Toni gives Davis some words to live by early in the third episode of Treme: “You do not motherfuck the National Guard.” That’s good advice for life, people. And it’s also a smart lens through which to view this episode, which is full of characters motherfucking other characters, or getting motherfucked. It’s also — if we may say so — a motherfucking good episode, with some real surprises and plenty of terrific acting. All of a sudden, our smattering of fascinating characters find themselves in a whole set of interlocking, propulsive stories.
Plus, cops with tiny fuses, judges with tiny attention spans, and hookers with tiny dogs, all in episode three.
Inasmuch as the trailer is a-rockin’, please don’t come a-knockin’. Antoine’s hittin’ it doggy style, talking about his … well, his ‘bone, of course. The stripper he’s scoring with just snaps her gum. Afterward, as the cab pulls up — oh, Antoine, you gotta get a car — he asks her how she got a FEMA trailer so quick. “How you think I got it?” she says, cocking her hip.
“I brought beignets,” Antoine declares as he walks through the door. “Who you fuckin’?” Desiree demands, without missing a beat. As Desiree, Phyllis Montana LeBlanc — best known for her vivid experiences during Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke — is goddamn hilarious. Antoine mutters under his breath that if it hadn’t been for the storm, they wouldn’t even be living together. He’d be at his place, she’d be at her mom’s. She offers to take off up to Memphis and asks him once and for all if he wants them there. Antoine softens. “I couldn’t get through this shit without y’all,” he says. Desiree grabs his dick. Wickedly, she whispers: “You ain’t got nothin’ for me now, I’m gonna know for sure.” The look on Antoine’s face is some straight commedia dell’arte shit.
Credits! Ernest Dickerson directed this one. No wonder it looks so good.
Davis and Janette: “I just want my city back.”
Toni appears in the parish holding cells to collect Davis, who got arrested with an open beer in front of his own house. “You think the National Guard stops if it’s two white boys on the street instead of Mason and me?” Davis demands. Davis McAlary is an actual Mailerian White Negro! I thought they’d gone extinct. Anyways, he yelled “Go the fuck back to Fallujah” at the Guardsmen, so they arrested him and not his black friend. “Davis,” Toni says, “You do not motherfuck the National Guard.” Davis rests his head against the wall. “I just want my city back,” he says. Davis offers to pay, since Toni pro-bonoed his previous three arrests. “Not that I have money,” he adds. They settle on Davis giving piano lessons to Toni’s daughter Sophia. “You play piano, too?” she asks. ” … Some,” he replies.
Back in Treme, Davis keeps seeing the same white girls in tall heels walking little tiny dogs around. Finally he catches one walking into a house across the street, inspiring a new song: “I got strippers movin’ in my neighborhood,” it goes. “You can call it gentrification — I’m gonna call it good.” He’s less charitable toward his next-door neighbors; while he says he doesn’t care that they’re gay — “Cosmically speaking, the more cocks that get sucked the better” — he objects to the gentrification they represent. They respond that they’re both New Orleans born and bred, and deny being the neighbors who’ve been calling in noise complaints to the cops.
Armed with a windfall check from his hotel gig, Davis takes a depressed Janette out for dinner. Janette’s suppliers are starting to notice her cash troubles and are putting her on week to week instead of monthly invoicing. Janette looks up at Davis. “Did you change your sheets at least?” she asks.
The next morning, Davis shows up to teach Sophia the piano. Under Creighton’s watchful eye, he teaches her Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina.” After the lesson, Creighton puts down his copy of John Barry’s Rising Tide and grills Davis on his motives. Creighton’s being a hard-ass right now, but I imagine these two crazy guys will be pontificating together in no time.
Sonny and Annie: “Surprised you, didn’t I?”
Sonny and Annie finish a song, and Annie gets chatted up by Tom McDermott, who looks like Gallagher on his website but a normal dude on the show. Meanwhile, Sonny digs in the not-inconsiderable receipts and asks the accordion player if he can take a little off the top for a birthday present for Annie. It won’t go up his nose, he promises. “The storm cleaned me up.”
The next morning Annie wakes up in an empty bed, but then sees Sonny sitting watching her, holding a $20 Beaujolais he paid for with change. “Surprised you, didn’t I?” he asks. “Yeah, you really did,” she replies, and it’s clear she doesn’t mean the wine. She’s already woken up plenty of times to an empty bed, and she’s surprised he’s here at all.
McDermott asks Annie if she can play at a private gig; Sonny can come and eat the food, but McDermott has piano covered, thanks. They play some sweet Scott Joplin rags for a schmancy crowd as Sonny regales a mope in a suit with his tales of Katrina heroism. “I seen snakes crawling out of dead bodies,” he says, and actually looks a little haunted. Annie looks out at the room while she plays, in a lovely shot; one moment Sonny’s there, the next moment he’s gone, back to their apartment to drink the Beaujolais alone. The expert commenters on the Back of Town blog are already buzzing about the possibility that Sonny and Annie might be based on Zack Bowen and Addie Hall; to find out what that might mean, read this post.
Antoine: “I don’t stand a ghost of a chance”
At the Bourbon Street House o’ Jazz and Boobs, Antoine blows off his girl from last night, then tells his guitarist he wants to take their playing up a notch. “They don’t come to see us,” the guitarist admonishes. “They come to see the bitches.” Turns out there’s a big charity concert planned at Lincoln Center and the other guys in the gig take great pleasure in noting that Antoine wasn’t invited to play. “Ain’t that a bitch?” one crows.
Later that night, drunk Antoine, carrying his ‘bone, meets Sonny and Annie busking on the street. “I don’t stand a ghost of a chance with you,” Antoine sings sweetly, then stumbles away — and into a cop car, wanging his trombone against the side of the cruiser. Before you can say “This show needs a sympathetic NOPD character,” the cops beat the shit out of Antoine, cuff him, and kick his trombone down the street. When Toni picks him up the next morning, he’s got one question: “Where’s my horn?”
Ladonna and Toni: “Just folks from around the way.”
Ladonna asks her mom to spend a little time in Baton Rouge with her grandkids, but mama refuses. “I don’t know where Daymon is,” she declares, “but I know wherever he at, he thinking about this house and trying to get back to it. I’ll be here when he come back in that door.” As the roofer finally gets to work on the roof of the lounge, Ladonna complains to her husband about the pokiness of their insurance company — “Them good hands people ain’t close to paying up,” she says, in some choice anti-product placement. She asks if he can get his brother Bernard, a civil judge, in on the search for Daymon. There’s clearly been friction between Ladonna and her husband’s family, but in the end he agrees.
The next day that blue tarp is back up on the roof, but Ladonna tries to find equanimity as she leaves a fourth overly polite message for Bernard. “Motherfucker,” she snarls after she snaps the phone closed. Can you motherfuck your brother-in-law? She finally gets a face-to-face with him; he wants Ladonna out of his office but promises to make some calls, starting with Toni.
Speaking of Toni: After striking out with the sheriff who’s holding
Slim Charles Dave Brooks, she realizes she’s going to need to sue Orleans Parish. Creighton shows her a YouTube video diary Sophia has posted, about wearing her Tulane sweatshirt to piss off LSU fans in Baton Rouge. “Go back to New Orleans, bitch!” someone yelled at her, and Sophia laughs. “From your mouth to God’s ears, asshole.” Creighton laughs; Toni looks horrified. Creighton seems mighty interested in YouTube.
Toni and Ladonna meet at the bar. She apologizes for her lack of faith, explains she asked Bernard to weigh in. Bernard hasn’t called Toni or, most likely, anyone. “My husband’s family,” Ladonna says bittterly. “They into this Seventh Ward Creole shit like they a different race.” This scene is amazing and makes me hope that Khandi Alexander gets put on David Simon Thesis Statement duty every week, because she delivers it so smooth you never see it coming. “They the people pullin’ strings, gettin’ shit done. People like us? My mother, my brother? We just folks from around the way.” She sighs. “We get shit done to us.”
Albert and Delmond: “Up to God, I suppose.”
Albert’s on his front porch reading the obits. His buddy from the hauling business comes over and asks about a certain young dude who took an ass-whooping and is still laid up at the hospital. “That boy gonna live?” Albert asks. “Up to God, I suppose.”
Albert goes with Lorenzo, the son of one of his tribe members, Wild Man Jesse, to their old house to give advice on rebuilding. Bikes and refrigerators pepper the front yards of the wrecks on this street. “They gonna bulldoze the Lower Nine,” Lorenzo says. “That’s why you gotta come back,” Albert replies. “They can’t bulldoze nothin’ if homeowners stop it.”
Out in the backyard, Lorenzo complains, “Birds ain’t even comin’ back to this neighborhood.” Then they turn over a boat and reveal Wild Man’s silver-toothed corpse.
Delmond’s in the studio with Dr. John. He ignores his cell phone — it’s his dad, calling to tell him about Wild Man — and launches into the song. After the recording’s over, Delmond tries to convince his buddies to move someplace in the world outside New Orleans, “someplace where they respect musicians.” “Music is music,” one answers, “doesn’t matter where you live.” But Delmond says, “New Orleans loves music, but they don’t love musicians. People gotta leave to get their due. Pops, Prima, Wynton.”
Late at night, Albert catches a young man sneaking around his bar and almost clocks him — until he realizes the boy was here getting busy with a girl. The next day that same boy shows up in tow with his Aunt Lula from around the way, asking if Albert has any work. Albert gives the kid the eye and says he’ll let her know.
Albert and the rest of the city’s chiefs play a spooky good-bye song to Wild Man. In the middle of the song, a Katrina Tours bus pulls up and the driver asks what’s going on. Faced with a circle of angry chiefs, though, he stammers, “You’re right, I’m sorry,” and drives away and gives up the tour-bus life forever and learns to love New Orleans again. The End.
NOLA.com’s Dave Walker continues his excellent series breaking down the complicated web of NoLa references in Treme.
The AV Club’s Scott Tobias highlights the power of anger in this week’s episode.
On Time’s Tune In blog, James Poniewozik talks to David Simon about that final scene.