Things Fall Apart
At the halfway point of Season 1, I can see the characters starting to segregate into two types. There are the fighters: Big Chief Lambreaux, Janette, LaDonna, Antoine. These characters are all suffering setbacks and frustrations, and although all of them might face some serious misfortunes in the near term, I don’t get the sense that their situation is going to completely get the better of them. Even if the worst happens, if Daymo turns up dead, if Janette’s restaurant closes, if life deals them a horrible blow, they’re survivors. They’ll still be around.
And then there are the characters who have a darkening shadow gathering over their heads.
I think everybody can see that Sonny and Annie are headed for tragedy; there’s just no way that’s going to end well.
And I think we can add Creighton Bernette to that list.
At the beginning of the season, Creighton seemed to be a man with two sides. On the one hand, he’s a gregarious gourmand, a man who believes in the healing power of “good food and companionship”, who has fierce loyalties for even an old gelato shop, and who will go all giddy at the thought of a magical Hubig’s Pie with something drizzled on it. On the other, he’s a foul-mouthed rabble-rouser and New Orleanian patriot, a man who will not only speak fucking Truth to motherfucking Power but will go and shove Power’s microphone up his ass if it’ll get his point across.
Now we’re seeing that that there is a third side, for which the other two are merely compensating. Creighton is a man with low self-esteem, a man who has no faith in his own abilities, who knows that there’s a New Normal coming and who, unlike our survivors, feels entirely incapable of combating it. As post-K reality slouches closer, despair is eating away at him.
As much as Creighton is full of righteous anger over the flood and the recovery, it’s a futile anger. It’s catharsis for him, and for his growing YouTube fan-base, but it’s not changing anything and he knows it. The president is paying less attention, not more. The rest of the country has not, is not, and will not “get it” any time soon. Tulane shows no sign of extracting its administration’s head from its ass. The flood control system is still a shambles, Charity is still closed, the projects are still closed, the schools are still fucked, people can’t come home, there’s still no money, and all the arguing and reasoning and yelling and fucking SCREAMING aren’t fixing any of it.
And even though he seems pretty pleased with himself when a bunch of guys at the coffeehouse recognize him, it’s a short-lived joy, because in reality he isn’t really proud of his rage. It’s something that he does late at night (his “excesses and impulses”) or resorts to when the obvious logic of his arguments fails him in the face of outsider pig-ignorance. His real worth is tied up in his “real” writing, and now we know that he has done precious little real writing since well before Katrina. He’s got worse than writer’s block; he’s got a serious case of Impostor Syndrome, so serious that even when Roy Blount gushes with praise over his YouTube antics, refers to him inclusively as “one of us [writers]” to his group of friends, Creighton thinks Blount must be fucking with him, absolutely has to be pulling his leg, because what right would a failed loser of a writer like Creighton Bernette have to receive sincere praise from a Southern author as prestigious as Blount?
So his agent is coming to visit. Good news arrives by phone, bad news is delivered in person. The book advance has already been spent, and right in the middle of the tenuous financial and emotional environment of January 2006, the agent is coming to take the advance back. Not only is financial ruin incoming, but worse (to Creighton) is that the jig is up as far as his “writing career” goes. The mask is off, and he is exposed as a fraud and a failure. By the end of episode 5, he is in full panic mode.
And in the ultimate irony, you’d think the one character who has an intact traditional nuclear family would be able to count on his spouse for backup, right? Hardly. I know everybody loves Toni Bernette, but she’s not exactly a person Creighton can lean on. She is a vocal critic of his media tirades, she lectures him about his language, she is embarrassed by his YouTube behavior, she considers Krewe du Vieux to be “nonsense”. Everything, that is, that he is doing that gives him some joy, some satisfaction, some outlet for his frustrations, she belittles. And she nags him incessantly about his writing, the one thing he is incapable, for whatever reason, of finishing. When he questions Roy Blount’s sincerity, she doesn’t help allay his fears, she feeds them. When he wants to spend a sentimental day decorating the Christmas tree, she mocks him and then nags him again about his writing. Meanwhile, she’s so driven. While Creighton sinks into depression and paralysis, she throws herself more and more into her work. Even when she goes to the RE-New Orleans second line, she’s there more to keep tabs on 3rd District NOPD than to enjoy the music.
To me this marriage is a frustrated passive-aggressive mess, two adults who are growing apart as their coping methods diverge and conflict with each other’s, and as Creighton’s emotional state and the family financial state start coming apart, watch the marriage come apart too. Irma Thomas’s closing theme is, like every other episode’s closing theme, fraught with all kinds of deeper meanings:
I’ve got the blues so bad
I can hardly catch my breath
The harder it rains
The worse it gets
This is the time
I’d love to be holding you tight
But I guess I’ll just go crazy tonight
A classic New Orleans song of lost love, but also a harbinger of insanity creeping in, bad times to come, and nobody to hold you when they get here. Distant thunder rumbling, black clouds are coming down.
It’s going to get much much worse before it gets better.
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[And yeah, yeah, I know, not New Orleans music. It gets the point across, though. You don’t believe me? Put it on your iPod mix next evacuation.]