Monday, October 15, 2012

Tremé, Season 3, Episode 4: The Greatest Love

Tremé, like The Wire, is partly about the ossification, corruption, and failure of the governmental institutions meant to safeguard against urban decay and to improve quality of life. It’s also partly about the persistent humanism that grows between the cracks of those institutions: people who help each other out in both big and small ways; people who fight a knowingly futile battle against that ossification and corruption, and people who do their best to steer clear of the trouble those institutions bring. And of course, it’s also about music. And food. And musicians. And cooking. And family. And sex. On the whole, you might say it’s little like jambalaya. All of these ingredients were certainly in effect in this week’s episode.

This week, however, institutional corruption seemed to be at the forefront, because the LP and Toni scenes carried with them an extra special spice: some very slow-burning suspense. LP has been digging around a case where the police seem to be responsible for the death of an innocent man during the storm, while Toni has actively antagonized the police by placing an ad in a newspaper soliciting witnesses to come forward to testify against a corrupt officer. Last week, Toni warned her daughter Sofia to be extra careful not to get involved in anything which could land her in trouble with the police, and this week, LP comments somewhat worriedly on all of the people who’ve told him to be careful (including, in this episode, an extra-skittish law enforcement informant who provides him with incriminating photos).

All of these developments start to simmer in this episode, and the police become a menacing presence in these characters’ lives. Sofia is pulled over and given a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. LP encounters two patrol officers having a conversation in front of his car. Described this way, these scenes do not sound suspenseful, but the episode gives each of them room to breathe. Even in a show where very little can seem to happen over the course of any given an episode, Tremé still has no absolutely pointless scenes. Thus when a scene begins with Sofia leaving work, getting into her car, and beginning to drive, it’s easy to suspect something bad might happen. Sure enough, the police pull her over, and an officer aggressively explores for reasons to get her into trouble. In LP’s similarly uncomfortable scene, LP excuses the officers as he gets into his car, and in his rearview mirror he sees them staring somewhat hostilely at him as he drives away.

All of this suspense culminates in the episode’s final scene, where Sofia drives her boyfriend and LP to a show. LP notices they are being followed by a squad car. He has Sofia turn right, and the squad car follows. He has Sofia turn left. So does the squad car. He has Sofia pull over. He gets out, and looks at the car as it slowly rolls by. In a point of view shot, both officers angrily glare at LP as they drive past. It’s a somewhat tame-sounding resolution to the episode’s buildup, but considering Tremé’s sometimes glacially-paced plotting, this dollop of foreboding is quite possibly the most suspenseful scene the show has ever had. It’s like encountering an extra spicy pepper you didn’t know was in the jambalaya, one that makes the whole stew all the richer.

Other thoughts:

 - Davis and Annie continue to grow a little farther apart. Goofy Davis antics – sacrificing a sock to the music gods that rule over a former recording studio-turned-laundry, for instance – that previously would have amused Annie now seem to mildly annoy her, and he can’t get a hold of her when she’s on the road. This is a sad development, because I like them as a couple. It makes sense though; as Annie becomes more and more of a serious musician, Davis likely looks more and more like the clown he is.

- LaDonna and Albert finally have a scene together, and they immediately take a shine to one another (of course). His stubbornness has finally met its match in her brassiness. These two characters were cut from the same cloth, so it’s nice to see them play off one another. The practice session at her bar is also pretty neat, with another big chief joining the festivities for a showdown. This scene was also laced with a bit of suspense: last week we learned Albert has lymphoma, and this week Delmond finds out. I was just as worried as Delmond that too much activity might make Albert keel over.

- Some nice editing in this episode, including a great montage sequence of Toni having the same conversation with people in different settings as she tries to get informants to come forward in her case against the corrupt office. It’s all done with shot/reverse shot: a potential witness would say a line, and in the next shot, Toni would respond. Cut to a reverse shot of a different witness responding, and then cut back to Toni, in a new location, responding to yet another witness. All of the conversations are identical (no one wants to come forward out of fear of reprisal from the police), so it gives a nice sense of the futility of Toni’s case.

- Another nice bit of editing was the crosscutting back and forth between LaDonna being shown potential houses by her husband, and Janette interviewing potential kitchen staff for her restaurant. Both are presented with a parade of lemons, until they each hit upon the perfect candidates. These crosscut scenes had two things I liked, one for each scene. During the house-hunting portion, LaDonna’s husband gets the best line he’s ever had when he shows LaDonna a house that’s way too big. She sarcastically asks him what they’ll do with the five extra bedrooms, and his deadpan response is that she can move her bar into the third floor and throw the customers out onto their residential street at closing time. The thing I liked about Janette’s scene is that she notices that her business partner, Tim, is interviewing only attractive young women rather than experienced professionals for positions on their new restaurant's wait staff. So already there’s trouble in paradise, and only one episode after Janette agreed to this whole arrangement.

- The scene that opened the episode was fun as well, as a little smartass in the marching band Antoine teaches plays a musical stinger at the end of a disappointing practice session. Wah wah indeed.

- The Indian practice session had four regular characters in the same scene: LaDonna, Albert, Delmond, and Antoine. I think that might be the most the show has ever had in the same place at the same time. Although since it was a music scene, none exchanged a word of dialogue with one another (of course).

- No Sonny this episode, which unfortunately means none of my new favorite character: Sonny’s Vietnamese girlfriend’s dad. I laugh my ass off every time he pops up on one of Sonny’s dates, having a great time with them and preventing Sonny from fucking his daughter.

- Colson had a fun little scene where he got to sleep with a hotel concierge. Their spontaneous sex initiation was nicely timed for maximum laughs.