‘Treme’ – ‘Shallow Water, Oh Mama’: Murphy’s law, Eddie’s rules

Senior Television Writer
05.16.10 23 Comments

HBO/Paul Schiraldi

A review of tonight’s “Treme” coming up just as soon as I abdicate as the parent of a 15-year-old girl…

“Somebody needs to make a stand, you know? Draw a line.” -Albert

We’re now into the back half of “Treme” season one, and while the show’s stories will never be as inherently grand and eventful as the ones from “The Wire,” it’s clear that there are stories, and this is around the point in the season of a David Simon show where those stories really begin to move.

Toni finally secures documented evidence that Daymo was in police custody during the storm – and all over a warrant that should have been long gone from the computers. Creighton is offered a chance to exploit his YouTube celebrity for the sake of his writing career, and chooses not to take it (for now). Janette is forced to shut down the restaurant when the list of unpaid bills piles up too high. Delmond’s tour brings him back to New Orleans, and the time spent with Donald Harrison Jr. (who, as I’ve mentioned before, shares much of Delmond’s backstory, but has been more open to embracing the Indian ways) nudges him back towards becoming a member of Albert’s tribe. Sonny’s drug use gets bad enough that he slaps Annie, sending her running away from the apartment (and then skulking back because she has no money and no other place to stay). And Davis realizes that the political campaign that began as a way to sell CDs has the potential to make a real statement (if not to actually win).

Even Antoine’s part of the show, which is more of a perpetual motion machine (man hustles for gigs, gets one, then hustles some more) than a story, shifts a bit as he dedicates himself to helping out his old music teacher.

I want to focus on two of the stories this week: Toni’s and Janette’s.

We’ve seen both women working doggedly for weeks to solve huge problems wrapped in nightmare logic: how to find Daymo in a huge bureaucracy that denies any knowledge of him, and how to keep alive a restaurant that everybody loves (including the “Top Chef” gang last week), but that’s swimming in too much debt to survive. Here, Toni finally seems on the verge of solving the unsolveable, while Janette has to give up (for now, at least), but the hour is a wonderful showcase for the superb Melissa Leo and Kim Dickens.

Toni’s search for Daymo has largely been a background element until now, but here she shows an almost superhuman level of persistence in leaving town to track down the ex-cop in his new Texas home, then spending enough time with him to jog loose his memory of writing that ticket, and of the warrant that put Daymo into a cell instead of continuing on his way to emptying the meat out of Janette’s freezer. Patience isn’t necessarily a trait that seems inherently dramatic, but there’s a way that Leo plays Toni’s doggedness – always pushing but never pushy – that’s incredibly compelling. And I liked how the prosecutor’s refusal to file the habeas corpus motion jointly – more of a formality, since it won’t be opposed, but still an insult given all Daymo has been through – is what finally gets Toni to loosen up, put on a sperm costume and join her husband and daughter in declaring her contempt for all the people who let nightmares like Daymo’s happen.

Some people last week questioned the point of the Tom Colicchio cameo, but it plays out beautifully here. We had to see Janette prove her culinary worth beyond a doubt – to us and to herself – before things got too financially dire at the restaurant, so we would understand just how maddening it is that she can’t keep the doors open. She’s doing everything right, serving packed houses every night and impressing some of the biggest culinary stars around, but the storm left her in too deep a hole. And Dickens is playing the despair of that beautifully. Once again, we get a scene (when she first suggests to a hurt Jacques the idea of asking the staff to work without pay for a week) built around the camera just lingering on her face as she ponders a decision, and Dickens sells every emotion and thought without a word.

Speaking of actors doing a lot without dialogue, Rob Brown had a couple of really nice moments tonight: first when Delmond seethes after his father leaves his gig early while barking a reminder about Indian practice (because Delmond believes Albert has always put the tradition ahead of him), and then when he actually shows up and realizes he can’t resist joining in.

To the characters of “Treme,” there’s something irresistible about this city, its music, its food and its more esoteric forms of culture. Try as some might to resist that pull, they can’t, even though there’s plenty of heartbreak that come along with it.

As Toni and Creighton put it at episode’s end, as they march as Ray Nagin’s sperm in the Krewe du Vieux parade:

“Where else could we ever live, huh?”
“No place else.”

Some other thoughts:

  • The Sonny/Annie story has gone from doing little for me until now (other than the pleasure of watching/hearing Lucia Micarelli play her violin), and here it crosses the line from inconsequential to outright annoying. In particular, Sonny’s rantings and then his rationalizations are the first time I can remember a Simon show featuring the kind of dialogue I’ve heard on dozens of other, lesser, TV shows and movies. I’m sure there’s a point to this all, but I’d like to get to it already.
  • With the rumored Dr. John gig falling through, Antoine winds up working a stuffy Carnival ball, playing the kind of sleepy music that most non-jazz fans associate with the genre (an association which “Treme” is hopefully correcting) and can’t resist standing up and playing a few riffs like they do back in the Treme. If this were “The Wire,” he’d wind up assigned to the marine unit after that stunt. Here, he gets some surprised applause from the crowd and only a dirty look from the bandleader.
  • We also get to see yet another of Antoine’s many children from many women – and to learn that Ladonna’s boys are far from his oldest offspring. Great horn player, not-so-great dad.
  • Nice to see that Davis and the gay neighbors remain friends after they saved his drunken self last week. And I was glad to get a fuller view of his very Old South parents, who named their son after the president of the Confederacy, and whose casual racism makes him even more eager to turn the campaign from broad joke into political satire (even if Creighton won’t see it that way, I’m sure).   
  • That’s Talia Balsam (aka John Slattery’s wife in real life and his character’s ex-wife on “Mad Men”) as Creighton’s literary agent. Their conversation about how the storm has put the city back on the map and enabled him to get his novel published sounds not unlike the conversations I’m sure Simon and Eric Overmyer had with HBO (and each other) after Katrina gave a hook to their long-gestating idea for a show about New Orleans musicians.
  • Another notable guest: Elizabeth Ashley (raised in Baton Rouge) as Davis’s aunt.
  • Once again, I highly recommend going to Dave Walker’s “Treme” blog for a breakdown of all the local references in the episode. I look forward to finding out more about Davis’s political benefactor (and about why Davis’s mother was so horrified by the name).

What did everybody else think?

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