Treme’s thematic interest in showing not just key events but also the process that makes them happen tends to be both the show’s strength and also its primary weakness. The methodical pacing that David Simon brought to The Wire reappears when he shows New Orleans, but these stories are far less linked together and their payoffs don’t have the same feeling when they’ve been so meticulously foreshadowed (which isn’t quite the right word) for the prior six episodes.
The biggest moment of “Poor Man’s Paradise” arrived when LaDonna watched Gigi’s go up in flames, but rather than empathizing with her shock and anger, by that point I just wanted the thugs to get the fire over with. LaDonna’s life, despite Khandi Alexander’s consistently superb portrayal, is so much like a Lifetime movie-of-the-week that it loses its pathos. This is the risk Treme always runs, since unlike even a diffuse show like Deadwood, it really is telling 10 stories only linked by location. To a certain extent, you could, if you had way too much free time, edit the series into 10 roughly one-hour-long episodes, each focused entirely on one character rather than cross-cutting. While sometimes the editing is able to cover up each of its mini-stories’ weaknesses, there are times at which they don’t hold up on their own particularly well.
The problem with those single-character episodes would be the amount of repetition and tedium that each of these stories sometimes returns to. The montage of Toni returning to her witnesses and telling them she’s backing off the case was intentionally a reverse of what we saw before, but given that its end result is an eyewitness stepping forward with a willingness to take the stand it mostly just feels like a waste of time. Whenever the show reverses itself soon afterwards, it feels directionless. I would assume that this sort of thing is done for the sake of realism, but it doesn’t make for compelling television.
My favorite story came from an odd place, since I tend to prefer the show’s musicians to its cops and lawyers, but it was really Colson’s week. The beginning was appropriately harrowing, as was his tough conversation with a superior that effectively meant the rest of his career as a police officer would be terrible. But most telling of all to me was the way he clearly told his kids about his fight so that they would ask about it and he could play it off as a tough guy. LaDonna’s fire was more cinematic, but Colson’s fall came more suddenly and felt harder. While Treme isn’t exactly subtle in the way it links Terry/Toni and LaDonna/Albert, both these scenes are still moving.
The other storyline that needs mentioning was the slow-motion breakup of Annie and Davis. I wish Treme didn’t go out of its way to make Davis seem like the complete cause of this, given that neither has been treating each other well for quite some time. But regardless, it’s pretty much what you’d expect, and another thing that we’ve been building up to for long enough that it’s not remotely surprising.
As much as I was disappointed to hear that Treme’s fourth season will be only five episodes, this decision rather than cancellation may end up being for the best. Every season of Treme has been mired in repetition and scenes that do little (every time the show features Everett just typing or calling on the phone and nothing else, I get mighty frustrated). I like when Treme is slow and features plenty of music and New Orleans culture, but this season seems to have gotten the balance wrong and stretched out six or seven episodes of story into a 10-episode season. A condensed version of Treme doesn’t sound like it’ll tell us much less story; instead it may just cut away all the fat.