Review: ‘Treme’ – ‘Sunset in Louisianne’

A review of tonight’s “Tremé” coming up just as soon as I open a Young Republicans club…

“I wrote it for you.” -Delmond

I got to the end of “Sunset on Louisianne” and briefly wondered what would have happened if HBO hadn’t offered Simon and Overmyer the change found in the office couch cushions to make these five episodes. Yes, we would have missed out on more time with these characters, and in this city, but the Big Chief would still be alive. Our last image of Albert wouldn’t be of him snoring out his last breath in his bed, but him sitting in the chemo suite, working on his stitching, resolute as ever – noble and strong as the stone out of which he seemed to have been carved.

Would it be worth trading these five-plus hours for the chance to hold Albert in our memory as a living, fighting man? Or is that investing too much into a fictional character, invented by men who have killed their creations many times in the past, making us shake our fists at them even as we asked for more?

Ultimately, I’ll take these five episodes, especially when they’re as full of emotion and comedy and music and, yes, life, as “Sunset on Louisianne.”

Like so many installments of “Tremé,” it deals with characters facing the inevitable, whether they like it or not. Albert will die. Davis will get older. Antoine will lose his band program, Colson his job in the NOPD. Annie has to go to Nashville and do it Marvin’s way if she wants a real shot at success. But it deals with those realizations in so many different ways, covering the wide range of emotions and tones this eclectic series likes to play with.

Albert’s gradual slipping away from this life plays out in sad fashion, but it’s all understated, even the big moment where Delmond tells Albert what his father already knew about his latest composition. There are many, many tears there, but they’re coming from the audience and not from the characters, whose tricky, buttoned-up relationship has been one of the series’ greatest achievements. And throughout the story, there are lovely little touches, like the awkwardness LaDonna feels at meeting Albert’s other daughter; to us, LaDonna is one of the more important figures in Albert’s world, but she’s only known him a very brief time at the end.

To avoid dealing with the lousy news about his afterschool band program, Antoine reverts back to his days as a carefree player who can go all night (and into the next day on a second line). But he’s not as young as he used to be – and he was never as talented as he wanted to be – so the long, drunken adventure allows for some nice comic bravado from Wendell Pierce in addition to a bunch of great music.

Davis facing his 40th birthday, Colson facing retirement sooner than he might have hoped for it, and LP Everett returning to New Orleans for some follow-up reporting all tied in nicely together. Davis’ story is the lightest, featuring one of my favorite “Tremé” musical performances ever – the energetic cover of “Sing, Sing, Sing,” using every available inch of space at the radio station, much to the consternation of Darnell – and the great moment where Davis’ neighbor asks him about his uncanny luck with women who should be beyond his grasp. But for all the fun the hour has with Davis’ fear of getting old, there’s also a sense of frustration that’s permeated a lot of this season, as Davis wonders exactly what it is he’s accomplished, beyond contributing to “A few under appreciated and under marketed classics.”

And most of the stories this week suggest that what you accomplish in this world, and what you hope will be your legacy, often has very little to do with your own work and ability and much to do with the whims of people in power. Terry and LP both get a glimpse of how much the federal priorities are allegedly going to change now that the Democrats are taking over, but whatever differences will be too late for Colson, who had to labor in a department where no one around him (or above him at the federal level) shared his concerns. Davis actually gets Nelson to listen to his idea about revitalizing the club scene on Rampart Street, and it’s to Nelson’s credit that he even suggests the plan to CJ Liguori, but the second Liguori explains that it’s counter to his interest in getting a jazz center open, that’s that for Davis’ latest dream. (This is why Nelson is driving an expensive car and Davis is riding a bicycle: one of them knows (and cares) what the people with money want.)

We even get another brief glimpse of his pothole from the season premiere, with the warning signs turned into an elaborate scarecrow by the neighborhood. For a brief moment, it looks like a road crew has pulled up to finally fix the thing, but instead it’s just one more dark joke: they’re stopping to pick up beer at a nearby house.

As with “The Wire,” it should be unbearable to sit through a show with such a bleak worldview, especially in a week where one of the series’ most vivid characters dies. But as with “The Wire,” the craftsmanship on display, the commitment to character and atmosphere and, on this show, to music, makes it all worth it. I will miss Albert Lambreaux, but I’m glad I got to watch him for this long.

I realize I’ve been remiss in linking to Dave Walker’s fantastic “Tremé” Explained entries after each week, but I’ve added them in for the three previous episodes, and his take on “Sunset In Louisianne” is here. We’ll be back next week to talk about the finale, and I also have a lengthy David Simon interview.

As for “Sunset in Louisianne,” what did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at