Treme Season 3, Episode 5 Review: “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say”
The thing I love most about Treme is that nobody talks about this show on Twitter. While that might seem like something to be sad about, no discussion around the best show on TV currently, at least no one spoils the show. You can’t imagine the amount of stuff I read about The Walking Dead, or American Horror Story, or Boardwalk Empire that I shouldn’t. So I guess that us Treme die-hards are the most chivalrous and courteous fans around, saving the experience for those who have to wait until Monday morning to watch (like me). It’s like we’re the rich dignitaries from Les Miserables, and all other TV watchers are the poor and homeless, shoveling around spoilers and water cooler moments like scraps of food. These are more or less the exact images we receive in “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say”, and the decay of the poor parts of New Orleans is the major thematic through line of most of the stories. In one way or another, the people high up on the food chain, whether it be government, police, the rich, or just decision makers, all find a way to screw somebody over. The storm might have passed, but the real scars of the city are now open, and what a heap of salt is being poured on it all the while.
In the interest of time, both on your part reading this and mine writing it, I have to cut some of the characters who received little to no screen time in this episode from the review. Not that they aren’t forgotten, I love them all, but if they only get a scene or two then I can’t really expound on any thoughts about them. So on the cutting room floor: Sonny (guess what? He turned back to drugs. I knew he was a scumbag), and subsequently the guy who rides his bicycle by Sonny (he calls him a crack head, which is way too on the nose). LaDonna also got no time, which is a shame, but she still has the greatest passive aggressive sarcastic mood ever, and I certainly don’t want to be on the other side of her grudges. Terry was barely there, and all we got out of him was a stern telling off of another detective (which means next week folks), and a ridiculously funny Christmas tie. He also needs some work on his John Wayne impression; hopefully we get to see how that comes along. LP essentially is trying to get a hold of Dr. Bones (I’ve never seen that show, do they call her that?), and Antoine was also a tad illusive, only managing to be on screen enough for me to fall in love with him all over again. Sure, he sleeps around, but we get to see him dance, and play jazz, and celebrate Christmas. What’s not to love?
So now that we got those cats out of the way, let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Starting off strong, we open on the destruction of an entire home, which is tricky, because imagine if they messed up that shot. Do they get another house, how does that work? Anyways, it’s a very haunting image, and it thematically mirrors the final shot as well. People vulnerably standing, watching something crumble right in front of their eyes; in one case, it’s the city of New Orleans systematically crushing the projects and all of the memories encased in each house. For the Bernette’s, it’s their sense of security, and while LP got just a taste of it, Toni and Sofia are getting it full force. It’s pretty scary for Toni, not being able to trust anyone around you, not your local police or even Sofia (I would have background checked that boyfriend too). The justice system has it out for them, and I can hope they have a good attorney (or maybe she would be her own, I don’t know how that works).
But Toni has a lot of horrifying moments, which makes for great TV (even though I was weeping on the inside). What maybe the best part of the entire episode, in an episode with a lot of memorable scenes, is the conversation about her newspaper ad. That cop doesn’t even have to say a single word, and the scene would play out in the exact same way. If it’s any consolation, the stare she gives afterwards would make me piss my pants, and how it doesn’t get Melissa Leo an Emmy nomination is beyond me. Maybe it’s because she won an Oscar recently? I also don’t know how that works either. Almost all of the time we spend with Toni has some remnants of pain, if only capped by the terribly sad dinner with Sofia.
In what I can only describe as brilliant editing, we get an amazing juxtaposition from the protestors getting anxious, to Toni and LP trying to get some help from journalists who just up and left after Katrina was all done. We go back to the protestors chanting “no justice no peace”, and just as it gets intense we cut back to a small exchange with Janette to break the tension. But City Hall is just too much to bear, and all hell breaks loose, as if the citizens were protesting through the edits. And what do we cut to immediately after? A glorious ballroom of nicely dressed rich people enjoying delectates and fine wine. Add in some ethnicity while no one is listening? Sure, it’s not like they’re in New Orleans or anything. The smash cut says it all; there is a division throughout the city and the nation that is growing, and only now has it turned into the problem it is today. David Simon show some of the progression of this undertone, and it’s through the post Katrina days of Louisiana, where the white people always outnumber the blacks 4 to 3 in every branch of government. The scene is also reminiscent of some very real and significant protests during the 60s’, which at one point Nelson observes (never without a blonde next to him, of course). The pepper spray and the tasers only added to the relevance of the whole situation; I really was waiting for some 99 percenters to show up, or for someone to scream “don’t tase me bro”. The NOAH project has finally erupted in violence, and it kicked off quite the reverberations all across the show. Everybody was affected by it, and now it creates a discussion between the characters as to how it hurts or helps the city. Whether it be during Christmas dinner, or on the news, someone has something to say about it, and events like this define the show.
Poor old Chief has to take one in the face, and thank goodness he didn’t start dying on us. But Chief’s a real tough geezer, and even in the face of death does he declare he’ll be around for next year’s Christmas (hell, and he’ll cook). Suspicious of the too perfect meal, he eyes Delmond for spilling the beans about his Lymphoma, and that puts him in a real pickle (I’m so hungry guys, excuse me). It’s a big moral dilemma he has, and while he lets the other Indians know, it’s only a matter of time until more conflict emerges out of the situation. But there’s a really fantastic moment during that meal, where the Chief simply states he’s tired. Quite the turnaround from two seasons ago, where he was resisting arrest and trying to prove a political point, where now he regrets going to a protest. That kind of character change is deftly seen on TV nowadays, and that’s a real shame (hell, Dexter’s been moping around killing people for how long now?).
And all the while, Delmond “a lot to live up to” Lambreaux has some big scenes here as well. The one at the end is of note, him standing in that window filled room with CJ talking about the jazz center. Once, Nelson stood there, and now it’s him, discussing how to make the area feel more authentic to tourists. While the fence symbolizes segregation, and Delmond wants it torn down, but money only matters to the businessmen. This whole shtick of having things be ‘real New Orleans’ for profit is something that pops up with Janette and her new restaurant, as if the city is just real estate to sell after the storm. While I enjoy everybody’s favorite chef getting the success she deserves, something about the whole point behind the concept of it seems so dirty to me, like the Big Easy is being drained of its identity and culture to become a product. Janette realizes it, and I hope Delmond does too. Maybe something good will come out of it, but only time will tell.
I’ll save the best for last, and that is everything involving Davis and Aunt Mimi, and Annie with her parents (and mother fucking Isabella Rossellini). From the second Davis’ 7th ward tour shows up, I was drooling (not literally) over anything involving him and Annie and their families. The group tour is exactly how you use exposition to dole out jazz history to people like me, who aren’t cultured and complain about whenever the internet is down. The “preservation through neglect” line was perfect, as is the “trying to wash us away” sentiment; they’re great ways to disguise the efforts of the writers to say something, and do it through the characters in a seamless way that’s believable. From Annie and Davis’ conversation through the super loud rap music (outstanding transition to Sofia’s car too), to Annie’s parents reveal, I was absolutely in love with it all this week. Her mom kept giving off this vague vibe of disappointment, and we can gather her background must be from a strict upbringing with high expectations. But without spelling it out for us, we understand the relationship, and even Annie’s mom goes through a mini arc. Her concerns about safety come over a touchy argument about everything (bulldozing the projects, white people vs. black people, rich and poor, elitism against culture, LSU), and it all fits into the theme of the episode.
What I love about this show so much is not only can we get a very important message come across without the show shoving it down our throats, Treme also has time to slow it down and focus on small character moments. Annie’s song about her parents? Personal things like that add so much, it makes other shows dream they could achieve such mastery of storytelling. “Philistines on the run” should have been the title of the episode, since I didn’t understand the real title, but there is so much to take away from “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say” I can only revel in its glory.