In contrast to last week’s Mardi Gras celebration episode that offered Treme a brief moment of respite and celebration, this week we had an explosion of events. I’m not certain if more happened in “Don’t You Leave Me Here” than in any other episode, but it certainly felt like it, with almost every character reaching some form of major turning point or milestone. It was so packed with content that it felt almost uncharacteristic of the show, though not in a bad way. While “Promised Man” showed us the version of Treme that’s all about listening to music and enjoying the scenes, the constant momentum this week made both more enjoyable, a pair that offers the dual sides of post-Katrina New Orleans.
For instance, Toni has been fighting for access to those files for ages now, and finally they’re on her desk. What will come of this, it’s hard to say, but the long, hard road to public disclosure has reached if not an end, then certainly a milestone. It seems fitting that this should be the episode for it, too, because with so many other events going on, it looks like the city is finally ready to address its horrific past. This is an episode about progress, and the long slow journey paying off. But it’s unable to truly move forward so long as it continues to bury the past, which has always been the important role played by Toni’s investigations.
Other big moments it reached included the opening of Janette’s restaurant, Davis finishing his record (despite his complaints) and Annie collaborating on a more famous musician’s album. While Toni’s plot has been about moving the city forward by excising the ghosts of its past, their plots have been about the creative rebirth of the city. All three of them were struggling when the series began, but here they all have in some form or another a major turning point. Of course Annie will need to release her own album before Treme ends, but we’ve seen her go from busker to session musician, and by symbolically embodying the dream of all young musicians moving to New Orleans she’s showing a road to success out of the city’s wreckage. Janette had to leave the city to make it, but her move back is proving that the city can compete in a national landscape, that Katrina didn’t permanently erase the city from our country’s map.
Not that everything was positive. LaDonna faced down one of her attackers in the court room, and found herself threatened at home for her testimony. At this point it’s impossible to say what she’ll do next, but her dark story has another twist and has become the most riveting part of the show. We also saw her friend Albert begin chemotherapy, and while he tries to keep his tough demeanor, ultimately he’s still human and has the same side effects as everyone else who has to undergo it. He tells LaDonna to stay tough, to stand up for herself regardless of how difficult it is, and he’s also speaking to himself. They’re both going through hard times right now, and with a show like Treme it’s impossible to say that either will have a happy ending. But Albert’s advice is completely sincere, and in both cases the show offers hope that something positive may come out of these hardships. It’s two more synecdoches about the post-Katrina city, but with both actor’s brilliant performances they never become just metaphors; instead we’re personally invested in their lives.
There’s a lot else happening, too, but particularly touching was Sonny’s proposal. It’s another sign of the show’s optimism that he’s made it this far. Sonny is probably the show’s least popular character, and his story has rarely been surprising. It’s frequently dragged down by the tedium of typical addiction cliches—and while well-meaning, his story is hardly unique, unlike so much else in Treme. Still, even he has a few great moments in the show, and this is one of them. In a way, it also feels like his story is finished. Unfortunately I doubt this is real closure, and it seems unlikely that Treme will just stop showing him, but it would be nice if this is where the show left him. From here on, it’s hard to imagine him having too much interaction with the rest of the city.
David Simon’s shows tend to get better as seasons carry on. It takes a lot of exposition for them at the start, and they’re all so process focused that it takes a lot of waiting for things to really get moving. But once the pieces are in motion, they’re hard to look away from, and “Don’t You Leave Me Here” was one of those episodes where every character had something interesting and vital happening in their lives. Even more improbably, because Simon and the rest of the show’s creators take so much time getting here, this doesn’t feel contrived; even Sonny’s epiphany is earned and natural. We’re at that point in the season where it feels like Treme can do little wrong, and what we watched this week was a fantastic hour of television.