weeks ago.

Similarly, I wish Creighton’s arc for this episode had come way earlier in the show. His self-destructiveness was pretty obvious from nearly the first episode, and his pre-suicide “farewell” tour of his favorite spots (including the Café du Monde) showed the show’s love for the city and Goodman’s acting ability in the best possible light. His lectures about The Awakening to his airhead freshmen students serve as his suicide note, but his joyful melancholy as he listened to Annie’s music, savored his favorite food and smoked his last cigarette offers one of Treme’s best examples of its ethos of joie de vivre. Perhaps Treme’s season finale will culminate with the character’s jazz funeral. To quote an author even “older” than Kate Chopin, “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it.”

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