Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Treme No. 5: Shame, Shame, Shame
By Edward Copeland
Creighton Bernette definitely is embracing his role as voice of the city, even if he'd never admit it, as he records another YouTube rant, this time aimed directly at President Bush, though he says he's appealing to the president's better angel to keep his promise and help salvage his beloved city since the next hurricane season is a mere five months away. It is one of many highlights in the fifth episode of Treme, "Shame, Shame, Shame," the best episode of the series I've seen so far.
As great as Creighton's rants are (especially as delivered by John Goodman), that's not how this episode opens. In a departure from most David Simon works we've seen so far, "Shame, Shame Shame" opens with LaDonna having a nightmare involving her still missing brother David. You don't realize it's not reality at first as a smiling Toni leads LaDonna to a jail cell where LaDonna finally finds David, only then Keevon, the man who switched bracelets with her brother, rises from the top bunk grinning. LaDonna is taken aback as muddy water starts flooding the cell and she awakes frightened. Simon must bring out the best in Alexander, dating back to their work on the HBO miniseries The Corner, because she is so great here, showing a fully developed woman in LaDonna in such a short amount of time. It wasn't that she was ever bad as she languished on the likes of NewsRadio or CSI: Miami, but neither the sitcom nor the crime procedural allowed her to display the acting brilliance of which she's capable that Treme has shown week after week. She may not be playing one of the many music-oriented characters on the show, but she's hasn't hit a false note yet.
While some characters cross paths and others haven't so far on Treme, there is a lot of that going on in this episode so unlike the previous recap, a chronological summary will prove easier and less confusing than lumping each character's developments into separate sections. While Toni hardly has any time to spend at home as she doggedly pursues missing trombones and lost brothers, she's starting to get annoyed at her husband's lack of interest in doing anything constructive (aside from YouTube) during the university's break. Creighton brushes off his wife, who once again brings up his long in gestation book, and insists that he will be at work on something important: plans for Krewe de Vieux. When Toni dismisses his plans as nonsense, Creighton reminds her that it is the first parade of Carnival which he feels sets the tone for the entire festivities and is decidedly not nonsense. He tells her that this year's theme will be Bush, Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin and sperm.
At Sonny and Annie's, Annie is surprised to see a half-naked Arnie, the bouncer Sonny brought back from Houston, crossing their bedroom. He explains he wanted to wait until she was awake before he went to the bathroom. An annoyed Annie asks Sonny how long he intends to let his new friend continue to crash. Again, as much as I really like Treme, the entire Sonny-Annie story leaves me cold and now that I've seen more than half of the first season, I'm still not understanding why they are integral to the show or are taking time away from the far more interesting characters and stories.
The guest stars on Treme are becoming more impressive and extending beyond cameos of real-life figures playing themselves such as Elvis Costello or Stanley Crouch. As Toni takes Antoine's arrest report to the shift lieutenant to try to determine where Batiste's trombone ended up, the police officer is played by none other than David Morse. Unfortunately, he offers Toni little in the way of hope and doesn't see a missing musical instrument as much of a priority.
LaDonna is using the law to get a little bit of justice for a change. She accompanies a process server who tracks down the roofer who stiffed her on the repairs he was supposed to make at her tavern. She's positively gleeful to confront him as he's hiring workers for the day and she warns them that he's not to be trusted and to make sure to get his pay in advance. One of the men seeking work is Arnie the bouncer, who asks one of the others in Spanish if the roofer is good for paying his workers and he's reassured that he does, so he decides to stay.
Toni gives Antoine the bad news that his trombone is still MIA, but she tells him she's heard about Japanese jazz fans who have come to New Orleans looking to help musicians who took a hit in the hurricane. Antoine reluctantly takes the number but even more reluctantly takes the news that he has to watch the baby today because Desiree's heading to the school system's temp office in hopes of getting her old job back.
Davis' idea to launch a political movement wasn't just a drunken lark: He's serious, sort of. He rounds up many of his musician friends to help him record what he calls a "legendary 4-song epistle" assailing the corrupt New Orleans government. Of course, there's little if any pay involved but as he tells one of the artists, he would be doing it, "for New Orleans in her hour of need" to which the musician responds, "I've been in my hour of need my whole damn life."
Toni heads to court with LaDonna to demand the parish sheriff's department and state corrections officials produce David Brooks and to compel Keevon White to testify about how the two men switched bracelets. The judge hearing the case is played by none other than Tim Reid. The smirky assistant district attorney argues that no compelling evidence exists that proves Brooks was even in custody before, during or after Katrina and, she tosses in, he had drug convictions by the way, as if that makes his missing status moot. Toni reminds the judge that most records disappeared beneath the deluge and he acknowledges, reluctantly, that "chaos is a given" but once again Toni's best efforts are stymied.
Albert runs into a group of Social Air and Pleasure Club members outside the municipal building in a state of frustration because police fears are threatening to void the permit they've already been given for the Second Line parade Sunday. Albert is on the site to try to speak to Councilman Ron Singleton to ask why those undamaged housing projects remain boarded up when many of his tribe members scattered across the country because they have nowhere to stay in New Orleans. Later, Lula joins Albert at Poke's to work on the Chief's Mardi Gras suit. Their pleasant time is interrupted by a surprise visit by Albert's daughter Davina, who has stopped in from Houston and is tickled pink to see her father with a new lady friend.
Toni manages to get Creighton out of the house and they go to an upscale restaurant where Creighton still revels in his YouTube celebrity, but he's taken aback when he finds that among his Internet fans is the author and humorist Roy Blount Jr., who eagerly call Creighton over to congratulate him on the raw reductive power of his tirades and how he's made himself the voice of New Orleans by using fuck as all parts of speech. Creighton thanks him and shrinks away, telling Toni that he thinks Blount is putting him on, but once Creighton is out of earshot Blount tells his dinner companions, "There are times when rage is the only rational response."
His musicians gathered, including Kermit Ruffins, Davis prepares to record his campaign tract, promising that he will pretend to run and if elected, he will pretend to serve. The first song he records takes it straight to the president in the song that gives the episode its title.
Toni's eyesight and the waterlogged records aren't working well together as she tries to find any clue she can that might lead her to David Brooks' whereabouts. Sofia asks if she can help and her younger eyes are able to make out that David worked at Desautel's prior to Katrina, so Toni heads to the restaurant to talk to Janette in hopes of finding some new information. Janette explains that she was already in Alabama the day the storm hit and Jacques called David that morning and asked him to take all the meat out of the freezer and just give it away to a shelter so it wouldn't go bad, but when they returned they found a freezer full of rancid meat and never heard from David again. Janette adds though that she never had any trouble with him as an employee. Meanwhile, LaDonna confides to her ex that she wonders if her missing brother had been using drugs again and that could have played a role in his disappearance. Their discussion, however, gets interrupted by the appearance of a Japanese man named Koichi Toyama who loves New Orleans jazz and has come to help Antoine with his trombone problem. Antoine's benefactor praises Batiste's talent and even, most politely, correct his knowledge of jazz recordings. Knowing not to look a gift horse in the mouth, Antoine bites his tongue and leads Toyama to a pawn shop but Toyama objects: He wants to spare no expense in replacing his trombone.
Albert and his daughter are having a nice lunch when Albert spots the councilman who ducked him live on TV holding a news conference. His ire raises, he has Davina drive him to the site of the media event immediately. He confronts the councilman's aide about pressuring the feds to reopen the projects and then forcefully repeats his plea to the councilman himself. The councilman says it's not his call, but Albert stands like an immovable object and you can tell this is not an acceptable answer for the chief. The basic utilities still may not be cleared up in New Orleans, but bureaucratic red tape has had no problem getting up and running again.
The hostess at Desautel's comes to the kitchen and tells Janette that four important men have arrived for dinner without a reservation. Janette does recon from the kitchen and identifies the quartet as famous New York chefs Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, David Chang and Wylie Dufresne. The eager owner rushes out to meet them and finds them a table. She tells them they needn't bother with menus, she will prepare something special for them. Janette then rushes back to Jacques, her head spinning, wondering what she can prepare to wow these pros who have graced her establishment with their presence. Deciding there's no way she can "out New York New York chefs," she decides to go simple, opting for a meal of andouille, rabbit kidneys, sweetbreads and lamb neck. She interrogates her waitress after they are served for reactions and once she's suitably assured that it's positive, she goes back out to earn the praise in person.
As Antoine and his benefactor are perusing trombones at the music store, Batiste's pride gets the better of him as the Japanese man again tries to correct his knowledge of jazz recordings, only this time Antoine knows he's wrong and has to call him on it. There are some tense moments, but the man still buys Antoine the trombone. As they make their way back to Antoine's place, Antoine begins to feel bad for acting the way he did to this generous stranger so he asks if he'd like to hear him play the tune he'd mentioned, which he does in the courtyard, pleasing Toyama (and Desiree who is watching from the doorway) a great deal. As Toyama prepares to leave, he gives Antoine another handful of cash. Batiste tries to give it back, insisting he's done enough, but Toyama will have no part of it and simply walks away.
Sunday's Second Line arrives with a much larger crowd than anticipated. LaDonna brings her two sons as well as husband Larry. In the crowd, she spots one of David's former dealers and asks if David had been using again and the man says if he'd been scoring, it hadn't been from him. Creighton is meeting with the officers of his subkrewe of Krewe du Vieux. One of the members proposes a serious acknowledgment of Katrina, which Creighton leads the members in voting down. "The sacred purpose of Krewe du Vieux is to mock the serious," he says before adjourning the meeting to take in the Second Line. He hooks up with Toni, who notes the heavy police presence and how nervous they seem. Her words seem prophetic because at the celebration is winding down, shots ring out, wounding three people.
Watching the news later in a bar, Davis is shocked that he was there and didn't even realize there had been a shooting. The drunken McAlary quotes Antoine, including the N word, which catches the attention of an African-American in the bar who asks him what he just said. Davis tries to explain that it's OK, he's not racist, he's from the neighborhood and repeats it and gets promptly punched out before wandering out of the bar. The next morning, he's surprised to wake up on the couch of his gay downstairs neighbors who he's been torturing. They found him unconscious outside and brought him in. When he returns to his apartment, he takes down the speakers from the windows that he'd been using to torment them.
With his new largesse, Antoine heads back to the pawn shop to buy a trombone for his former mentor who lost his in the storm. Much to his surprise, he sees his initials and realizes that it's his missing horn. Toni goes back to the lieutenant and reports that his officers pawned evidence. He says he has larger concerns. There is no morale in the department and crime is getting ready to come back in a big way and they are in no way prepared.
Creighton is nervous. His agent is flying into town to see him. Since his book is now six years overdue, he's certain the publisher wants their advance back.
Alas, being under the weather has taken the best of me and with the blog-a-thon starting tomorrow, I'm going to have to hold my Episode 6 recap until May 31.