‘Treme’ – ‘Slip Away’: Time to rally

A review of tonight’s “Treme” coming up just as soon as I do window treatments…

“It’s why the world is full of players.” -Harley

Though we’re close to midway through the second season of “Treme,” and nearly a year and a half out from Katrina, it feels in many ways like a lot of the characters are starting over from scratch during “Slip Away.”

Janette gets a new job working for Eric Ripert, who makes all his new chefs start at the bottom and learn his methods step-by-step. Annie realizes that if she ever wants to advance from player to artist, she needs to learn how to write a song (and not just rip off half-remembered Dylan melodies). Sofia finds herself going through the grief process all over again when she starts to figure out how her father really died. Albert gets the plumbing in his house going and then is told he has to pay for a plumber to approve the perfectly-good work – and later that he has to refile all his Road Home paperwork because the bureaucrats thought he left off his late wife’s signature. And – in the episode’s most deeply affecting scene, superbly played as always by Khandi Alexander – LaDonna finds herself unable to make it from one end of her crowded bar to the other without having to race to the bathroom to vomit.

Even when people don’t have to start back at the beginning, there are still bumps for nearly everyone’s project. Antoine’s band has such a constantly-rotating cast of characters(*) that Sonny is suddenly one of his more reliable players. Davis manages to get Mannie Fresh to contribute a song to his bounce sampler – or, rather, Aunt Mimi does it (in a hilarious moment for Elizabeth Ashley), and between that scene and Davis’ friend pushing him to hire someone else to perform his songs, the whole project is starting to get away from him. (As with Sonny last season, Davis is brushing up against the limits of both his talent and charm, and it’s a humbling experience for him.)

(*) And it’s in part because people keep shuffling into and out of the Soul Apostles that I made the mistake in last week’s review about Dinerral being part of the group. Keeping track of all the local musicians – most of them played by actual local musicians, who speak their dialogue with varying degrees of impenetrability – is in some ways becoming harder than it was to identify all of Avon Barksdale’s people in season one of “The Wire.” It’s part of what the show’s about, and I imagine if I were going through this season a second time after finishing it up once, I’d be able to identify the comings and goings of all the Soul Apostles and Antoine’s friends, but every now and then right now, I’m gonna flub it. Apologies. Onward and upward.

The only character who seems to be making any kind of unfettered progress at this point is Nelson, and he’s the one we’re arguably supposed to sympathize with least.(**)

(**) I say “arguably” because I think the writers have done a good job of not turning him into a two-dimensional villain the way that, say, the newspaper bosses on “The Wire” occasionally threatened to be. Yes, given the show’s politics, and the problems we see all the returning characters, plus Lt. Colson, dealing with, an out-of-town developer looking to get rich quick landing building contracts isn’t the most sympathetic figure in the “Treme” universe. But at the same time, a scene like Nelson and Liguori dining at Mosca’s allowed Liguori to reasonably argue a political position that, say, Davis would violently disagree with.

Again, that mix of ambition butting up against the limitations of both people’s abilities and the city’s damaged infrastructure that remains this season’s connective thread. Everyone in “Treme” wants more than what life is currently offering them, and they’re actually taking steps to get that, but life keeps getting in the way of their plans. Many of the characters come together in the anti-violence march at the end of the episode, but there’s only so much even that big public action can do – particularly when we cut to Gigi’s bar with crime victim LaDonna not there, watching TV in her living room because going out into the world is so damn hard right now.  

Some other thoughts:

• Dinerral’s funeral was a really lovely sequence, from the way it brought together so many of the real and fictional characters who are important parts of the show’s music scene, to that moment (which I’m assuming is a real New Orleans tradition) where everybody holds their instrument silently aloft as a show of respect while the coffin is being carried into the hearse.

• As viewers who get to see the whole picture, we understand why Toni chose to lie to Sofia about the suicide, but Sofia’s realization of the truth is only going to make things shakier between the two of them.

• Ripert and Tom Colicchio, of course, played themselves last season, when Janette wowed both of them during a visit to her restaurant. Ripert comes across fairly naturally, but there remains something a bit practiced about Colicchio the actor, as if he’s so used to doing “Top Chef’ that he shifts into that mode whenever the cameras are on. Or maybe that’s just how Tom comes across, cameras or no. Practiced or not, the man makes one hell of a steak.

• I continue to enjoy Delmond’s quest to reconnect with his musical roots (“It’s got mud all over it”), and was glad his first performance of the new stuff went over as well as it did. Also interesting to see Janette as an object of protective jealousy from two different women, as Annie’s concerned about Davis sending her the Sazerac ingredients, while Delmond’s girlfriend seems just the tiniest bit suspicious of this pretty New Orleans blonde dancing to her man’s music.

• We’re now almost to the season’s midpoint, yet both Nelson and Lt. Colson seem largely unconnected to our returning characters. Nelson employs Robinette, and Colson and Toni are friends, but for the most part those two each remain off in their own corner of the show. I’m assuming there will be more crossover as we get into the second half, but maybe not. After all, look how long it took for Albert to meet anybody other than Delmond.

So go read Dave Walker’s latest episode explainer at his blog, and then tell me, what did everybody else think?