‘Treme’ – ‘Do Watcha Wanna’: Home is where the funk is

“Treme” just wrapped up its second season. I offered up a general overview of my feelings about the season on Friday, and I have a review of the finale coming up just as soon as the advance orders come in from Switzerland…

“We coming home. All of us. You ain’t gonna be who you are otherwise. I see it now.” -Larry

Larry is a wise, wise man. And that scene, like the Delmond/Albert scene from “Feels Like Rain,” captured so much of what makes “Treme” great for all of us misfits who enjoy the musical interludes, who don’t mind the lack of plot, and who are willing to be patient and sit through a lot of slow and/or dark moments so that the occasional well-earned ray of sunshine feels extra bright and beautiful.

The show has spent two years detailing Larry’s unhappiness with LaDonna keeping one foot in New Orleans and the other (reluctantly) in Baton Rouge, and detailing how the rape crushed her spirit and only emboldened Larry in his determination to get her to leave that wrecked city. So the moment when Larry finally recognizes that this ridiculous place is what his wife needs to be whole did a number on me that was every bit as effective, in its much happier way, as some of the darkest late-season moments on “The Wire” (or even “Treme” season 1). Such a great moment for those characters, and the two actors, and I loved that scene’s final shot of LaDonna rushing into Larry’s arms just as the elevator doors closed.

Larry’s epiphany, and the joy that followed, was a representative one for this finale, which was filled with happy endings (albeit at times a muted happiness), and with the various characters who spent this season away from New Orleans each making their way back: LaDonna because Larry realizes it’s what she needs to heal, Janette because she gets a fantastic professional opportunity (and what seems like a very promising, if fraught, romance with Jacques), Delmond because his father needs him more than Delmond needs New York (and because Delmond has finally embraced his roots).

We talk a lot about the many ways in which “Treme” is different from “The Wire,” but the mostly-positive vibe of “Do Watcha Wanna” illustrated perhaps the greatest difference: in the end, Simon and Overmyer take more pity on these characters and are more willing to cut them a break than Simon and Burns did on “The Wire.” So it’s less of an oddity when something good happens to a long-suffering character.

(And, conversely, while big business and big government continue to fail the little guy, Nelson – the stand-in for the many ways the show finds the system to be broken and useless – winds up suffering the finale’s harshest fate for any main character, losing his connections and place in the New Orleans power elite. If this was “The Wire: New Orleans,” Arnie might have still been allowed to scold him for making so much money while contributing nothing, but Nelson would have just kept on making his cash and climbing the ladder. I’ll be curious to see whether Jon Seda continues with the show, and, if so, what Nelson’s role in things might be. If this was his whole arc, I don’t know that the payoff was worth the time invested in it.)

I’m so conditioned to expect horrible things to happen from years of watching Simon shows that when Sofia and Toni separated at the club, I feared a gunman would come in, spray the place with bullets and hit one of them – but no, it was just another simple, sweet “Treme” moment, in this case about a mother and daughter re-establishing trust and the pleasure of each other’s company, all while taking in some cool music.

Obviously, not everyone gets what they want in the finale. Colson gets bounced back to uniform, while the lazy and/or corrupt homicide detectives go on about their business, and Toni is no more successful at getting anything done on the Abreu case.(*) Davis essentially gets kicked out of his own band, while Antoine disbands the Soul Apostles.

(*) I will say that while the Abreu story didn’t work very well overall, the conflict it generated between Toni and Colson in the finale – with each of them going to the nuclear option in their conversation at Toni’s office, and with Toni having no idea about the risks Terry took on her behalf – was very, very strong. I just wish that conflict could have come out of a story that felt more engaging and better-integrated into the series as a whole.

But even there, there are some silver linings – in some cases, ones that eventually become bigger and brighter than the dark clouds. Antoine realizes that the teaching job he so reluctantly took for Desiree’s sake was far more satisfying to him than the Soul Apostles, and it was fun to see him leading the group of kids, who in their enthusiasm right now come across as more mature and professional than Wanda and the others in the grown-up band. For that matter, while Sonny loses the steady gig, it brought him into the orbit of Cornell, the oystermen and now Linh, and it’s a world that’s providing income, stability and sobriety for him, and one he’s surprised to realize he enjoys. And while it hurts Davis to have his creation evolve past his own modest abilities, he still has Annie(**), and he still has the radio station to fall back on (until Darnell fires him again), and by turning into the skid and accepting his whiteness, he’s able to leave the Brassy Knoll on one hell of a high note with that wonderfully silly performance of “Sex Machine.”

(**) And Annie, meanwhile, still suffers nightmares about Harley’s murder, and misses him, but is carrying on and getting serious about her songwriting.

In his radio monologue near the episode’s end, Davis talks about how he can’t imagine being anywhere but New Orleans, “even if it isn’t as it should be, even if they make it hard.” And that’s “Treme.” These characters and this show love this broken, battered, thoroughly dysfunctional place, and they manage to find joy beside the pain, optimism in spite of the heartbreak. Not everything will turn out okay, because life doesn’t work that way even in a more stable environment, but these people keep striving to make as much work as they can, and to figure out how to live with the rest.

And that’s why I love “Treme,” and why “Do Watcha Wanna” was such a great capper to this second season.

Some other thoughts:

• As always on a David Simon show, the finale featured callbacks to moments from much earlier in the season, including Annie finally understanding both Gumbo Ya-Ya and Harley’s instructions about what makes a song great, Robinette chafing under Nelson’s leadership, etc.

• Because I’m not that up on current R&B, I hadn’t realized that Toni’s intern/Cornell’s girlfriend/Wanda’s replacement was played by LeToya Luckett, who was one of the original members of Destiny’s Child, until a commenter pointed it out last week.

• Couple of moments this week that paid small homage to “The Wire,” first with Sonny using McNulty’s “The fuck did I do?” catchphrase, and later with Colson’s meeting with the FBI agent in an empty parking lot looking very much like McNulty’s various meetings with Fitz (down to the FBI guy being named Jimmy).

• So, yes, it does look like Tranh and the other fishermen and oystermen are there in the event the show’s around long enough for the timeline to catch up to the BP spill – and, just in case we don’t get there, Simon gave us the scene where Tranh told Sonny about all the slow leaks. I also appreciated the low-key way that Tranh and Sonny’s interaction played out: no big speeches, no confrontations, just Tranh watching this gangly white guy working hard for a few days, then shrugging to the inevitable and giving his silent, amusing approval to the idea of Sonny and Linh dating.

• As I said in Friday’s column, Oliver Thomas was definitely the most successful of the show’s many non-actors asked to play themselves. And while the show was clearly very sympathetic to him and his downfall, it was ultimately in a resigned, “That’s a shame” kind of way – as Sofia notes, he did take the money – rather than treating it as an outrage.

• I liked Davis and Janette’s brief reunion, and particularly the smooth way he responded to her “punching out of your weight class” dig by turning it into a compliment about her. Davis can be a clown sometimes, but the man does have his moments with the ladies.

• Does anyone in the business play worried better than David Morse? That moment where he goes back to his desk after confronting the Homicide captain to ponder the ramifications of what he just did was so, so good.

• The Lambreaux father/son comedy duo did not disappoint, with Albert responding a bit too enthusiastically to the fake royalty check (“Shit. We gotta cut another record!”) and Delmond and Woodrow trying very hard not to tip their hands. Funny stuff, as usual. And Clarke Peters was sure enjoying the heck out of himself during the Jazz Fest performance.

• Though the biggest laugh of the episode may have been Davis asking if anybody in the band was sleeping with Annie.

So go read Dave Walker’s final episode explainer of the season (which points out where you can spot the real Davis in the episode), and then tell me, what did everybody else think?