What first struck me about this week’s episode wasn’t anything about its content, but the fact that there hasn’t actually been an episode titled This City before now. Both between the obvious connection with Annie’s song (dedicated this week to Steve Earle’s late Harley), and the thematic significance of the show as a whole, the words “This City” sum up Treme as succinctly as possible. It is appropriate, then, that the phrase was left as an episode title in one of the last few episodes of this criminally under-appreciated show.
The second thing that struck me (again before the episode had even started), was that this episode was penned by George Pelecanos. Now, any HBO fan worth their salt will see fire upon hearing that name. Tragedy and sadness are imminent. And, lo and behold, they came in their spades in This City. Despite this, Treme is unique in that it always strikes the perfect balance between the ups and downs, and there were some beautiful moments in this episode.
Story-wise, or approaching whatever amounts to a typical story in Treme, there was a lot going on in this episode. The thread around which the episode wound itself was the the realization that Big Chief Lambreaux does not have long left to live, as his cancer has unexpectedly spread to his liver. In a cold open, we along with Lambreaux are given the news. This scene is played marvelously by Clarke Peters, as he transitions from a spritely, young-spirited, newborn man to the familiar, brooding, cynical old man all in one take. The framing of the scene echoes this descent, as Lambreaux is slowly pushed lower and lower from his active, buzzing stance at the window, to feebly slouching in the chair, crushed under the weight of his ultimatum. A throwaway line later on speaks to what this episode is all about, and Peters brings to it that gravitas that he is so loved for. When Lambreaux has had his final reminiscence with the memories of his youth, with tears in his eyes he declares to his daughter, “I’m ready to go, Davina.” In reconciling himself with fond memories of the past, he has accepted his fate. Although, this acceptance is not without an element of fear, as he informs LaDonna at the end of the episode.
Otherwise, Davis was Davis, wonderfully screwing up his chance at the big-time with Nelson. Steve Zahn’s deadpan bewilderment upon finding out he had just missed out on $30k was absolutely hilarious, and it reminds us that despite his infuriating nature, there’s something so intriguingly endearing about Davis. Janette has similarly screwed up, by her fault alone, by not taking the time to read her former contract with Feeny. Seriously, it is difficult to believe that no matter how enthusiastic she may have been, someone as industry-savvy as Janette would not have hired a lawyer to run through the contract, or even give it a once-over herself. Also, in relation to her difficulty in naming her new restaurant, why not just go with “Janette’s”? That would seem to be the most logical choice after “Desautel’s”, wouldn’t it?
Coulson and Toni finally come to a head over their respective positions in the law. Despite not necessarily disagreeing with each other, their combined frustration with the status quo of the city forces a brief reprieve in their relationship. I hope this dynamic is explored a bit further, although it seemed to be resolved before the episode ended. Annie has successfully forced her manager to abandon her, as she opens her set with her titular song, co-written with Harley, “This City”. By the end of the season, we could well see Annie in a similar position as Antoine was with his Soul Apostles. A solid act, and popular, but only in the Treme. Speaking of Antoine, he faced tragedy this week as one of his students, Charisse, was murdered over issues completely outside her control. This in turn impacts Antoine’s personal life, as he becomes sleepless and fearful for his own daughter. I must admit, I was momentarily terrified when Antoine rose in the middle of the night after imagining a sound from his daughter’s bedroom. With this being a Pelecanos episode, a bullet flying through the window wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility.
Altogether, there was quite a strong nostalgic focus on past events and the death of innocence this week. In fact, there are probably more callbacks to previously established Treme plot threads in this episode than any other. It was an hour of reflection, in which we, along with the characters, were given the opportunity to think back to the past and bask in it, before coming to the realization that we must move on to the conclusion. For us, it’s the conclusion of the show. For some characters, it’s the conclusion of a lifestyle or career choice. For Albert Lambreaux, it’s the conclusion of his life, a life which we were given a delightful and fully real insight into in This City. Lambreaux remarked at one stage in the episode that his father, the carpenter, had “arms hard as cedar”. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that the carpenter’s personality retained that hardness, a hardness that his son inherited. However, whereas the father was the cedar, Albert is the oak he mentioned in the beginning of the episode. Ancient, wise, sturdy and deep-rooted, he has endured his share, made his mark, and accepts that he, like all of his childhood dreams, must move on and make way for another generation.
In case that wasn’t enough, here’s a preview of next week’s episode, Dippermouth Blues, to enjoy: