"But New Orleans is still my home!" -AntoineOn "The Wire," David Simon was fond of illustrating a thematic point by having characters in very different social circles experience the same kind of event: McNulty and D'Angelo getting chewed out by middle management in the series pilot, or Namond and Clay Davis espousing the same philosophy about free money. With "At the Foot of Canal Street," Simon and company - here with "Wire" alum George Pelecanos scripting a story he wrote with Eric Overmyer - are doing parallel play again, as we see Antoine, Sonny and Delmond all traveling out of town for different reasons.
Antoine is a son of New Orleans, through and through. Born there, raised there, with no interest in going anywhere else (though perhaps he'd feel differently had his musical career gone differently), he has to be goaded repeatedly by Ladonna just to take the bus to Baton Rouge to see their sons, and even then he mainly goes for the promise of free dentistry from Larry.
Delmond is a son of the city, too, but a prodigal one. Never invested in his father's Indian traditions, or the city's music, he got out as quick as he could, and as he tells his manager, while he's from New Orleans, he doesn't play New Orleans. He has a girlfriend in New York (one of several, it would appear), and would be happy to never go back were it not for family or professional obligations.
Sonny's no son of New Orleans, but he wishes he was. He tells everyone, including Annie, that he dreamed his whole life of living there and playing that music. But a year and a half into living his dream, he's still basically on the outside looking in: a street musician always playing in the shadow of his more talented partner. So he journeys to Houston, hoping to be more accepted in the world of New Orleans expatriates than he's been in the city itself.
Ultimately, each man's trip away from New Orleans is only so satisfying. Antoine's time in Baton Rouge prepares him for a permanent solution to his embouchure problem, but the bridge he builds with his sons is only temporary at best; even he can recognize how guarded they are around him after so many years of disappointment. Sonny's fantasy of acceptance only lasts as long as it takes the band leader to spot another, more accomplished keyboard player in the crowd. And while Delmond has access to the finest in New York culture, he finds that professionally, he has to tie himself back to his home city to succeed.
Antoine happily returns to New Orleans. Sonny's trip back is more mixed - Houston didn't quite work out, and he returns to see Annie thriving without him - but at least he takes pleasure in bringing the Houston bouncer along with him, and introducing another outsider to the city he loves. And Delmond isn't going back yet, nor does he seem particularly eager to go.
In the wake of the storm, many natives had to leave the city, and many of them never returned. "Treme" is focusing on either the ones who never left or the ones who found a way back, but "At the Foot of Canal Street" provides a brief glimpse of three worlds that many New Orleanians found themselves in after Katrina.
Speaking of leaving town, Delmond's scenes in New York had to be filmed out of production order, which means I got this episode very late in the process. In the interest of getting the review done in time for posting after it airs, let's deal with everything else bullet point-style:
• I'm sure Baton Rouge has many fine independent restaurants, but of course Antoine's kids would have fallen in love with Friday's and The Olive Garden, wouldn't they?
• Ladonna does Antoine a good turn, largely for the sake of those boys, but you see in the trip back to the jail to confront her brother's impersonator that she is not to be messed with. Khandi Alexander beautifully portrays the character's soft and harsh sides, doesn't she?
• Once again, please go read Dave Walker at the Times-Picayune for his weekly explanations of all things New Orleans on "Treme." I'm sure he will have much to say on the notion of the lagniappe.
• As Dave has written about in the past, many of the characters on "Treme" are based on real-life New Orleanians. Much of Creighton's character in general and his YouTube rant in particular come from the late blogger Ashley Morris, for instance. Delmond, meanwhile, owes quite a bit to Donald Harrison Jr., who was also the son of a Mardi Gras Indian chief and left the city to play jazz from a different school. What's interesting, though, is that it appears Delmond will be touring with Harrison (who already played alongside Delmond in the pilot episode); I'll be curious to see if the two characters bond over their shared past, or if Harrison will mainly be there to play music while Delmond lives out a fictionalized version of his story.
• Anwan Glover returns as the fake Daymo, and we get two other "Wire" alums in small guest roles: Jim True-Frost (aka Prez) as Delmond's manager, and Steve Earle (aka Bubbs' sponsor Walon, and also the singer of the season 5 theme song) as one of Annie's musician friends (the other was played by Earle's son, Justin Townes Earle). And unlike most of the other famous musicians who wander through this show, Earle isn't playing himself.
• Darius and his aunt Lula return, and things seem to be setting up nicely for Albert to take the kid under his wing to teach him some combination about life, contracting work, and Indian tribes. With Lorenzo leaving town and Delmond never showing an interest, Albert's got to have someone to pass this stuff on to - just as the writers need a novice character for him to explain the culture to, the way Lester had Prez on "The Wire." (Also nice to see that Albert is just as gracious with the ladies as Cool Lester Smooth.)
• I thought it was a nice touch that the insurance salesman understood what a horrible thing he was doing to Albert and so many customers like him, and that he acknowledged it a bit by explaining that he sleeps at night by drinking.
• I was waiting to see if or when the show would address Michiel Husiman's slight Dutch accent, and here Sonny talks about growing up in Amsterdam. (And his friends, in turn, allow Pelecanos to throw in a joking nod to the Hamsterdam story from "Wire" season 3.)
• Though Creighton has plenty of venom for the rest of America, he seems to be softening just a bit towards Davis, doesn't he? He gives him a ride back to his busted car, empathizes with him about the stolen instruments - and the diminished nature of lagniappe - and looks like he can relate as Davis goes to town on the inflatable lawn display.
• Janette, on the other hand, has far less patience for Davis as things go from bad to worse at the restaurant, and then as he turns his attention from her troubles to appearing to flirt with Annie at the bar. And as with McNulty poring over tidal charts on "The Wire," this show isn't afraid to spend long portions of episodes just watching characters work in (near) silence, here with Davis composing his political "pot for potholes" song.
• Very funny reaction from Rob Brown after Delmond's girlfriend pretends to spot Janet at the party.
Finally, in case you've missed the news, this is the last "Treme" review I'll be doing before I relocate to HitFix.com. I'll still be reviewing every episode there the exact way I did here, so just change your bookmarks accordingly.
What did everybody else think?