This was the most Wire-heavy episode of Treme yet. We've already got Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters in major roles, but this ep was packed with shout-outs to David Simon's former series. One of Sonny's buddies mispronounced Amsterdam as "Hamsterdam"; Jim True-Frost, aka Prez, put in an appearance as Delmond's manager; and Steve Earle showed up again, this time playing a musician, though one of the few on this show not to play himself. (His fellow band member was played by his son, Justin Townes Earle, which is just awesome.) But last night's Treme, "At the Foot of Canal Street," was also a lot like The Wire for the way it made a fictional narrative out of very specific stories pulled from real life. The point of both shows isn't just to depict the world, but to give it texture by showing just how tough it can be.
Antoine is out of a job since his horn was taken by the cops who beat him, so Ladonna convinces him to travel to Baton Rouge to get some cheap dental work from her new husband, which will also give Antoine a chance to see the sons he keeps ignoring. Meanwhile, Sonny is persuaded by a couple of friends to hit the road for Houston, where they dream of making their mark and playing music in the spotlight that seems to elude them in New Orleans. The third traveler is Delmond, who reluctantly agrees to a charity tour that will kick off in Portland but wind up in New Orleans as a kind of homecoming. Those three men spend the episode dealing with life outside their comfort zones, though it's Antoine's story that's the most affecting. His awkward visit with his sons has some expected but still painful moments, as when he gives them gifts that they're already too old for, betraying just how long he's been gone from their lives.
Albert deals with the troubles of getting his tribe back together, though he's making headway with the young Darius when it comes to finding someone to train up in the ways of the carnival Indian. He's also wicked smooth with the ladies, and his ability to flip 180 degrees and turn on the charm is reminiscent of the way Lester Freamon nabbed himself a stripper with a heart of gold.
Even Davis and Creighton are finally having some nice moments together. Creighton's still getting used to the younger man, but he's starting to sense they could be united in their contempt for the way their city's been allowed to rot by an uncaring government and national populace. Creighton's YouTube rant against the rest of the world was just the kind of pissily territorial thing that Davis would say, and it's also a nice example of the type of nationalistic pride David Simon invests in his homelands, whether real or adopted for fictional purposes. His rant (and character) are drawn from New Orleans blogger Ashley Morris, who died in 2008.
And that's really what made this episode work: Drawing from the real details of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath to create engaging stories. The emotional peak of the episode was a brief monologue from the convict who'd pretended to be David Brooks only to be found a liar by Toni. Sitting before Toni, Ladonna, and David's mother, he talked about being stranded for days with other prisoners, then forced to spend time in makeshift cages and fight over sandwiches tossed in by guards. His explanation for having David's bracelet is that he saw David was weak and offered protection if they could swap bracelets and, thus, criminal charges when the system caught up with them. It's a sad, powerful story, and one based in fact. These things happened after the hurricane. Not thing like these; these exact things. Read Zeitoun or just Google it. This show speaks of the dark details of a national ruin that too many people want to forget. It's interesting that it takes a fictional set-up to remember the truth.