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Monday, June 13, 2011

"Treme," Season 2, Ep. 8

JUST PUT YOUR LIPS TOGETHER AND BLOW: Wendell Pierce (left), Jaron Williams
  • Courtesy of HBO
  • JUST PUT YOUR LIPS TOGETHER AND BLOW: Wendell Pierce (left), Jaron Williams
Episode 8 embraces the title “Can I Change My Mind?” by switching up “Treme’s” usual meandering pace with some significant confrontations and moment-of-truth scenes. Apparently Toni and her daughter neglected to have a big face-off to clear the air after Sofia’s Mardi Gras misadventure last week, because the girl gets in deeper trouble. She and a pal go out on the town, intent on drinking and doing drugs with a couple of guys they meet, who happen to be driving in a stolen car. Naturally, they get pulled over by the cops.

Newly-minted Oscar-winner Melissa Leo masterfully captures a mother’s concern and dismay when she receives the late night phone call: “What did they arrest you for?” Sofia spends a night in jail and gets brought to the judge in manacles. Outside juvie, Toni lights into Sofia about her self-destructive behavior, but Sofia instantly turns the tables by asking “Why did he do it?” Suddenly, the conversation turns to Creighton’s suicide, catching Toni off-guard. When Toni voices her despair and rage about the situation, Leo’s performance flirts with histrionics, but at least maybe Toni and Sofia can start rebuilding their relationship.

Ladonna’s subplot proves even more wrenching. In the episode’s first scene she gets a clean bill of health, proving that she contracted no STDs during her sexual assault. We discover — in case we hadn’t guessed — that Ladonna never told her husband Larry that the attack involved rape, but as the legal case moves forward, she finds it more difficult to keep that detail from him. Khandi Alexander can convey powerful depths of devastation with just a simple, dead-eyed expression.

Ladonna intends to tell Larry but feels understandable reticence, so she puts it off until district attorney mentions the particulars of a related case, that also involved “gang rape.” Before that revelation, Ladonna built up emotional distance from Larry and her family — afterwards, Larry shuts down and Ladonna pushes to get a response out of him. Mostly, he bemoans the fact that Ladonna hadn’t sold the bar sooner.

The rest of the subplots, thank heavens, weren’t nearly so dark. There’s a conspicuous lack of confrontation when Sonny, having taken the oyster-boat cure, shows up early for the gig and appears to play a blistering, on-point set. You’d think that Antoine would make some half-insulting remark, but it’s not like Sonny deserves a medal for doing what the rest of the musicians do.

I want to pick up on a point from Keith Phipps, who recaps “Treme” for The A.V. Club, and how several of the show’s subplots involve artistic apprenticeships. Annie has been on a kind of creative quest throughout both seasons as she dabbles in different musical styles and currently taps personal feelings with her original song (which could be about her break-up with Sonny). She’s not ready to perform it in public, but debuts the tune while busking with the Steve Earle guy on the street. She told Davis she wouldn’t do it with him around, but we catch a sweet glimpse of someone who’s probably him watching from a distance.

Many of “Treme’s” subplots show artists and craftsmen experimenting with creative fusion. In New York, Janette shows an interest in both haute cuisine and soul food, like last week’s king cake vs. the gourmet meal, or the way her roommate takes about David Chang: “It’s fuckin’ Michelin-level food from a counter. This week she swaps one celebrity-chef mentor for another, as she moves from the kitchen of Eric Ripert to David Chang, the latter of which promises to give her more chance to expand her palette. (Or should that be palate?)

Delmond moves forward with his plan to combine modern jazz with the Indian call-and-response performance, a notion that gives direction to Delmond’s previously dreary speeches about the sorry state of jazz music. Delmond and pal get the blessing of Dr. John, although the New Orleans piano icon seems skeptical that the Chief’s cooperation will come as easily. Fortunately, Delmond knows how to play on Albert’s pride and stubbornness. He claims the record label will offer an advance, as a pretext for giving Albert money to fix his house. And when Albert seems skeptical about doing the project with his son, Delmond wonders aloud which other Chiefs could get involved.

And DJ Davis and the Brassy Knoll debuts its blend of horn-based funk and Ace B’s rhymes, impressing Annie and Aunt Mimi. Most of the show’s artistic plot threats reinforce the idea of looking backward to move ahead: that creative advancement relies on understanding cultural traditions.

Antoine, meanwhile, seems to be at a crossroads. With the Soul Apostles, he shares leadership responsibility with his “straw boss.” He seems increasingly motivated to teach the middle-schoolers, and interacts with them much more directly this week than in previous weeks. He even confesses that he feels like he failed his biological sons because they don’t play music. Is “Treme” building to a point at which Antoine will choose education over being a bandleader? Will his straw boss attempt some kind of coup d’etat?

Nelson seals his computer-cable deal, although he discovers that the elected official is more interested in maintaining sweetheart relationships than saving the city money. Toni seems to be on the verge of revealing another kind of old-boy network in the shooting case, where one suspects the police are more interested in covering for each other than revealing the truth. But these stories will build to their confrontations on another week.

Notes

Antoine’s trumpet student has a shiner this week, because “My brother hit me in the head with a cocoanut.” Presumably that was one of the Zulu cocoanuts we saw distributed last week.

Quote of the week: “Mosquitoes so big they could stand flat-footed and fuck turkeys.”

Lin, the young woman Sonny meets at the oyster wholesaler, looks like Annie, right? It isn’t just me?

Davis’ instincts for performance and political activism remind me less of hip-hop than the blend of rock and political activism from the late 1960s, like Country Joe and the Fish. Do many bands out there combine live music and political theater like Davis does?

Davis’ George W. Bush impression isn’t very funny in 2011, and probably would not have been much funnier in 2007, but the New Orleans bohemians of Davis’ circle would appreciate it.

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