tongue-tied lightning

Blogging Treme: Episode 3 “Right Place, Wrong Time”
April 29, 2010, 12:08 AM
Filed under: misc | Tags: , , , ,

The final scene from this week’s episode Treme is a lasting one and one that’s caused alot of critical kerfluffle.  As a Katrina tour interrupts the Big Chiefs from several Mardi Gras Indian Tribes gathering to mourn the loss of a friend, just what are we supposed to take from this scene?  Is David Simon attempting to dismiss all curiousity seekers as soulless vultures?  Isn’t the same human urge that compels the tourists in the van compelling many of the show’s viewers to watch?  I’m not sure if David Simon is consciously trying to make this point but I feel it is the point made by the scene.  The tourists on the show are in the wrong.  This is due less to any inherent problem with Katrina tours than a dramatic leverage gained by making the tourists a faceless mob fighting to get the best pictures and stacking on top of that the fact that they are interrupting a group of grieving friends.

The question of Katrina tours is a problematic one.  The idea of profiting off a tragedy is disturbing, and I’m sure many citizens of the lower 9th ward do feel like an exhibit as privileged white folks drive by gawking at them.  Nobody likes to be pitied or patronized.  On the flip side of that, it is empathy that leads people to go on such tours.  A desire to comprehend an incomprehensible tragedy.  Some people need to see to understand and without understanding how will people prevent such tragedies from happening again?  Not that Katrina tours are anywhere near the most desired way to satiate this urge, but that the show doesn’t make any attempt to grant the tourists is troubling (especially in light of The Wire allowing even the show’s most undesirable characters their reasons) and potentially alienating.

On the topic of The Wire, over the last couple weeks we are starting to seemany of Simon’s trademarks shining through.  There was the scene with Clarke Peters discussing a remodel job with a friend wanting to drywall over the plaster in his house  ‘people do a lot of dumb shit because it’s easier’ the cracked plaster clearly calling to mind the shoddy construction of the city’s levees.  A character is concerned about them bulldozing the lower 9th ward and there was talk last week of the city using the flood as an excuse to get rid of a troublesome housing project that wasn’t affected by Katrina.  Then there is the corruption running rampant among the police department, national guard and the prison system.  Davis McAlary and Antoine Baptiste both end up on the unfortunate end of that.

My favorite scene came just before Antoine’s run in with the law when he stopped on the sidewalk to sing “(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance” with Sonny and Annie.  Despite the acuity of Simon’s societal criticism it is in these sublime celebrations of culture that the show’s heart lies and it’s what has me hooked.  After episode 2 there were some rumblings that Sonny and Annie could perhaps be modeled on Zachary Bowen and Addie Hall.  It’s unfortunate, but this weeks episode furthers that perception.  While I can’t imagine Simon ending it quite that grisly Sonny looking on jealously as Addie plays alongside Tom McDermott and sadly drinking the bottle of wine he bought her alone seems to hint at such a possibility.  There is also the revelation that drugs were a part of Sonny’s past.  An enigmatic character to say the least.

It is in the human interactions that Treme shines.  Life is so colorful in New Orleans it’s infectious.  While a strong dramatic arc has yet to emerge and may not, it is the characters and culture that will keep me coming back.  This is a bit of a departure from The Wire, which while featuring strong characters and maintaining a humanist nature, always placed the focus on societal criticism above all else.  As pointed out before, this is where Treme could potentially falter, though the lack of gray areas could owe more to less focus being placed on that aspect of the show than any failure on the writer’s parts.  There was one moment that seemed to counterbalance the ‘insiders vs. outsiders’ nature of the show some have been critical of.  Davis McAlary, while criticizing his neighbor’s taste in music and landscaping discovers that, despite all appearances, they are just as New Orleans as he is.  Hopefully as the show continues more ambiguities will develop and it’s unabashed defense of New Orleans will gain a little more nuance.


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