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Thursday, January 2, 2014

TREME "...To Miss New Orleans"

Article first published as TREME "...To Miss New Orleans" on TheTVKing.

HBO's Treme brings its truncated fourth and final season to a close this week with "...To Miss New Orleans." It's Mardi Gras time once more. As 2009 is underway, things have returned to mostly normal for the city, allowing its residents to redirect their thoughts towards the future. Though, a few effects from Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath still linger, with long-reaching consequences.

I adore Treme. It's an authentic look at a specific place and time with compelling, intelligent characters. It's a celebration of the music and the spirit of New Orleans, and viewers are likely to learn a lot about the culture and lifestyle of its citizens. The writing is smart, the performers are excellent, and it's always entertaining to watch.

But it doesn't exactly tell a story in the traditional sense, meaning there is no real beginning or end for many plots. These installments have brought us events in various lives, but the people existed before Katrina hit, and will go on after, with Treme only giving us a small snippet of their tales. This isn't a complaint, but is is important to keep in mind when viewing "...To Miss New Orleans" because, unlike most TV series, there isn't a huge capper to tie up loose ends. It's just an illustration of where everyone is now.

About the most final thing that happens in "...To Miss New Orleans" is Chief Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) is laid to rest. Suffering from cancer, the old man does not survive into the last hour, and his son, Delmond (Rob Brown), buries him. The Chief is sent off in the tradition of his people, as is appropriate, and he will be missed.

This section of the episode is not really about Albert, though. His time is done. The focus is on his son, and how he will live his life and honor his father. Delmond is still called to New York, as that's where his career is. He's reluctant to leave behind New Orleans, though, with its family legacy and the style of music he loves, something he wants his infant child to experience. These split desires make him feel unfit to replace his father in the eyes of their people, though his father wants him to do so, at least temporarily, making for a difficult decision.

Delmond finds a compromise. That's what people do. Nothing will ever be perfect, and one can't please everyone. But staying true to oneself is important, as is respecting one's ancestors. Delmond makes the best choice he can.

Annie (Lucia Micarelli) comes to a similar conclusion. Her manager, Marvin (Michael Cerveris, Fringe), wants to make her more marketable, but she fights back, insistent on retaining the integrity of her music. This threatens her career, but thankfully Marvin is wise enough to make a deal with Annie, allowing her some creative control if he gets to do everything else his way. It's an arrangement Annie can live with, even if it means missing Mardi Gras one year for a photoshoot.

When Treme begins, everyone is focused on New Orleans. They understand the role of the setting in their own lives, and celebrating the holiday becomes super important to them, more so than in the past, because they are holding on to what they've lost. Annie's choices in "...To Miss New Orleans" demonstrate a change, as the world continues to spin and individuals adapt to circumstance. Priorities shift, as sad as that can sometimes be.

Sofia (India Ennenga), on the other hand, holds onto New Orleans on this week of celebration, returning early from college to partake. She's only the latest to miss her home and come back, even if only for a visit. Apparently, it's a place that sticks with people, and beckons them back.

Sonny (Michiel Huisman), who has not been seen much in these last five episodes, doesn't play his instrument much anymore, sad, as that was all he used to do. Luckily, he has a wife who understands him and encourages him to get back to the music, making sure new focuses don't erase the old ones.

Davis (Steve Zahn) turns 40 and struggles in a big way to pick his new priorities. Can he continue through life as he has been, leaving no legacy behind him? He's at the age where he has to consider what his accomplishments are or will be. Only Davis can decide what that is, and he experiments a bit outside of his comfort zone in "...To Miss New Orleans."

I absolutely love that Davis and Janette (Kim Dickens) are together at the end, as they were at the start. In some ways they've undergone some big transformations, and in other ways, they are still the same people they started as. But they are good for one another in that they're both nice, supportive people, and they each deserve someone else like that in their lives.

Not every couple gets a happy ending. Terry (David Morse) takes voluntary retirement from the force after testifying about the evidence he falsified, and so decides to move to where his kids are. That means he leaves Toni (Melissa Leo). But as depressing as that may be, it's what's right for Terry, and Toni understands that. They'll both be OK.

Antoine (Wendell Pierce) has already done what Davis needs to do, growing up and acting responsible. He's found great love in teaching, and he still makes time for gigs to keep up his own chops and fulfill his passion as a performer. The next piece of that puzzle is doing right by his family, something Antoine has never been good at. In "...To Miss New Orleans," his sons come to live with him, and as in other parts of his life, he finds satisfaction in sharing his knowledge and love with his kids. He may have started down this path kicking and screaming, but it's the one he should be on, and I think he realizes and appreciates that.

Nelson's (Jon Seda) maturation is more accidental. It's time for him to move on from New Orleans, and he finds himself having difficulty in doing so. He's someone who has floated from place to place, following the money, but New Orleans clearly means something different to him. He attempts to leave a bit of himself, helping Jeanette with her business, and by the end, he belongs there just as much as those who dwell within. Surely, he'll visit over and over again.

There are a lot of characters in Treme, and while the review above hits most of the major ones, "...To Miss New Orleans" not only serves the remaining central players, including LaDonna (Khandi Alexander), but many of the recurring, supporting ones as well, sprinkled with actual New Orleans musicians. It's a big place, and all these various viewpoints give us access to a good chunk of it, not just the narrow vision a handful of cast members would provide. It's a very full installment, one true to the rest of the show.

I am sad Treme is done now and will miss it. However, it's nice to look back and appreciate the body of work that this series is. As the episode ends, the music plays, a funeral for the program itself, and we catch a final glimpse of most of the characters, giving just the right feeling for the send off. The emotions evoked in those moments echo those felt throughout the series, and the ones coming now that it's ended. It's a wonderful finale, even if it doesn't seem like the end.

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