The Treme Files: The Battlefield
It became clear with this week's Treme, "Meet De Boys on the Battlefront," that creator David Simon has taken the fierce territorial pride that urged him to chronicle Baltimore in The Wire and grafted it onto New Orleans. If the earlier show was about seeing a city in decline in the aftermath of the death of the American dream, then this show is the reverse of that, a story of the forced rebirth of a culture that outsiders are doomed to misinterpret. The Wire asked what would happen if a city fell apart and nobody noticed; Treme talks about what would happen if a city fell apart and the whole world watched. Spoiler alert: Both answers are pretty sad.
Of course, coming after the success of The Wire, Treme can be a bit more open about its intentions up front, e.g., nobody's pretending this is a show about a culture that will then somehow turn into a scathing indictment of systemic malfeasance. That stuff's pretty much the whole m.o. from the beginning. The battle against the fucked-up system made up about a third of the episode; the other two strands dealt with the locals' pride in their city and the lengths the characters will go to in order to restore balance to their lives.
Davis, who remains the show's dependable comedic relief, lost his job at the radio station after allowing a local musician to perform a voodoo sacrifice of a chicken on the air, and was subsequently forced to take a job as a hotel desk manager tasked with telling tourists how to get to Bourbon Street. Antoine, dealing with multiple mouths to feed, took a gig on said street at a tourist trap just to make some extra money, though he also made his way over to a real dive called Bullet's to stay true to the scene. He wound up chatting with a trio of very white Christian college students in town on a mission trip who found the bar on Davis' recommendation, and though he struck a blow for individuality and wound up giving the kids a great night, he lost his job at the hotel when they didn't check in. The lesson: Tourists just want to be tourists.
Toni's pursuit of Ladonna's missing brother David had some ups and downs, too: She managed to locate a man by the same name, though she was warned going in that prisoners who were transferred during the storm had no ID and had been scattered throughout the state. She and Ladonna got her hopes up in vain: After heading to the prison to see David, they wound up face to face with a stranger. (In a nice nod to Simon's other work, the unwanted David was played by Anwan Glover, aka Slim Charles of The Wire.)
We also found out that Creighton is an English professor; it's a lot like Simon to hold some details back until they make sense to include in the narrative, in this case, Creighton's complaints that his university is drastically scaling back engineering and computer programs at a time when the state needs to be rebuilt and rewired. Plus Antoine has even more kids that we haven't seen yet, and Janette's doing every last thing possible to keep her restaurant running, right down to washing her own tablecloths and buying dairy at the farmers' market.
Yet it was once again Albert's storyline that, though not representative of all others, managed to unite the episode's ideas in its own way. In his exploration of the city to find the other members of his missing Indian tribe, Albert discovered empty projects that had been condemned yet hadn't suffered any storm damage, and he also ran to new depths to fight the thieves and rottenness using the storm as leverage to ruin the city. Confronting a young man who'd stolen his tools days before, Albert exploded in a rage, beating him to death with a pipe before continuing to punch the body. It was a vicious and uncompromising scene, and likely not the first time someone will pick a fight they can win after losing one they couldn't.
And yet the next day, Albert and the one other tribe member he'd found united to practice their songs, blasting forth a howling call-and-repeat with just two voices and a pair of tambourines. It's the part of the their lives that doesn't make sense to those from the outside world, and it's the part that will do the most to keep them going as they move from one struggle to the next.