Most of the time, my least favorite episodes of David Simon’s shows occur at the beginning of the season, which is only natural given the way they’re structured. That’s just the way anything with a huge cast and a refusal to have traditional narrative arcs works, though, as well as something that at this point I realize going in. They take a little while to get going, but once in motion, Simon’s shows offer more intelligence and pleasure than anything else on television. And this season of Treme didn’t even start that slowly, though it was, as usual, jam-packed with exposition.
Part of how Treme avoids making this early rush toward exposition, briefly hinting at what every character is up to this season, is through its performances, and even an episode like “Knock With Me—Rock With Me” that features relatively few of them, keeps up its momentum by staggering the dialogue with music. I’ll be writing more about this in future episodes, but as frequently the case, this episode began and ended with music. And moreso than what we usually saw in the first two seasons, the juxtaposition of these two performances was purely hopeful. It’s now, we’re informed, 25 months after Katrina, and for all the violence and the poverty, this episode, and likely the rest of the season, are about the city’s rebuild finally starting to work.
I’m not certain about exactly how many months transpired between the two seasons, but essentially nothing too dramatic seems to have occurred while we were gone. Janette is still in NYC cooking for David Chang, Annie’s writing songs for her band and slowly gaining confidence, and Delmond and Albert’s album has been released, to significant sales and at least a certain level of acclaim. But there are a few odder developments. LaDonna and her husband have been staying with family, which has not been going well, and the situation is ready to blow up unless some change occurs soon. And of course, the tempestuous David has a new project he’s interested in, a New Orleans Opera starring, who else, all of his favorite local musicians.
In order to fund this Opera, Davis has been touting a New Orleans tour that focuses just on the city’s musical history. Yet, while he’s a pretty great tour guide—not always 100 percent correct about the facts, but certainly entertaining—the city hasn’t been keeping up with its own history. Turns out, despite all of the great recordings made in the city, nothing has been done to keep its legacy from decaying, and half the studios he wants to visit have long since ceased to have anything to do with music; the other half are gone entirely. Yet, in a parallel, others in the city have seen that this is a problem, and Nelson speaks to one of his contacts about plans for constructing a National Jazz Center. This is the attitude adopted by this episode, something approaching despair at times, yet still offers some ground to build on. But the parallels also highlight the differences between Davis and Nelson, both of whom are invested in helping out the city, but while for Davis it’s out of love, for Nelson it’s for purely monetary reasons.
The other real bit of forward momentum in the episode comes from an out-of-town reporter Toni meets who’s as interested in uncovering the truth of what happened during Katrina as she is. He’s a small part, but that he even exists and is willing to put in the effort signals a shift in attention from the rest of the country to Katrina. He’s not a tourist, and he’s not looking to exploit the city. What’s more, he’s going about his investigation in the right way, by becoming a part of the city and getting to know the people who live there. Talking to people about Treme, I’ve always gotten the sense that the police investigations, whether they’re from Toni’s side or Terry’s (who has now learned he won’t be able to have his kids visit him in New Orleans), are no one’s favorite of the show. Which is natural, since so much of the rest of Treme is a party. But Simon and co. have always included it for important reasons, and the addition of this new reporter signals at least the possibility of getting some closure on at least some of the violence that came in the storm’s wake.
So now at the end of the episode, we have another performance for a deceased musician, and while Wendell was arrested for playing at the beginning—more or less—at the end they’re given a police escort. It’s almost too hopeful an image of the city growing and relearning where its interests lie, but it doesn’t feel false. And David Simon has always worn his heart on his sleeve, writing truly earnest material even when it’s just being earnest about his cynicism and despair. There’s still a lot of progress left to go, but the feel-good ending here tells us that, whatever else, people are still trying to make things work out for the best.
•David Chang’s acting is a bit better than last season (not saying much), though he still shouldn’t quit his day job.
•I sure miss Al’s hair from the first season.
•“It’s a laundromat” – “Clearly.” – Wait, their laundromat has a built-in daquiri stand? I can’t be the only one who felt instantly jealous upon learning this fact.
•You know, it’s not Davis’ fault the city doesn’t preserve anything. I don’t know how much he charged for that tour, but what did those people really expect?