There was no way of watching “Tipitina” last night and not getting a series finale vibe. Clearly David Simon and company didn’t know if they’d be returning, and while not everything wraps up cleanly, it’s an episode that features an awful lot of resolution, particularly with the show’s more tedious storylines. When Treme returns with its half-season order, it looks like the cast and its storylines may be leaner, which is a good thing, since this has been the season where the show faltered at times. Its characters and stories still had their typical depth, but they were both more repetitive and tedious. Eventually this was going to happen, as Katrina receded into the past and normalcy returned, but it was still a bit disappointing to see some of the show’s pathos leave.
It’s also because Treme’s third season hasn’t been structured as elegantly as, to use my usual comparison, The Wire. Things didn’t take until the last episode to resolve; instead storylines finished whenever they felt like it and this frequently left characters just kind of hanging around. For instance, once Albert agreed to chemotherapy and marched in Mardi Gras, he’s had little to do. He’s still a major character and one of the most interesting parts of the show, so Treme has had him involved with Delmon in consulting for the prospective National Jazz Center and also developing a romance with LaDonna, but they haven’t had the life-or-death thrust everything else in his life did. It’s not that his character got boring, but rather that he’s back into the routine of things, and other than the occasional wonderful scene between him and LaDonna, he’s just kind of hanging around.
There’s something to be said for this season’s odd plotting. I appreciate its unconventional structure, but still find it fulfilling. Essentially this has been a season about giving characters what they strived for during the first two seasons and then showing how that really plays out, not like fantasy wish-fulfillment but rather as more hardship. Janette’s restaurant, for instance, was such a longtime goal that she signed up with an restaraunt owner at cross purposes from her own. However, for obvious reasons, this isn’t nearly as exciting to watch as the struggle to gain her restaurant, especially since she doesn’t really seem to have too much to lose—this wasn’t the first chef job she was offered and almost certainly won’t be the last (I still don’t understand why she chose to go with him of all the people who offered her work). You can see the way Treme wants to subvert the idea of a dream job, that once Janette has her restaurant she’s suddenly fulfilled, but that doesn’t make for great television. At least, it doesn’t here, so rather than giving Janette one long plot arc for the season, she’s had one of getting the place set up and an abrupt one of frustration since then.
I don’t want to dwell on the negatives here, because this was actually an excellent, though not spectacular, season finale and a lot of this came from the few stories that worked this season. Davis, still angry about the dissolution of his jazz opera, writes one last song before leaving the music industry. It’s not a great song, but it’s funny, and his friends turn it into a viral video featuring everyone from Kermit to Antwon singing along with him in support. Kermit even has Davis play with him at a cushy bar mitzvah gig, and while Davis is still frustrated, as the episode ends he’s asking his friends about how he returns after the song made it clear that he quit. He breaks up with Annie, but it’s impossible to think of him breaking up with the music industry, no matter how angry he may be at the moment.
Then there’s LaDonna after Gigi’s burned down. Everyone in the show helps to put on a benefit for her, and it’s a stirring scene that more than anything makes the episode feel like a finale. Short of LaDonna’s husband (who’s conveniently missing so she can sneak off with Albert), practically the show’s entire cast is present for this, and I believe it’s the first time so much of the cast have ever been together in the same space. Her trials are nowhere near ending, since the bar is still burned down and her rape case had a literal mistrial, but she still has the support of everyone.
Even Toni’s long search for justice in Joseph Abreu’s case comes to something near closure, as Everett’s article comes out in a weirdly fake-looking edition of The Nation. This helps give the episode an appropriately bittersweet ending to a bittersweet season, one that tried many new things and, unfortunately, frequently stumbled in its attempt at making its third season different from its first two. Abreu’s case is wide open, and there are witnesses and an FBI agent working to indict the police officers for his murder. But this is contrasted with the working hell of Terry’s time in the NOPD and the seemingly endless nature of LaDonna’s rape case. Two steps forward for justice and one step back.
The episode ends with a montage, and one that left me wondering if the show really needed a third season. I came to the answer that it doesn’t really, though maybe it will do better with a short order and fewer characters. It’s hard to say, but had the show ended here I think few would be that disappointed. As it stands though, Treme has one more chance to really dazzle us and perhaps wash out the taste of this somewhat unfulfilling third season. I look forward to it, in the hope that with so many changes, season four will be able to do what the third season wanted to in offering us something different while still maintaining the wonderful music and performances that make Treme exciting even when it’s not at its best.