Treme: We're Your Neighbors

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We're halfway through the first season of Treme, and it was clear in last night's episode, "Shame, Shame, Shame," that creator David Simon and his crew have some very clear ideas about where to go from here. The halfway point acted like a turning point of sort for the season, offering a narrative moment -- the ReNew Orleans second line parade -- as well as smaller thematic ones to highlight just how tough a road these people have yet to walk. The first season of The Wire looked like a cop show but was an indictment of the futility of the drug war in a system rotting from within; similarly, Treme pitched itself as a show about the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina but is now beginning to turn into a look at the moral complexities of that rebuilding, and how every victory must in many ways be met with compromise.

The opening scene was one of the most fanciful of any Simon production, but the departure from reality worked: Ladonna dreamed she found David and visited him in a prison cell, only to see he was rooming with the killer who'd swapped ID bracelets with him. (And man, Anwan Glover can chuckle like the devil himself.) The dream ended with flood waters and mud running into the room, and the rest of the episode followed suit as more people's hopes of redemption and closure were swallowed by the storm.

Creighton's growing YouTube stardom won him more local shout-outs from his fan base, this time for a video address in which he pleads with President Bush to "keep [his] fucking promise" to rebuild the city. John Goodman is a lot like Al Pacino in that both men are capable of volcanic rage but are so much better when that instinct is suppressed, and Goodman's watery baritone was in perfect control for Creighton's mournful, angry plea for Bush to be true to his word. However, his literary agent wants to fly in and meet, which makes him worry that Random House will want back the advance they gave him for his long-delayed novel, money that he's since sunk into home repair.

Ladonna spent the episode making use of the courts, whether to bring a suit against the roofer who'd stiffed her or to meet up with Toni as they plead their case before a judge to try and get him to lean on Orleans Parish to aid in the search for David. That turned out to be a bust, so Toni had to dig deeper into criminal paperwork largely wrecked by the flood, hoping to find clues in muddy and cracked old forms.

Davis also got to shine, using his natural charm and verve to recruit a passel of musicians, including Kermit, to perform on a four-song EP to promote his comedic run for city council. (Though Davis admits that it's all theater, saying he'll pretend to run and then not even pretend to serve.) This was the episode where he finally got some sense knocked into him, though, and literally: After mouthing off at a bar and quoting the n-word, he gets cold-cocked and stumbles home only to pass out on his sidewalk. He wakes up the next day next door, greeted by the gay couple he's been fighting for weeks now. Surprised at their charity, they respond simply, "We're your neighbors." Davis has long been a funny jerk, and this is the chance for him to learn a bit more about embracing people instead of making them submit to a litmus test and history lesson just to live in the Treme.

Only Janette seemed to have a legitimately good day, when a group of famous chefs popped into her restaurant and she and Jacques cooked them a killer meal. The wordless scenes of their food prep were reminiscent of the many musical numbers on the show: There's a beauty in the creative process that needs to be witnessed and which cannot be edited down or spoken over.

Antoine wasn't without luck, though. A Japanese businessman and jazz fan flew in and donated a new trombone for him, and even though they'd bickered a bit over music history, Antoine still blew his horn in appreciation afterward. The look of happiness and grace on the man's face as he listened to the trombone solo, even one played in a dirty apartment courtyard, was moving, as was his generosity in giving Antoine more money before leaving. Touched by the gesture, Antoine decided to use the cash to buy a new horn for a friend who'd lost his in the storm, but when he went to the pawn shop, he found himself looking right at his old trombone, which had been pawned by the cops who beat him.

That's when the episode began to point the way to a complicated future. Toni complained about the pawned horn to a cop (nicely played by David Morse), who admitted that his men had sold the horn but asked for some slack. The police force has been radically reduced by the storm, and many men are living in the same squalor as everyone else but are still trying to make things work. A pair of cops selling a horn for cash is bad, but a "cry for help" from men growing desperate at their inability to hold back the new flood, this one of crime. "The crime is coming back," he tells her, "and we ain't ready." Even the ReNew Orleans parade, meant to be a joyous sign of the city's slow return to its former self, ends in tragedy (as the real one did in 2006) with a shooting that wounds three people. The city was once united in its fight for survival, but people are now starting to realize that their prayers for a return to normal life are being answered with brutal reminders of what that life often is in many neighborhoods of New Orleans, Baltimore, Houston, and too many others to name.

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