I wrote a few days back that I was really enjoying Treme S02. Having finished E11 just now, I have to say that this is television at its finest. There is so much depth here that one feels adrift like the Noles themselves while watching. The characters are so well-drawn, the music splendid, and the story itself is priceless. In this series, the city itself is a character just as much as the city was in Fitzgerald’s classic. She lives, breathes, kills, reassures, and simply survives. She asks us “where were you?” and we are compelled to feel her loss in our souls. It isn’t just the random violence or the omnipresent music, but also the indomitable spirit of the characters here. The Big Chief Lambreaux who miraculously is back in a relationship with his son Delmond and they are producing amazing music together. Jeannette is back with a new restaurant. Sonny seems to have kicked H and even found an unlikely soulmate. LeDonna and Sofia have come to terms with their losses and are rebuilding themselves. And yet, Nelson Hidalgo, Antoine, and DJ Davis have been sidelined – one having lost his sponsor and the other two having lost their bands. Not everyone gets a happy ending, just like in real life.
One other aspect of this show that I find remarkable – and that others have told me they find annoying – is the way the camera context switches constantly and that some scenes have no action. I believe that what the filmmakers are trying to show in those moments is the simultaneity of the various events as the intertwined lives of the characters pursue their parallel lines. There are indeed scenes which are closer to “tableaux”, or put another way, as background images to the larger picture or mood that the show is trying to portray. I can imagine that even with a one hour show, it is hard to paint such a realistic and in-depth analysis of the characters and their city. These intercut scenes serve to weave the various stories into a quilt-work. Sometimes it requires patience to watch but then, the folks in New Orleans had to have almost infinite patience in dealing with an by turns absent and corrupt local government, a hapless FEMA, an ignorant and hypocritical president, and the slow, slow recovery effort. There was one moment around E07 or E08 where loads of things are happening around Mardi Gras and this effect of jumping around gives us the impression of canvassing the entire city just like in the Gatsby.
There are details here that are reminiscent of the incredible realism and analysis in The Wire. The kitchen scenes as Jeannette works her way through three Manhattan kitchens before getting an offer to go back home were stunning. Talking to a few folks I know in the business, it is really that brutal in high-end restaurants – that was news to me. Also, the insight into oyster fisherman and especially the Vietnamese shrimp fisherman was fascinating. Not just because we were rooting for Sonny to break with his downward trajectory but also for a view into that world. The night scene shot on the shrimp boat was superb (E11).
The last episode, besides tying up lose ends and getting us revved for S03, gives us the privilege of Jazz Fest and appearances of most of the characters but also a magnificent Vanessa Williams. OK, this is a pathetic emission but when he played on The Wire and before he was killed off here on Treme, I never recognized Steve Earle in the Walon or Harley characters. I mean he looked familiar but I guess I have listened to his music far more than having looked at his photo. In any case, his character Harley was fantastic and like John Goodman’s Creighton character from S01, I think he will be missed. Thanks Steve for two seasons including some beautiful acoustic jams – the last before his slaying of “This City” was magistral.
So, thanks to David Simon for another fantastic season that made my heart ache for New Orleans and rejoice at her resurrection.