A review of tonight's "Treme" coming up just as soon as I change my haircut...
"It's all coming back, isn't it?" -Toni
After four episodes of depicting New Orleans struggling to rise from its post-Katrina stupor, "Shame, Shame, Shame" climaxes with a moment of triumph for the city and for our characters, with a re-creation(*) of the 2006 ReNew Orleans second line parade, the first large-scale event of its kind since the storm, and a vastly bigger, more inspiring event than the one Antoine and Davis marched in during the opening moments of the series pilot.
(*) Watching the episode, I assumed the production got permission to film their characters within the confines of a real, contemporary New Orleans parade, but it turns out the show staged this themselves. which had to be incredibly expensive and time-consuming - but the spectacle was worth whatever time, money and headaches were spent on it.
This is the New Orleans the characters wish for: not the skeletal, barely getting by version of the series so far, but a vibrant, bustling, joyful collection of people and music and food and civic pride. The city isn't nearly on its feet during the period the show depicts (nor has it ever entirely come back), but for a few brief hours, everyone can pretend that it has, and revel in the sights and sounds of the city before the storm.
But the parade concludes - as the real one did in '06 - with gunshots that wounded three people. And in that juxtaposition of celebration and violence, and the moments of light and darkness sprinkled throughout the episode, we're reminded that the light of New Orleans comes along with plenty of darkness, and that if you welcome the good back in, the bad will soon follow.
Sonny is using again, and the tension is rising between him and Annie over that, and over Arnie the bouncer's presence in their makeshift home (Annie's wary of the guy, while Sonny appears to resent him protecting Annie in the gunshots when he was too distracted to do it). Davis has a triumphant recording session for his protest/campaign song, then gets punched out in a bar for assuming too much about the rights and privileges that come from living in the Treme. And after Antoine's missing trombone turns up in a pawnshop, having been pawned by the cops who beat him up two episodes ago, one of Toni's police contacts laments that crime is returning to the city, and the police are as unprepared for it as the flood control system was for Katrina.
And as the criminal element prepares to start butting up against an infrastructure that isn't ready for it, we see a number of our characters also running into trouble from pushing too hard.
Davis has been by far the show's most divisive character (I've heard the phrase "the Jar-Jar Binks of 'Treme'" more than a few times), and I wonder if this episode might be a turning point for viewer reaction to him. It's not that we learn anything about him that makes us see his previous behavior in a new light, but that his behavior here seems far more charming and/or human. You understand why he was able to talk all those musicians into playing on his CD - in a scene hilariously cut together to show how well-rehearsed his entire spiel and the emotions behind it were - and his enthusiasm in recording the song was infectious, both for Kermit and the other players, and for the viewer (or, at least, me) at home. And after he gets punched out for presuming too much (basically, for pulling a John Mayer), then taken in for the night by the gay neighbors he mocked and sonically assaulted for so long, you can see him starting to reassess some of his more-Treme-than-thou persona. At the very least, he takes the speakers out of the window, but it'll be interesting to see if the Davis of upcoming episodes is, if not toned down, then at least directing his manic energies at more appropriate targets.
And speaking of infectious enthusiasm, the smile on the Japanese jazz fan's face when Antoine played his new horn in the style of Kid Ory was a reminder, just like the parade, over the power that this city and its culture have over the people who know and love it. Antoine, like Davis, is a guy with a know-it-all streak, and it was amusing to see him paired with another man - from all the way in Japan, no less - who claimed to know even more jazz history than him. Eventually, their battle of trivia overheats at the music shop, and Antoine recognizes that his new benefactor deserves better, and so plays a song in the fashion of the man's idol.
(And interestingly, when given extra cash - presumably to help pay for cabfare or other expenses - Antoine instead decides to pay it forward and buy a trombone for another musician - my guess is his music teacher whose instruments were all on the first floor - and winds up discovering his own 'bone, pawned by the cops.)
Though Albert seems to be doing well with miss Lula, we know from the second episode that he's a man with a dangerous temper, and we see a bit of that on display again when he confronts the politician about getting the Calliope projects reopened. It's such a small gesture what happens - Albert sees the conversation not going his way and puts his hand on the man's chest - but in that circumstance, with that man, it's too much, and everyone involved immediately recognizes the line Albert just crossed.
Creighton, amazingly, seems to have his own mighty temper in check as he records his latest YouTube video. John Goodman has made an art form out of the profane rant delivered at top volume (I refer you, of course, to Walter's attempt to teach a lesson to Larry Sellers in "The Big Lebowski"), but too much of that takes the power away. Here we see just how much anger and passion he can deliver in a cold, quiet, controlled manner as he addresses President Bush.
Those videos are turning Creighton into something of a local celebrity, and I wonder if they're being seen outside the city, as well. He fears that his literary agent is coming to demand a refund on the book advance, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the videos have suddenly made Creighton an even hotter property.
A bigger book deal would be one of the happier things that could come to town right now. But after the glorious moment of triumph that was the parade, I fear we're in for more darkness ahead as other elements return.
Some other thoughts:
- The one character who, for an episode, has things entirely under control is Janette. Her house is still a wreck, and she and Jacques are still desperately improvising at the restaurant, but they have the good fortune to have the gas burners working when Tom Colicchio and a bunch of his celebrity chef pals come for a meal. As always on a Simon show, it's a pleasure to just step back and watch smart, talented people work, as we do in the largely silent scene where Janette and Jacques put together the meal that so impressed the "Top Chef" gang.
- Also going without dialogue, because words are unnecessary, is the episode's most powerful moment, as Albert's daughter Davina bumps into an old friend she never expected to see again after the storm (and perhaps feared the worst for?).
- For the most part, the show has followed the naturalistic template set by "The Wire," but Ladonna's very un"Wire" nightmare in the pre-credits sequence suggests the new show won't be entirely beholden to the stylistic conventions of the old one.
- When discussing Sonny's Dutch origins last week, we mainly got caught up in George Pelecanos making a "Hamsterdam" reference, but here we get Creighton talking about how the Dutch have kept their lands unflooded far more successfully than the government protected New Orleans. So perhaps just as "The Wire" (which was modeled on Greek tragedy) gave us a villain known as The Greek, it's not a coincidence that they cast a Dutch-born actor in a supporting role?
- Lots of notable guest stars this week, with many like Tom Colicchio and Roy Blount Jr. playing themselves, but also the fine character actor David Morse as the cop begging Toni to cut his guys a break, and Arnie the bouncer (who, of course, was introduced last week) played by Jeff Carisalez, a former recon Marine who was one of the technical advisors on David Simon's "Generation Kill."
- Most notable of all from a "New Orleans TV shows" perspective, meanwhile, was Tim Reid as the judge. Reid is still best known as Venus Flytrap on "WKRP in Cincinnati," but late in the '80s he starred in and produced "Frank's Place," a critically-acclaimed but low-rated dramedy about a New Orleans restaurant. Casting him here was a nice tip of the hat to that show, and given Toni's role in the series, I imagine there will be plenty of opportunities for that judge to return.
- Once again, lots of characters crossing paths from story to story. Ladonna's rant against her old contractor dissuades Arnie from taking a job with the guy, while Toni discovers that Daymo used to work with Janette and Jacques. (And their description of the guy's work habits suggests Toni is wrong to worry that he was using again.)
- As always, don't forget to go read Dave Walker's explanation of all the New Orleans detail of each episode. I'm sure he has a lot to say about Creighton's membership in the Krewe du Vieux.
What did everybody else think?