The third episode is potentially a tough one in a ten-episode arc like the one we're getting in the first season of Treme: Far enough in that characters have been set up, not quite at a major halfway point that would entail some twists or the onset of the momentum that will carry the narrative to the end. It's a tough spot, and unfortunately, Treme stumbled a bit last night with its third episode, "Right Place, Wrong Time." David Simon and Eric Overmyer are trying to do great things, but they're also trying to do too many of them, and some of the characters' moments of depth or development were lost in a tangle of plots that should mean more to us at this point in the season. I was almost surprised to see the street musicians return, and it took me most of the episode to catch their names again (Sonny and Annie). Sprawling drama is good, but not if it's not focused.
Antoine and Davis are probably the most strongly realized characters so far, and their stories were consequently the easiest to get involved with as they began to feel like main players among the ensemble. Antoine is still struggling to make ends meet by blowing his horn in a Bourbon Street strip club, and though he at first enjoys the sleazy perks -- the episode opens with him working a stripper from behind while they stand in her trailer, which taught me more about Wendell Pierce than I ever wanted to know -- his wife puts him on the straight and narrow. His new life backfires a bit when, walking home one night, he staggers and bumps into a parked police car, earning him a beating from some keyed-up NOPD officers. They thrash him and toss his horn, and he has Toni bail him out.
Toni also wound up bailing out Davis after he mouthed off to a National Guard member who'd stopped him for an open container. To pay her back, he offers to give her daughter piano lessons on the weekends when she's home from school, though Creighton suspects him of being a pedophile because he wears flannel and doesn't shave. Davis also collects his one and only paycheck from his quick hotel gig and takes Janette out to dinner, though she's so distraught at seeing a restaurant start to do well while she's going broke and missing supplier payments that she has some more wine and offers to sleep with Davis again.
Ladonna's pursuit of her missing brother, David, spurs Toni to talk with a sheriff who clams up and refuses to order a DNA test on the man he thinks to be David. He's dragging his feet to get more FEMA money for his prisoners, so Toni decides to take them to court to get Orleans Parish Prison to produce David or figure out what happened to him.
And Albert, while checking out a damaged house with a friend who's returned home, finds the dead body of one of his tribe members, leading to a funeral song at the end that's the kind of primal, sending-home song that's such a vital part of this culture. Yet that moment, for all its power, was also representative of the episode's larger flaws: namely, it took too long to make its point. A bus with the sign "Katrina Tour" eventually pulled up and stopped, but Albert's group angrily told the driver to get moving. It's a stunning moment that gets to the heart of the hypocrisy surrounding some of the tragedy, and the way the city, already a mix of tourist traps and authentic haunts, was further commercialized in the wake of legitimate tragedy at the expense of real people. But the song went on so long that the rhythm of the scene was blown, and what should've been the emotional anchor instead felt tacked on.
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The night still had good moments, but just as many wasted ones. But with Simon's track record, he deserves a few breaks. Just a few, though. He's capable of much more.