Treme: The Ways Down

[Spoiler Alert] “On Your Way Down” was a fair title for this episode, but you sort of wish Alice Cooper was from New Orleans because “Welcome to My Nightmare” would have been more appropriate. This week, almost everybody faced one hell or another, whether it was Antoine and the gaggle of children standing between him and stardom, Toni and the NOPD’s stone wall, Janette and the Road Home bureaucracy, or LaDonna’s harrowing experience. Even Jon Seda’s Nelson finally runs into someone he can’t smooth talk.

This episode effectively depicted the inertia of the moment, with almost every institution hamstrung in one way or another, whether it was overcrowded hospitals because of a lack of facilities or NOPD hunkered down in bunker mentality or the Road Home professionally stalling. The police come off as particularly disturbing, flying into a house after low-level drug dealers like Navy Seals going after Bin Laden while reluctant or inept in so many other ways.

The centerpiece of the episode was LaDonna’s experience, shot with chilling dispassion. You had to assume violence would visit one of the characters at some point. I expected it to be Davis, to see how his love of New Orleans’ culture would hold up when he couldn’t trust it, but LaDonna as the victim rings just as true. If it seems like piling on, having her go through this experience after losing her brother, it seemed like piling on then, too, and a lot of people felt that way.

Some notes:

Jon Seda’s first appearance of the episode says everything you need to know about the guy as he sits in his hotel room in a robe genuinely enjoying cartoons with a hot, naked woman on the couch next to him.

- The art opening with David Torkanowsky and Annie took place at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, where the performance space was conveniently moved to the third floor to put it closer to the galleries. Normally, they’d be on the first floor. Friend of OffBeat Libra Lagrone is seen in one shot leaning on Torkanowsky’s piano.

- Jonathan Batiste plays Delmond’s piano player and walks into the bar playing a melodica – once a child’s toy that Augustus Pablo and a number of dub producers popularized in reggae. Batiste has worked it into his Jazz Fest shows in the past (I missed his show this year, so I don’t know if he played it again). He gets a powerful solo moment late in the episode.

- This season’s putting some character on Sonny’s bones, and the photo Annie sees refers back to an early episode last season when he told the story of rescuing people after the flood. When someone asks her if the story happened, she answered semi-commitally, “He says he did.” (or something like that)

- No writer can listen to the scene of the band goofing on the “tasty brew” cliches without shuddering, and I can’t imagine a musician who watches the B-flat argument without a shiver of painful recognition.

- A nice detail: When we see Davis’ car, he still has a plastic bag over the window that was broken last season when someone stole his keyboard.

- The “Death by Bureaucracy” thread is underscored numerous times this episode, most obviously in the Road Home scenes, but also in Desiree’s desire for Antoine to have a “job job.” It’s not simply because she wants the stability that accompanies a paycheck, but they need paperwork qualify for a loan. It’s one of the subtexts of this season and the post-Katrina experience: Documentation. What happens when none exists, as in the case of Lower Ninth Ward houses that didn’t have any as they were simply passed from generation because that’s what families do? This is also one of the instances when the show speaks to the country as a whole. I wonder, for example, how many advocates for measures that require immigrants to carry proof of citizenship could prove they’re citizens if stopped. I couldn’t. The idea that nothing  is real unless it’s documented is a dangerous one, as we’re seeing this season.

- The musicians’ bulletin board is at the Music Exchange at the corner of Magazine and Louisiana, and in the scene when Sonny finds Antoine’s flyer, the camera finds a ceramic Best of the Beat award hanging on the wall.

- I’d put change in the guitar case of any musician crazy enough to play “Tipitina” on guitar. That’s J. the Savage – Jamie Bernstein – on second guitar with Steve Earle.

- The title for the episode is one of the most covered Allen Toussaint tracks in recent years. He did it with Elvis Costello on The River in Reverse, Theresa Andersson performed it for her live at Le Petit Theatre DVD and Trombone Shorty cut it on Backatown.

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–Alex Rawls