Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Down In The Treme: Season Finale, “I’ll Fly Away”










Two Charge Shot!!! writers duck into New Orleans for a taste of David Simon’s new show, “Treme.” Hit the jump for their take on the season finale. Spoilers ahoy.

Rob: "Treme" gets good right when it gets done. Good job, guys. Now I need to watch the second season or something. I guess.

Jordan: Like Al Pacino said in The Godfather III, "Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in!" Yeah, I thought this was, overall, a really stellar episode of "Treme." And I think because, mostly, it played to its strengths. LaDonna, who has emerged as the best character on the show, got a ton of screen time, and just about all of it was very affecting. I never really felt for Daymo, but I was moved by his funeral because of my love for his sister.

Rob: I was reminded of the show's earliest and strongest moments. The sense of wonder, mirth in the midst of tragedy - everything had a kind of dramatic swoon to it, mannered but somehow sincere. I know I bitched about Prof. Creighton Bernette's suicide, but I was rocked by the mourning of his wife, Toni. She was incredible. I haven't seen grief portrayed that well in a good long while.

Jordan: Wonder is a great word for it; there's a moment where Sonny - seriously, why couldn't he have gotten axed? - is trudging around the streets, stoned off his "$40 Miller High Life," when a Mardi Gras Indian passes through the foreground of the shot. That simple juxtaposition of sadness and magic was so much more powerful than an entire season of the show's less interesting characters emote their asses off.

Rob: Sonny's plotline was some seriously weak writing. It yielded some good music in the beginning, but seriously, who cares about some half-assed pianist smashing his keyboard, reneging on good intentions and relapsing into bad habits? I like his girlfriend, and I like that she cutely (and chastely - David Simon, you white knight) ends up with shaggy DJ Davis McAlary in the end. And good on you, Davis, played by a remarkable Steve Zahn - you kept me in the show more than anyone else. Your rose-tinted mania was a great way to see New Orleans.

Jordan: Yeah, Davis really did get dramatically less irritating over the course of the season. He was in danger of being the "cool guy who's actually lame" at first, but Simon wisely made him into a lovable tool. So, at the end of the day, Davis did "work" as a character. What else do you think ended up "working" when viewed in the context of the whole season? And what sticks out to you as failing to live up to its potential?

Rob: The music. Though we initially feared "Treme" might melt into one woozy music video, the scenes of musicians recording, performing and lazily jamming out in their homes turned out to be my favorite. New Orleans is justly known for its ragged, horn-heavy blues, and some things are better said in melody. The political subplots failed to pop, or even simmer: Albert Lambreaux's sit-in at the housing project was noble, but it ended in a facile detente with NOPD - a kind of live-and-let-live thing that felt less genuine than convenient. Worse, it felt like "The Wire"-lite: social prerogative clashes with a rigid, incomprehensible justice system. "Treme" was best when it stuck to the tunes.

Jordan: I'm split when it comes to the music. Because while I can honestly say there wasn't a single musical interlude I didn't enjoy, I prefer great writing to a great soundtrack. The political bits of "Treme" were particularly infuriating because they offered a window into what could have been a much more interesting show. What if "Treme" had been about the NOPD trying to rebuild New Orleans (both physically and institutionally) after the storm, and this show's characters had been the supporting cast? I think in trying to buck convention, Simon ended up avoiding what he's great at.

Rob: You're not the first person to pine for "The Wire: New Orleans." No doubt it would have been great, but "Treme" is something different, more like a watercolor to "The Wire"'s stern, realist oil painting. The colors splash and run together. The result is often indistinct and sometimes disappointing; but sometimes you get magic.

Jordan: Remember those moments at the end of each season of "The Wire" where Simon sets a montage of B-more city panoramas to some great song? Those moments were so affecting because they were so set apart from the "cinema concrete" of the rest of the show. "Treme" too often felt like all wistfulness with nothing to be wistful about. But, with its heart-stopping extended flashback sequence and arguably the best musical number of the season, the finale of "Treme" was certainly enough to get me back this season. And I didn't think I'd be saying that a week ago.