Monday, July 4, 2011

"Treme" season finale recap: "Do Watcha Wanna"

Spoilers for the second season finale of "Treme" below. Don't click through if you don't  want to know.

I continue to be amazed at how David Simon's New Orleans-centered drama "Treme" has evolved from the promising-but-messy drama it seemed when it premiered over a year ago to one of the most consistently intelligent and absorbing series on cable.
Yes, it's still messy at times, with whole storylines feeling disposable (don't know about you but, until this episode, I could pretty much take or leave anything about Toni's Abreu case and a lot of Jeanette's New York stuff seemed like filler). But, with a second season under its belt, "Treme," on balance, feels more confident than ever and I find myself deeply involved in the stories it wants to tell.
Like most "Treme" episodes, the finale left the majority of our characters grappling with a mixed bag of emotions. Davis is hurt at the way he's been gradually squeezed out of the Brassy Knoll in favor of more talented musicians. However, inside of allowing his self-pity to overcome him, he makes as graceful an exit as possible with his hilarious, satirical take on "Sex Machine" at Jazz Fest. Davis might not be a great musician, but he's a smart enough performer to know the benefits of leaving your audience wanting more.
Antoine, meanwhile, is forced to face the fact that his Soul Apostles venture has reached its natural end, as the string of voicemails at the episode's start beautifully illustrated (my personal favorite was Wanda's double message, first saying that she won't come back, then detailing all the changes she wants made if she DOES come back). Though he's angry and disappointed, he opts to channel his inner Jack Black and mentor a new band, made of students from his band class.
Jeanette might be on the verge of getting her own place in New Orleans -- a scary but exciting change, complicated by the surprising (but seemingly inevitable) consummation of her friendship with sous chef Jacques. Delmond might finally be able to help Albert fix up his house, but Albert is so jazzed about the (phony) advance money, he wants to cut another record.
Annie is happy in her relationship with Davis, but is finally starting to get hit with horror of having witnessed Harley's murder. Sonny seems to be making progress in his personal life, but it's hard won (and he's just lost a paying musician gig).
Toni is still hitting a brick wall on Abreu, and thinks Colson has betrayed her (he hasn't, but she's too mad to let him explain that). However, her relationship with Sofia is on the path to being healed.
And LaDonna. Oh, LaDonna. She's had one of the hardest roads this season, enduring sexual assault, strain on her marriage and the realization that she'll probably have to sell her bar. Though her story this season at first seemed to have a bad end (the men who assaulted her are out of jail, and she bumps into one of them at a bar), this last indignity has brought back the old, feisty LaDonna at last. The transformation is so impressive, Larry urges her to keep the bar and tells her he'll have her back.
Maybe the only character who had a wholly unhappy ending is the one who's seemed so happy-go-lucky all season -- Nelson Hidalgo. The investigation into Oliver Thomas has messed up his land deal, and he's likely headed back to Dallas with his tail between his legs.
Anyway, here are a few more thoughts on the season finale "Do Watcha Wanna":
  • Though we knew from his dealings with Hidalgo that Thomas wasn't totally on the up and up, it was sad to see that character fall, particularly since he's been so good with Sofia. Indeed, she and Toni both struggle with the knowledge that this seemingly good man and champion of New Orleans had flaws. I loved the sweet, honest scene between Thomas and Sofia, in which he tells her that he's really not sure why he did what he did, and uses this as a teachable moment to encourage her to make better choices.
  • With his ego and lapses into laziness, Antoine might have been a tiresome character, but Wendell Pierce always manages to find the charm under the bombast -- no less so than when he instructs his new crew of musicians to open their cases for tips.
  • As a long-time fan of Simon's "The Wire," I had a big chuckle over Sonny's use over the phrase "The f--- did I do?", a favorite of "The Wire's" Jimmy McNulty. Not sure if this is the first time a "Treme" character has used that expression, or any other "Wire"-ism, but it was the first I noticed.
  • Khandi Alexander has been marvelous all season as LaDonna processed her pain and fear over the attack in her bar. In fact, she's so beautifully conveyed that she's been through the ringer, it was immensely satisfying to see her blow up in the attorney's office. Great work by Alexander in this scene, and some equally good stuff from Lance E. Nichols as Larry. The subtle, relieved grin on his face as he realizes his wife has come back to him is just perfect.
  • In fact, Nichols is so good, we didn't need the dialogue in which he tells LaDonna that she's "back." His expressions said it all.
  • I thought the show had been setting up a slow-burn relationship between Jeannette and Delmond, what with their chance meetings at the airport and in New York. But the left turn with Jacques felt real. Still, I worry this will harm their working relationship.

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