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Treme Review: "Dippermouth Blues" (Episode 4.03)

December 16, 2013  |  3:32pm
<em>Treme</em> Review: "Dippermouth Blues" (Episode 4.03)

Amidst the myriad of artists (musician and otherwise) that populate Treme’s world, one of the uniting threads has always been a sense of authenticity. It’s something the show’s cast has rarely had difficulty with, as each individual follows his or her calling, even when it isn’t even an art form. Even Nelson Hidalgo has easily befriended the rest of the cast, as beyond his corporate aspirations he’s ultimately pure-hearted. He wants to earn money, sure, but he appreciates good music and good food and wants everyone to enjoy themselves. It’s the other forces of the world, the record labels and police officers and politicians, who do things for less than altruistic reasons, that serve as the show’s de facto villains.

It’s a theme that’s always been central to Treme because of how it reflects the show’s own creation. One of the complaints often aired about Treme is that it puts verisimilitude and authenticity ahead of story, but that’s because to a certain extent those factors are in fact the story. It’s more the fact that every other show takes these factors as insignificant that makes Treme’s care in these matters interesting, but also because this authenticity touches on many other aspects of the show, from its stories to its characters. It’s not that difficult, of course, to base a TV show (or movie or book or anything else) in New Orleans without consulting anyone who lives there about the city or even shooting a single scene in the state of Louisiana. But conversely, how true can a story be when that’s the case? And yes, Treme is a fundamentally fictional show, but it’s still authentic by shooting with real musicians in real locations based on real events in a way that almost nothing else on television has ever been before.

“Dippermouth Blues” features Antoine consulting on a film that’s problematic in all the ways that Treme isn’t. It features a white actor playing a Creole musician despite his complete lack of musical ability, and what’s more, doing a pretty poor job of it. Antoine does his best to help the actor fake his way through a complicated piece on the trombone, but there’s only so much he can do. Ultimately, the director tells him they’ll “fix it in post,” and Antoine can do nothing about this problem of representation except sigh. It’s an obvious point, and yet is still an endemic problem in Hollywood. Treme doesn’t have anything particularly new to say on this subject here, except that there’s no excuse for doing so. If this show can make its representations so authentic, then most anything else could too.

Antoine’s little one-episode (I suspect) side story is the most blatant problem of authenticity in “Dippermouth,” but it’s far from the only one. Davis makes new plans to revitalize a street with crazy noise ordinances because, to him, it’s a more authentic center of New Orleans music than the well-known tourist traps like Bourbon Street. And that’s also always what he’s been searching for, his place within the world of New Orleans music despite being a white man from a wealthy background. He’s still never found his niche, so maybe this one, which would allow him to patronize the artists he loves so dearly, will be the one that sticks.

Janette Desautel has been having problems of a similar sort with her restaurant, after leaving Desautel’s and trying to found her own with the same name. Legally she can’t, though, neither can she use her image in advertising. Effectively, she sold her soul to the devil, only she didn’t realize it until it was too late. But she does still have a restaurant, and by all accounts (admittedly, mostly from Nelson), its food is far superior to the new Desautel’s. The villains won her name, but they haven’t won the battle of food, and as stressed out and tired as Janette may be, it feels like Treme is leading up to a happy ending for her.

Her situation now, though, reminds us of Annie’s current troubles with her manager, which only got worse this week when he sent an intern to deal with her as a message that she’s unhappy with him. Annie has been caught this entire season, not to mention the end of the last, between playing the music she wants to make and believes in with the musicians she personally knows, and “selling out” by recording with studio musicians in Nashville. It hasn’t been a terribly exciting storyline, but I appreciate the advice she received here to either take her manager’s advice or fire him. It’s a good kick in the head that she needed, and either way at least her story will no longer be stalling.

And outside of the artists, there’s the question of authenticity for Terry. It’s the thing, though, that has always separated him from other policemen, and likewise something they don’t understand. He’s tainted now, a snitch, but it’s because he has always put his duty as a policeman, which is to say his duty to the people of New Orleans, above all else. Other policemen don’t understand this and don’t get why he’d want to testify, but it’s because he’s ultimately proud of this and who he is. They want their jobs; he just wants to do the right thing, regardless of whether or not that gives him a job at the end of the day.

A little bit outside of all these other storylines, we also had the continued health problems of Albert Lambreaux. What’s made this story unique is that its conclusion is foregone, so we’re not worrying about whether or not he’ll make it, we’re watching how he and his family (and friends) cope with his forthcoming death. Moreso than anything else in the episode, this had a harsh realism that cut through some of the heavy-handedness elsewhere. When a person close to you is near death, everything does remind you of them, and watching as Delmond and his sister and LaDonna react is bleak yet truthful. It’s not despair so much as resignation that fills these scenes, and I found them to be incredibly moving. Albert is, of course, a living testament to authenticity in New Orleans. He doesn’t compromise doing what he believes is right, which means he can be prickly, but he’s unquestionably honorable and has his priorities in place. It’s the thing that’s drawn so many people around him and drives his charisma, and one of the things we’re confronted with at this season is how much will be lost when he’s gone away.

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