Fighting over scraps
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?