Sunday, July 03, 2011
Treme No. 21: Do Whatcha Wanna Part I
BLOGGER'S NOTE: This recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, move along.
By Edward Copeland
While I watched the second season finale of Treme, a song I doubt you'd ever hear on the show kept running through my head in relation to a lot of the developments: Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." Now on a few other occasions, a different song popped into my mind that probably wouldn't show up but is at least more likely: Peaches and Herb's "Reunited." Now that I have the whole season done, I have to stand by the assessment I made a few episodes ago. Treme contains moments of brilliance and can be a great show at times, but decisions they made this season definitely left us with a weaker season overall and the finale contains nothing that matches the brilliance of the first season's ending flashback showing all the characters as Katrina approached. There isn't a payoff. Treme seems to be searching. I hope it regains its footing and finds its way again in season three. Its actors are too great and it can be such outstanding television, it really needs someone who can help show them what's working and what isn't. One note of correction: Last week, I had read that Agnieszka Holland would be directing this episode. That was wrong. This episode was directed by Ernest Dickerson. David Simon wrote the teleplay from a story by Simon and Anthony Bourdain. It also ran about 30 minutes longer than a usual episode. Since this episode is longer than normal and I'm working in comments on the second season as a whole, I have to divide this recap into THREE parts. My commentary will be italicized for the rest of the post while straight recapping portions will be in plain face. Also, I apologize in advance for any and all spelling, grammar or other types of errors. I've been running behind on projects all week and haven't had time to give this the proper second read it deserves.
Antoine's self-destructive splintering of His Soul Apostles continues as he checks his voicemails. The first comes from Thaddeus informing Antoine that he's fining Mario because he's playing a gig with Shannon Powell that night and he only found out when he ran into Shannon at Dizzy's. Antoine smiles and gets milk out of his fridge. Message No. 2 comes from Herman complaining that his hi-hat got stolen out of the back of the van and Cornell was supposed to lock it up when they went back in the bar. Herman tells the machine he's had enough. "I'm out!" Mario's voice plays on the third voicemail, reminding Antoine that he'd told him about the gig with Shannon Powell last week. "You remember? What the fuck? You gonna fine me because you didn't tell Thad? Great" Mario's voice says while Antoine brushes his teeth. We hear from Cornell next. "Yo Batiste. You tell Herman Jackson my heart bleeds first piss for him cause I locked that goddamned van. He probably left that kit in the club, man." Antoine looks to the heavens when he hears who the fifth message is from. "This is Wanda, Antoine and you ain't got no business even thinkin' about askin' me back in that band," she says as Antoine tosses the phone on the kitchen counter and it does a few spins, "not the way you carry on. I'm out." It stops spinning just as the phone says, "Next message." It's Tim Green informing him that he's going on tour with Irma Thomas for really good money and Antoine will need to find a sub. Wanda continues on the next voicemail. "And another thing if I was to come back and sing somethin', you need to shut your hole while I'm doin' it. And if Cornell is there doin' background horn with me on 'Do Right Woman,' then they gonna have to pick one key and stick with it, I mean —" Antoine flops on the couch, sighs and closes the phone in the middle of Wanda's message.
Janette is back in New Orleans again. It seems she remembered about Jacques and she's flown down for a bail hearing. This episode has several instances of this idiotic tendency to have a short scene of a storyline, break for another, then go right back. I'm not pulling the clock out this time but I am going to group scenes together that belong together and indicate where they cut by putting a # symbol at the end of the scene (That one didn't count.)
First, as we wrap this season, I have to make some commentary about the complete fantasyland element of Janette's storyline this season. Part of that feeling stemmed from the portrayal of Eric Ripert as an unbelievably generous boss: Letting her off to fly to New Orleans to help Jacques, giving her a day off for Mardi Gras and letting her dine at his restaurant, sensing her unhappiness and getting her a job at David Chang's restaurant while promising if it didn't work out, she could come back and work there. I believe there also was a scene that had to be cut where he established a rich trust fund to pay for the education of any children she might eventually have. Anyway, the true part of the story is that all chefs at Le Bernardin start at that lowest station, garde manger. Last year, she was so debtridden that she had to close her restaurant. Even this season, she was seeking Road Home money for her house yet in this episode we learn that she put whatever its assessed value is now up for a surety bond for Jacques' release. More importantly, she moved to New York, a city with one of the highest costs-of-living in the world where she worked at the lower levels of fine restaurants. Thanks to Twitter, I was able to ask chef/owners of those kinds of N.Y. eateries, about how much would someone such as Janette make at that sort of position. According to my knowledgeable Twitter sources, someone working at the garde manger level at a restaurant such as Le Bernardin would only be making in the range of $10-$12 an hour for an 8-10 hour shift. If we assume she only works five days a week at the high end, that's only $600 a week — in New York — before federal, state AND city income taxes — where she moved already saddled with debt. Yet not once did we hear Janette talk money problems. On top of that, she's paid for four (two are in this episode) flights to New Orleans, at least three of which were scheduled on short notice. On top of that, all her bosses, even Brulard, let her have the days off. He only differed in that he complained about her character when he let her go anyway. This is what Bourdain, explaining what this storyline was supposed to accomplish, considers it takes to "rough her up" a little bit. We all should be so fortunate to be roughed up so harshly. At least during the fictional Brulard scenes, it gave the talented Kim Dickens fun material so she could display her talent. Chang turned out to be more of a natural than the stiff Ripert, but after she tossed that Sazerac, she hasn't been given much to show what she can do. Here's hoping season three rectifies that.
Janette walks with Chef Susan Spicer, owner of Bayona restaurant where Jacques was working when he was arrested. The two women are heading to Jacques' bail hearing. Janette asks Susan if she likes the lawyer and she says she does and thinks she knows what she's doing. Janette inquires on the state of business in New Orleans and Susan reports that it's picking up with the approach of Jazz Fest, but it's still not up to pre-storm levels. Susan asks about New York. "It's crazy. Not bad crazy. Lately, it's been good," Janette tells her, adding that she's cooking for David Chang and sings his praises. "New York has been good for me I think," Janette says when suddenly hears the sound of bells. "What the fuck! They're back! When did they come back?" Janette's excitement refers to the streetcars which Susan tells her returned in December. "But just from here on Canal up to Lee Circle. The rest of the line is still closed." They decide they have enough time so they hop aboard for a ride.
Toni meets with her lawyer friend Andrea at her office, complaining about her need to see what's in the Seals and Abreu files — or what's not. Andrea wisely warns her that if she files a public records request, not only would it be denied it would telegraph what's she's up to and give them a chance to sanitize everything. Toni admits she may have already done that, showing that she has her own doubts about Terry. "Maybe I'll go see Judge Prieur," Toni says, causing Andrea to laugh. "The man mentored me from a pup. If there's a move to be made…" Andrea then springs a surprise on Toni. She wants her to take some of her cases, at least the civil rights ones. Her husband has managed a transfer to Birmingham. "We're leaving. Two more houses on our street were burglarized last week," Andrea tells her. "If it was just Barry and me, but with the kids. We can't live like this. Not anymore." She says they've thought about it since Helen Hill, but after last week they knew they had to go. "You do what's right for you," Toni tells her.
The immigration bail hearing is called to order and the judge (Doc Whitney) asks if the defendant is present and both Susan and Janette look taken aback as they bring Jacques into the courtroom shackled, with handcuffs with chains and leg irons forcing Janette's former sous chef to shuffle his way into the proceeding even with his escort's help, though he still manages to smile at the sight of the women in his life.# So this is our first example. They set up the hearing then cut to Colson in ballistics and then we return to the street where Jacques is a free man. They did the same thing when Sofia had her bail hearing. Why bother to show us the preliminaries, which in essence are the least interesting part, but deny us the opportunity of seeing how one of these hearings actually works? That would be more interesting? Really, there was no need to show us the set up of the hearing at all. We could have had the earlier scene of Janette and Susan Spicer preparing to go and then later gone to this one with the news that it went well and that Jacques is out on bail. Same way with Sofia. Though at least in that case we skipped to one of the season's best scenes and perhaps Melissa Leo's finest moment when she and Sofia finally had the confrontation about Creighton's death being a suicide in the Jefferson Parish parking lot. Jacques' lawyer (Latricia Huston) tells him as well as Susan and Janette to make sure to call her the day before any court date. "We don't want to mess up and have them issue a retake warrant. If that happens, you're gonna lose that house you put up for the surety bond and you gonna lose a grill man. "I will be careful," Jacques promises. The lawyer warns Jacques to stay out of trouble until the next hearing and keep in touch with her office. Susan hugs him and says, "Welcome home, Jacques." He asks if he still has a job. She tells him he's on the grill the next night and then leaves. "You offered your house?" Jacques asks Janette with surprise. "Why not? It's an empty wreck," she replies. He thanks his former boss and asks when she returns to New York. She tells him she has a morning flight so she can be back for service tomorrow. "Hey, I'm in New Orleans now. What do you want to do? It's your first day back in the world."
Colson gets a lesson in ballistics from one of the department's ballistics examiners (Mike Kimmel) "Nine lands and grooves with a left twist on a 380 slug. You're lookin' for a Highpoint, model CF380 manufactured after 2000," the examiner tells Colson. "That's pretty specific," Terry replies. "A nine L&G with a left twist — kind of rare," the examiner says. Colson apologizes for asking a dumb question, telling the examiner he's new to homicide. "Any way to compare that bullet to casings, if we had casings?" The examiner explains that he can't compare slugs to casings and tell that they are from the same gun. The closest he could do is say if they are from the same model. "To say it's the same gun, I would need to compare slug to slug or casing to casing," Colson says. "Exactly," the examiner responds, "and that other bullet is too mutilated, sorry to say."
Sonny washes down the deck of Don's boat when he notices that Linh's father has dropped by to speak with Don. He can tell they are talking about him because both men keep shooting glances in his direction. "What the fuck did I do?" Sonny asks Don. "You tell me. He wants you on his shrimp boat tomorrow morning. 6 a.m. out of Chalmette," Don replies. Sonny says that he's there with Don. "No, you ain't. I just trade you away — for a week anyway," Don tells Sonny with a laugh. Sonny asks what Don got in return. "Two new air hose, a half-dozen crab traps and a player-to-be-named-later," Cornell's uncle bursts out laughing again.
Terry paces in the lobby of Toni's office while Alison stays busy at her computer. Alison keeps looking toward Toni's back office until Terry's stare gets to her and she gets up and retrieves her boss. Toni comes out and tells him that she's really busy. "We need the casings that you have — the ones from the Seals' crime scene," Terry tells her. "I'm workin' the case, Toni." Toni crosses her arm and coldly says, "Oh, you are, huh? Shouldn't I worry that they're gonna disappear like every piece of evidence handed over to you people?" Terry reaches inside his suit jacket and removes a piece of paper. "This is a receipt for evidence, two casings, signed and dated. You're covered. I'm responsible," he tells her, adding that if the receipt isn't enough, Alison is a witness to anything Toni hands him. He also reminds Toni that she is "withholding evidence in an ongoing homicide investigation and you're an officer of the court. And more than that, you're fuckin' up whatever weak-ass chain of custody those casings might have. Are you really gonna make me call for a warrant on this fucking office?" Terry's anger shows fully now. Toni starts to say something, but his demeanor leaves her speechless. "Is that where we're going, Toni?" She retreats to her office and returns with an envelope bearing the casings, which Terry transfers to an official evidence bag. Terry exits giving Toni an icy cold stare, but Toni's look seems more regretful, as if she lost any chance for the future relationship with that man she's been putting off. As usual, Melissa Leo excels, though this time with few words. The scene really belonged to David Morse who without question remains the best decision the makers of Treme made about the second season by bumping him up to a regular.
The real estate agent (Robert J. Antoine) who has listed GiGi's for sale takes a potential buyer (Antonio Mitchell) on a tour while LaDonna is behind the bar working on some papers. The agent emphasizes the relatively low taxes while the man who is looking tells him the real value is the liquor license along as you can mix. The potential buyer compliments the shelf work behind the bar. "My father built those. In '67 I think," LaDonna says, before returning to her paperwork. "Right before he went off to Vietnam." The real estate agent takes the men out to show them "the new roof," which Arnie finished last year after all.
"Motherfuckers! Wanda, Derrick, Herman, all of 'em. What have we next with excuses and bitchin'?" Antoine rails in front of The Bottom Line, where they are scheduled to play a gig. "And Thaddeus the fuckin' straw boss." Cornell asks if he can't get any of them on the phone. Antoine, still yelling, tells him that they're all ducking him. "Most of 'em making more money elsewhere though," Mario says. Antoine tells him to shut up.. Alison, who showed up with Cornell, seems almost as uncomfortable as she did when Colson was staring her down. "Trombone, trumpet, guitar, bass — we can't do a gig like that, man," Cornell comments. "Yeah, I know that," Antoine shouts. "We got a good crowd, too." Davis Rogan appears behind Antoine and asks if this is the gig. Antoine's confused. "Thad called and asked me to sub for keyboards tonight because he was feeling sick," Rogan says. Antoine asks where his equipment is and Rogan says it's set up at the Hi-Ho because he has a later gig there, so he can give them an early set. "You don't have Thad's keyboards, do you?" Davis says. "Hell no!" Antoine yells. "Fuck! See, that's it. This has got to end right here. I'm sick of this shit, all of it. So fuck all of y'all. Fuck bein' the sad ass in charge. Dealin' with this shit is like raking leaves on a windy fuckin' day, but ya know what, the motherfuckin' leaves are always throwin' shit back to ya. So fuck it. I'm done. We done. I quit," after Antoine finishes his outburst, he does manage to lower his tone somewhat and addresses Alison directly. "Miss, you need to get that law degree cause this here — it's for suckers, chumps." "And a law degree isn't?" Alison says. Antoine holds up his trombone and replies, "When I can start charging for this in billable hours, we can talk. Until then baby, you gotta better future elsewhere. See y'all around." Antoine turns and heads toward The Bottom Line's door alone when Mario asks if they're still meeting at the school tomorrow so Abney can consider teaching Robert. Antoine stops long enough to tell Mario that that is still a go. "So, no gig?" Rogan asks the others to confirm. Sonny shakes his head no as he realizes his venue days just ended, but life harvesting seafood from the Gulf remains. First, I have to say that though they have many talented writers who turn in scripts for Treme, no one can put that crisp, quotable dialogue together the way David Simon does. On a show where so much focuses on music and musicians, his words have a distinct rhythm all their own. It's what makes those short little scenes so frustrating. There's no time for the actors to build up a head of steam when Simon or someone else writes a good, punchy piece and the writers can't write those pieces if there's a clock cutting them down to less than the length of a commercial. Second, I know I've praised Wendell Pierce's performance as Antoine a lot (I don't know how many times in how many different places I've referred to Antoine as the heart and soul of Treme), but the man deserves it. He's always been good, but he's the element that's held this show together this year. I can't think of a scene he was in that wasn't necessary — maybe some were placed in the wrong spot, but they were all necessary. Actually, I can't say that. It's not that they were necessary or pivotal, it's that Pierce's presence was so welcome that he made you glad the scene was there. He also never dropped the ball on any assignment he was given, be it comic, dramatic, straight-faced or straight-laced, playing or singing or just being an ass for no good reason. This was Antoine's season. I believe his storyline may be the only one that worked completely from start to finish. Pierce also got that great scene in bed where he expressed his regret to Desiree that he didn't insist that his sons with LaDonna become musicians. Pierce just scored with every assignment given him. I do hope with the inevitable implosion of Antoine's band and his newfound commitment to teaching, it doesn't mean we won't hear him sing again.
Janette and Jacques catch The Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf for some beer and dancing.
Woodrow chows down with Delmond and his sisters Davina and Cheri (Tameka Bob) at Albert's unfinished house when Woodrow asks where Albert happens to be. "Using my hotel room. Probably ordering room service for two," Del says. "He's gonna work with the documentary lady tonight?" Davina asks. "Yeah — they're gonna be up late editing," her sister Cheri jokes. Delmond's agent asks how long his father has been living like this in that house. Davina tells him since the fall and before that the bar, but Del doesn't go into the details of that story. The Lambreaux siblings hand over their checks to Woodrow who wonders if $14,000 will be enough to fix the house. "Now I know where me and Cheri got our part from, but where'd you get five thousand from Delmond?" Davina asks. Del tells them that he's packing up his New York apartment and planning on saving money by living there and he can help Albert fix the house. "I'd like to kick in some of my own," Woodrow announces. "Take it up to an even twenty." The Lambreaux sisters thank him effusively, but he says to Del, "Don't tell anybody or I'll get laughed out of the music industry."
Davis McAlary getting taken down a few notches wasn't restricted to last week's episode. It continues as he arrives at the Hi-Ho for the band's set and finds that Alex McMurray has taken his spot on guitar. The other members decided to add McMurray to the band, but no one thought to tell Davis. Rogan tells him he's still fronting with Calliope. McAlary is close to exploding when he rattles off a song order and Calliope tells him that they are saving "The True" for the second set and that he and Tyrus Chapman worked up something new. "Any more surprises?" McAlary asks the band loudly. "Anybody fucking my girlfriend?" Despite his anger, DJ Davis & the Brassy Knoll manage to start the show, but Tyrus even steps in on vocals with Davis and Calliope.
Cornell drives Sonny to Chalmette and reminds that he told him not to ask Linh out. "You told me I was hopeless too," Sonny says. "That's true, but at least you be hopeless and livin'. Now you gettin' ready to go out with this Vietnamese captain, you might not come back," Cornell replies. "Shrimp boat, baby. Ain't oystering. They go way the fuck out in the Gulf. Gone for three, four days usually." Linh's father suddenly starts yelling. "Where the hell you been? You late." Sonny climbs aboard and the ship named Capt. Paul starts pulling away.
Janette sleeps soundly with shoulders bare. Her eyes start to open and she looks next to her to see a bare-chested Jacques asleep beside her. She turns back and sighs and closes her eyes again.# "Bad. Bad. Bad," Janette says now that they are both awake. "I was bad?" Jacques asks, thinking she means the sex itself. "No, you were good, really good. It was good, but it was bad," she tells him. Janette shares with Jacques what Ripert told her that friends and lovers come and go, but your sous chef is a lifelong relationship. "If I own a restaurant again," she says, "I've fucked myself here. OK. It's a one-off." Jacques continues kissing her all over. "If we work together again and I know that we will, you promise to act like this never happened," Janette tells him.
Antoine watches as Mario listens to Robert's technique in the band classroom. Robert plays the scale and Mario says, "Better." Antoine asks Mario what he thinks. "I can work with him if he's willing to work," Mario answers. "Antoine, for you, forty." Antoine counters with $30. Mario hikes his price to $45. "Two lessons in advance," Antoine says as he gets the money out. "Thanks, Mr. Batiste," Robert says. "Y'all playin' anywhere this week? I'm gonna come see ya if I can." Neither Antoine nor Mario feel like telling Robert that their band no longer exists. Robert talks again about how he and Denard want to start their own band like the one they have. "Who the bandleader?" Antoine asks. "Me," Robert replies. "You don't know what you're gettin' into," Antoine says as Mario tries to hide his laughter.
Now we know why Andrea laughed when Toni said she might seek advice from her former mentor Judge Prieur (Patrick Collins): He is a guest of the prison system. She still addresses him as "Your Honor" and they hug when they meet, so whatever prison he's serving time in allows more personal visits. None of that talking on phones and seeing each other through glass. I'm guessing Prieur is a federal inmate based on parts of the conversation and an entry in the not always reliable Wikipedia which states that federal prisoners still wear khaki shirts and pants which is what the former judge wears in this scene. He tells Toni how sorry he was to hear about Creighton. "How are they treating you?" Toni asks. "Oh, what does it matter? I'm bustin' out of this place night after next. This tinhorn joint can't hold me," he declares, making Toni laugh. He suggests that he get started for her since they'll only allow them an hour or so. Prieur puts on his reading glasses and takes the file Toni brought. "That's all we got on the one and that's what we have on the other, Toni tells him.# The buzzer goes off and the judge closes the file. "I'm thinking you call the federales," he tells Toni. "DOJ isn't gonna do shit about this," Toni says. "It's a Republican White House. There isn't a U.S. attorney in the country who will bring a civil rights case to save his life. You read the papers? They're firing everyone who won't toe the line." Prieur agrees. "That's true enough but I think if you got the right FBI agent interested, I think somebody will do the legwork here. Should Hillary or somebody win this next year, that changes the game. Try Collington, Squad Six, though he's probably up to his ass in the Morial stuff. Seems all the Feds give a shit about these days is running down Morial's people. And you heard they got Pampy Barre, They flipped his ass." Toni asks where he heard that and Prieur tells her it was the prison grapevine of course. Some Feds came and talked to others to check out what he was giving them. "Like what?" Toni inquires. "Oh, Oliver Thomas for one," he tells her. Toni can't believe what she's hearing. "No way," she says. "What do you mean 'No way?' Are we talking about the same Oliver Thomas who came up under the Singleton machine." Toni defends Oliver and all he's done since the storm, saying he's a good man. "Well, we're all good men. We all love our mamas. We all root for the Saints. Toni, this is still Louisiana. Oliver likes the ponies. What does a councilman make — forty thou a year? Oliver isn't rich to begin with like some of them on the council, right? I can see you think well of the guy but Toni, you haven't always been a great judge of character." The guard taps Prieur on the back and he wishes Toni luck with the case as he heads back to his cell. Now I understand that they needed a time lapse to explain the time the judge was examining the file, but why just put a single scene between them? No universe has time measured in units that would make us believe that the Nelson-Robinette scene lasted nearly an hour. Also, I hope we see Judge Prieur again. I hate when a character that instantly fascinating gets introduced but we don't know the backstory of why he's in jail or what work Toni used to do for him.
Debris continues to be cleared at a site that Robinette oversees when Nelson stops by for a visit. "Son, you take care of my business so well, I sometimes forget you exist," Nelson tells Robinette as he shakes his hand. No kidding. I'd about forgotten about him as well. I think the last time we saw him might have been as far back as Episode No. 14. "What's left on the current contract?" Robinette tells him not more than a day, but he has other news of a more disturbing variety. "That's why I called. There's a problem. I called P&J in Florida eight times and I'm expecting more of the same. They sayin' we ain't on the list of approve contractors no more," Robinette informs Nelson. "Who you piss off, boss man?" Hidalgo looks puzzled and concerned. "Nobody. I love everybody and everybody loves me. I'll sort it out. Don't worry," he assures Robinette. After Nelson leaves, Robinette says to himself, "I don't worry. Worry's above my motherfuckin' pay grade." While I've been open about my dislike of Jon Seda as an actor, he thankfully has not ruined Treme the way his character of Falsone acclerated the downward spiral of Homicide: Life on the Street. I think it helps that Nelson Hidalgo is a character we aren't necessarily supposed to like and the storyline is vital in the telling of post-Katrina New Orleans (unlike a journey through the kitchens of celebrity chefs in Manhattan). Seda hasn't changed my mind about him, but I'm more indifferent to him than anything else except when he does some of his bits that get on my nerves. Don't let him dance or do impressions anymore!