In season four of the HBO series Treme the narrative force of this post-Katrina epic is dwindling along with the fortunes of its characters. Death and failure weave through the story like the cats-claw ropeweeds climbing the walls and roofs of the city’s houses. Big Chief Albert Lambreaux, defiantly living his last days to the full as he battles cancer, goes to a New Year’s party at Rosy’s to hear his son Delmond play trumpet with Papa Grows Funk, but before the set is through, Lambreaux is hurting so bad he has to be helped out of the club by his girlfriend, LaDonna Batiste-Williams and his daughter Davina.
LaDonna herself is defiantly staring at the abyss, powerless to do much for the two sons who are living with their stepfather, Larry. Her relationship with Larry is breaking down to the point that she can’t come into the house because his new girlfriend is there. She is going to divorce him, but to what end? LaDonna’s mother asks her about her first husband Antoine, her second husband Larry, and her new friend Albert. LaDonna has to tell her that Albert is very ill.
Meanwhile, Antoine is still reeling from the senseless murder of one of his students and the impact that tragedy has had on his other students, including the promising Jennifer, who he hears is playing on Frenchmen Street. Antoine goes to find Jennifer and apparently convinces her to return to his tutelage by promising to teach her how to play the “Ghostbusters” theme the way the Pinettes do it.
The beautifully ripening romance between Detective Terry Colson and activist lawyer Toni Bernette hits the rocks under the stress of the ongoing corruption in the New Orleans police department and the city’s legal system. Their individual frustrations dealing with a system totally stacked against their thirst for justice eats away at their own relationship. More than any other characters in the ongoing real-life aspect of this drama, Terry and Toni are doomed to failure. Terry tells his FBI contact that the attitude among his fellow officers is “Smug. They beat the state of Louisiana and they know they can beat the feds.”
Toni vows vengeance on the whole Danziger Bridge mob, along with “Henry Glover and whoever else the NOPD killed after the storm.” But as we know in that real life, even after Glover was shot dead, then burned in his car to cover the evidence, the murderer was acquitted “by a jury of his peers” only a few days ago.
The sense of loss even touches on the music itself. Papa Grows Funk, so glorious in that New Year’s Eve show burning through “Stanky,” no longer exists as a band today. And in a colossal piece of irony that was scripted after the infamous firing of his New Orleans band, the Lower 911, a year ago, Dr. John’s former manager Ed Gerard tells Antoine that Mac “can always use a great New Orleans ‘bone player.”
Not, apparently, any longer.
Davis McAlary has lost his band but not his purpose. This ever-more bizarre character, a self-proclaimed expert in New Orleans history who is still incapable of the correct pronunciation of Cosimo Matassa’s name three episodes from the end of the show, decides to make the return of live music on North Rampart Street his new crusade. “It was like getting a message from the universe,” he tells Janette Desautel, whose attempt to start a new restaurant on the site of the old Bywater Barbecue on Dauphine Street is apparently doomed by the legal restraints her former employer has imposed on her and the economic realities that have her running out of champagne at 9:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Davis and Janette rekindle the relationship they were in as the series started with a New Year’s sleepover that has them both wondering about the future.
“Is something going on?” he asks her.
“I’m not sure,” she replies with a smile that says more than her words reveal. “Do we have to figure it out today?”
No, but there are only two more episodes left.
— John Swenson