Treme S4 E2: Death’s Grip On New Orleans

HBO’s New Orleans-based drama Treme is down to its final three episodes. The action is picking up dramatically as story lines resolve with Shakesperian suddenness and finality. Those of us who’ve followed the series from its inception will soon find the familiar characters who seem so much like neighbors moving out of our lives forever.

Sunday night’s episode was rife with bad news. Chief Albert Lambreaux, the noblest character in the story, is feeling great in the first flush of autumnal weather and the intoxicating beauty of his concomitant late season love affair with Ladonna Batiste-Willaims when his doctor informs him that his cancer has spread to his liver. Like the series itself, the Chief has been handed a death sentence. He uses the news as an opportunity to claim what little time he has left as his own. He stops his chemotherapy, drinks a beer with clear, satisfied relish, and reviews his life, driving around the city with his daughter and showing her places where he grew up.

And he spends quality time with Ladonna. “Aren’t you afraid?” she asks.

“All sane men,” he replies, “are afraid to die.”

Treme-season-4-episode-2-Antoine-Batiste

Wendell Pierce plays Antoine Batiste in Season 4's second episode of Treme.

Death comes in stupid, unnecessary ways as well. One of Antoine Batiste’s students saw her brother gunned down in a drive by shooting. She didn’t witness the shooters, but by the end of the episode she is dead herself.

“They saw her as a threat,” the cop tells Batiste. “That she might testify as a witness.”

Treme is filled with teachable moments, and this is one of the most dramatic. Wendell Pierce, the actor who plays Antoine Batiste, commented on the story line.

“Violence is the number one issue in New Orleans,” said Pierce, who appears on the cover of this month’s OffBeat. “It’s key that we understand first of all that it’s not just one element that creates the violence. I always find in discussions of this that people are looking for the one cure-all. But you have to understand that as detached as you may be from the people perpetuating the violence we all have a contribution to make to this dynamic. And change it. We’re contributing to the paradigm one way or the other -– our inaction, our indifference, is a vote of complicity in my eye. I think you have to make a difference.

Violence has always been part of the American culture. And it’s always been countered by education. In the wild west they would say go get a school marm to teach these wild men out here. Give them an opportunity to go on the road to where they make a different choice. We have to create an economic environment where there’s a chance for employment. These young men who are running and gunning  were 12 years old when Katrina happened. What did we do or not do in this period which led them to pursue this lifestyle, which is having an impact on so many. It’s because what we take for granted as opportunity, that road that we were put on by our mothers and fathers, what we have to realize is we have to start building a culture not just for those who understand the importance of that opportunity. We have to ensure that we build a culture for those who don’t understand that. What choices and opportunities are built in to the education system?

We know what they are for those students who have great paths, who know how to take advantage of the choices that they have, but you should actually build a system for all of those students that don’t have great parents and won’t know about all the different choices that they have. We have to adopt the principle that we own all of our youths’ time and we have to fill every hour. My mother and father always told us that even when you have some recreational time or down time you ought to have some focus to it. When we were young the city helped to prepare us for jobs. They had classes in how to conduct a job interview. How to comport yourself on an interview. How do you prepare a resume. We were preparing our youth not just to get an education but to join the work force. We have to prepare these kids to be able to join the American labor force. That’s how I got my first job.

I was part of these training sessions where I was taught how to work in corporate America and given these training sessions. When I asked ‘Who did that?’ my mother said ‘The mayor’s office did that.’ So you have to engage. Just for example, my store is hiring. I know if some of those kids took a job at my store it would put them on a different path. If they want to get involved, it’s about how to give them the access to be able to get involved. If they don’t have access to the normal economic circles they will go to the underground social circle and that will have a negative impact on their lives. Involving ourselves in the youth of New Orleans is key. And that is how you put an end to violence.

The police are a deterrent, but policing violence is always a reaction to violence that’s already happened. The police come after it happens. We have to be preventative.  Nothing should happen in New Orleans without a youth corps attached to it. That’s a part of what being seriously active is about.  That’s what Jazz Fest is about. We should have a full day designated for youth. You have to involve them. You saw how Antoine takes his kids to hear music. Even then, though, the violence in New Orleans touches them. These kind of programs and this kind of commitment to action is the only thing that is going to change the paradigm.”

– John Swenson

 

DID YOU CATCH OFFBEAT’S BEST OF THE BEAT AWARDS
IN LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE OF TREME TOO?

Here’s a clip of “Annie” with her Best of the Beat Awards for Song of the Year,
filmed at House of Blues — where our Best of the Beat Awards took place three years ago:

 

OffBeat contributor, Cate Czarnecki was also referenced in NOLA.com’s recap of last night’s episode of Treme for her piece on Aurora Nealand / Rory Danger, here.

 

Don’t miss out on this year’s Best of the Beat Awards, happening Saturday, January 18, 2014 at Generations Hall! You never know who might show up… of film something. Tickets, line-up and more info here. History always goes down at the Best of the Beat.