Treme Wrap-Up: “Everything We Do Counts”

[SPOILER ALERT] The second season of Treme ended Sunday with an episode written by David Simon and Anthony Bourdain that echoed last year’s season finale, but not in an air-tight, look-what-I-did way. Last season, we saw Janette having a perfect day in New Orleans; this season, she rides the streetcar with Susan Spicer and goes to see Rebirth (last year, Soul Rebels). Last year, the episode ended with her getting on a plane to move to NYC; this season, she’s back in town and considering moving into a Cochon-like restaurant. Last season, Delmond was on his way back to New York as well; by the end of a season of rediscovering his New Orleans-ness, he’s letting his apartment going and moving back as well.

Last season, Trombone Shorty was Antoine’s Road Not Taken: what would have happened if he cared about music more than good times and girls? He reappears in that role to remind Batiste of his place in the world, having taken the Henry Butler gig Antoine blew off a gig to audition for. Last season, Antoine’s catch phrase was “Play for that motherfuckin’ money.” He ends this season with his little TBC busking on Frenchmen, advising them to “play for that money,” editing himself in deference to their youth.

In last year’s finale, Khandi Alexander’s LaDonna reconnects to her lust for life by saying goodbye to Daymo and joining his second line. This season, she finds herself again by joining the city in an expression of outrage that wasn’t just for her and her own sense of violation, but for the city’s sense of violation during that time. When she says, “Bitch, I’m past upset; I’m all the way to Lost My Fucking Mind,” not only does she speak for all of us in 2006 and 2007, but she awakens from her sleepwalking self, one I suspect many of us recognize. If we see the cast and communal entity – the city – the exhaustion of DJs Davis and Jeffy Jeff in the final scene make sense. The effort involved in getting through that year was debilitating, and after people finally woke up from pipe dreams and depressed lethargy for one final 90-minute episode, everybody’s spent. All that was left was time for one final echo. Just as David Simon previewed the first season in the pilot as a montage while a posing Davis played Louis Prima’s “Buena Sera,” he put all of the stories to bed at the end of season two with a too-tired-to-play Davis spinning Louis Armstrong’s “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams.” And if no one at Back of Town chews on that juxtaposition first, then I’ll try to get back to it.

All of those echoes and more I haven’t touched on are a reminder of how arbitrary time markers are in real life, and how one day, month, season or year gains meaning in context of those around them. That’s one place where the relationship between Treme and real life in New Orleans is an imperfect one since the series is constructed as a story meant to be told over 10 or 11 hours with a beginning, middle and ending, whereas endings (and, I’d argue, “closure”) are arbitrary, where a narrative is imposed backward on events that just took place. Still, those season-to-season echoes mark subtle shifts in characters and their situations and add resonance to the show’s narrative.

Other Notes:

– Antoine’s stint as a band leader revealed still more of his flaws, but you had to feel for him as he dealt with phone message after phone message of band foolishness including Wanda Rouzan calling him twice to chew him out before he’s even had breakfast.

– Toni’s friend announcing that she’s leaving is a reminder that our population was still in flux at that time, and many who came back found the city too grinding to continue living in.

– At, Matt Zoller Seitz has complained much of the season that Treme has cut too quickly to the next scene. It’s hard to imagine he had that complaint when Davis was onstage with the Grassy Knoll with Alex McMurray having become the new guitarist. Steve Zahn played Davis’ pain, embarrassment and realization of what had to happen with great stillness, and the length of the scene made his discomfort palpable. (Zoller Seitz interviews David Simon today, with good stuff on LaDonna in the final episode.)

– After an Annie-heavy season, the episode’s more than a half-hour in before she appears on screen.

– While Sonny’s out shrimping and proving himself to Linh’s father, the theme of oil in the Gulf of Mexico is touched on, opening the door to future storylines should Treme last long enough.

– While the series has either mirrored real life or taken liberties with it, I’m not sure before this episode that it has chosen to affect reality. When Colson passes the Danziger Bridge files to the FBI, the production in effect is giving him credit for starting the investigation into the shooting.

– The Jazz Fest audience looked like a Jazz Fest audience; a lot of extras were really acting considering how cold it was the day they were shooting.

– I don’t share most people’s hostility toward Nelson, but like so many out-of-towners who’ve thought that New Orleans was their personal playpen, he learned that people play hardball here in ways you never anticipate, and no one’s as easily marginalized as an out-of-towner.

– One of my gripes with the series is its occasional tendency to explain the unnecessary, so it was nice to see Dr. Lonnie Smith onstage with Delmond and Donald Harrison without anybody saying, “Look, it’s Dr. Lonnie Smith!” And when James Andrews sat it with Rebirth at the Maple Leaf, the crowd took it in stride; it didn’t need explanation. I winced a little at the mouthful of exposition Janette had to deal with when she saw the streetcar, but the moment was redeemed by her tearing up as she rode it.

–Alex Rawls




In the series pilot, DJ Davis