Treme: You Want to Talk About a Trombone?


Shame, Shame, Shame
Season 1 Episode 5

In an episode that’s anchored by a couple of huge, successful set pieces — a Davis McAlary campaign song and a second line that brings all our characters together and then blows them apart — it’s the little things that really stick from the latest episode of Treme. Like the way both Albert and Ladonna come close to blowing their cool in front of authority figures. Like the sad way Annie looks when she realizes that Sonny no longer belongs to her. And like the way that we learn that even drug dealers want to come home to New Orleans.

Plus, a Japanese superfan, some New York super-chefs, and the ghost of goddamn Charlie Parker, in this week’s Treme recap.

We’re walking through a cell-block door, inside Ladonna’s POV, past a smiling Toni toward a jail cell occupied by two men. One is Ladonna’s brother, David. He says he doesn’t know what he was arrested for. Ladonna asks if it’s dope, and David’s cell-mate chuckles. It’s Slim Charles Keevon White, and he looks evil as hell. “Get me out of here, sis,” David pleads, and muddy water runs over Ladonna’s feet and we realize we’re in a nightmare, and then the director holds the scene about three beats too long, and then Ladonna wakes up.

A little later, Annie is playing something classical and gorgeous in the living room as the bouncer watches. Sonny comes in singing some other shit — “I got boys in Angola … ” — and gives Arnie a bag of beignets. (Sadly, Arnie does not reply, “Who you fuckin’?”) Arnie pays Sonny some rent, which surprises Sonny— not that he’s paying, but that he’s earned such a wad already. He’s been working roofing gigs. Sonny takes him aside and whispers something; at first I thought he was asking him not to make Sonny look bad in front of Annie, since he probably hasn’t earned that much in his entire eighteen months in New Orleans, but it turns out he’s just asking for a loan. After Sonny leaves, Annie says — not asks, says — “He copped in Houston, didn’t he.”

Annie, Sonny, and the Bouncer
Annie wakes up one morning (or early afternoon) to see Arnie, the Texas bouncer, smoking and staring at her from the other room. He politely passes through her room to get to the john, but she still asks Sonny how long he’ll be staying. Sonny barely wakes up.

A little later, Annie is playing something classical and gorgeous in the living room as the bouncer watches. Sonny comes in singing some other shit — “I got boys in Angola … ” — and gives Arnie a bag of beignets. (Sadly, Arnie does not reply, “Who you fuckin’?”) Arnie pays Sonny some rent, which surprises Sonny— not that he’s paying, but that he’s earned such a wad already. He’s been working roofing gigs. Sonny takes him aside and whispers something; at first I thought he was asking him not to make Sonny look bad in front of Annie, since he probably hasn’t earned that much in his entire eighteen months in New Orleans, but it turns out he’s just asking for a loan. After Sonny leaves, Annie says — not asks, says — “He copped in Houston, didn’t he.”

Antoine, Desiree, and Superfan Japan
Antoine and Desiree argue about who’s going out today. She’s headed to a just-opened school to get her job back. He’s maybe, possibly meeting with some Japanese music lover who maybe, possibly might help him get a new trombone. “You got the baby today,” Desiree says, and she’s out the do’. But soon Antoine meets that very same Japanese guy — let’s call him Superfan Japan, because we never caught his name — at Ladonna’s bar. Superfan orders a Sazerac. Ladonna, hilariously, notes that they don’t get much call for that around here, but can she get him a beer?

Superfan and Antoine walk down the street toward a music store, as Superfan tells Antoine that at first he thought he was clarinetist Alvin Batiste, but then he Googled him and found his live recordings. “Your intonation is notable!” he says. “Your attack — very satisfactory.” It’s soon clear that Superfan knows more New Orleans jazz trivia than Antoine does. When they reach the pawn shop, Superfan is horrified and demands that Antoine take him somewhere to get a new trombone. Antoine smiles a slow smile and throws his arm around his new buddy’s shoulders.

At the music store, Superfan manages to buy Antoine a trombone despite them getting into a fight about some obscure photograph of Louis Armstrong. Later that night, out at Desiree’s apartment complex, Antoine apologizes and plays a solo for Superfan, who listens, delighted, and then immediately I.D.’s the song. Anyway, Superfan gives Antoine a wad of cash, which he sort of tries not to take, but then accepts with a deep bow. Also appreciative: the neighbors, apparently. At least, no one yells “Shut the fuck up!” at the random dude blowing a trombone in their courtyard in the middle of the night. In our co-op in New York, if the ghost of goddamn Charlie Parker played saxophone in the courtyard after 11, they would kill him again.

Albert, Davina, and Ron Singleton
Albert walks into City Hall just as another chief and his pals walks out, grumbling. The guy was there four hours trying to make sense out of the city canceling the permit for a second line just days before it’s due to happen. “It’s like they don’t want New Orleans to be New Orleans no more,” one of them says. Albert’s hoping to convince the local councilman, Ron Singleton, to open the Calliope projects.

In the bar, Albert’s daughter Davina walks in on Lulu and Albert beading a Mardi Gras shield together with the passionate intensity of a couple painting miniature dollhouse furniture. The next day, Albert asks Davina to drive him cross town to catch Singleton. Albert waylays him to ask about Calliope and Singleton gives him a half-assed non-answer, so Albert stops him from walking away with a firm hand to the chest. Nice! But then Albert walks away before he can get in any more trouble. Like Ladonna, he knows there’s only so far he can get.

Davis, Kermit, and the Next Smiley Lewis
Davis has convinced a pile of New Orleans stars to play on his four-song EP — er, sorry, “epistle against all that is unholy and corrupt in the government of New Orleans” — for $50 each. “You’ll need a fat trumpet to play ‘Shame, Shame, Shame,’” one wag notes, and Davis looks on with triumph as Kermit Ruffins walks into the studio. Davis’s pride evaporates, though, when Kermit talks about how bad they both were when they started out.

The song, though, is fantastic. Kermit does indeed lay down some fat trumpet, using a plunger no less, and Davis is like a pig in shit, in his element the way Ladonna was in hers when serving that roofer. The song replaces Smiley Lewis’s original verses with some general Davis grousing, but he cuts loose on an epic monologue in the middle, which we’ve gone ahead and transcribed because (a) it’s funny, and (b) it gets at what’s both annoying and kind of grand about Davis’s character and his White Negro trappings.

Now we got the people of New Orleans living on Air Force bases and in ratty-ass motels in Utah and Georgia, and people in Washington talking about keeping the housing projects closed. They don’t want no more poor people coming back to New Orleans! But New Orleans without poor people ain’t New Orleans! Because it’s the people without a pot to piss in who keep the beat, and blow the horns, and step in the streets. And right now y’all are stuck listenin’ to this messed-up white boy, because whichever 14-year-old from Lafitte is the next Siley Lewis, he’s stuck out there in East Bumfuck, Texas! HE CAN’T GET HOME TO SING THIS FUCKING SONG!”

“That was some true shit!” someone yells.

Janette, Jacques, and the Super-chefs
“Holy Christ!” Janette says through the kitchen window as she sees Tom Colicchio, David Chang, Eric Ripert, and Wylie Dufresne standing at her bar. “So nice of you to call ahead!” she says, mock-tartly, but actually sort of tartly. “Looks like you’re recovering well,” one of them says as they sit down. “Looks can be deceiving,” she replies.

Back in the kitchen she and Jacques worry about what to serve them. Jacques wants to give them leg of lamb and fingerlings. “We can’t out–New York a bunch of New York chefs,” Janette says. “We lowball ‘em.” They’ll get rabbit kidneys, andouille sausage, sweetbreads on grits. “You are my chef forever,” Jacques says. We really love him. We get a nice, long scene of Janette and Jacques cooking. Hey, Grub Street — is this as well-faked as, say, Wendell Pierce’s trombone-playing? We did like the multiple shots of her just throwing wads of butter into pans at the last second. Janette places some complete crawfish, their ugly heads looking like space aliens, atop the grits and says, “Whew! Take a picture of that shit!”

“Colicchio said you can cook,” a waitress tells her, and Janette makes her break down the entire conversation. Later Colicchio slips her a card and they all thank her for the meal — Ripert in French. After she leaves, Colicchio mutters, “French, huh? I know what you’re after.” They all laugh merrily as if they don’t hate each other in real life.

Creighton, Toni, and Ladonna
Spurred by the response to his “Fuck you, you fuckin’ fucks” YouTube rant — which, by the way, was inspired by the late Ashley Morris’s blog post — Creighton records another one, this one a response to Bush’s short visit. He urges him to keep his promise from Jackson Square.

Toni walks into the Vieux Carre police station and finds Lieutenant Terry Colson, played by — hallelujah! — David Morse and a sweet mustache. She sets him after Antoine’s trombone. This trombone hunt has the potential of becoming the most Wire-like of this show’s 1,000,000,000 plot threads.

Riley, Ladonna’s wayward roofer, pulls up at a job with a truckful of workers, but is immediately served by Ladonna and her process server. “You all crazy to work for this man,” Ladonna declares to the assembled labor. “Like as not he gonna plead poverty when it come time to pay y’all. That’s how he do.” Ladonna’s sublime, strutting like a Supreme — she’s in her element. Several of the roofers, including Sonny’s bouncer, walk away, grumbling.

In court, Toni and Ladonna argue a habeas motion, but as the state lawyer notes, there’s no paper trail. Toni notes that most of the state’s records have been washed away. When the state’s attorney expresses doubt that David is in that photo of the overpass, Ladonna declares, “That is my brother,” but is swiftly and sharply rebuked by the judge. Ladonna settles back into her seat, all her power from the encounter with Riley extinguished. “Chaos is a given, your honor,” Toni says, and asks him to compel Keevon White to testify.

She loses. She just needs to dig deeper and get some paperwork, somehow, she tells Creighton that night as they head into dinner. First the hostess recognizes Creighton, then Roy Blount calls him over to congratulate him. “Creigh is the man of the hour!” Roy tells his dinner companions. “He’s in that YouTube thing on the computer,” which is exactly how Roy Blount would describe YouTube, so nice writing there. “Fuck you, you fuckin’ fucks,” Roy crows to the whole restaurant, but Creighton’s sure he’s putting him on. Treme is already approaching near–30 Rock levels of guest-star overload, but we do like that, just like 30 Rock, Treme often makes its guest stars do something embarrassing, like insinuate that their chef friends are pussyhounds or yell “fuck” in a crowded restaurant.

Toni meets Janette and Jacques, her sous-chef. Sophia’s sharp eyes found her restaurant’s address on a moldy form from David’s parole file. David was reliable and had been promoted a couple of times before the storm, they tell Toni. The morning of the storm, they asked David to get the meat out of the freezer and donate it to a shelter; they never saw him again, and the meat spoiled.

The first Krewe de Vieux since the storm is coming up and Creighton’s one of the captains. Someone asks why they aren’t meeting somewhere less moldy, and Creighton declares, with great pomp and bluster, “The captains of Krewe de Vieux have been meeting at the Mother-In-Law since ‘96. We’re not going anywhere, Donny.” Ha! Somewhere up in heaven, Theodore Donald Kerabatsos is smiling and clutching his chest. Anyway, the motion fails, as does a motion to include a serious acknowledgment of the storm in the typically tongue-in-cheek Krewe de Vieux. Then the second line comes by and the whole gang heads outside.

The Second Line
In a long, wonderful sequence that’s the centerpiece of the entire episode, we see almost the entire cast celebrating at the second-line parade. Everyone’s bundled up against a cold day, and some of the streets haven’t been cleared of parked cars, but the band sounds great and spirits are high. Speaking of high, there’s Sonny, dancing with Annie and telling Arnie he’s about to experience something amazing. Antoine and Desiree dance with the baby. Davis dances with his remarkably ugly jacket and then, later, with Janette. Davina sees a long-lost friend (played by Trouble the Water’s Kimberly Rivers-Roberts) and they both scream with joy. Ladonna and her husband and kids are there, too, but she sees someone she knows and peels off.

It’s her brother’s old drug dealer. “Was Daymon using before the storm?” Ladonna asks. “He wasn’t copping from me if he was,” he says, and Ladonna glows. The dealer’s been in Atlanta, but, he says, “I figured it was time to come back — see what’s happening.” Ladonna’s eyes narrow. New Orleans is no longer dry as a bone, it seems.

Annie and Arnie scatter when gunshots ring out. Three people go down. Sonny runs around, screaming Annie’s name.

The Aftermath
A drunk Davis watches news coverage of the shootings in a bar and then quotes Antoine Batiste: “New Orleans niggers will fuck up a wet dream.” His black friends don’t bat an eye, but a guy at another table notices and demands that Davis say it again. Davis woozily orients on the angry man staring him down and delivers the Davis McAlary Ur-text: “Bro, bro, it’s okay,” he says. “I live in this neighborhood.” The guy open-hands him across the face, knocking him out of his chair. Davis stumbles angrily into the rain.

Annie cries in Sonny’s arms. The bouncer thinks about things.

Davis’s neighbors pulled him unconscious off the street and put him to bed in their tastefully appointed living room. Bruise blooming on his cheek, Davis pulls his speakers down from the windows overlooking the neighbors’ garden.

Antoine visits the pawnshop with his wad of cash, planning to buy a trombone for another musician who’s lost his. And there, lo and behold, is his ‘bone. “The guys not only beat my client down,” Toni says to Terry Colson, they pawned his trombone. She demands justice, but he sits her down and gives her a talk that makes us glad that not only has Treme given us a good police, he’s played by David Morse. His unit is at 60 percent, and the guys he has left are a mess — drinking, homeless, depressed. He tells her a story he heard from Houston about a New Orleans kid arrested for murder who, after 60 days in detention, packs up his stuff to leave. “In New Orleans, when you shoot someone they let you out after 60 days,” the kid protests.

“It’s all coming back, isn’t it,” Toni says, delivering this week’s David Simon Thesis Statement in 24-point Impact Ultra Bold. “For a moment the storm took it away. No dope, no guns, no bodies.” C’mon, guys, you illustrated this point so beautifully with that scene between Ladonna and the dealer — you really gotta break out the highlighter now?

But David Morse saves it. “The crime’s coming back,” he says evenly, “and we’re not ready. But: You want to talk about a trombone?”

Creighton gets a call from his agent, who’s coming to New Orleans for a visit. He’s sure Random House wants their money back, since he’s six years late on his novel.

Sonny walks Arnie out. Annie gives her former tenant an interesting look — a charged look? — through the window. She nods. “See you around, okay?” says Sonny. Arnie walks down the street, alone.

More Recaps:
Over at his new home on HitFix, Alan Sepinwall IDs beloved Frank’s Place star Tim Reid as the judge who shoots down Toni’s habeas petition.
And at the Times-Picayune, Dave Walker’s NoLa guide to Treme is indispensable as usual, especially his explanation of the Krewe de Vieux.

Treme: You Want to Talk About a Trombone?