Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Treme Recap: Always for Pleasure

One of the knocks against Treme early in the season — leveled, not inaccurately, by Josh Levin, among others — was that the show's first few episodes seemed to be colored by David Simon's fervent love of the city, and seemed more like mash notes than drama. Well! As the season's gone on, the dysfunctional heart of the city has made itself known, and a couple of Treme's characters finally crack under the strain this week. "This town beat me," a character says in "Wish Someone Would Care," a title that — like the heartbreaking Irma Thomas song that lends its name — just begins to hint at the darkness at the show's heart. The character who says those words is headed to the east coast. But another character looks to be making a longer, and sadder, journey.

Speaking of journeys, this season's journey is almost over, and the show has really overcome a lot of our problems with it. Not through any conscious effort by the show's producers to respond to criticism, of course — David Simon doesn't give two shits about what anyone says about his show. No, it's clear that this season was intended all along to lure us in with the passion that its characters feel for New Orleans, and then hit us hard with the indifference that New Orleans often shows its characters.

Annie and Sonny: "The music? That's personal"
Down by the river, Annie's trying to break up with Sonny. Only musically, though, she tries to tell him — she just wants a break from playing together, because he's drunk or high half the time, and it's hard to play with him when he's like that. Sonny isn't buying it. If she's not with him, he thinks, she's against him, so he tells her to get her stuff out of the apartment. Which, honestly, is great! Even though she can barely look at him. This is a really nicely filmed, and nicely acted, scene.

Annie flees to a friend's house. The friend, a sax player, is not at all surprised by Sonny's reaction. "Fucking is fucking," she says. "But the music? That's personal." A few days later, Annie shows up at the apartment to pick up another load of stuff, and is surprised to find Sonny there, practicing. He's apologetic and tries to get her to stay and talk. "I made a mistake," he says. She manages to get back out the door with only a vague promise of coffee. Why would she ever consider staying? Other than Sonny's unbuttoned denim shirt, which looks, you know, not bad, but have we ever gotten a sense of Annie as having any actual body besides her fiddlin' arms and big doe eyes?

Annie's got a new pianist, who can't keep his eyes off her as they play a nice-sounding song — a lot cleaner, at least, than anything she's played with Sonny recently. Davis stops by to invite Annie to a party. When she says she can't make it, he tells her she's welcome any time, which he probably means nicely but which, come on, skeevy. She nearly runs into Sonny rockin' it out with a tuba player and a ... bongoist? But turns around and heads the other direction.

And finally, Annie seems to be getting it together, musically: She and her new pianist (and a hilarious, sunglassed tambourine player to whom I hope Annie is not paying a full share) absolutely crush "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)." She manages to blow off the pianist, who clearly wants to Get To Know Her, and heads for wherever home's gonna be.

Ladonna and Antoine: "It's gonna be wrong for us forever"
After an interview with David Brooks' cousin Jerome — he whom the city reported dead without ever following up — Toni makes the case to Ladonna that something about the death is fishy. She wants to do an intimate autopsy of David, but Ladonna puts her foot down. It doesn't matter even if they do find out that David's death was a murder, she tells Toni. "It's about right and wrong!" Toni protests. "The boy's dead," Ladonna says. "It's gonna be wrong for us forever."

At the cemetery, an upset Ladonna and her worried mother look at the family crypt, which has sustained some serious water damage. The cemetery manager tells Ladonna that their "perpetual care" package doesn't include acts of god like a hurricane, and she interrupts him. "You know who you sound like?" she snaps. "Allstate." We love reverse product placement on TV shows! Allstate, you just got Iced!

The crypt repairs will force Ladonna to move back David's funeral a week, and she has to come up with two thousand bucks to cover it. At Gigi's, she tells Antoine she feels she can't ask Larry for it, even though he'd give it to her. She points out that once she starts leaning on Larry's money, he's going to ask why she's keeping the bar open. Antoine counts out $150 from his wallet and slaps it on the bar. Ladonna fixes him with a gaze so withering that only the steadfast form of Wendell Pierce could ever withstand it. "That nonsense last week 'tween you and me?" she says. "That was a Mardi Gras fuck, that's all. It's Lent now. The legs are closed." What a great line, one that perfectly encapsulates Treme's view of New Orleans, and of Ladonna's complicated character. Someone, somewhere, is about to get rich printing a T-shirt reading "It's Lent. The legs are closed."

The door opens and the Texas bouncer, Arnie, walks in with a clipboard. "I'm gonna fix your roof," he says. He's offering to do Ladonna's roof for nothing based on the money she already paid Riley. Antoine and Ladonna stare in disbelief at his claim it'll only take two days. "I'm from the state of Texas, ma'am," Arnie says. "No disrespect? But y'all got a defective work ethic down here."

The next day, Antoine shows up at Gigi's with a hundred more for the crypt. "Who the fuck is you?" Ladonna asks, then tells him that Larry's wiring the rest of the money today. "The boy's a workhorse," she says of the Texan, working with a crew upstairs. "It's all gonna work out," Antoine says with a wicked grin, unconsciously rebutting Ladonna's heart-wrenching declaration to Toni at the beginning of the episode. "You'll see." Ladonna gives him a look.


Albert and Darius: "That's why you wear the mask?"
Sewing party! Albert and his crew and Albert's kids, all holed up in the bar, all sewing like crazy for St. Joseph's night. Darius complains that he wants to wear a suit, and Delmond talks about how he used to feel that way, back when he hadn't turned his back on everything his father cared about. (He leaves that last part as subtext.)

The Indians get a visit from the community-relations sergeant who tried to talk Albert out of Calliope, who's brought along Lieutenant Coles Colson, the truth-telling cop played by David Morse. Colson is reaching out, but Albert's suspicious. Colson tells Albert he's worried that every street cop who knows Albert's out on bail for hitting a cop is going to view St. Joseph's as a night to take a free shot. Albert takes it as a threat, but Colson keeps on his sad smile and defuses the situation by bringing up Big Chief Tootie, who just before he died at the City Council talked about telling his Indians to look the other way when the cops get edgy. "You giving your gang the same message you're bringing mine?" Albert asks. "I'm trying to," Colson replies with a smile.

Albert and Robinette hire Darius for a good day's labor picking up sacks of who-knows-what at Home Depot. "Called work," Robinette yells to a wincing, sweating Darius. "Get used to it. Your back's gonna hurt for the next 40, 50 years."

The three of them wind up outside Calliope, staring at the National Guardsmen and cops guarding the place. Darius wants to know what Albert got arrested for, since Calliope seems even more closed than before. Time for tonight's David Simon Thesis Statement! "Sometimes the battles worth fighting are the ones you know you gonna lose," Albert says. Darius definitely believes Albert is crazy, inasmuch as the cops are staring right at him, itching to fight. "I'm gonna be heard," Albert growls. "That's why you wear the mask?" Darius asks.

Davis and Janette: "They're just moments"
Davis is planning a house party to celebrate his EP going "New Orleans gold." (Translation: "I'm still getting consignment checks two months later.") His plan is a solid one: only musicians and hot women allowed.

Janette's parents get a tour of what remains of her restaurant. She tells them about her meals-on wheels venture — she's got a party lined up in the garden outside a wine bar called Bacchanal in a few days. They wonder if she couldn't come back to Huntsville. "And get married to some lumpy lawyer and start poppin' out grandkids?" she asks. "I'd rather have my head dipped in duck fat and stuffed in a Dutch oven." Which seems a little harsh.

For Davis, flyering a party means handing out posters only to hot women outside a Kermit Ruffin show. In the back of the bar, Antoine's eating ribs with baby Honore. "She's done up like a pork chop," Davis says, and Antoine looks down to see the baby sucking on a bottle of barbecue sauce like a VentAire 8-ounce with NaturaLatch nipple. "What you doin'?" Antoine demands of his well-sauced babe, but honestly, inside he must be like THAT'S MY GIRL.

He gets gumbo and a po' boy at Liuzza's. After parking his truck by the river, he waits in line at Cafe du Monde. He listens to a street musician and drops $20 in her case. When Annie asks, "Are you sure?" he answers, "Always for pleasure" — echoing Antoine in episode four, and the Les Blank documentary that Simon has always cited as an inspiration for Treme.

Davis knocks on the door of the strippers in his neighborhood and they assemble themselves on the balcony like some kind of scantily-clad superhero team. They agree to come to his party after work, and ask what they can bring. "Your huge tracts of land personalities," he grins, then walks away, fist-pumping.

Davis's party, once it begins, is presented in counterpoint to Janette's Bacchanal gig. At Davis's, the jamming begins early and sounds great. At Bacchanal, Jon Cleary and Big D sound fine, but the focus is on Janette, who's selling everything she can shove on a plate, with the help of two employees. The Spanish-speaking cook says he can smell "lluvia," whatever that — oh.

At Davis's, his next-door neighbors request some Irma Thomas, and a guest declares she can sing it — and she can! She sounds great, and also has some hilarious bouffanty hair. In the background, some dudes discuss picking her up, or maybe asking her to join their band.

Janette's party is hopping, and she allows herself a moment of pride as she sees her parents admiring the food and the crowd. Needless to say, at that exact moment the wind picks up. "I ain't gonna get electrocuted for my art," mutters Big D, and the band takes a break, just as the skies open.

Irma finishes her song, which is, of course, "Wish Someone Would Care," with its downtrodden tale of pain hid behind a smile. It's not a song that applies to Davis, who does not have depths, but it is a nice fit for a number of the characters in this episode — Janette and Creighton particularly. (Annie doesn't hide her gloom; Ladonna wears her pain like a badge; behind Albert's rage is more rage.) Several commenters took us to task last week for complaining about the musical numbers in Treme, and this is a great example of what they were talking about — the song is a wonderful commentary on the episode's themes, on Creighton's struggle, on New Orleans as a whole. Plus it is flat-out gorgeous. But, like almost all the show's TPSM moments, it doesn't move the plot forward. In this case, the song is so beautiful and apropos that it totally works. But that sets the bar ridiculously high, and most of the perfectly nice TPSM scenes in Treme just aren't as good, so they're so easy to tune out — it's not as if we're going to miss plot if we do.

Janette trips running a tray of pork chops inside, dumps them in frustration, throws off her apron, and looks up at the sky in despair.

At Davis's party, the jam continues with an extremely mellow and funky version of "Agent Double-O Soul." One of his neighbors shares a joint with Davis, then admits that he was the one who called the cops last summer. His partner is aghast. "You called the cops for loud music in the Treme?" he asks. "I didn't know he did it." Davis is magnanimous in victory. "Bygones!"

So we start with Creighton reading on a bench outside his classroom. The awkwardness of this scene — it seems to have been shot solely so that Creighton's pre-suicide cigarette hits a little harder — makes us think that maybe this was a late addition to the episode, shot out of sequence. (Also, that sure looks like skinny Goodman.) In class, a student complains that The Awakening is really old. Take your time, he tells them. Enjoy the language. Just as in life, there's no closure at the end. As a narrative call to arms, David Simon, we totally get it.

The next morning, Janette and Davis lie in bed. "This town beat me," she says. "Much as I love it, I'm not trying to fight with it anymore." She's headed to New York. Davis turns it up to eleven trying to dissuade her, but she just asks, "Is your check from the tourism board in the mail?"

"There's so many beautiful moments here," Davis beseeches.

"They're just moments," Janette replies. "They're not a life."

Creighton: "Always for pleasure"
Well, let's talk first about how this difficult storyline was handled. We were annoyed, at first, that Creighton's suicide was so blatantly telegraphed — that it was clear as soon as we saw him cheerily greet his wife and daughter that we were being set up for an episode-ending tragedy. (It didn't help that Ashley Morris, the blogger on whom Creighton was based, died unexpectedly in 2008, though of natural causes.) But as the episode went on, we settled down: The point is not, obviously, to surprise us. The point of Treme is almost never to surprise us. It's to offer us the privilege of watching as a character makes his way, like a good documentary.

So we start with Creighton reading on a bench outside his classroom. The awkwardness of this scene — it seems to have been shot solely so that Creighton's pre-suicide cigarette hits a little harder — makes us think that maybe this was a late addition to the episode, shot out of sequence. (Also, that sure looks like skinny Goodman.) In class, a student complains that The Awakening is really old. Take your time, he tells them. Enjoy the language. Just as in life, there's no closure at the end. As a narrative call to arms, David Simon, we totally get it.

They talk a little abut Chopin, her Louisiana roots, her Creole blood. ("She was colored?" a white student asks, and a black student sitting in front of her grimaces.) "Will class discussions be on the test?" asks one girl, and Creighton launches into a great speech. "Everything will be on the test, and the test will be everything.," he says. "Fear not, for at the end every one of us will be tested, and every one of us will be found wanting." The girl rolls her eyes.

Creighton and the blank page. He fakes energetic typing when Sophia calls him to dinner, but it's just gibberish. He could not look more despondent.

The next morning, Creighton sees his family off before his freshman lit class. He gives Toni a big kiss, tells Sophia she looks pretty, and asks them to kick a little ass today.

Creighton reads a little of The Awakening to his class. "The ending of the book is not the end," he cautions them. "It is a transition — a rejection of disappointment and failure. She's not moving toward the darkness. She's embracing spiritual liberation." CUT TO: A sea of baffled/sleepy freshman faces. Creighton lets 'em go early and goes off on One Last tour of the city he loves.

He gets gumbo and a po' boy at Liuzza's. After parking his truck by the river, he waits in line at Cafe du Monde. He listens to a street musician and drops $20 in her case. When Annie asks, "Are you sure?" he answers, "Always for pleasure" — echoing Antoine in episode four, and the Les Blank documentary that Simon has always cited as an inspiration for Treme.

He steps onto a ferry and, on the boat's stern, bums a cigarette from a stranger. "Don't ever let anyone tell you to quit," he says after a sweet drag. "These are wonderful." He gives the man a smile. Smiles hide a lot of things: The good, the bad, the hurt.  And I wish, how I wish, how I wish someone would care.

One minute Creighton's at the rail, looking at the water rushing underneath him. The next minute he's gone.

Toni and Sophia, late that night. Creighton's not answering his phone. All we can think about is what Ladonna told Toni at the beginning of this episode: It's gonna be wrong for Toni and Sophie forever.

Creighton's truck sits alone in the parking lot by the river. This is the first Treme episode in which we felt it would not be out of place for the Wire closing-credit music to come in on the fade-out.

Other recaps:
As usual, Dave Walker gives his usual amazing background at Nola.com, including pointing out that Davis can't hear the knocking on his door because he's listening to "I Hear You Knocking." At the AV Club, Keith Phipps points out that Creighton's suicide-by-ferry is a mix of the heroine of "The Awakening" -- and Spalding Gray.

And Vulture recapper Dan Kois debates the merits of Treme, often in ALL CAPS, with Natasha Vargas-Cooper on The Awl.

Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO