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TV Review: Treme – “Do Watcha Wanna”

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Named for a famous song featured heavily in the episode, HBO’s Treme second season finale is called “Do Watcha Wanna.” It’s been a long year, as the citizens of the once proud city continue to pick themselves up, even as federal aid disappoints, and help leaves. The nation turns its eyes away. Some parts of New Orleans begin to thrive again, while others continue to rot, both literally, and figuratively. There isn’t much that can be done by most folks besides to persevere and hope for the best. Which is what the characters do, unable to abandon their homes. Some find accomplishment and satisfaction, while others are disappointed. But their love of the city ties them together and keeps them moving on.

Some characters find themselves in better places than when the season begins. Sonny (Michiel Huisman) is clean and sober. This is quite a journey for him. Sonny is a hero, who rescues children during Katrina’s immediate aftermath. But struggling as a musician, and losing girlfriend, Annie (Lucia Micarello), Sonny goes to a very dark place, slipping further and further into illegal substance abuse, which certainly does not help his lack of income problem. Band mate Cornell Williams (a version of himself) likely saves Sonny’s life, getting him back on the right track. It’s a relief, because Sonny’s story is potentially as tragic as it is touching. Sonny still has a ways to go, but he’s on the right track, which is more than can said for everyone in New Orleans circa 2007.

Delmond (Rob Brown) moves back to New Orleans to help his father, Albert (Clarke Peters). While Delmond has not lived in New Orleans since before the series begins, Albert is one of the first to return. Albert plays by the rules when trying to rebuild his house, but is repeatedly let down by the system. Luckily, son Delmond tricks him into accepting money after they cut an album together, lying and saying the money came from advance sales. Albert is a proud man who will not willingly accept financial help, but thinking he earns it, Albert now has the funds needed to make his home liveable again. Not only is Delmond giving money, but he’s providing labor, too, being the best son possible. Considering the issues this pair have, it’s a supremely generous act.

After many bad choices, Sofia (India Ennenga) begins to get over her father’s death. Sofia’s mother, Toni (Melissa Leo), lies about how Sofia’s dad committed suicide, and when Sofia learns this, she acts out in worse and worse ways. Finally, Toni, who pours most of her effort into her nearly thankless job, slams the hammer down. It’s what the teenage girl needs, and it’s enough to get Sofia back on track. When a man they both respect, city councilman Oliver Thomas (himself), has to resign after he takes bribes, they bond over the shared loss, and are able to connect when discussing him.

It’s very unexpected to see Thomas play himself in this fictional series. Thomas hasn’t ridden to success, but instead, loses his position. Yet, he agrees to come on Treme and portray the events he’d gone through in real life. Thomas, despite his flaws, is treated with respect as a character. He comes across as a decent man who makes a mistake, and not everyone loses all faith in him for it. It’s a complex character, and one welcome on a great series like Treme, especially with the authenticity that Thomas lends.

Some characters find themselves in a holding pattern. Davis (Steve Zahn) is back to being a DJ. He has his share of developments as he builds a band, a record label, and a new musical style, much of it with the help of his Aunt Mimi (Elizabeth Ashley). But it isn’t long before it all disappears, and he is forced to return to employment he is fired from on numerous occasions, working for a boss who does not understand him at all.

Davis is used to disappointments, but he seems to weather the latest bouts better than previously. This may have something to do with his successful romantic relationship with Annie, who, despite her own grief after a close friend is murdered, is happy to be with Davis, and surely deserves credit for his happiness. The couple provide a realistic look at how some people are built to overcome many a trial, and stay optimistic. So even as Davis goes back to where he was, he is still looking for the next thing to try again to better his life. Davis and Annie provide some heartening stories when things get bad for others.

After a stint as a chef in New York City, Janette (Kim Dickens) considers returning to New Orleans and once more running her own restaurant. Janette really struggles, bouncing through a few different eateries in the Big Apple, after losing her place down south. But, in fact, she shows little signs of home sickness, even enjoying her latest gig, until, during a visit to New Orleans, she sleeps with her sous chef, Jacques (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine). While this is pretty much forbidden in Janette’s field, their pairing is as sweet as it is unexpected. It makes sense for Janette to go back home now, as the series follows her even while she’s away, and it’s good that such happy news may be the reason she returns.

LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) realizes she wants to return to her bar, despite what had happened to her there. Her husband, Larry (Lance E. Nichols), had tried getting LaDonna to sell her establishment, and when LaDonna is sexually assaulted there late one night, she shows little interest in going back to her bar. Larry takes that as a omen that she’ll finally ready to move on. But then LaDonna gives an impassioned speech in “Do Watcha Wanna” that reveals just how much her life in New Orleans means to her, and how much she is suffering. It echoes the sentiments of so many people at that time and place. It’s a moving moment that will most probably earn Alexander another Emmy nomination, and it sparks a change in Larry. Seeing her passion renewed, he insists on keeping the bar and moving the family back to the city. For LaDonna, getting back to normal is a feat, not just status quo.

And then other characters end up worse off. Antoine (Wendell Pierce) loses the band he’d created. But is that such a bad thing? While Antoine has plenty of problems with the musical gigs he lines up as a player, things get much more difficult when he forms his own group. Even after shoving some of the responsibility off on someone else, keeping a bunch of artistic types together is a challenge that gives him more headaches than its worth. However, Antoine is also working at a school, and seems to be finding his niche in music education. The students have a desire to be there, and to learn from the many things experience has taught Antoine. It is a job he resists, but one that may end up being his true calling.

Terry (David Morse) has tried to drive away Toni to better do his job. The two are getting so close, it had become almost  inevitable that romance would soon bloom. And then it doesn’t, as they find themselves on opposite sides of some very tricky legals issues.

With the police force in tatters and facing major public humiliation, Terry is the one who makes the decision to go down a separate path, quietly seeking FBI help, while Toni strikes out with the Department of Justice. Many cops will soon lose their jobs, and that will be thanks to Terry. But for him to make it happen, and try to keep some dignity for the office for which he works, he is forced to make a choice, and he picks against Toni. Any chance of a reconciliation in season three is simply a pipe dream as this point. But without that hope, there isn’t a lot for Terry to look forward to when not on the job.

Hidalgo (Jon Seda), who arrives in New Orleans full of piss and vinegar at the season’s start, finds his dreams dashed. Always a bit sleazy as he makes his money in “deals,” and don’t ask him to get more specific, Hidalgo is looking to make his fortune. Sure, he enjoys the culture of New Orleans, but that is not his main goal. In “Do Watcha Wanna,” things flop for the would-be tycoon, and he ends up loosing all the personal capital he had been building. Hidalgo is advised to lay low, but that’s just not in his nature. The question is, will Hidalgo still be around for season three with new schemes, or has this swindler been driven out of town for good? The latter would be nice for the characters in Treme, but Seda keeps Hidalgo mostly inoffensive, and his acting talent would be missed.

So maybe claiming these three are worse off is overstating the problem. There is not a single character on Treme who has it easy, but two seasons in, their tenacity is heroic, and certainly bears repeating through multiple seasons to come. One of the finest hours of drama currently running on television, infused with a sense of realness and bursting with authentic music, aided by using actual residents, Treme is must-see. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do so before season three comes around. It could use better ratings.

Treme will return for a third season on HBO, expected to begin in the spring of 2012.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com