Treme, David Simon's beautiful but ambiguous series about post-Katrina New Orleans, capped its first season tonight. There was more plot progression and character resolution in the finale than in the nine preceding episodes combined, but still the series is a cipher to this substitute recapper. Treme gave us many bits to admire and plenty to learn about a mystical, almost foreign city. But the series belonged to the actors, who made its meandering stories worth following. So let's see what happened at the end.
Toni: "Can't dance for 'em when they quit."
Back in the series premiere, Toni guided Ladonna on a frantic search for a missing loved one. Just as Ladonna at first denied her brother's drug use, Toni tells the police that her husband, who last episode was drunk and despondent on the couch, was not suffering from depression. When Cray's body turns up, Toni forces herself to believe it's an accident, until kindly Lieutenant Colson allows her to go through Creighton's abandoned truck to eradicate all evidence of the suicide for Sophia's sake.
Melissa Leo rivals Khandi Alexander for best actress on Treme with this speech to her well-meaning (but one-note annoying) assistant:
"Went to the lawyer today. Unsealed the will. No surprises. He wanted a second line. Put it right there in the will. Even named the guys he wanted. Eureka Brass Band. It's a fucking playlist for the funeral. It's gonna be a cremation. Memorial service here just for family."
"A band might be nice for Sophia."
"He quit! He fucking quit! Whole goddman city down on its ass, all of us still here, one day after the next. Can't dance for 'em when they quit."
Annie and Sonny: "You're leaving me behind."
Annie's hanging with Steve Earle, who is either still playing Waylon on the Wire or can only ever be Steve Earle. He encourages Annie to sing and write some original work, but she demures: "I'm just a player." Evicted from the crash pad, Annie returns to Sonny's apartment, only to see a naked chick in their bed. For a split second, we see Sonny's privates before Annie storms out the door. They meet for coffee the next day, and Sonny is desperate for her. "Let's play together," he pleads. "I'm writing [surely horrible] songs now." Annie resists, and Sonny, because he is a manipulative and abusive jerk, turns on her. "You're so much better than me as a player," he whines. "You're leaving me behind." It's his turn to stomp out now, but leaving in a huff is near impossible when you're dragging a giant keyboard.
Sonny returns to the apartment and drinks beer and writes (surely horrible) songs. It's not going well, so he smashes his keyboard and leaves the apartment. In a bit of drug lingo we wish we knew long ago, Sonny orders "a $40 High Life." He gets a bottle and a baggie and heads for the filthiest bathroom in all of New Orleans. He must have left his keys at home, because he opts instead to snort a line off the sink. In the best single shot of the episode, Sonny crosses paths with a beautiful, bedazzled white Indian as both are stumbling home, alone.
Annie heads over to Davis's, holding him to his party flyer. They're gonna be fine.
Davis and Jannette: "That's another thing they probably don't have in sad-ass Gotham City."
Davis asks for one last day to woo Jeannette with the city of New Orleans. (Recall that Davis did this with Annie, too. New Orleans is his wingman.) He serenades her in the morning with beignets and a troubadour. They debate the existence of quality sandwiches in New York. (Sorry, Davis, but you're wrong.) What's next, asks Jeannette. "A nap. That's another thing they probably don't have in sad-ass Gotham City," Davis snipes. They snooze by the water, but when Jeannette opens her eyes to an expanse of dazzling blue, all we can picture is the coming oil slick next season on Treme. They have farewell sex in a historic hotel, and Davis is depressed for as long as it takes to drive home and find Annie on his doorstep. Jeannette will kill in New York. She's already friends with Eric Ripert, David Chang, Wylie Dufresne, and Tom Colicchio.
Antoine: "What is that you're about to put in your mouth?"
Antoine meets musician pal
Tucson Allen Toussaint for what is apparently the first time Antoine has ever seen sushi. Tucson Toussaint gives Antoine a road gig that pays $1,000, but in the most boring, predictable, and disappointing way, he blows most of the money on gambling. Yes, Antoine's a flawed good guy and always will be. But what a trite conclusion for a great character.
Albert and Delmond: "Respect for respect."
Things are not going well for Big Chief. He is exhausted, and there's not enough time and manpower to make the suits pretty for St. Joseph's Day. He takes a nap, and then Delmond and the boys make an executive decision: The Spy and the Chief will get new suits, but the Flag Boy will have to wear last year's. Big Chief is not pleased, but he acquiesces in order to march. The tribe hits the streets and dances and chants, and once again we are hooked by beauty and strangeness. The Indians meet another tribe, and the two chiefs challenge each other through dance. When they forge a truce, Darius is confused. "Respect for respect, dig?" Delmond explains. "Respect for respect."
On the way home, several police cars roll up on the Big Chief. But before he gets a beat down, the community-relations officer calls off the cops. Respect for respect, dig?
Ladonna: "Lots of people gone. The one's left, we got to be about the day to day."
The family crypt is at last repaired, and Ladonna can bury David. She signs the check, and then does a brilliant bit of stab-and-twist with the sextant. She puts her ear to the crypt as though she hears something, drawing the sextant closer to her. "Sounds like every motherfucker up in there's spinning," she spits. The sextant is properly sheepish.
Remember Peter Bogdanovich's lawyer daughter in The Sopranos? She grew up to be Toni's assistant. She's hectoring Ladonna again about exhuming David for an autopsy, but Ladonna won't have it. "Lot of people gone," she says for the benefit of Toni's grieving ears. "The ones left, we got to be about the day to day."
At the burial, a ringing cell-phone triggers a cast-wide flashback to the day Katrina strikes. Davis mocks his neighbors for leaving, before fleeing himself. Creighton, Toni, and Sophia are holed up in a hotel room where Cray is a cheery harbinger of doom. Jeannette's at her parents' house, safe and fretting. Antoine is desperate to save some of his records, but leaves them all to the water. Ladonna calls David again and again from the road, but can't reach him. He ran a red and is stuck in jail as the storm rages.
The flashback ends and Ladonna, Antoine, their sons, and Toni are all in the second line for David. Ladonna dances as though she's defying God. Toni moves stonefaced, refusing to concede to Creighton's last wish. This second line dissipates, and the ominous sounds of choppers overhead drown out the dialogue. Antoine is talking to a neighbor, but we're unsure who he is or what they're saying. (Commenters, are we missing something here?)
The season finale, which may well have been intended as a series finale, is as ambiguous as the premiere. And we can't shake the feeling that we've had all season long: that David Simon made a show for people already in the know. If you don't get it, that's on you. Dig?