This Week on 'Treme': Well, That Got Real

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Among the group of writers with whom I watched the first episode of Treme, a common complaint was that the premier was too much a love letter to New Orleans, and the characters were so seemingly well-intentioned and earnest that we wondered where the conflict was going to brew. Last night's episode blew all of that apart.

There are pasts to be grappled with here, and ugliness beneath the pluck and parades that colored the pilot. Here's where things stand:

LaDonna thinks they've found her brother, but they've tracked the wrong guy, which is almost a relief. The search for Daymo is shaping up to be one of the more suspenseful conflicts in the series so far--no way would it get resolved so quickly. We are introduced to LaDonna's sons and new husband, who is ensconced in Baton Rouge with his dental practice, and intends to stay there. We're not meant to like this guy. (As Josh Levin pointed out at Slate, David Simon's disdain for any character whose feet and heart aren't firmly planted in New Orleans is fast becoming predictable.)

Delmond cancels enough Boston gigs to play a set in his hometown, only to be arrested for smoking a joint outside the club. His dad meanwhile lets loose some startling violence, in a scene that might as well have included David Simon holding a sign that reads, "Yeah, shit's about to get real." Lesson learned: don't cross Clarke Peters.

We meet both Sonny and Annie, white street musicians dependent on and disdainful of rubber-necking post-Katrina tourists, and Davis's wealthy parents, who are growing impatient with their son's starving artist routine. Davis takes a buttoned-up hotel job to appease them, only to be fired after he sends the same church-group tourists that Sonny and Annie played for in search of some music "off the beaten-path." "Give that to the cab driver," he tells them, handing over the address to Bullets, a 7th ward club. "If he says anything, tell him you're sure." The kids don't come back.

Also seeking support from Mom and Dad was chef Janette DeSautel, whose insurance hasn't come through, and the restaurant is struggling. She needs $25,000. They can do five grand, maybe six. And John Goodman's disgruntled professor has a "timely" novel in a drawer about the 1927 Mississippi flood, but his liberal guilt can't bear to be seen as cashing in on the storm. His wife's take? "You were there first."

Music worth watching for: On the heels on a recording session with Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, Delmond joins New Orleans funk band Galactic onstage to play trumpet on "Blackbird Special." And the closing scene, in which Albert and a fellow Indian stomp out "Shallow Water" using only tambourines and their voices, is magnificent.

Notable cameos: Coco Robicheaux as a guest on Davis's WWOZ radio show; Slim Charles (Anwan Glover) as the wrong David Brooks; Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews runs into Antoine in front of Preservation Hall.

What we're wondering: It's pretty clear that Sonny's boasting about all of the people he saved after the flood, right? Also, this episode started to play with the idea of a post-storm economy divided between people who make and do things, and those who are all persona. "I can build a house from roof to foundation," Albert shames a copper thief. "What can you do?" Creighton similarly bemoans Tulane's decision to cut engineering programs only to preserve identity-driven majors like women's studies. Yet characters like Davis are all about identity and authenticity, and even the mercenary Antoine protests when his girlfriend nags him to get "a job, not a gig." Keep an eye on this.

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Rachael Brown is a writer and analyst for Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. A former Atlantic editor, she has written for The Guardian and Smithsonian.com, among other outlets. She is also a former public high school teacher.

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