"People want to see what happened." -The bus driverJames Poniewozik and I both cited the scene at the end of this episode in our initial reviews of "Treme." I said that Albert's dismissal of the tourists, safe behind their tinted glass, was reflective of David Simon's full-immersion approach to portraying cities, where Poniewozik found it a bit on the nose and said, "It also raises a question: why are we watching, and why did HBO pick up the show, if not to 'see what happened'?"
Jim has a point (and later got Simon to expand on the purpose of that scene), in that no matter how deeply "Treme" goes into showing us New Orleans and its people, viewers like me who've never been there will remain tourists, watching through our own kind of glass. But I guess there are varying levels of tourism, and varying levels of authenticity, and "Right Place, Wrong Time"(*) is all about characters coming into conflict over who is and isn't a true son or daughter of New Orleans, with the rights and privileges some believe that allows.
(*) With a teleplay by the late David Mills.
Davis confronts his neighbors about trying to gentrify the neighborhood and is stunned to discover that they're natives who know almost as much about Treme and its music as he does. Ladonna gets frustrated in dealing with her Creole in-laws because she thinks they find her beneath them. Dr. John leads Delmond and the other session musicians in a performance of the Mardi Gras Indian anthem "Indian Red," with Dr. John saying he intends to do the song with love and respect for the traditions, even as Delmond acknowledges that men like his father - who himself sings "Indian Red" at the memorial for Wild Man Jesse - wouldn't see it that way.
And Davis and Creighton - two men who would seem to be kindred spirits in many ways, including how each views himself as a guardian of the city and its culture - meet and fall into instant loathing, though that has more to do with Creighton's dislike of having this doofus around his teenage daughter than Creighton finding Davis to be pretentious.
So the question, I guess, is what level of authenticity should be considered acceptable? Or, rather, is it stupid and self-defeating to devote time and energy trying to stratify this - to suggest that I'm somehow superior to a passenger on a "Katrina tour" bus, or that Dr. John (himself a native of the city) doesn't have the right to sing "Indian Red"? Or are these distinctions important? Albert seems to think that if the city is rebuilt without Mardi Gras Indians, or with the Lower Ninth given over to developers, then there isn't much point to it, where Delmond finds the insularity of the city so frustrating that he understands why so many of its musicians have to leave to succeed. Maybe both father and son have a point; maybe neither of them do. Maybe Simon, Overmyer and the rest of the writers expect us to find Davis's self-righteousness charming, or maybe they intend for him to be insufferable.
Only way to find out for sure, I suppose, is to spend a lot more time pressed up against the looking glass.
Beyond that issue of authenticity, "Right Place, Right Time" brings more characters together, deepens our understanding of them, and moves stories together a bit, before climaxing with that beautiful, haunting memorial for Wild Man Jesse.
Toni winds up getting both Davis and Antoine out of jail for running afoul of the cops (though Davis' arrest was more deserving, whereas Antoine was just drunk and clumsy), and Davis in turn becomes Sofia's piano teacher. Antoine, who's been trying to be more faithful to Desiree, gets into his scrape with the law(*) in part because he stopped for an impromptu jam with Sonny and Annie, and as we follow those two on their own, we learn that there's an unspoken tension in Sonny and Annie's relationship because Sonny resents Annie's superior talent. Ladonna again gets screwed over by her roof contractor and also strikes out in her attempt to get her stuck-up in-laws to help search for Daymo. And with the state of the restaurant growing more dire, Janette even consents to let Davis take her out for an expensive meal to repay her for the wine he drank in the pilot, and then goes to bed with him(**).
(*) And the idea that the cops may have either broken or lost his trombone is no small plot point on a show about broke-ass musicians. Without that horn, Antoine is in big trouble.
(**) The cast is wall-to-wall terrific, but my favorite acting moment here was Kim Dickens showing us the long moment of thought required by Janette before she decided that, yes, she was going to have sex with Davis again.
And, of course, Albert's search for Wild Man Jesse ends in tragedy, as he and Jesse's son Lorenzo make the unfortunate discovery of his body, trapped under the canoe he was presumably going to use to ride out the storm. And where Delmond has no use for the Indian tradition, Lorenzo is right there to chant and sing as Albert and his fellow chiefs gather to say goodbye to Jesse, only to have the beautiful ritual interrupted by the tour bus.
Those tourists are sent away by Albert, Robinette and the others, but we tourists at home are invited to witness the whole thing.
Some other thoughts:
• As always, be sure to check out Dave Walker's "Treme" blog for the Times-Picayune for explanations of all the local color. Dave pointed me to this site for some more background on chiefs, wild men and "Indian Red."
• It's not TV, it's HBO, which means we get to open with Antoine having his way with one of the strippers (going on, of course, about how his instrument is called a 'bone), and then get another priceless look on Wendell Pierce's face when Desiree resolves to remind him what good loving he gets right at home.
• Though "Treme" takes place several years back, the first time it really felt like a period piece was the brief scene where Creighton and Toni watch Sofia's YouTube video, and Creighton has to explain the concept of YouTube (then relatively new) to Toni.
• The real Davis, by the way, has taught piano (including "Tipitina") to David Simon's son.
• In last week's episode, Davis mentioned that all crime had left the city after the storm, and here Sonny tells his friend that all drugs are gone, too - and we learn that Sonny was forced by the storm to clean up his own habit.
One word of caution: as of now, this was the last episode I received in advance. I'm hopeful that I'll get more soon, but sometimes the production schedule doesn't allow for that. So there's a chance these reviews might relocate to Mondays in the future unless more screeners turn up.
What did everybody else think?