The final season of Treme opening with Obama’s success in the Presidential election was quite fitting in the sense that, for all intents and purposes, this season is the beginning of something new, while at the same time more of the same. As an aside, seeing Obama here really brings home just how much he has aged in a few years. Regardless of one’s political standing, the draining effects brought on by responsibility of that kind must be recognized. Any fan of this show already knows in a vague sense how it will end; it won’t. Episodes will stop airing, but the people and city of New Orleans will live on. Fathers and mothers will bass the baton to sons and daughters, individual people will change, but in the end it will come to the same concluding point as The Wire did – life goes on.
Treme has always been a difficult show to pin down for a number of reasons. Most strikingly, it has no plot. This, however, is an important facet of Simon’s and Overmyer’s vision. The majority of shows rely on a plot in order to not only maintain viewership, but to uphold any semblance of a show at all. Treme, on the other hand, isn’t your typical show. It’s a kind of quasi-documentary, in which characters also act as conduits for ideas and different forms of culture, each one individual and with their own quirks. The show is not better or worse than other shows for this reason, it just is. There is no overall plot in Treme because there is no overall plot in life, and life in this city is what Simon and Overmyer are portraying. The characters are also not strictly characters per se, but placeholders for real people, and in many cases (such as with the great Kermit Ruffins) actually are real people. They have their activities and they go about their day to day, and in the end, that’s what Treme is and has been – a very lived-in, not quite fictional representation of a city that while brought to its knees, refuses to bend over, and strives to rebuild itself and hold onto what defines it.
As the Obama-fueled prologue ends, we follow Ruffins as he slowly strides out to the middle of the street, away from the celebrating NOLA citizens, a solitary figure bearing trumpet and beer bottle. This image defines much of what Treme is about, people just getting by in their own way. Then comes the classic Simon-esque sucker punch; the camera pans around the musician and reveals the area to be surrounded by police, just waiting for an excuse to get their hands dirty. Despite the regime change on the outer level of the United States as a whole, on the ground level nothing changes. This is echoed later in the episode when Sonny witnesses first-hand the cruelty and incompetence of the New Orleans police, something David Morse’s Terry Colson has spent every season fighting against, to no discernible solution.
Annie and Janette, while completely different people in completely different walks of life, follow deliberately similar paths, the only difference being that Janette is further along than Annie. They both aimed high, and so far, one of them has lost it all, giving away the rights to her own name in the process, while the other is only beginning to feel doubtful. It is in contexts like this that Simon and Overmyer are at their best. No matter how skillful someone is, no matter how high they aim, no matter what profession they excel in, there will always be someone else looming above them who has ultimate control. In Janette’s case it was Tim Feeny, who has proven that he can hold his luxurious chain, with or without her. All he needed was the recognition of her name to grant him a niche in the market, and he has now capitalized on that, while Janette herself is left in the dirt. She saw what she would have to become and realized that it just wasn’t her, so she bailed out. Luckily for her, she is strong and skilled enough that she is well capable of surviving on her own, without going for the big-time. Annie, on the other hand, may not be so lucky should she back out of her proposed future with manager Marvin Frey. There is no doubt that she is an incredibly talented musician, but if there’s one thing this show has taught us, it’s that talented musicians come aplenty in New Orleans, and that niche opening to stardom is difficult to find. Annie has grown so accustomed to the laid back, down-to-earth, cultural music scene of New Orleans that she refuses to adapt her style simply because a certain outside force requires her to. It will be very interesting to see how her dilemma plays out in the weeks to come.
Antoine didn’t feature too much in this episode, but his presence was strongly felt as always, thanks to the talented Wendell Pierce. Pierce pulls off facial expressions to a tee, and it was hilarious watching his frustration at the shortcomings of the music class under his own responsibility. His genuine affection for the kids is apparent, and it will be interesting to see if anything major will happen in which he’ll have to intervene on their behalf before season’s end. On the other hand, I don’t see Chief Lambreaux living to the end credits of Treme‘s series finale. It is fitting, however, that both he and LaDonna have finally found mutual happiness and love together before the inevitable end. These two people have been similarly crushed by life – albeit under different circumstances – yet have managed to lift their heads back up and move on. They are immensely powerful characters, and their chemistry is a compelling watch. It’s a relief to see them sharing smiles and just being happy in one another’s company, after such morbid occurrences in their lives. They are each other’s crutch, and if Lambreaux does die, it will be both intriguing and heartbreaking to see how LaDonna takes it, knowing as she does what the end result of their relationship must be. Khandi Alexander and Clarke Peters have been a pleasure to watch throughout all three-and-a-bit seasons so far, and between them they embody the spirit of the show.
Davis remains as annoying as ever, and yet Steve Zahn plays him with a certain guilt-inducing charm. For all of his failures as a songwriter and musician, the point of Davis is not his delusional aspirations. The point of his character lies not in the quality of his music, but in its existence as such. Despite his material being abysmal to listen to, he has a message to tell, and he tells it. This message is as authentically New Orleansian as any other character’s, and the fact is that the city has given him a chance to have it heard. The scene with Davis and Nelson observing the community meeting exemplifies this. In the context of a backdrop fans of The Wire will be all too familiar with, Davis attempts uphold and honor the culture of the city in the face of Nelson’s encroaching capitalist viewpoint. They argue over a simple principle, but one that has been ignored or far too long by far too many people. That is what Treme is about. Not necessarily the individual people, not even the city itself, but principles and culture. Whereas The Wire showed us the failures of many aspects of modern society, and the futility of various institutions, Treme shows us what is worth preserving. To quote Davis himself (and the word “music” can be replaced with anything) as he and Nelson watch Trombone Shorty:
“Music lives where it lives, bro. You can’t fuck with that. You don’t want to fuck with that.”
Here’s to another four episodes of such sublime quality as Yes We Can Can. For now, we’ll have to settle with a preview for next week’s episode, This City: