(Need to catch up on the first two seasons of Treme? Read my Season 3 Primer before heading into this review)
The story of Treme is that of the battle for the soul of a city. Every character we meet in this expansive, lively television show comes to the city with an eye to give or take something in the name of some grand idea that is New Orleans. To some, it is a home, a place to preserve and love. To others, it is the heart of an artistic movement they believe in.
Further still, to some New Orleans in the wake of a startling natural disaster represents a massive opportunity for profit and personal gain. None of these goals are mutually exclusive, and no one is painted as being particularly wrong. They are all just people, bound by location and ambition, and a vision for the city they call home.
Judging by tonight’s episode, season three of Treme looks to be setting the stage for a showdown between ambition and reality, as well as a deeper look into what it means to cherish the past while moving forward into the future. This is illustrated in a number of scenes, though no where more obviously than in the character of Davis McAlary.
Davis is back at the radio station filling in for DJs on their off days. This could have been seen as a regressive step for the character, but only if you don’t really understand Davis. The only thing Davis loves more than experiencing the music and town that he loves is foisting it on others. Hence, his airtime is filled as much with the music he loves as his own self-advertising. He’s working on a Katrina-themed opera that promises to fuse “blues and funk,” running a tour of the city’s musical heritage, and holding out the hat for any donations to make his dream come true.
Unfortunately for a man in love with the history of music in his city, the city has a short memory and slow response time. Davis can’t even hold a single tour together because of the lack of real artifacts to show his acolytes. A famous record studio is now a laundry. Louis Armstrong’s house was torn down. Armstrong Park, “the birthplace of jazz,” is still shuttered two years after the storm. Thus, the crowd departs, unable to look past the trappings of the present to see the history of the past.
Albert Lambreaux is struggling with a similar situation, though he is triumphing through his usual mix of well-deserved pride and obstinacy. Sales of the Indian/jazz fusion record he made with his son Delmond are strong, but the other Indian chiefs are worried it is sullying their traditions, while jazz critics are baffled by the meaning behind the album. Albert couldn’t care less what the less informed and less forward thinking among his musical peers think, though, earning Del’s respect in the process. “We broke some fresh fucking ground!” the Chief enthuses.
His arc this episode also served as a strong counterpoint to his place last season. When he hears his song on the radio while working construction on a house, he urges the other workers to turn up the volume and listen. Whereas last season saw him leave a job early after hearing Del dedicate a performance to him on the radio, this time he proudly points out “that’s my son on that horn!”
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