Monday, June 21, 2010

Treme Season 1 Episode 10- "I'll Fly Away" review

Written by David Simon
Directed by Agnieszka Holland

"He fucking quit. Whole goddamn city down on its ass- all of us, one day after the next. Can't dance for him when he quit."- Toni

The season finale of TREME was a nice bookend to the pilot episode (which I will elaborate on more later), but in many ways, this episode belonged to the character of Toni, as she struggled with the repercussions of Creighton's suicide from the last episode. Melissa Leo (who I was thrilled was cast after being a fan of hers from HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET) was electric in every scene that she was in, whether it was from the news of Creighton's death, to the realization that his death was not a mere accident, to her outrage of him choosing a water demise over life with her and Sofia. In many ways, I can relate and understand Toni's anger. Creighton was undoubtedly weighed down by outside forces (other than Katrina), however, instead of discussing things with Toni, he choose another route that would be devastating for his family. That decision makes his request for a second line parade for his funeral pretty hard to swallow.

I think another scene that stood out to me was the detectives confirming that Creighton was dead, and a shot of them exiting the house and leaving with Sofia screaming off-screen, as she finds out that her father is gone. Having been in the same type of situation beforehand, it makes me feel a little sad for those detectives- as breaking news like this to families is an everyday thing for them.

On the Toni story-front, I did enjoy that Lt. Colson- subtly, but still in a business manner, gives Toni the permission to gather any evidence to cover up the fact that Creighton's death was a suicide. The end of the episode, where Toni allows herself to be caught up in the jubilation of the second line for Daymo's funeral, before the grief of her loss hits her again, is amazing. Again, Melissa Leo is simply riveting.

Other than Toni, plenty of other things were happening. Davis did his part as an advocate of all things New Orleans to try to convince Janette to stay by giving her one perfect day- from the music of John Boutte, good food, a nap by the river and one pretty slick move of romanticism. I think Davis grew a lot as a character this season. However, despite his best efforts, Janette still left for New York because New Orleans completely defeated her. In any other tv show, Davis' hard work would have swayed her opinion or there would have been some "Can't Hardly Wait"-esque (or dozens of Hollywood movies) scene where Davis would have convinced Janette to stay, but thankfully, none of that happened here. Once, I saw Janette look at the flight she booked online, I knew there was no turning back for Janette. Well, she back in season 2? Perhaps, however, Davis was rewarded with Annie on his doorstep, who is seeking some place to stay after the disastrous ending with Sonny. Even though Davis is clearly attracted to Annie, he does seem to understand that she is an incredibly fragile person who just needs someone to treat her good. It's remarkable how much Davis has grown as a character considering the shrapnel the character caught in the first few episodes by fans. Right now, Davis is one of my favorite characters.

Speaking of Annie and Sonny, the final death blow to their relationship occurred as Annie caught Paige (the girl Sonny had sex with during Mardi Gras) was in their bed, post-coitus. And while Annie seems to have finally had with Sonny's bullshit, and is trying to advance herself musically (and personally by moving in with Davis- who will encourage and help her), Sonny seems to have descended into his own hell. At the end, by smashing his keyboard and snorting a line, it seems that Sonny has just given up and realized that his skill level as a musician is not quite up to par.

It seems that in the end of the season, Albert was able to bring his family together and the playful bickering back and forth between Albert and Delmond seems to be something that has happened many times in the past. Love Albert's line about rap sounding like "Chinese shit". Also, I loved Albert's love of Count Basie as well. But, no matter what, Delmond still was heading to New York in the end (a nice quiet scene as Delmond and Janette were on the same flight to New York). I loved the scenes of the parade as Albert's feathers stand out in the darkness- and how trouble nearly arises with the police, until the near confrontation is quickly squashed by Sgt. Thompson, the community relations officer. It's nice to see Thompson step up on the Big Chief's behalf.

Nice to see character development with Arnie the bouncer from Texas, who worked on Delonna's roof, as a means to start up his own contracting business under Riley's license. Nice to see character development from a seemingly minor character such as Arnie. I like that character's work ethic.

Antoine has also made some slight progression this season, as he still is hustling for work (and blew most of his money made from his well-paying gig by gambling most of the money away- particularly in hilarious segments with Irma Thomas, as she destroys him in card games), but he was there for his family (Delonna and his children) not for any personal gain, but because it's the right thing to do. I look forward to seeing what he does next season.

Great moment of levity, as Delonna makes a crack about her dead relatives spinning in their graves at the cost of the cemetery director's bill. In a moment of outright pain, humor is much appreciated.

Now, I see fully why there was that dream sequence of Daymo earlier on this season, as the ringing of a cell phone brings Delonna and the audience back to life before Katrina hit. Daymo, was indeed the good-hearted and responsible person that Janette and Jacques recall, as he happened to be at the worst place during an even worse time. We see Annie and Sonny- still together, and seemingly happy, enjoying the empty city, Davis chiding his neighbors for evacuating (before in a hilarious reveal, that he left as well when realizing that Katrina was going to hit). We also see Antoine, in a much better position (and with a car of his own) ready to leave New Orleans, and Toni and Sofia watching the news of the hurricane with a still very much-alive Creighton.

I did enjoy that the first season ended where the first began- with the parade during the funeral. Whereas, the pilot showed the more somber aspect of the parade, the finale showed the more celebratory nature of the second half of that parade. Also, we see Antoine being reunited with the cab driver he shorted in the pilot episode. The two meet each other, and playfully trade good-natured barbs back and forth. And I have to say Khandi Alexander was superb as she works through the death of Daymo's death by getting lost in dancing during the parade.

Here is an interestingarticle where John Sinclair offers some details on the St. Joseph's Night tradition:

“St. Joseph's Night with the Wild Indians is not an experience to be taken lightly in any measure. It's the living manifestation of an age-old ritual, preserved and practiced by the descendants of the African slaves, which goes back to the perambulating societies of West Africa and their call-and-response chants, the secret societies of masked warriors which are common to both African and native American cultures, and the unsanctioned moonlight ceremonies conducted by African slaves under pain of death on the plantations of the American South.

“It's a ritual which continues to live in the mean streets of fin-de-siecle New Orleans and in the hearts of the people of the most run-down, destitute, stripped-bare-and-left-for-dead underclass neighborhoods of the city, where the Wild Indians of Mardi Gras and St. Joseph's Night perennially represent the triumph of spirit, creativity, and beauty of song and dance over every obstacle the oppressor class can place in their way.”
Dan Baum of The New Yorker filed this dispatch about St. Joseph’s Night 2007, in which he describes Darryl Montana, son of Tootie Montana, emerging from his father’s house:

“At the stroke of six, the door opened and her son Darryl stepped out in a radiant gold-and-silver suit. The small crowd waiting outside gasped and cheered. They agreed that Darryl, who is fifty-one, has taken the Mardi Gras Indian suit ‘to the next level.’ Darryl appeared to stand ten feet tall and five feet wide. His suit included eleven ‘umbrella crowns’ made of quail and pheasant feathers—Tootie had never envisioned more than one—and its front was coated with a portrait of Tootie fashioned out of thousands of tiny sequins and beads. When the sun’s low, reddish rays struck the hundreds of glass jewels sewn onto the suit, Darryl seemed to explode.”

The David Mills tribute was particularly touching as well. It feels very final, but it is disheartening that he won't be offering another TREME episode next season (or for that matter contributing anymore to his superb "Undercover Black Man" blog). Goodbye David.

With the first season wrapped up, I must say that TREME is a show that has to be appreciated as a whole. Much like THE WIRE where at the end of the season you have an understanding of what David Simon was going for thematically, I think with TREME, you have even more of an understanding. It is a true love letter to New Orleans, to the culture, community, the people- in all of their flawed beauty. As opposed to THE WIRE, TREME is a show that is character first as opposed to heavy plotting like it's predecessor.

Despite some complaints about TREME is not focused on plot, I have to disagree. There is plenty of plot- but it is not THE WIRE version 2.0 or THE WIRE: NEW ORLEANS. THE WIRE was modeled after a Greek tragedy and is thematically different than TREME. Plenty happened this season on TREME with the characters we have come to know. In a way, I think people should watch TREME as one would watch Robert Altman's "Nashville". TREME is not THE WIRE, but I wouldn't want that. They are both separate beasts but TREME feels more optimistic despite the overwhelming darkness that the characters are facing. It's engrossing television and a wonderful television experience. Like all things David Simon, it's requires several viewings to appreciate all the nuances and subtle touches, but upon finishing a season (like you would a novel), you feel completely satisfied with the time you invested in following this story. I can't wait for season two.

For a great read, check out David Simon's interview with Alan Sepinwall here:

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