Treme Review: “Saints” (Season 3, Episode 2)

%name Treme Review: Saints (Season 3, Episode 2)

If a city exists unimpeded by any sort of outside force, it will become the victim of entropy. Cultures and influences from different areas bleed into the sinew of a city and force it to become something else. Likewise, traumas can force a city to reexamine itself at the outset of rebuilding. Like a student transferring to a new school, there is an opportunity for reinvention. None of this is particularly negative, and in some cases the results are a net positive, but on some level the choice has to be made and the new vanguard has to be anointed.

Tonight’s episode of Treme – prophetically entitled ‘Saints’ – starts the clock on a whole new series of possible cultural influences on New Orleans, some more willing to take their post than others.

We get confirmation that Janette fully rejected the restaurant proposal she was given at the end of last season. Still, in spite of her preemptive dismissal of a similar offer last week, her possible benefactor comes back to try to woo her. The sting of her past failure weighs on her, though, and she tries to use her struggles as a business owner to back out. Undeterred, her potential partner gives her a golden pledge – that all she will have to worry about is cooking, not business. “The bullshit,” he tells her with unguarded enthusiasm, “that’s my job.”

Even her current boss knows that the move would be the best for her, and that staying in New York is a kind of exile from worry for her. He gives her an implicit blessing, and asks her to at least go see the space her new restaurant would inhabit. She can bring her “next level” cooking to New Orleans, and since she’s recently begun putting modern spins on old standard dishes, the odds are she could revitalize and pay homage to the city and food she loves.

Antoine similarly finds himself as the cultivator of the next step in the culture of New Orleans. Recognizing potential in one of his students, Jennifer, he strives to forge a bond with her over classic New Orleans sounds. He lauds her performance on the marching band, and there follows a fantastic scene wherein the two of them sit in an empty classroom singing a call and response along to an old jazz record. Then, with his wife coming along as a kind of guard against recrimination, he takes a few of his students to the Preservation Hall to see one of a number of outstanding musical numbers this episode, Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

This comes at a crucial time for Antoine, not only because his own sons are rejecting music, but because he just found out that two of his students were suspended for fighting. The cause of the fight: rumors of snitching to the police. Crime came back to New Orleans not long after the storm, and while it has touched a number of people in our cast throughout the seasons, it mainly remains an outside influence on their lives more than a direct conflict. It is just another one of those things threatening to hold back the fledgling progress these souls seek to make.

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Nelson Hidalgo, while spending some time at Ladonna’s bar after a long day of wheedling his way back into the real estate scene (he discovered the NOAH rehabs were almost totally fraudulent and used this blackmail as leverage to get back in the game) mentions his cousin being a “walking ATM” to stickup artists. It is this kind of character cross-over that Treme excels at, which is also exemplified by the earlier scene when Nelson watched Del play at a night club. None of this may mean anything in terms of plot, but it helps the world feel lived-in and real.

Ladonna, of course, needs no outside evidence to convince her of the problems still inherent in the city. Her rapist has yet to get a trial date, and thus she must make constant trips to the courthouse. This stress, coupled with her viciously malignant sister-in-law and the litigious nature of her bar’s neighbors, brings her to a breaking point. She moves out of her in-laws house and bribes a neighbor to stay quiet.

Terry and Toni has a small moment together this episode as well, as Terry has to deliver the news that the hairdresser she and her daughter met with last week – who turns out to be a friend of the family – was murdered. It’s a flimsy premise for Terry to use to talk to Toni, and I think both of them knew it, which gives the glaze of un-spilled tears in Toni’s eyes as Terry walks away a greater meaning. These two became so close, and remain so fond of one another both personally and professionally; it’s a shame that their respective lives keep them apart. Terry meanwhile, is working the murder case, still dealing with departmental screw ups. They are two soldiers fighting for the future of New Orleans’ safety, each hampered by a deeply flawed system.

L.P. – the intrepid freelance reporter we only met last episode– is still chasing leads as well, working toward putting right the wrongs and disinfecting the city’s ills by bringing them into sunlight, but his work in this episode is merely table setting. Through him we get the story of Henry Glover, a man shot by a vigilante while looting, who was subsequently ill-treated by the cops, who later torched the car his friends brought him to seek help in.

Meanwhile, Annie and Davis both keep making strides toward putting their stamp on the music scene of New Orleans. Annie is growing by leaps and bounds, and brashly confronts a possible manager to represent her. Of course, the guy has a predatory look in his eyes, one that does not escape Annie’s notice. She describes him to Davis as “oozy,” which is pretty spot on. Davis, meanwhile, fails to secure John Boutte (who sings the opening title song) to join his impending Verdi-inspired R&B opera. Still, he’s making strides, and he’s helping Annie cut demos. Of everyone in this town, if anyone can make it, it’s these two crazy kids.

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Sonny, likewise, starts to get back on his musical feet. Still suffering under the scrutiny of Linh’s family, Sonny yearns to break free just a little bit. He meets an old acquaintance who tells him about an opening for a keyboard player in a band, and after taking Linh and (hilariously) her father to see a spirited show, he takes the gig. I’ve been happy to see Sonny get back on his feet, but his frustration (which good-natured) and his return to the music scene concerns me. He came from Amsterdam to be a part of New Orleans, but the city isn’t kind to everyone, and it might not take much to knock Sonny off the wagon.

We close with Chief Albert Lambreaux, who gets a rude awakening this episode. While at his wife’s grave, his cough catches his son Delmond’s concern. Del convinces his father to go to a doctor (“I’m glad I’ve got you to nag me to death now that your momma’s gone” deadpans Albert) which leads to the news that Albert has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Years of working in construction without a mask and breathing mold and mildew in the wake of the storm has resulted in an untreatable but manageable condition. Later, at the bar the other Indians hang out at, Del goes through a slightly predictable but still wildly effective scene of transformation in the wake of his father’s growing weakness.

He gingerly tries to get everyone’s attention, to no avail. He has the bartender turn off the music and calls out a few more times before belting out a mellow Indian chant. Still no luck. He turns to his father, who nods down at the tambourine sitting on the table. Del takes up the tambourine, strikes it, and calls out again.  This time the bar settles into silence, and slowly the other Indians stand up and take their place, leading to a rousing number led by Del, as his wheezing father looks on. It’s taken years, but Del has finally gotten Albert’s approval, and the torch has been passed, at least marginally. The new guard is stepping up, and it’s only a matter of time before they find themselves tested.

A small movement forward in terms of plot, but in terms of its thematic impact, this episode was a seismic shift. And that’s why we watch Treme, to chart the subtle advances of characters we care about.

(Sidenote: if you want to know the music played in this or any other episode, go HERE)

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  • Mark Folse

    Nice write up.
    – Mark Folse
    Back of Town

    • Brian J. Roan

      Thank you, I appreciate that. I’ll be covering the whole season, so tune in weekly.