Sunday, June 12, 2011


Treme No. 18: Can I Change My Mind

BLOGGER'S NOTE: This recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, move along.

By Edward Copeland
It was the best of Treme, it was the worst of Treme. Finally, five episodes after LaDonna's rape, we get an installment that spends more than a minimum of screentime dealing with her story instead of merely throwing the marvelous Khandi Alexander a scene or two an episode that appears and disappears in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, most of these pivotal moments were those quickies that Treme has become far too dependent on, even if cumulatively it's the most time they've devoted to LaDonna's story since the attack itself in the season's third episode and, at last, it better serves the actress, giving her more room to display her towering talent that shone so brightly last season but has been swept aside most of this year. This also is an episode where most of the secrets come out and, in the case of LaDonna's, it gives Lance E. Nichols his finest moments as her husband Larry, with many of those coming without saying a word. Despite this, they still cut away at crucial times and long stretches. On the other hand, we get to see Sofia and Toni openly acknowledge Creighton's suicide with each other and, as usual, Melissa Leo scores in one of the series' most emotional moments. Wendell Pierce gets a quiet moment of regret and reflection that again shows one of Antoine's many sides and why, as I've said before, Batiste truly functions as the heart and soul of Treme. Without a doubt, even with three episodes to go, it's clear that Pierce and Leo will earn the titles of the second season's MVPs. In contrast to LaDonna's scenes, which all are either short, interrupted or delayed, Leo and Pierce's great scenes stretch past the two-minute mark, perfectly illustrating the power you achieve when you allow scenes to play out without interruption. Rob Brown and Clarke Peters also get a really good scene as Del and Albert that nearly hits three minutes. Despite this episode's strong moments, much of it seems extraneous. For the first time I believe all season, someone from the opening credits, in this case the great David Morse as Lt. Terry Colson, doesn't even put in an appearance, and the episode itself sort of fades out in a whimper, as if no one could conceive a more fitting or meaningful conclusion to an episode with many high marks but no overall direction, structure or theme. I also had to make a conclusion I didn't want to make: This new emphasis on microscenes and stories that really don't have stakes for the characters involved or any sense of consequence have made me conclude that Season 1, as a whole, was better.

The episode was written by James Yoshimura from a story by Yoshimura and Eric Overmyer and directed by Ernest Dickerson, who directed season 1's "Right Place, Wrong Time," six episodes of The Wire including season 4's "Misgivings" and "Final Grades" and a lot of episodic TV and a few features. Though to me, as fine a director as Dickerson has become, he'll always be one of the greatest cinematographers of modern motion pictures, especially for his work on Spike Lee's early films from Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads through Malcolm X. The fact that his cinematography never was nominated for an Oscar, let alone won one, especially for Do the Right Thing, shows the utter stupidity of all show business awards such as the Emmys, which I assume will be screwing Treme soon as it always did The Wire, though perhaps the shine of Melissa Leo's Oscar win will earn her a deserved Emmy nomination this year.

Excuse my digression. Believe it or not, that last paragraph was supposed to go from the intro of this week's writers and director to noting that the focus on LaDonna begins immediately with the pre-credit sequence. LaDonna sits on the edge of a table in an examination room, looking anxious, leaning over and staring down except for a brief glance at the HIV/AIDS poster on the wall. She doesn't seem to know what to do with her hands, clenching them one moment, then rubbing them against her legs and sitting up the next. As she leans and looks down again, a knock on the door startles her and a smiling S.A.N.E. (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurse (Amelia Jeffries) enters. "I hope that's good news," LaDonna says. "It is. You're still negative, LaDonna," the nurse tells her as LaDonna lets out a sigh of relief. "Lord, I've been praying," LaDonna whispers. "Do I have to take more tests?" she asks as the nurse prepares to take her blood pressure. The nurse informs her she's taken her last HIV test and finished her last round of antibiotics, but notes that she can tell that LaDonna has been smoking more. "Your blood pressure is too high," the nurse tells her. "I'll have the doctor write you a prescription before you have a stroke." The nurse asks how things are between LaDonna and Larry and LaDonna admits they aren't great, saying that Larry is a patient man but she hasn't been able to tell him about the rape. "He needs to know," the nurse tells him. LaDonna says the news that she doesn't have to worry about HIV will help. The nurse assumes she means having to make Larry use condoms, but LaDonna tells her, "We ain't even gettin' that far." The nurse recommends that LaDonna — and her husband — talk with a counselor. "Let me think about that," LaDonna says.

Davis and his band have put enough material together that they've landed a gig on the stage of the Hi-Ho Lounge, a 200-person venue on St. Claude Avenue just on the edge of the Marigny. It also offers food from Drea's Backyard Bistro, whose takeout window is located on the Marigny Street side of the lounge — and they deliver, often free, in nearby areas. Davis takes the microphone to announce that "If you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem. This is the world debut of DJ Davis and The Brassy Knoll and we are definitely part of the problem." The band starts kicking in, with Lil Calliope by Davis' side. In the audience cheering them on are Aunt Mimi, Annie and Don B. They lead off with "The Road Home" number and while Davis takes part, he lets Lil Calliope do the heavy fronting.

Granted, this isn't like when the show interrupted a musical performance by John Hiatt or Henry Butler (or Wendell Pierce for that matter) for no good reason, but they cut to Baton Rouge where Larry and Mrs. Brooks sit in the living room preoccupied while what appears to be a rerun of Sanford & Son plays on the TV and LaDonna takes a phone call in the kitchen. LaDonna comes in with desserts for Larry and her mother and Larry asks who was on the phone. LaDonna tells him that it was a Ms. Baron with the New Orleans D.A. who has just been assigned her case. Her mother comments that it's no wonder they can't get a conviction. Larry asks what she wanted and LaDonna tells him that she just wanted her to come down the day after tomorrow to meet her. Larry asks if LaDonna wants him to come, but she tells him there's no good reason that they both waste a day. Then it's back to the Hi-Ho Lounge. It's a vital scene, but why did this unrelated 37 seconds need to be spliced into the middle of another scene we were going to go right back to?

Annie, Don B. and Mimi certainly seem to be grooving to Lil Calliope's latest rap, which does sound more interesting playing off the brass pieces of the band. As Calliope continues his spiel, he then introduces "the president of the United States, George W. Bush" to a chorus of boos as Davis comes out in a suit and tie to play the role of Dubya. "New Orleans, I've had many high times here," Davis says as Bush, before spotting Lil Calliope and asking how he got past the Secret Service. He asks the crowd if Calliope is "good" and when getting their confirmation, gives him a fist bump. "Who says I don't like black people? Kanye can't treat me like that or he might wake up in Guantanamo," the fake Dubya says.

Sonny meets Cornell and Uncle Don in Plaquemines Parish (and in case you think David Simon and the gang aren't planning ahead, current parish President Billy Nungesser was a regular TV fixture blasting everyone after BP's Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent environmental disaster). "How you doin', Dutchman?" Uncle Don greets Sonny. "Sleepin' in a trailer, pissin' in a Port-a-Potty, cuttin' up my hands, hands I play music with, to shreds — what's not to like, man?" Sonny says rather unconvincingly. Uncle Don reminds him not to forget the mosquitoes. "Mosquitoes so big they could stand flat footed and fuck turkeys," Sonny adds. Uncle Don heads off and Sonny tells Cornell he'll buy him lunch. "Damn straight you will."

Del oils the valve pistons on his trumpet while talking to Davina on the phone about his plan to combine the musical chants of Albert's role as big chief with modern jazz into a new form of recording. Del will write, arrange and produce the sessions and get Albert to front them and tell his father they are getting an advance from the label that he can then use to further the reconstruction of his house. "Boy, you better hope he doesn't find out you lyin' about that advance," Del's sister warns him. "How's he gonna know?"

As they did so consistently well to make the pace flow more smoothly between these short scenes in the episode "Feels Like Rain" two weeks ago, they have a nice connective tissue bridging the Del scene to the next one set in the elementary school band class. Delmond spent the entirety of his scene practicing preventive maintenance on his trumpet and we join the students as Mr. LeCouer is emphasizing to them the importance of keeping their instruments in good working order. "You've got to treat your instrument like it's a treasure," LeCouer tells the class. "Take care of it and it's going to care of you." He looks to Antoine to see if he concurs. "I say amen to that," Batiste responds.

Toni it seems, after learning about the case of the apparent police shooting of Leon Seals in the Iberville Projects that may or may not have been related to the slaying of Joey Abreu at Robideaux's Market, has somehow ended up taking the Abreu case back from the Loyola Law Clinic with the Fields killing attached. Her caseload hasn't lightened any so she's hired an investigator, Anthony King (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), who just finished two tours as an MP in Iraq. Toni explains that she'd doesn't know if the case is going anywhere and that she gave the Abreu case up once, but she only took it back on contingency because of the Fields matter. "I can't work on contingency," King tells her. "I need to get paid whether it goes anywhere or not." Toni says she understands. "Believe me, I've got plenty of work. I can afford to hire a first-rate, world class investigator such as yourself," Toni promises. Anthony says he's worth it.

Davis watches in his apartment as Harley on guitar and Annie singing and strumming her violin practice her latest attempt at songwriting, something they've apparently been doing repeatedly for quite some time. Davis interjects. "If I may? How many hundreds of times in a row have you played that since yesterday?" he asks, though one can only imagine how many times Annie endured "The Road Home" number. Regardless, Annie ignores him and keeps singing as Davis protests that 100 would be "a very, very, very conservative estimate. You can share this with the world. Test drive it in front of a crowd. Harley, tell her!" Watt stops his guitar and actually sides with Davis. "You're right," he says before turning to Annie. "You've got to play it in public." Annie agrees, but only if Davis isn't there. "If I see you, I'm gonna fuck up," she tells him. Davis says he'll stand in the back then, but Annie won't even go for that and resumes the song. McAlary gets saved by the bell, so to speak, in the form of his cell phone ringer.

In New York, we get the other end of the call and it's Janette, asking if Davis would go by the jail and see Jacques (who slipped everyone's mind last week after he was a crisis the week before). When the call is over, Nick, who has been busily preparing something on the apartment stove, tells his roommates that he works at the best restaurant in New York City. "I'm at the forefront of a new age of dining, the new paradigm." Chas says that Nick's, "a little hyperbolic," but he doesn't necessarily disagree." Janette has to ask, "Is it that good? Lucky Peach?" The difference here is that while David Chang is a real chef and owns and started five New York establishments for which the peach is the symbol, the Lucky Peach restaurant is a fictional creation made for Treme unlike Le Bernardin which is an actual restaurant. If you go to the momofuku website, you will see something called Lucky Peach, but that actually is only a quarterly iPad application and print journal which people can subscribe to and which will have a different theme each time, beginning with ramen. Nick explains to Janette that it's something totally new. "It's fine dining, but it's not.None of the pretensions like Le Bernardin, no offense." Janette takes I have to be honest. I think Kim Dickens has great talent. Last year, she made up one-third of what I called my Treme triumvirate with Khandi Alexander and Melissa Leo as the three standouts for the season. When Anthony Bourdain had invented the fabulously insane Enrico Brulard and they had the talented Victor Slezak playing him, Janette's storyline was enjoyable, but even as fun as the Brulard story was, where were the stakes for Janette? Last season, she struggled to make ends meet to try to keep her New Orleans restaurant open with employees who depended on her. In New York, where were her struggles? It's not the easiest city to get by in, especially for someone coming there with nothing and the early season indications that she might be on the edge, drinking alone too much and picking up one night stands, sort of disappeared. It got worse when she started getting mixed up with real chefs and real restaurants, it got monotonous fast post-Brulard. She needs a storyline worthy of her talent and this isn't it. Tomorrow night, HBO premieres the documentary A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt and after seeing that film about a life inside real high-class New York kitchens, it makes Janette's tale seem even duller. What finally did it was that week of Jacques amnesia. Janette needs to be in New Orleans. If she wants to bring Nick and Chas, that's fine. You probably tire of me complaining about tiny scenes, but here I have to complain about one that runs about 1:41 and is too long. LaDonna and Larry don't get a scene when the truth comes out in tonight's episode approaching that length, but here we get a scene where a character we barely know (no offense to James Ransone) waxes rhapsodic about a restaurant that doesn't exist. That I don't need for nearly two minutes.

Toni takes Anthony by Robideaux's and brings him up to speed on the incident and how cops that were there ended up chasing people to the Ibervilles where Leon Seals met his demise. Toni's dogged pursuit really is the only thing that maintains interest in this whole story since it doesn't involve any other characters we know or care about like last year's Daymo Brooks' storyline did.

Outside the gates of Lusher, Sofia razzes her friend Jocelyn because she doesn't want to get wasted that night because of a pending algebra test the next day, which Sofia insists is only a quiz. Then Sofia opens her pocketbook to show Jocelyn something she's acquired to see if that changes the teen's mind.

Toni and Anthony knock on the door of the witness in the Iberville who had told the law clinic about seeing Leon Seals chased into his apartment. She answers but as soon as they mention who they'd like to talk with her about, she just slams the door.

The Cowsills are playing at the Carrollton Station Bar & Grill located way uptown in the Riverbend area of the Carrollton Historic District. Susan Cowsill is taking the lead for her family group and she's invited Harley and Annie on stage with them. Susan and her brother Barry both were caught in New Orleans when Katrina hit and Barry sadly drowned in the flooding. We get to come in as Susan Cowsill (with an assist from Harley) sings the last stanza of her song "Just Believe It," minus the last two lines: "And the stars tracking us all the way/Things are changing it every day/I’m OK and the sky is still blue/The way I see it we make a choice/Take or leave it, just believe it?/Tell me now what are you gonna do?/Well I want to see it, don’t you?/And I’m gonna believe it, won’t you?/I want to believe it, don’t you?" The entire scene, which was the song, lasts 36 seconds. Then it's CUT If you'd like to see a clip of the complete number, click here.

At a restaurant, Nelson and Derek Ross are dining at a secluded restaurant across from a political emisarry (Richard Allen) who can help with city contracts. The eatery's atmosphere is so dark that Nelson comments it would make a great place for a mob hit. The emisarry asks Nelson if he'd rather be eating at some chain steakhouse in the suburbs. Hidalgo says not really, but the view would certainly be less expensive, just like his computer cables that would save New Orleans at least $500,000 a year. The emissary claims the components they buy are quality, but Nelson says his are the same quality because they all come out of the same Taiwan warehouse. The emissary remains skeptical until Nelson reminds him that Derek is his partner and he's raised money for Nagin for two elections. Does he want to piss off him, Oliver, the Zulus and half the city just to stick with a guy who is robbing the city blind? The emissary, who couldn't be more open about his corruption, tells Nelson they could have a deal if he RAISES the price by 50 cents a unit on fire wire and component cables. Even Hidalgo is slightly shocked by this. "I'm trying to save the city money," he tells him. Derek asks about a contract for another product, but the emissary says he'll keep that contract where it is. "So everyone makes money," Nelson says. "And everyone stays friends," Mr. Corruption adds with a sinister air. Does this mean C.J. Liguori is the good guy or are they all evil? "It's always nice to make new friends," Nelson proclaims as the three men clink their glasses.

We had an extremely brief musical performance interrupted by an unrelated scene. Must be time to go back to Carrollton Station. Susan Cowsill invites Harley and Annie to sing their song and Harley is ready, but Annie chickens out, so Susan performs another one. This time, it's "Crescent City Sneaux" and they let her get the first stanza in "I feel like a kite without a string/Only my tail to guide me/Just paper and sticks and tattered sheets/Waiting on a friendly wind/Hold all our memories in one hand/So tight that you won’t let ‘em go/And in the other hand we pray/That the wind and the panic and the rain/Would all turn to a soft and quiet snow" before it's CUT That time she got 59 seconds in. Again, click for all of it.

Delmond sits down for drinks with Donald Harrison Jr., to discuss what he accidentally discovered during Mardi Gras when he heard jazz coming out of a boom box in one ear and his father's Indian calls of "Shallow Water, Oh Mama" in the other and finally found the sound he'd been searching for in his exploration of early jazz. Harrison provides the perfect audience to explain this to, since he is not only a jazz saxophonist, singer and composer but also big chief of The Congo Nation, masking and sewing his own suits each year. (It's a bit of an inside joke when he tells Delmond that he wonders why no one has ever thought to put these traditions together before because Harrison did exactly that on an album, The Power of Cool, he released in 2006.) "The purists from both sides — how they gonna take this, man?" Harrison asks Del. "It's not straight jazz and it's not straight New Orleans — they're gonna rip us apart." Delmond has considered this — and what the old-timers will say. Del pauses for a moment, then says, "Fuck it." He and Harrison seal the deal by tapping their glasses together (a lot of that going on in tonight's episode) and Harrison says, "Let's do it."

LaDonna heads out to the car to drive to New Orleans to meet with the new assistant district attorney prosecuting her attacker only to find Larry waiting in the driver's seat. Needless to say, she isn't pleased. "What are you doing?" she asks, sticking her head in the window. "Driving you," Larry replies. "No no no — you've got patients," she tells him, hoping to make a last-ditch plea to keep him in Baton Rouge. He tells her that he rescheduled them. LaDonna seems to grow more frantic in her efforts to keep him away from her meeting. "Nononono. Go to work honey — you got people depending on you," she insists. For the first time in the scene the camera switches focus so that instead of seeing the anxious LaDonna pleading through the passenger window, we see the firm Larry buckled in the driver's seat looking at her (and us) and pointing. "No, you're dependent on me. You're more important, LaDonna. Get in the car," Larry orders. He softens his tone a bit. "C'mon baby, get in the car." The camera switches back to looking at LaDonna who has one hand reaching inside the car window, but seems to be sinking closer to the ground. She stands up straight, opens the door and gets in. "Seat belt," Larry reminds her as he starts the engine and pulls out of the driveway.

"I heard ya. I'll be there," Sonny tells Cornell. "On second thought," Cornell says, "get there a half an hour early. Show Batiste you're not a fuckup." Uncle Don arrives with payment for Cornell and Sonny's oystering labors, but Cornell snatches the cash out of Sonny's hand. Cornell gives him a few bucks that he says should get him to tomorrow's gig in one piece. Sonny complains that he has rent to pay. Cornell asks Sonny for his landlord's number and tells him he'll take care of that. "You'll get the rest after the gig," Cornell promises. "In the short play, I'm gonna lay it out on the street and piss on it. And you are taking me to lunch too. I'm gonna hold you to it." Sonny says that he told him he would. Cornell also expects Sonny to pitch in for the gas.

As Delmond and Donald Harrison start work on their project, one of the first people they contact is the legendary Dr. John who they get the pleasure of listening to perform part of "You Might Be Surprised" from his City That Care Forgot album in a studio. Alas, all the lyric sites claim it's "so new" I can't find lyrics or videos for the song online, so we're stuck with the 1:09 of it we get here, which from the few samples I can find I believe come from somewhere in the middle of the song. However, the album was released in early 2008, so it's conceivable that Dr. John could have already written it in early 2007, but why there aren't lyrics for it online three years later is beyond me. Since all the samples also are just snippets, maybe the show wasn't allowed to play any more of it.

Larry and LaDonna wind their way through the bureaucratic maze of halls and doorways until the find the one they are looking for and Larry tells the man sitting at the desk nearest the door that enters the office that they have an appointment with an assistant district attorney, Brigitte Baron. LaDonna looks scared out of her wits. She needn't worry immediately because of the continued nonsensical ordering of scenes after that brief 22 seconds, we head back to the studio so Del and Donald can speak with Dr. John about their project.

Now, why couldn't the Dr. John studio scenes have been one continuous scene? Say Del and Donald came in as he was working on The City That Care Forgot album and that outer office bit with LaDonna and Larry could have then been tacked on to them being shown in to meet with ADA Baron. I have no idea, but this nonsensical, throw scenes up in the air and place them into the show in whatever order they land has grown beyond frustrating. I finally have to say what I've been avoiding saying all season: While Treme remains better than most things on TV, season 2 has definitely dipped in quality from season 1. I'm not someone who expected another Wire, but it did unfairly build that expectation where each subsequent season turned out to be better than the one that preceded it. With just three episodes left, I feel I can say with some certainty that will not be the case with Treme. The acting remains as great and the writing can be superb as well, but they've wasted a lot of time with nonstarters of stories and potentially great stories they've neglected. Most of all, the editorial choice to do most scenes as short and episodes as clip shows has done a disservice to everyone who works on the show as well as those of us at home who love it.

Anyway, in the studio, Dr. John asks Del and Donald who the rhythm section might be in the project that they're proposing. Del says possibly Ron Carter (who worked on Harrison's actual album) or Carl Allen "if we can get him." Dr. John suggests that they "give some thought to gettin' 'Uganda' on the percussion." Delmond agrees that getting Alfred "Uganda" Roberts is a good idea, but they plan to record the album in New York. "You're gonna split this like a banana split," Dr. John says, "half in New York, half in New Orleans." Harrison explains, "That's the point, Mac. We need somebody who can go both ways and that's you." Dr. John, glasses slipped to the bridge of his nose and leaning over the top of his piano, points first at Donald. "If your ass wasn't a big chief," he says before putting his index finger away and aiming his gaze and his pinky at Del, "and your pa wasn't a big chief, I think we might all get a hatchet in the rear for our brain cells." Harrison smiles and Delmond insists, "We good. We good. My Daddy on call on. He gonna do the chants." Dr. John asks Del for assurance that he's going to be in the studio with Albert. "He's gonna be down with this whole project?" Dr. John asks skeptically. Delmond says he will be, which the music legend correctly interprets as meaning Delmond hasn't asked Albert yet. Delmond admits he hasn't with a simple negative shake of his head. "Well, this is shakier than I thought it would be," Dr. John says. "You and Chief Lambreaux in the same room. You might torch the whole building down before it's over, ya know." Del grins. "It's not gonna be that bad," Delmond promises. "You just keep telling yourself that shit," Dr. John tells him before committing to the project. "I just want to be the one who lives to tell the tale of this. Could be a myth."

Assistant District Attorney Brigitte Baron (Indigo) apologizes to Larry and LaDonna for the short notice, but she wanted to meet LaDonna and go over her statement since she just got handed the case and finds it can be awkward to meet for the first time in court. LaDonna still is trying to get Larry out of the room so she can keep the complete details of her attack to herself. "My husband doesn't need to be here, does he?" LaDonna asks the ADA. Baron says he doesn't have to be there if he doesn't want to be. "I'm staying," Larry insists while LaDonna tries to get him out of his chair as subtly as she can. The spouses talk over one another with LaDonna telling Larry he doesn't need to be there while Larry lets her know that he's there for her before telling Baron to go ahead. "We've told their lawyers we intend to go to trial. We want to convince them it's in their best interest to take a plea," the ADA informs the Williamses. LaDonna's eyes light up. "I wouldn't have to testify?" Not if they take a plea, Baron tells her. "And if they don't?" Larry asks. "We may proceed with the other case first. There's an additional corroborating witness," Baron says. The balloon where LaDonna has concealed the secret of her rape just got punctured and air has started to escape. Larry looks a little confused, since this is the first he's even heard of another case. LaDonna tries to steer the conversation back to her case. "And if you do that what?" she asks the ADA. "Chances are good yours will never even come to court" — Getting his bearings, Larry interrupts. "Wait a minute. Other case? There's another case?" He turns to LaDonna. "You never said anything about another case." LaDonna sits as stoically and stone-faced as possible, though it hardly matters because ADA Baron completes the picture for Larry, despite LaDonna's glare that's trying to get her to shut up. "Same perps, same M.O.," Baron starts. "Woman further up St. Bernard. Convenience store. Robbery. Beating. Gang rape." On those last two words, LaDonna closes her eyes. "This is an important case for this office," Baron continues, oblivious to how the room's atmosphere has changed. Larry stares as if he's in a state of shock. "We are going to get these assholes off the street. God know how many women — " Baron finally notices as LaDonna looks at her as if her world just crumbled. "Mrs. Williams, do you need a minute?" LaDonna mouths, "Please." Baron tells her to take her time and leaves. Larry slowly turns to look at LaDonna who tries to keep her head upright, but it's shaking as she looks back.

After all these episodes (months in story time) of LaDonna keeping Larry in the dark, wouldn't you have liked to have seen what was said as soon as the ADA left the room? So would I. I guess they felt they were pushing it by having one of the season's most pivotal and important scenes run a whole 1:14. God forbid it keep going and the audience be allowed to see what Larry immediately said and how LaDonna reacted. It's not like this scene carried the dramatic weight that came close to a new, minor character describing an invented New York restaurant. It reminds me of a few episodes back when Dave Walker of The Times-Picayune got to interview Treme writer Mari Kornhauser on the occasion of her first teleplay for the series, "Slip Away." Walker wrote that Kornhauser, like many critics and viewers, have compared Treme to "Robert Altman at his most uncompromising." What these commercial-length scenes have reminded me of in comparison to Altman is his classic opening to his great satire The Player where in an unbroken eight-minute tracking shot, Fred Ward's character talks about all the great tracking shots in film history and how now everything is just cut cut cut — and that was 1992. (I wonder if it's coincidental that the star of The Player, Tim Robbins, directed Treme's best episode this season, "Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky" which David Simon wrote solo.

Now, while it's not an unbroken tracking shot, check out this difference from season 1. The scene from Episode 10 "I'll Fly Away" went straight from LaDonna's brother Daymo's graveside service to the funeral march and second line that followed, which included Toni who in the same episode had learned of Creighton's suicide. They let the sequence run continuously for eight minutes. No cuts to short scenes of other characters doing something else. They just let it play.

Back in "Can I Change My Mind," the scene we left Larry and LaDonna for is Anthony coming in to Toni's office where she's ready to return to Iberville, but Anthony already has been there, figuring the woman might be more willing to talk to him alone. She told him that her brother crept in later and found Leon Seals' body, but she still wouldn't give up any of the cops. However, she did tell him where they could find her brother. The scene lasts 41 seconds. They sacrificed the momentum of the scene where Larry learns the truth for that 41 second scene. It gets worse. What comes next is Larry and LaDonna in the car, driving back to Baton Rouge in silence. That takes up 19 seconds of screentime.

Before Sonny can take Cornell to that lunch, they stop at Theresa Seafood, a wholesaler in Chalmette in St. Bernard County for Cornell to buy a bunch of crabs for a weekend party that he's planning. The young Vietnamese woman who works there must see Cornell regularly because she greets him by name. When he orders two boxes of her No. 1s, Linh (Hong Chau) deduces that Cornell is planning a crab boil and asks if she's invited. "Baby girl, you're the guest of honor," Cornell tells Linh. Sonny looks like he's smitten.

Antoine and His Soul Apostles show up at the West Bank's Club Red Velvet, only drummer Herman Jackson shows up in a cab. Seems his car got stolen with his drums inside. He has sticks, so he intends to improvise. Antoine asks straw boss Thaddeus what the fine is for coming to a gig without your instrument and Thaddeus comes up with $100. "You pay my toll, I'll pay your fine," Herman says. "I'll kick your ass, how bout that?" Antoine responds. It's night now and Sonny and Cornell both made it, so we skipped a lot of hours when Sonny was supposed to buy Cornell lunch. More importantly, we are going to cut away now to a different scene. Sofia giggles in the back seat of a car while an older boy sits up front taking a swig of something before handing the bottle to her. Another older boy drives and her friend Jocelyn sits in the back beside her. The driver asks the girls if they want to go back and cross the bridge one more time and Sofia answers, "Yes. Yes, I do." Sirens interrupt that plan as a police car appears behind them, signaling their car to pull over. Now, we certainly couldn't stick with what's going on on the side of the road with the police. (Let's not even mention how many hours in terms of storytime we have avoided the scene where Larry and LaDonna discuss her rape.) No, we've got to go back to the gig where we could have stayed in the first place. Have they run out of Ritalin supplies near the series' post-production facilities? I can't imagine anyone writing a script structured this way (though it has the same teleplay credit as the first of this season's episodes built this way, "On Your Way Down") Herman looks as if he has been very creative, turning what appear to be ice buckets upside down as part of his emergency drum kit. From the looks of things, it would appear that of the five VIP rooms in Club Red Velvet, the Apostles are in VIP4, the VIP Stage Suite. As usual, Antoine flirts with the ladies in the audience until a surprise visitor drops by in the form of Desiree. He actually smiles at the sight of her and she smiles back. He's singing "Can I Change My Mind" — the song first recorded by Tyrone Davis in 1968 that gives this episode its title so, as is tradition, we must cut away before he gets very far into it.

Hold on — I think I have some cards for some personal injury lawyers in case you have whiplash yet because we are back with Sofia and the cops now. What? Sorry. No, we aren't. We're in New York where Janette's toiling around the kitchen of Le Bernandin for about 20 seconds for no apparent reason. NOW we are back on the side of the road with Sofia — the 2800 block of Belle Chasse Highway in Jefferson Parish to be exact because the bald cop who pulled them over (Matt Cook) just radioed for a female officer for a search there. The young men seem to be in particular trouble because the car had been reported stolen, though the driver claims it's his uncle's. "You should have asked for the keys. Then you wouldn't have had to jack the ignition," the bald officer tells him. The other officer, Officer Phil Banks (Mustafa Harris), holds up a packet of heroin he found. "Whose shit is this?" Officer Banks asks. "If nobody steps to it, we charge all y'all." The guys glance at each other and then the driver claims the drug as his. The bald officer heads over to question Sofia and Jocelyn, asking where they were heading. "We don't need to say anything," Sofia tells her friend before informing the cop. "My mom's a lawyer." The bald cop gives Sofia the facts. "You want to play it that way, alright. It ain't enough you're ridin' round in a stolen vehicle. You've got an open container of alcohol and you're smellin' like a goddamn brewery." Officer Banks holds up a purse and asks who it belongs to and Sofia admits it's hers. He asks if she agrees they have probable cause. She nods and he shows her the case holding her joints.

Back at Le Bernardin, the nicest, most accommodating boss in the history of the world, Chef Eric Ripert, calls Janette into his office and suddenly decides — even though he ate at her restaurant last year — that working on the lowest rung isn't fair to her. She mentions The Lucky Peach and the most generous chef working at any upscale restaurant agrees to call David Chang for her to see about getting her a job there and if it doesn't work out, he promises she can come back and work for him and the story still is a stale bore that if it were a meal, you'd return and ask for a refund. Maybe Janette can start an abusive love affair with Enrico Brulard.

Ten scenes and who knows how long in screentime or storytime, we finally get the scene where Larry and LaDonna discuss the rape. It takes place in their Baton Rouge living room, where Larry sits quietly staring at the TV. "If I find someone to talk to, would you come too?" LaDonna asks her husband. No response. "I wanted to tell you, OK. I wanted to tell you. I didn't know how," she admits. "I should have known — the way you've been acting. I can't believe I didn't guess. I'm an idiot," Larry says, never taking his eyes off the TV. "So when were you ever gonna tell me?" A disheveled LaDonna, sitting on the couch, out of his view, tells Larry, "I was hopin' I would never have to." Still not looking at his wife, Larry returns to his old refrain. "How many times did I ask you to get rid of that bar?" LaDonna turns her face away, even though he's not looking at her. "How many times? But you didn't, did you?" LaDonna pulls back up, trying to gather some strength, since this regular request of Larry's is probably what prompted her to keep the rape secret in the first place. "I didn't. Alright, I didn't. What difference does it make now?"

It's another late night with Toni on her couch, only Sofia calls her on the cell for a change. It essentially gives Melissa Leo a monologue, but who better to deliver one? "Hello. Sweetie. What?" She throws down the papers she was looking at. "You what?" Toni tosses off the afghan covering her legs. "Goddammit Sofia, where are you?" She removes her glasses and brushes her hair back. "What are you doing over there?" She completely removes the crocheted covering and sits up. "What did they arrest you for? Jesus Mary and Joseph," Toni says as she stands. "Don't say anything. Do you understand me? Not a thing. Never mind. Don't say anything and tell Jocelyn that too. I'll get you out as soon as I can. I love you." Toni then calls a judge and tells him about Sofia's arrest in West Jefferson Parish and that she's been taken to Harvey Juvenile Detention (conveniently located near a Starbucks and a Wal-Mart Supercenter for all your juvenile's needs) and to please call back.

What are we to make of the next scene? Nelson is in Oliver Thomas' office. "You were right — home cookin'," Nelson tells Oliver. "It's harder to say no to everyone around the way," Thomas says, adding that Hidalgo probably got a better deal out of it. Nelson doesn't think anyone cares about getting better deals over there. "Saving the city money doesn't seem to be anyone's idea of a priority," Nelson declares. Here comes the part to interpret. Nelson thanks Thomas, telling him that none of it happens without him extending himself and tosses him a manila envelope, presumably filled with cash. Nelson leaves and Thomas looks concerned. Will they try to make the case that the bribery Thomas pled guilty to in real life in August 2007 came from Nelson, a fictional character?

Sofia enters the hearing room of the Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court escorted by a policewoman and wearing the blue garb she’s been provided, hand cuffs and leg shackles. Toni waits for her. The judge asks if the defendant’s family member or legal representation is present and Toni stands and identifies herself as her mother. That’s it. We’re done. Why should we be interested in how a proceeding such as this would go? Oh well, we got 33 seconds out of the way. They just don't get that scenes such as these slow the action and frustrate the viewer.

Mardi Gras seems to have revived Albert's desire to stay in New Orleans, for he's back working on his house with an assist from George when Anthony King walks in asking for Cotrell. Yes, it seems George is the Iberville witness's brother who found Leon Seals' body. Anthony tells George that his sister told him that Cotrell was informed by her about the shooting and later he snuck over there and found Fields. "I didn't sneak over there," Cotrell differs. "I waited until it got dark, went over there and he was dead." King asks why he didn't report it, which sets off Albert. "Were you here? Do you have any idea what it was like here?" Albert asks angrily. "No sir. My family was. I was in Iraq," King tells Albert, which seems to quiet him. "It's OK, Chief," Cotrell says. "We were all evacuated to Oklahoma the next day. Soon as I got to a phone, I called it in about the body." Anthony tells George that his sister wouldn't identify the cops, but they were probably 1st District. "What you sayin'?" Albert asks. "She mention any names?" King inquires as Cotrell looks to Albert for guidance.

I guess that hearing went OK because Toni and Sofia come walking out of the Juvenile Center and Sofia is back in her street clothes and Toni feels free to be angry now. "Sofia, talk to me goddammit. What were you doing in a stolen car?" The brush with the law hasn't changed the teen's attitude much. "Riding around." The passionate voice for the defender has definitely turned prosecutor at this point. "Who were these two boys?" "Just two guys we met at a bar," her daughter answers. "A bar?" You do have to love the way Leo elongates the word bar. "What the hell are you doing getting into a car with two older boys you don't even know? I want an answer! Well, do you think that's smart?" Toni is shouting now, in the middle of the parking lot of the Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court no less. "No!" Sofia yells back. "How long have you been smoking marijuana?" her mom asks. Sofia just starts walking away from Toni until her mother chases after her and grabs the teen by the back of her shirt. "Let go!" Sofia shouts at her mother. "Where are you going? Where" Toni asks. "Why did he do it? Do you know? Can you tell me?" Sofia tosses at her mother. Toni is taken aback, now that the conversation must finally take place. "I can't — I — I — I don't — I'm sorry, baby. You can't blame yourself, you know that," a shattering Toni tells her daughter. "I know. That's what everyone says," Sofia responds, "but it's kinda hard not to." Toni manages a weak smile as she says, "But he loved you so much." Sofia's voice rises in anger again. "If he loved me so much, why did he leave me? Why did he do it?" Toni shakes her head, really her whole body, and points, beginning to tear up. "That's the question, isn't it? How could he do this — to us — to you? I think about it all the time. What did I do? What could I have done differently? Why didn't I see it coming? I've asked myself a million times and I just don't know. I don't fuckin' know." Toni breaks and the tears burst through the dam and Sofia finally reaches out, "Mama." Toni denies her demeanor. "I'm not crying. I'm too fucking mad to cry." Mother and daughter hug one another and I'm not ashamed to admit that both times I've watched this scene, I've teared up as well. This is the Treme I love. Not because I want every scene to be something that rips your heart out, but because they let it play out until it was done, without pointless cutaways. It ran more than two minutes and they even allowed it to linger on the hug and let Sofia get a quiet "It's OK, Mom" in there instead of moving on as soon as they hugged. I don't know whose call that was. If it was Ernest Dickerson's or whoever was editing this week, but I thank them for doing that for at least that scene. LaDonna and Larry should have been allowed a scene of a similar treatment — all characters and stories and musical performances should. These quickies slow the pace, lessen the impact and don't serve the actors or the audiences well. Treme really is a very good series. Last year, it was a great one. It can be great again. In every episode, I find something superb and worthwhile, but more and more I have to wade through other things and bad editorial decisions to get to them.

I'm hoping that we're beginning to see something develop, based on previous scenes, where we get more of Antoine working with the students. Pierce has such a great rapport with the young actors that it'd be great to see Antoine come to love the job he dreaded taking. He's standing outside the school when Robert comes out and he compliments his improvement and then asks him to play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." "Nice tone," Antoine tells him. It's a tiny scene, but it's sweet and it's a story thread that deserves development, especially in light of the great scene Pierce still has coming up.

In New York, Janette shows up at the fictional Lucky Peach and meets with the nonfictional David Chang and gets a job there in a storyline that isn't challenging Dickens or holding anyone's attention. The only thing interesting is that at least Chang isn't portrayed as Saint Chef. It looks as if he might allow himself to be shown as a taskmaster or an asshole, albeit not a Brulard-level asshole, but as someone who doesn't believe happiness exists.

Now we get to that great Wendell Pierce scene I've been alluding to since the intro. Antoine already is lying down in bed for the night when Desiree comes in. Antoine asks if she finally got Honoré to sleep and Desiree says she did, but thinks the baby may have caught a cold or something. "I had a cold, sore throat — couldn't sleep. Daddy would give me a spoonful of whiskey and honey. Wasn't but 5-years-old," Antoine tells Desiree. "That explains a lot," she says as she starts to crawl into bed. Antoine inquires about her day and she responds with a less-than-convincing "Fine" prompting him to ask, "OK. What's wrong?" "Another Mardi Gras, Antoine, come and gone. We're still here," she says. "I know," he sighs. "We gotta do somethin' bout that," she tells him. "We got money comin' in. If you can find a place, we'll sign a lease. The ball's in your court" he tells her. Desiree still has doubts as to whether his assistant band director job will pan out. "Oh ye of little faith," he says. "I'm into it baby. I'm making progress with these kids. I'm feeling it" Desiree again seeks confirmation. "So you really gonna stick it out?" No matter what a scene's content or context is, I've never seen Pierce hit a false note. Whether he's performing, being comic relief or showing a more serious side. He does them all well while never betraying that all those aspects belong to Antoine Batiste. While Season 1 as a whole was better, Season 2 really has given Pierce more opportunities to shine, as in this scene. People might be under the mistaken impression that acting is easy, but it isn't, and here Pierce performs this whole sequence in the dark, lying flat on a bed, most of the time with his arms crossed behind his head. This scene isn't over yet either. We haven't reached his finest moment. "They really dug the bands in Zulu. I'm telling ya, they made a deep impression — on them and me." Pierce speaks so softly and truthfully as Antoine here, you know it's coming from deep inside him. "Man, I looked at them kids. I looked at my boys. I fucked up, Desiree." She asks him what he means. "Playing. I mean my daddy played, his daddy played, I play — they don't play." Desiree reminds him that LaDonna didn't want them to be musicians. Pierce's voice has grown slightly louder as he tells Desiree, "I should have insisted. The Batistes were the First Family of New Orleans music. I don't see 'em round." He shakes his head and closes his eyes for a moment. He reopens them and says, "I failed em, Desiree. I failed 'em." Not only was it a great scene for Wendell Pierce, it was a great scene for Treme and, like the Toni-Sofia scene in the parking lot, it ran past the two minute mark. Can they not see that you can't get impact in 30 seconds that you do when you play something out?

Del has made it to New Orleans, presumably to sell Albert on his idea about the project, but first he sits in with The Leroy Jones Quintet at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe in the French Quarter. In the audience, Nelson gets into the beat while his cousin Arnie watches, unsure of what he's hearing. "It's good music, cuz," Nelson tells him. "It has that Latin tinge to it." The cafe's owner and hostess, Nina Buck, grabs a mic and asks for applause as the musicians finish their set and take a break. Nelson tells Arnie about the deal he just cut with the city for $300,000 which could be more the following year if he raises the price. "And all you gotta do is come to the party with a few friends," he tells Arnie. "And all they ask in return is?" Arnie inquires. "Cuz, they don't ask. They never ask. They don't have to. They ask you when all is said and done to do the right fuckin' thing and I always do the right fuckin' thing," Nelson explains, raising his glass for yet another meeting of glasses, this time with Arnie's. How many of those have there been in this episode? That scene almost went two minutes and, except when he does his tics (like dancing) that annoy me, I've mostly overcome my aversion to Jon Seda because his story thread has consequence, though this really combines two separate scenes and is not a classic such as Antoine's or Toni and Sofia's was. Still, it would be time better spent exploring those trying to get rich off the city's destruction and its inherent corruption.

We see Sofia looking sullen in her bedroom through her window as Toni meets with Anthony on the porch for a beer. Anthony asks about her daughter and Toni tells him her name. "She don't look so happy," he says. "Right now, she's grounded til Mardi Gras 2011 — and then only the day parades," Toni tells him. King informs her that Cotrell told him that his sister recognized a black cop named Billy Wilson but there also was a white cop she didn't know.

Davis fulfills his promise to Janette and visits Jacques in jail. As always, he gets excited and suggests a benefit concert that his band could write a song for called "Free Jacques Jhoni," but Jacques says it's best not to use his name. A good question is why in IMDb, in all first season episodes, Jacques' last name is Vaz, but this season it changed to Jhoni.

Delmond explains the project and the musicians to Albert, who volunteers to play bass, but Del says they already asked Ron Carter to do that. "He alright, I guess," Albert comments before taking a drink of beer. Del expresses surprise that Albert seems critical of Carter. "Carl Allen on the drums," Delmond adds. "Can he drum second line?" Albert asks critically. "Carl Allen can drum anything he wants," Del replies. "A lot of great drummers get lost when it comes to doin' how we do down here," Albert says. Delmond tells Albert that the band has been set and that what he needs his father to do is front the project and call the chants. "The record label really wants this. They've been on me about a New Orleans album ever since the storm. It's gonna be a real advance. Money for me, money for you to start here," Delmond tells him. "Ya know, it could work — if I did it. You know, too bad you ain't Indian," Albert says. Del can't believe what he's hearing, but his dad persists. "You ain't masked since you was 15. You think I'm gonna let you do this with the tradition when you ain't part of the tradition?" Albert approves of musicians such as Donald Harrison who knows the tradition and Dr. John who has been around it all his life, but not his son. Del promises to start sewing that night and Albert agrees to think about it again if Delmond masks next Mardi Gras. Del tells his father the label wants the album now and then trots out some reverse psychology, saying he'll have to get another big chief — perhaps one from an uptown tribe. "You want this to sound like the Guardians of Flames or Creole Wild West or Golden Eagles?" a peeved Albert asks. "Guardians," Del responds. "I didn't say I'm not gonna do it. I got to know it's right first," Albert says. Wow. 2:47. They stuck another long, uninterrupted scene toward the end.

Just when it looks as if they've regained their bearings, the final scene is superfluous. We could end with a powerful LaDonna, Toni or Sofia moment, maybe the last scene with Del giving a sly smile. Instead, Harley and Annie debut her song on the street and we see Davis peeking through a window observing.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One of the stylistic things I've noticed this season on Treme is the use of devices that subtly, but directly, link up successive scenes.

Three examples from Can I Change My Mind:

1) Del oils the valve pistons on his trumpet... cut to scene where LeCouer tells students "You've got to treat your instrument like it's a treasure," then cut to Toni talking on phone with a framed picture of brass instruments prominently behind her.

2) At the end of the restaurant scene, Nelson proposes a toast... cut to Carrollton Station where the audience raises their bottles to "toast" the stage.

3) Near the end of the scene with Janette, where Nick goes on about the Lucky Peach, he almost throws out the special dish he’s preparing (including a shot of the garbage can) ...cut to Toni meeting outside with Anthony King where the shot is arranged so that the center of attention is a red garbage can (this may be a bit of reach, but I given the other examples, maybe not so much).

It is an interesting device, but I haven't decided if I like it or not.
They have done that some. I noted the segue from Del oiling his trumpet to the band class in my recap and a couple episodes ago they had a really nice one where a marching band played out of the frame to the left into the next scene which was the silent band class before they had instruments. It's just these ridiculously short scenes and ones that are interrupted for some other scene just to go back that drives me nuts. Like when John Hiatt was singing "Feels Like Rain" and they cut to Toni for 15 seconds waking up and realizing Sofia isn't home and then going right back to him still singing the song. What's the point? Last night angered me when Larry finally learns LaDonna was raped and you think you're gonna get that scene when the ADA leaves the room, but you don't see them again for another 10 scenes except for a 15-second shot of them in the car not talking. In contrast, when Sofia finally confronts Toni about knowing her dad killed himself, they let it play out and it's all the more powerful.
Larry learning about the rape is honestly played. There would be confusion, anger, even anger at himself for not seeing it sooner--nevermind that LaDonna has worked silently in every scene since it happened to keep it from Larry precisely because she knows what it will do to him and to their relationship. The grim, silent trip from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in the car is exactly what would have happened. The focus Larry exhibits on why it happened: because LaDonna would not sell that bar which meant so much to her self esteem because her father saw her as a worthy successor to the business, even though she had a younger brother, her father left it to her, and now, Larry has wanted all along for her to get rid of it, even to forget about New Orleans and let him take care of her. There is an undertone of blaming LaDonna for the crime that was commited against her in Larry's reasoning, his reaction, and it is not easily resolved.

Marriages break up over such things. Men think that brushing aside women's concerns for their own identity is appropriate and the role the man is supposed to play to keep his woman safe but it reduces a woman to feeling like a pawn rather than a person. This scene could not in any way be played to be a cathartic moment that resolved in tears and hugs as the crisis came to a head. This kind of lie about this kind of crime sometimes cannot ever be resolved. Larry was pitch perfect and all the feelings showed in his face as the truth dawned. But the reaction takes hours driving home and days and weeks asking questions and wearing each other down and still might never be resolved. Sometimes men are tortured by this and have to ask very demeaning questions that further destroy a woman's sense of herself. LaDonna has been trying to hold onto her identity and keep Larry from taking it away from her and he doesn't even know it. He just loves her and wants to have her around and protect her. He has not done anything wrong but he doesn't know what LaDonna feels and thinks in her own life. He doesn't even know that there is so much complexity going on for her, even before the rape. I think there are some more painful "whys" which will be asked.

This is all there in this marriage and Larry is a tremendously loving, generous, helpful and wonderful husband. Women whose husbands are more self-centered would understand completely how bad a man's reaction to this news can be. What the victim of a crime like this needs the most is exactly what a man who loves her is almost surely not able to react with immediately. Unless he has really scrutinized the way he relates to women and respects them as people independently of his assessment of their sexuality, he will react less well than is helpful in this situation. That's understandable and certainly forgivable but now, LaDonna has to take care of Larry's feelings and needs and fears and she's probably going to lose the bar (and what it stood for) anyway. When it is possible to have some resolution, I think the scene will be longer. Until then, this story will just keep poking at us, as it does at the characters.

I sometimes think I might be at an advantage because I know so little of how films are supposed to be made that I just watch what I am shown and try to see what I can make of it. There really has been a fantastic accumulation of glances and moments that have fueled the tension as LaDonna has signaled one woman after another from the very beginning that she is not telling Larry. It didn't work this time only because the new lawyer met her for the first time with Larry present playing the concerned and informed husband. So she blew it.
My objection wasn't with how they portrayed the reactions, it was that they cut away at the crucial moment of the revelation and it didn't bother to get back to the story again until much later in a fairly short scene, which is the way they've been treating LaDonna's story ever since the rape. In contrast, when Toni and Sofia finally confont each other about Creighton's suicide, they let the scene play out. As I mentioned in the recap, does Janette's roommate really deserve a longer scene to praise a restaurant that doesn't exist than Larry and LaDonna do to face one of the most pivotal moments of the season in a far more important storyline?
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Follow edcopeland on Twitter

 Subscribe in a reader