A review of the penultimate “Treme” of season one coming up just as soon as I’m electrocuted for my art…
“Don’t think in terms of a beginning and an end, because unlike some plot-driven entertainments, there is no closure in real life. Not really.” -Creighton
“There are so many beautiful moments here.” -Davis
“They’re just moments. They’re not a life.” -Janette
Last week on Twitter, someone asked me if they should be worried that George Pelecanos was writing this episode of “Treme.” Pelecanos, after all, wrote the next-to-last script of each season of “The Wire,” and those scripts tended to feature the worst possible developments for the characters we cared most about. My reaction was that “Treme” is a different kind of show than “The Wire” – warmer and more intimate and less concerned with matters of life and death, and that Pelecanos drew this assignment out of tradition, rather than to fulfill his usual role as hatchet man.
Instead, Pelecanos and David Simon found a way to deliver a “Treme” version of a Pelecanos Episode, one that did feature a death, as well as suffering for many other characters, yet still felt drawn in the same scale as the rest of the series.
The big event, obviously, is Creighton’s decision to commit suicide by jumping off the ferry.(*) There were signs in previous episodes that Creighton was, like many New Orleanians, suffering from post-Katrina depression. The familiar John Goodman bluster that came with the role helped mask this, and made it easy for some of us (myself included; I did, after all, refer to his behavior on Mardi Gras as that of a “sourpuss”) to at times assume Creighton was just being a self-righteous downer. But the signs were subtly there all along, and they became a flashing neon danger sign in that haunting scene in tonight’s episode where Creighton again stared at the computer monitor with utter despair, even as he tried to act to Sofia that all was well.
(*) And now we know, I guess, why Goodman has been listed as a guest star all year. Though technically, I suppose he could have been signed to a series regular contract for just this season.
In that gorgeously-acted moment, I knew Creighton was completely lost, and that he was unable to ask for help, so when he woke up a few mornings later looking happy and lavishing compliments on his wife and daughter, I knew exactly what he was going to do next. That’s not a knock on the script; I assume we were meant to understand that there was something off with Creighton’s newfound sunny demeanor, and probably to recognize that these were the actions of a man preparing for a perfect last day to be alive. And so of course there’s added poignancy to Creighton again failing to break through his students’ boredom, and then to him enjoying simple pleasures like a po’boy or a beignet, and throwing down a twenty-dollar bill after listening to Annie’s typically wonderful violin playing. Just gorgeous, simple work from Goodman, and I appreciate how the suicide scene was structured so that we didn’t have to see it happen. One minute, the smoker looks over and Creighton’s still there; the next, he’s gone. The new, diminished New Orleans was too much for him to deal with – even if his own home, and life, were spared of any direct effects from the storm – and no one saw the danger signs in time (even Toni seemed to buy into Creighton’s public persona as much as some of us did, as seen in the way she tore into him last week after catching him asleep on the porch), and so Creighton lets himself be swallowed up by the waters that never quite came for his house.
No other character this week is consumed by quite as much despair as Creighton, but we see plenty of our regulars feeling particularly lost and beaten down by life since the storm.
It’s been clear to us, if not to Janette, that she’s been putting on a brave face with the whole guerilla chef thing, and all it takes is a particularly nasty storm – a drizzle compared to Katrina, but enough to wreck a perfect outdoor gig(**) and to flood the bedroom in her already ruined house – to make her want to throw in the towel and try her luck in New York. (Perhaps reaching out to Tom Colicchio for help getting a job?) Davis gives her his best pro-NOLA spiel, but even the usual level of Davis McAlary charm (which we saw in action earlier when he convinced his buddy Henry to help pay for the party) can’t make Janette forget the way the long arm of Murphy’s Law has been smacking her around for months. There’s a great, sad moment in the rainstorm, after Janette has dumped the tray of ruined food, where she turns away from us, walks towards her car and strips off her apron; even though Kim Dickens’ back is to us and she’s far from the camera, you can tell in her body language, and that gesture, and everything we’ve learned about Janette Desautel over the last few months, that she’s had it. And can you blame her?
(**) I also liked Janette’s moment of realization when Davis referred to her mobile restaurant job as a “gig,” because of course that’s what it is. She’s become not unlike Antoine, with no base of operations or steady stream of income, just hustling from place to place, cutting deals and trying to make her art pay for itself. And that’s clearly not what she thought her cooking would be.
With Mardi Gras over, LaDonna has been able to let go of the secret of Daymo’s death, but not the enormous grief that comes with it. In the scene where LaDonna convinces Toni to drop the investigation, Khandi Alexander plays LaDonna so incredibly quiet and remote, and not at all the fierce woman who chewed out her contractor or pushed Antoine into getting on the bus to see their sons. LaDonna is strong, and she’ll hopefully overcome the loss of her brother. Right now, though, she’s just floating through life – capable of handling the detail work (in part because her mother is even more at sea with all of this) but otherwise just waiting for it all to start hurting less
And Annie finds herself homeless when Sonny doesn’t take kindly to her suggestion that they split up as musicians, if not as lovers. Though I dislike Sonny, I actually do see the point Annie’s friend makes – “Fucking is fucking. But music? That’s personal.” – and how it would apply to people this passionate about music. (I could imagine Davis, for instance, expressing a similar sentiment.) But even if she didn’t intend to break up with the guy, it happens. Her music obviously benefits – our glimpses of her busking are the most confident she’s been since we met her – but as poorly as Sonny treated her, she feels understandably lost without the man who was the only reason she came to this city in the first place. Davis’s offer of a party flier with his address on it carried the half-spoken invitation to come visit and/or crash, so perhaps things might work out for her (and Davis, who’s on the verge of losing a friend with benefits) in the finale. For the moment, though, she’s alone and confused, and if she doesn’t seem depressed the way Creighton was, it’s not hard to imagine a circumstance where she – or LaDonna, or Janette, or several other members of our ensemble – let themselves drown in the sadness that fell over this city after the floods.
Some other thoughts:
- Antoine will likely never be dumb enough to tell Desiree about his Mardi Gras hook-up with LaDonna, and she seems understanding about the temporary childcare he arranges while gigging with Kermit, but how do you figure he explained the $150 he gave LaDonna to help pay for the crypt’s repair? Living hand-to-mouth the way that family does, that amount of money is huge for them, even if it was a kind gesture by Antoine.
- So why do you reckon Arnie the bouncer offers to fix LaDonna’s old roof for free, while appearing to pay out of pocket for the labor and materials? Is he hoping that finishing the job might get his boss out of trouble with the law? Trying to start up his own contracting business through word of mouth? Or do they just breed that much nobility in Texas?
- As always, I highly recommend Dave Walker’s weekly annotations if you care about the local details of the show, like the band who played at Janette’s Bacchanal gig, or the backstory behind Albert and Lt. Coloson’s talk about Big Chief Tootie. As I’ve been writing this, we’ve already swapped a few e-mails and Dave pointed out two things to me: 1)In the last novel Creighton has assigned to his class (19th century spoiler alert!), the heroine drowns herself, and 2)It was during filming of the scene where Creighton waits on the long line at Cafe Du Monde for his beignet that David Mills died.
- Though I rely on Dave for most of my insider knowledge, I was pleased to recognize The Subdudes “All the Time in the World” over the closing credits. The band’s keyboardist John Magnie was one of the very special guest musicians at Davis’s party. (He’s the one who plays and sings lead on “Agent Double-O Soul.”)
- Also at the party, I got a kick out of Davis’s gay neighbors bickering over the revelation that one of them did, in fact, call in the noise complaint on Davis that started their whole feud way back when. And it was also funny to see Davis finally get to enjoy the company of the musically-inclined strippers from across the street.
The season opened with a nearly 90-minute episode, and it’s going to close the same way next week. I look forward to seeing Big Chief Lambreaux’s new plumage, and also whether he and/or the cops come up with a way to get through St. Joseph’s without killing each other.
What did everybody else think?