Hearing everything backwards
Carnival has traditionally been a time when the social order is inverted. Fools become kings, men dress as women, the rich and powerful are mocked, dogs and cats live together. What better week for the characters of Treme to reverse course, to break with tradition, to do the exact opposite of what they would have done or would have wanted to do? Last week it was Opposite Day on Treme.
Last year, when asked if he was playing any gigs on Fat Tuesday, Antoine responded “Me? On Mardi Gras Day? Oh, no, uh-uh.” This year, when asked by Keith Hart to watch the Zulu parade with his students, he responded with exactly the same words, except for the “no” part. He’s got a job job now, but more importantly, he’s starting to see where he fits into the larger picture of saving the culture in New Orleans. Ironically, his own sons don’t play, because they were raise by their mom and Ladonna didn’t wanna raise no musicians. Antoine being a kind of absentee dad, he wasn’t around to have that kind of influence in his own boys’ lives. On Mardi Gras Day, he’s doing the opposite of his usual, not only for the day but in his life in general. And when his 2:00 and 4:00 appointments are coming up, Desiree tells him, “It’s Daddy time.” Antoine will be playing actual daddy instead of baby daddy for the rest of the day.
Last year, Janette was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but spent the day cooking, and the night running the streets high as a motherfucker. This year, she can’t make it home for Carnival but spends the day celebrating. In a weird twist, it’s not being home that lets her celebrate it like a holiday. And this year she’s not only not high, she’s out with her roommate Nick, who is having his own opposite day by giving up Captain Crunch and pot in favor of a sober meal at Le Bernardin.
Colson and the rest of the NOPD are waiting for the hammer to fall in the crime world. There have been shootings at second lines, killings of musicians and filmmakers. No reasonable person would think that Mardi Gras would go off relatively without a hitch, all those millions of people and not a single shooting, but New Orleans goes and does the opposite of what is expected of it. Just this one time, at least.
Cornell Williams tells Antoine he wants to talk to Sonny to give him one more chance, and Antoine says “You know his problem and so do I. And right now, if we gave him a hundred chances he’d fuck ‘em all up.” Which is generally the truth when you’re talking about addicts. Unless you’re talking to a recovered addict like Cornell.
It’s not clear whether Cornell the character is in “The Program” or if he’s just figured out the Point a la Hache cure, but one of those little slogans you hear a lot in 12 Step rooms is “All you have to change is everything.” When you’re in recovery, every day has to be opposite day, because your little reptile addict brain is constantly telling you to do shit that makes perfect sense to an addict, but which is going to get you back to getting fucked up in a hurry. Cornell knows this, and he knows that what Sonny needs is a serious dose of doing the exact opposite of what he thinks he should do. “Real simple, you do everything I say you gotta do. Go where I say. Show up when I say. And when we get paid, I hold all your damn money.” Sonny doesn’t like the idea of somebody holding his dope money and he balks. Cornell knows it’s opposite day: “No, bra. Everything I say, you do. This isn’t gonna work if you hearing everything backwards.” Cornell is at the beginning of the process of showing Sonny that there is another way, there’s another path through this.
Even Hidalgo gets himself a “sponsor”, in the form of Oliver Thomas recommending him for membership in Zulu. But this, again, is about more than just getting Hidalgo some choice business connections. OT is showing Hildalgo that, sure, we do graft in New Orleans better than anybody, but palling around with Liguori, donating to the St. Alphonsus stained glass fund and making it rain for Bobby Jindal aren’t the only path. There’s a way to do this buying-of-influence thing that, sure, is corrupt, but still helps people who are worth helping. Under OT’s tutelage, Hidalgo has made it rain for The Pigeon Town Steppers and the Zulu organization. Thomas the character reminds us a little of Frank Sobotka, who was as corrupt as they come in the longshoreman’s world, but who kicked that money back down to help the union and its increasingly desparate members.
Sadly, the two people having a Mardi Gras starkly reminiscent of last year are Toni and Ladonna. For the second year in a row, Ladonna is holding a terrible secret inside and leaning on the bottle instead of her family, since she doesn’t want to ruin their Mardi Gras. Only this year, stuck up in Baton Rouge, her isolation is complete and she doesn’t have somebody like Antoine around to fall apart in front of. Toni, too, is spending the second Mardi Gras in a row trying to be enthusiastic about the day for a reluctant family member, but this year it’s Sofia instead of Creighton. And last year, Toni had the relative luxury of being a little bit in denial about how bad off Creighton was. This year, there is no denial, she’s seen it get as bad as it can possibly get. She’s getting the same treatment in a different form with Sofia, but her eyes are wide open this time and she’s terrified.
There’s a thing in movie writing called a reversal, where a character hits an obstacle so severe, so obstinate, that it turns him around 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Sometimes you’ll see these reversals around a midpoint scene halfway through the film. We’re a little more than halfway through the season, but we are seeing these reversals come to light on Opposite Day in several characters.
Toni has finally voiced the fear that has probably been growing in her mind for weeks now: Sofia knows the truth about her father, and she is filled with rage. There’s no way Toni can keep on going the way she’s been going. Either she does something radically different in her relationship with Sofia, or she’s going to lose her. There is no other path.
Antoine and Larry have had a similar realization about LaDonna. This is not something she’s going to snap out of, this is not something she’s going to get over. Something needs to change. This is clear to them now.
Sonny knows the jig is up with the whole dope fiend thing. He’s lost so much. He lost his girlfriend, he can see his dream of becoming a great musician falling apart, he gets robbed, he gets taken advantage of. And he’s inside his own head thinking he’s got nobody to blame but himself, that all of this happens because he’s inherently a fuck-up and a worthless human being. It’s a shitty place to be. And now this guy, this great musician, is reaching out and saying, “come on, man, we can fix all of this. You just have to do everything the exact opposite of how you’ve been doing it.” Sonny’s reversed course in a big way.
All on a Mardi Gras Day.