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Fighting over scraps

April 19, 2010

One of the big pieces of this ep was getting what you need to get by, to do the job, and as Desiree reminds Antoine, a gig ain’t no job. The other piece is family. Where do you stay? Who are your people?  Of course, those two pieces are connected.

Money and resources:  everyone, individuals and institutions, from the copper thief to the Housing Authority,  is trying to find some, make some, steal some, borrow some, save some, stretch some. Quick, and preferably easy. And as Creighton tells Sophie, this is a zero-sum game for a finite supply of available resources.

Ain’t no pride on Bourbon Street, that’s just where some of the money is. And, oh yeah, watch your step.

And Mr. Good Dentist, when you say “This is where our family is,” how exactly do you see that?  Those two boys’ dad, their grandma who ain’t never lived nowhere else and isn’t budging till her son (who is God knows where) comes home, and their mama’s business that her daddy left her not you, the place she just this second told you she grew up in, is in New Orleans. Only thing in Baton Rouge is you, and your money. You think people in New Orleans don’t have teeth, don’t need a dentist? You just want to play it safe. Look at LaDonna’s face in the end of that scene, watch her mouth, see her struggle then compose her face into that small, wobbly smile for the sake of the kids.  This isn’t over. It’s not a fight yet, but it will be.

Then there’s Delmond, as risk-averse as the dentist, who apparently can’t swing after all. You can’t blame him, he’s a good guy, he’s just not as strong as his dad is.  And he never will be. That’s the problem when you’re the child of someone like Albert.  You get all the pride but not quite all the strength.  The look on Delmond’s face as they drive to the airport is heartbreaking.  He can’t be a man in this town.

Janette and her omelet, also heartbreaking. That was a beautifully written and acted scene and it spoke volumes: how such a small inconsequential thing, a little piece of normalcy, can go awry and all of it, the whole larger struggle to try and keep your head above water comes washing over you. When you’re rebuilding from the ground up, anything can be a contingency that brings it to all to a halt.

It’s interesting the way that Albert and Antoine are contrasted in this episode. Two men who grew up in the same place and seem completely at home there, but one survives by being strong and going through, the other by just going with the flow.  Antoine seems as spineless as Albert is steely.  Both are decent men, trying to do the right thing in their own way but they are also both failing at part of it. Antoine has no ambition or drive, and seemingly very little pride. Hell he doesn’t even have a trombone case, but we can tell he has soul, has heart.  He’s a lover not a fighter.  Albert, on the other hand, damn near kills the young burglar not for the money, but for honor. Clearly not just his own. In a wolf pack, if the alpha male is injured, or loses a fight, the whole pack is vulnerable because it depends on the hierarchy. And what is a tribe with a dishonored chief? Albert is just doing what he has to. He’s a pillar of  strength with a will of iron fighting to bring his world back to some semblance of what it was, but his own kids don’t seem to be able to connect to him. Completely driven to bring back his Indians, he seems disinterested at best in family Christmas plans.

How about that family piece?  We see the Burnetts, Davis and his parents, Janette and hers, Albert and Delmond, Antoine with Desiree and baby Honore, as well as LaDonna interacting with her mother, her boys, and husbands current and previous. There’s a lot of family in this episode but not much togetherness. When a prodigal son is returned, it’s not surprising he’s the wrong one. There’s more tension and vulnerability in these family portraits than anything else.  And I’m not certain what to make of the busker couple, other than their connection to each other seems tenuous and without trust.

“Meet the Boys on the Battlefront” starts with an invocation of spirit and ends with a ritual call and response seeking reinforcements for the battle. Because money can’t fix trauma, can’t make you strong enough to bear the unbearable, can’t make the fucked up un-fucked. Because family is supposed to help, supposed to mean something but it doesn’t always, not for everyone. Because when the larger context is so fractured, when the world is off its axis, when every connection seems weakened, where do you go for help?

18 Comments
  1. April 19, 2010 12:26 pm

    I love this post. I confess that I fell asleep during last night’s episode, having been up since before dawn ’cause I worked the Dow Live Earth Run For Water. I was just exhausted, and everything hurt. But I love your last paragraph. Without regard to how it relates to Treme, it speaks to my life, so often spent trying to “make the fucked-up un-fucked.” Thanks, V.

  2. April 19, 2010 12:34 pm

    “Because family is supposed to help, supposed to mean something but it doesn’t always, not for everyone. Because when the larger context is so fractured, when the world is off its axis, when every connection seems weakened, where do you go for help?”

    I’m glad you brought this up. I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2005 NOT with my immediate family for a reason. They just don’t get it, but I don’t expect them to anymore.

  3. virgotex permalink*
    April 19, 2010 12:41 pm

    Everyone always says that crisis brings people closer. And it does. But at the same time, it blasts them apart because when the crisis is big enough, and the trauma is deep enough, you’re alone, even when you’re surrounded by loved ones.

    And thanks, sophmom. Once established, fucked-up-ness is a persistent state.

  4. April 19, 2010 1:00 pm

    That busker couple is going to wind up like Zach Bowen and Addie Hall, I’m afraid. Addie also used to flash the nighttime patrols, and they’re setting up the PTSD angle.

  5. virgotex permalink*
    April 19, 2010 1:35 pm

    I feel like I must have read about that story, Greg, but if so I’d totally forgotten it. But even so, without knowing that, it’s obvious that something is being set up- both their scenes had such a creepy unresolved feeling about them.

  6. liprap permalink
    April 19, 2010 1:41 pm

    Their murder/suicide is the subject of Ethan Brown’s “Shake The Devil Off”, which I found emotionally hard to read, as there’s more than just the horrible deaths in there…there’s also a lot about the city and about veterans of the current wars and THEIR PTSD.

    Seeing that this show might actually go there makes me a little sick just thinking about it.

  7. April 19, 2010 1:48 pm

    yeah I was reading ya’lls tweets last night about it and looked it up. I kind of dread it too.
    The bloodshed on the Wire was mostly eye for an eye, it’s all in the game stuff. But when it wasn’t just business – Brandon, Wallace – it was awful.

  8. April 19, 2010 2:18 pm

    BTW, Ethan Brown is reading our little blog, so everybody wave.

  9. ferngrrl permalink
    April 19, 2010 3:17 pm

    Creighton’s line to Sophie was indeed the hard truth-telling of that episode, just as Janette’s crying about burnt eggs summed up everyone’s frustration and close-to-the-edgeness.

    But I fail to see any reason to condemn or blast the dentist for wanting a safe, comfortable life for his kids.

    Family means many things in many contexts and circumstances. It ain’t no magic that’s gonna come save us all. What’s that old saying, “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family….”

    Bec this is about people, not merely about family, and how they ebb and flow and try to get through some very deep and very toxic water.

  10. ferngrrl permalink
    April 19, 2010 3:26 pm

    I’m afraid I agree with you, greg, but I hope we’re mistaken. The young woman plays a mean violin! Oh, man, now I’ve caught the dreads, too.

  11. virgotex permalink*
    April 19, 2010 3:39 pm

    maybe I’m a bit harsh on the dentist. And sure, everyone wants to, and should, try to protect their kids, and their business investment. He’s being smart. But in that scene, he’s not paying attention to what his wife’s dealing with, and it shows. If their family was, indeed, in Baton Rouge, then she wouldn’t be driving back and forth and dealing with what she’s dealing with. For the time being, their family, like many others, is in at least two places, 3 if you count the missing brother.

    And yes, as you say, it’s people. Like I responded to maitri, people deal with crisis very individually, and that alternately drives them together and pulls them apart.

  12. April 19, 2010 4:05 pm

    Yes,virgotex has found some of the close-to-home spots here. So much to think about … I just finished watching it and I am rushing to get ready for work again. I can’t wait to check out the discussion later.

  13. April 19, 2010 5:15 pm

    Apropos of nothing in this thread, I note that the IMDB listing for Treme gives the number of episodes a character appears in, per season. Not that it’s terribly useful for making predictions or anything, or even accurate, but it’s interesting that the main characters all seem to have been signed up for the full two seasons.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1279972/fullcredits#cast

  14. Andrew permalink
    April 19, 2010 6:56 pm

    IMDB has user-submitted data, and is quite often incorrect about upcoming films or shows. All that listing means is that some random IMDB user decided to submit the entire cast for every episode of season 2. Don’t put much weight on it.

  15. April 19, 2010 7:57 pm

    Like I said, I don’t know if it’s accurate, or how much control uses have over data, but it’s recent, and an interesting thing to check every couple of months.

  16. ferngrrl permalink
    April 20, 2010 8:31 am

    Yep. LaDonna has a whole different set of loyalties. As she said at the dinnertable, her father bought and ran that bar and left it to her. And, if the character profiles on HBO.com are right, she’s fought hard to lift herself into the middle class. Dentist-hubby probably represents that middle class that she once worked to join; we’ll see what choices she makes as she faces more challenges. My co-viewers and I hollered at her not to give more money to that “contractor”, but she did it anyway!

    Some people I know left, got better-paying jobs, come back to visit family regularly, and are missing NOLA but prefer the better schools, living conditions, and infrastructure that they’ve found in, say Houston and Atlanta. A few have even bought houses here and moved back after being gone a few years.

    LaDonna is right on the mark trying to get Antoine to visit his kids, that’s for sure. Broke my heart seeing that clay elephant that Alcid made.

  17. ferngrrl permalink
    April 20, 2010 8:35 am

    I wondered at Simon’s choice of dentist for the husband’s profession. It may be of no consequence, but some of the people who were trying to cross the Danziger bridge were trying to get to their brother’s dentistry office on the other side. The dentist-brother, along with other relatives of victims of that “incident,” have continued to press their case and now that the DOJ is involved, well, y’all read the news, so …

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