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The Land of Dreamy Dreams

November 1, 2012

“I love the friends I have gathered together here on this thin raft.”
— Jim Morrison

There was a lot of chatter in this week’s open thread about Nelson Hidalgo and a lot of time was spent this week on Sonny, another less than sympathetic character. It is easy to hate on Nelson at a superficial level, or shrug off Sonny’s seemingly predictable struggles but I love these two characters. Both are a type of the outsider swallowed by New Orleans, the story of every Tulane student turned bartender, of every Jazz Fest visitor who now makes an annual pilgrimage to the city at off times (I run into these couples a lot on Frenchmen, it seems) and I always ask: so when are you moving?

I often say New Orleans gets its hooks into you but it’s more subtle than that, something as fragile as a sea anemone and as attractive as a pitcher plant (and for some, just as fatal) which entraps. If I could put my finger on it I wouldn’t be hundreds of thousands of words into and the old Wet Bank Guide but I remember that scene from Season Two after Nelson’s introduction, standing on a hotel balcony, his “big village” moment when you realize he has moved past the tour of bars and restaurants and into the city’s fatal attraction. Sonny is much the same. He seems to have arrived from Amsterdam with enough of the canon in his piano bag to set up up busking. Nelson came for the money but Sonny came for the heady, wet atmosphere. There was a line this season about “dreamers and drunks” from Colson’s meeting with his wife and there’s truth in that, although the drunks are just a subset of the dreamers, the ones who have given up on finding the secret and simply surrenders to the city’s more dangerous charms.

It’s clear from the discussion that Sonny and Nelson are not the most popular characters. No one (except maybe me) has faith in Sonny’s possibilities of redemption, much less Nelson’s but there is some subtle link between the early meetings between C.J. Ligori and Nelson with their discussion of Catholicism that hints at redemption, that leads me to wonder about the division of hustle and honesty when he puts Robinette on the papers for his new LLC, the one doing honest work with the NOAH money. He seems to be slipping back onto the bus to Easy Street but he is hovering at the edge, just as Sonny is tottering between the gutter and wedding bells at Mary Queen of Vietnam. There is a story in these characters by a couple of guys from up north (and yeah, Baltimore is up north from here) who were themselves lured by the magic of New Orleans music, who have perhaps themselves considered New Orleans’ allure and its effect on people, who have perhaps met more than a few fellow dreamers sitting in the Carousel or the gutter outside, lost in the dream.

Nelson and Sonny may seem like plot devices on legs but there is an old story acted out many times before on these streets without the benefits of catering and No Parking signs. That they represent, and that a couple of guys with no grandparents in the graveyard capture this particular facet of the story of New Orleans says something about the depth of Treme’s writing. You can go ahead and hate on Hildalgo or groan every time Sonny picks up a drink but this is one story line (and it is one, two-headed story line) I hope gets fully played out before the end of the series.

— Wet Bank Guy

  1. November 1, 2012 9:25 am

    Why are we even still talking about likable or un-likable? Or good or bad? Or failed or perfect? Come on people!

    There would be no such thing as dramatic narrative – in literature or film or television- if every person was perfectly wonderful and never screwed up and if they did, they always recovered.

    I know for a fact MY life story couldn’t be told under that kind of narrow prescriptive thinking.

    Drama, like life, is full of fucked up humans who don’t always turn into less-, or non-, fucked up humans.

  2. November 1, 2012 9:36 am

    True enough, but like/don’t like has been part of the dialogue since Davis first walked on camera and I guess my purpose was clear, to leverage some of that to call out something a lot of people from outside the parish line might miss. I think any writer would be pleased to know that you absolutely hate his character because it means that character has life enough to dislike.

  3. November 1, 2012 10:49 am

    I thought both Sonny and Hidalgo are brilliant characters.

    All of Treme’s characters are (though I may caveat at the character of Creigh) because, while they are recognizable types, perhaps, they are never cliches, and they are always as surprising as real people are.

    Love, C.

  4. dexterjohnson permalink
    November 1, 2012 5:27 pm

    Sonny is the most pathetic character on an HBO show since Billy on Six Feet Under. It’s hard to watch pathetic characters deteriorate week to week, but ya just gotsta watch, so that makes great TV. Billy was having sex with an underage Claire, but that line was not played out; Billy was so messed up in so many ways his character branched out.
    Sonny takes one step forward and…well, you know. Still, if you know any alkies / addicts, you know that a rather small percentage of them do recover. It works for some of us…I don’t get cravings from all the product-placement Miller beer ads, but I notice them, Miller Lite and Miller Genuine Draft . I even noticed the absence of the Abita ads from earlier episodes.

  5. mike mchale permalink
    November 1, 2012 10:12 pm

    i know a lot of sonnys. the story arc of his character might be predictable, but so is addiction. and if you had a tv show about musicians without one real-deal addict, i would have to call bullshit.

  6. November 2, 2012 7:08 am

    I have known three alcoholics pretty well (I lived with one for seven years), and two are in recovery. The third was, but I’ve lost track of him over the years. and he can’t be found on the Internet. Some people choose not to be but that could also be a bad sign. Two out of three is not bad, but that’s just my own personal sample. Maybe that’s why I hold some hope for Sonny. He has a reason to want to do it. I’ve never had someone fall on their knees before me like that, and given the nature of his girlfriend’s father I took that as a significant moment, including the recognition that it was his forgiveness he needed first..

    Sadly, I’m not an optimist, but somewhere inside I hope that one of these two characters is redeemed.

  7. November 4, 2012 7:32 pm

    Very interesting topic. To Dexter’s point, I think that by definition, all addicts before recovery are pathetic. It is self-destructive behavior that for whatever reason/reasons they are not able to change. It is always hard to watch. To Mike’s point, just judging by famous musicians, the percentage of addicts must, indeed, be very high. It seems that it is almost a gauntlet that they all have to run: some make it out the other side and experience successful recovery, and some don’t.

    Mark, I too was surprised at Sonny’s kneeling before his girlfriend’s father. Actually, I was surprised that Sonny wanted to talk to him, rather than her – I felt that was a good sign.

    I have no thoughts really, on Hidalgo. His type are everywhere, and caveat emptor. He isn’t really the “evil” one. He can’t even get his hand in the cookie jar. It is that architect that he is always visiting that is the more evil of the two.

    Very OT, but since we are discussing the characters of the show, how about LaDonna? We discussed her potential for another “one-off” in the other thread, but I realized later this week that she is really an Alpha-male. Also, her relationship with her husband Larry became kind of gross this last week. She was acting like a pouting child, and then when she got her way, jumped into Larry’s arms like a little girl into her father’s arms. That, followed shortly by the scene with her batting eyelashes at Albert. Last season, I wondered at Larry’s lethargy in realizing what had happened to her. Now I realize it is because their’s is a father/daughter more than a husband/wife relationship. Everyone else might have picked up on this much quicker than me. Anyway, great writing.

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