This Week's 'Treme': The Cliches Come Marching In
By the end of the third episode of Treme, we're starting to get a little wary. While the show continues to be visually stunning and engaging, when it comes to laying out the saints and sinners in New Orleans, Simon's painting with an awfully broad brush.
A recurring theme throughout the episode was the insensitivity and the incompetence of the post-Katrina law enforcement. In the course of the hour, officers lock up Davis for an open container, hassle Annie and Sonny, refuse to acknowledge custody of Daymo, and beat up a drunk Antoine after he accidentally knocks a patrol car with his trombone, which they kick into the street. (Both Davis and Antoine are bailed out by Toni, who is seemingly being paid only in piano lessons. Are there no other lawyers with a soft spot for musicians around?) After The Wire's ability to delve into the complexities and personalities of the Baltimore police, the narrow treatment of cops here feels too easy.
The tension around who belongs and who doesn't continues as well, although thankfully with a bit more complexity. Davis finally has it out with his gay neighbors, who he accuses of being gentrifying carpetbaggers, only to find out they're NOLA natives who know as much of the neighborhood's musical history as he does. And Delmond, in New York for a Lincoln Center Katrina benefit, wryly observes, "In New Orleans, they hype the music, but they don't love the musicians. Just look how folks got to leave to get their due." Delmond is fast being set up as an outsider who's choosing to reject the New Orleans culture his father holds so dear, but he serves to show that sometimes the tradition isn't enough.
Albert, meanwhile, remains busy gathering his Indians, which takes a tragic turn when a Wildman is found drowned in his garage in the Lower 9th ward. The episode's closing scene is a memorial for the man, as a ring of Mardi Gras Indians (many of whom are "real" Indians of renown, rather than actors), sans costumes, beat a moving rendition of "Indian Red" with voice and tambourine to honor their friend. The gathering is interrupted by the arrival of a bus emblazed with "Katrina Tour," and tourists snapping pictures of the destruction. "People want to see what happened," the bus driver apologizes. It's a delicate, unpleasant, moment, and while surely grounded in the reality of many residents, the close was more powerful without it. As Time critic James Poniewozik wrote, "the scene—coming after a moment so poetic and show-not-tell—is a little on the nose. (It also raises a question: why are we watching, and why did HBO pick up the show, if not to 'see what happened'?)"
Music worth watching for: There are dueling versions of "Indian Red" in this episode, both fantastic, and starkly different. The first is performed joyously by the legendary Dr. John, as he rehearses with Delmond, Trombone Shorty, and others in advance of the Lincoln Center Gig. (Dr. John acknowledges that their cover of the song, sacred to the Mardi Gras Indians, will likely rub some the wrong way, and even asks Delmond if he's OK with playing it.) The second is a dirge, described above, and performed by the Indians themselves. And my favorite number—Antoine, drunk after his Bourbon street gig, stumbles across Sonny and Annie, and sings the sweet tune "Ghost of a Chance" along with her violin.
What we're wondering: Will Antoine get his trombone back? And how long will his newfound devotion to Desire last? Also of interest was LaDonna's delving into the subtleties of African-American caste issues. (She complains of her husband's family, "They into that 7th ward Creole shit like they a different fucking race.") I'll be interested to see how far Simon takes that thread, an issue that signifies much, but is rarely touched in popular media.
For a recap of last week's episode, click here.