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Just a Little Overcome

May 5, 2010

We’ve talked a lot about verisimilitude here. Indeed, a whole lot of talking about that word.

In those discussions, I haven’t usually had a lot to offer, since I don’t share NOLA citizenship or a Katrina experience.  Unencumbered as I may be of the latter, and jealous as I may be of the former, it is what it is and it certainly hasn’t kept me from bonding with the story.  I would even venture a bit farther and say it frees me up in a way to simply take it in without simultaneously scanning for the V word.  The other day Ray offered me some dvds as background material and I took a rain check because I want to preserve that clear channel and just hear the story being told, relate to these characters through my own lens.

Which brings me back to verisimilitude. “At the Foot of Canal Street” wasn’t my favorite episode so far, though it was certainly serviceable in setting up for future developments, but there was one scene that just about cracked my heart open, it was so real.  Watching Antoine and LaDonna’s late night tête-à-tête at the bar, it didn’t matter whether or not I knew the real people they might be based on or what street the real bar is on or what happened to the real Tommy Tate or whether people really eat white bread with their red beans and rice. That didn’t matter because I recognized those two people in that scene.

As with the scene in the first episode that it echoes, the chemistry between the two characters is there, and it’s deeper than before even. I could feel that couple, know their history, they were lovers once and they were on fire for each other. That worked for a little while before they failed each other and damn, it was something. Something that still amazes them when they remember it. You can see that when they look at each other, and it’s a rarity to catch that real emotional and physical connection on-screen, even in film much less television. It’s not as simple as filming people kissing or touching or fucking. It’s more layered and complex than that. The first line in this scene wasn’t put there by accident:  “You’re my lifeline, baby.” Sure, Antoine can live without her, been doing so for probably longer than they were even together, but it’s never been as deep and real as it was before. Watch him as LaDonna turns her back to him to reach for a bottle. He’s not just looking at her ass, he’s remembering how good they were together, how well they fit each other. It’s hot. And a little funny. Also, sad.

Antoine will most likely never make enough money to put in their boys’ college fund. He’s not that guy, the careful, safe, planning provider. He’s the guy on the B-side of the record. The man with a big heart and an even bigger appetite for music, food, booze, sex, pleasure. Always for pleasure. Not for nothing, the A-side of the Ollie & the Nightingales record in question was entitled “I Don’t Want to Be Like My Daddy.”

As for LaDonna, there’s something going on here we have not ever seen. Almost every single time we’ve seen her previously, she is trying to make something happen, make people do something, whether it’s the damned roof, the Daymo investigation, or simply getting Antoine’s ass on the bus to see his kids, she is one busy woman. She is getting shit done.

We can infer that this is who LaDonna is, how she’s survived so far, not just the storm but the first marriage, running a bar, the girl from around the way landing a husband from a different social class, looking out for her kids and her mother. Someone here said they thought Khandi Alexander was overacting.  I disagree. I think we are supposed to see that it’s LaDonna who is acting. She plays the wifey-wife, the mother, the dutiful (then petulant) daughter, the take-no-prisoners businesswoman, the wheedling sister-in-law. We see her get all up in NotDaymo’s grill because that’s the language he understands. Compare that to her confessing to Toni that she’d gone behind her back, had doubted her. There’s a little touch of her hand, a quiet apology. She’s soft, polite, speaking Toni’s language. Still trying to make something happen, though. People like LaDonna are the people who survive shit.  Because they get back up and keep on going, they never stop moving.

But here, late at night in the bar after he’s obviously come here for solace after the ER, LaDonna’s let down her guard a bit. She’s open, her body language is slower, her face is younger, she’s got such a soft spot for this man, she can’t help herself. She likes the way he makes her feel.  At least at first she does, then the walls go back up. No more touching, no more listening to his “Cry Me a River” self-pity, she’s back to getting shit done.

At least she gets his ass to Baton Rouge.

The Nightingales, featuring Tommy Tate:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

8 Comments
  1. brueso permalink
    May 5, 2010 6:11 pm

    thanks for your well-written observations! I think I’m a pretty careful viewer, but it’s a posting like this that makes me want to run back and get what I missed during the first pass. I think you’re right that lost in all the ‘dealing post Katrina’ aspects of the stories, sometimes the other things can be missed.

    David Simon’s work is typically passed over come Emmy award time- especially when it comes to the acting- but it would be criminal if it happens again with this show, and Khandi’s work is Exhibit A.

  2. virgotex permalink*
    May 5, 2010 7:12 pm

    I don’t know that it’s completely lost. It’s certainly not a qualitative judgement or any other kind of judgment on my part. But the series does exist for many of us outside of the same realm of verisimilitude that others are looking out for. I know a hell of a lot more about New Orleans than I did about Baltimore, for sure, but essentially, I’m scanning for a different set of beats than someone in NO would be. And it’s gratifying to see how well that other (deeper?) reality is also being portrayed. I think more than I saw in The Wire, even, these characters are being fleshed out very well. They ring true, as human beings, as women/men/children/mothers/fathers/etc. And I’m grooving on it.

  3. liprap permalink
    May 5, 2010 8:38 pm

    That’s what’s beautiful and universal about the show: the greater themes and human interactions that we all recognize no matter where we are or how we grew up, and the ways in which these actors are really fleshing it out and making it live on the little screen. Are the Emmy people reading this? Bueller? Anyone??? Take. Note.

  4. May 5, 2010 10:02 pm

    Damn, girl, when you bring it you BRING it.

    I totally get what you’re saying about recognizing the people over and above what they symbolize to post-K New Orleans. The past few weeks I never really got why some folks thought that Antoine was turning out to be a one-dimensional, clownish figure; he seemed more real than that to me, but I couldn’t really express why. And then Messrs. Folse & Adrastos both commented that they thought Antoine was more fully formed this last weekend because of the family angle and it clicked. Oh, that.

    See, I knew all that about Antoine. I know Antoine, too. I grew up as that older son in the too-small Saints shirt. OK, so my father was a gruff merchant seaman instead of a horn player, my stepdad was an accountant instead of a dentist, and my mom didn’t own a bar but like Ladonna she never had the opportunity for as much education as her intellect deserved. But times with my dad were JUST like that…every few weeks a dinner at Steak & Ale, or weekend at his apartment in Gretna playing in the pool and eating frozen pizzas. I’d hear both sides of the child support argument from both parents, but it always boiled down to “not enough money”.

    Simon’s characters are just about always deeper than you realize when you first meet them, and the extent to which a person recognizes their depth is sometimes colored or sped up by personal experience. The scene in an earlier season of The Wire when McNulty stays up all night drinking whiskey and cursing at IKEA furniture, when I saw it the first time was kind of amusing, yeah, yeah, don’t we all hate putting together IKEA crap. It wasn’t until re-watching it for the third time back in 2008 that it really resonated, though. In my own sparsely-furnished new bachelor dive, trying desperately to get enough furniture put together before the kids showed up so that they’d feel like it was home, since all the nice furniture my paychecks had bought over the years was back at the house I had just moved out of. I remember Alli laughing her ass off at me and being glad that I didn’t drink any more because she didn’t want to know how much worse I’d be with a bottle of Jameson to go along with my Allen wrench. It was then that I really understood all the layers of McNulty’s real frustration that went way beyond just some pieces of wood not lining up right.

  5. May 6, 2010 6:22 am

    Thanks, brother, glad you’re on the channel. Antoine’s got some McNulty in him, yeah. How could he not? The Bunk/McNulty manlove was strong…

    One other bit in this scene that’s also rich, and funny, and sad. right at the end, after Antoine agrees to go to Baton Rouge and he’s all humbled and hangdog and shit, LaDonna’s gonna give him money for gifts, even, Wendell does this little beggin’ thing with his little plastic go cup held out for a little bit more free booze. It’s perfect. He ain’t too proud to beg.

  6. May 6, 2010 8:37 am

    yeah, lip- “greater” is better than “deeper” – humanity is a bigger subset than just the occupants of one city. But of course, some cities are more embracing of humanity than others.

  7. stratbat permalink
    May 6, 2010 10:55 am

    “I haven’t usually had a lot to offer, since I don’t share NOLA citizenship or a Katrina experience.”
    Since when did that become a ticket to the back of town?
    Most of the people who swing that meme only moved here within the past 5-10 years anyway.

  8. May 6, 2010 1:48 pm

    I wondered for a moment if they would end up together (inpusively and briefly or permamently) but that’s not what’s relevant. I think LaDonna is going to take care of Antoine’s tooth and make sure he gets up to Red Stick with presents because, as you say, that’s what she does. But part of it (and I think LaDonna is smart enough to see it while Antoine is busy looking at her ass) is that what they share beyond their children is a determination to get their lives back *in New Orleans*. The dentist is here wise choice but she sees something of herself in Antoine, is no more ready to give up the bar than he is his trombone. This is about the point where people began to back out or go all the way in. And they are all in on the river card.

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