Treme, Ep. 3.03, “Me Donkey Want Water”: Season arcs, themes click into place

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Treme, Season 3, Episode 3: “Me Donkey Want Water”
Written by George Pelecanos
Directed by Adam Davidson
Airs Sundays at 10pm (ET) on HBO

This week, on Treme: Janette and Annie get deals, Big Chief Lambreaux gets a diagnosis, and Toni gets serious

In Treme terms, “Me Donkey Want Water” features an explosion of action. Not only do we see forward movement, at last, with Janette’s return to New Orleans, but Annie’s career, Sonny’s relationship, Toni’s case, Nelson’s schemes, and Albert’s health all progress significantly. We also get the beginning of a new story for Delmond and LaDonna, not to mention Antoine’s return to the road, and the bad habits that come with it.

Janette and Annie’s stories are paralleled this week, as one assumes they will be for much of the season. Both appear to be doing well, standing at the precipice of greater success, but if there were ever a show to distrust strangers promising money, it’s Treme. We’ve already seen Janette lose everything once. Hopefully, despite the high failure rate for new restaurants, we may get to see a different result for her this time. Annie, on the other hand, hasn’t experienced that rejection yet, though if Davis’s story this week is any indication, she may have a rocky road ahead.

These two arcs are well matched and having through-lines like this can only help interconnect what can be a rather noncohesive series. Unfortunately, the main scene bridging these two characters, their business meetings, is a bit clunky. Between the editing and on-the-nose dialogue, the audience can’t help but feel they’re being spoon-fed the characters’ thematic connection. Hopefully this is a fluke- the writers and editors are usually much more restrained, allowing the actors and story plenty of time to breathe.

One thread with plenty of space is Sonny’s. After a long courtship, he has finally won over his lady love and her ever-present father. It’s nice to see Sonny playing keyboards again, not to mention gigging with Antoine and Delmond, a Treme first, but Sonny seems stable in his life as a shrimper. One can’t help being nervous at what his renewed musical pursuits could mean for his girlfriend, particularly given his past (Houston) and what we see from Antoine- bad habits rear their ugly head on the road.

While Antoine is up to his old tricks, Nelson seems to have turned over a new leaf, pushing Robinette to do the honest thing and actually complete the work they’ve been hired for. Yes, perhaps this is just what he says, an elaborate con, but it also could be that New Orleans has started to work its magic on Nelson and he’d rather not let down the people he’s been hired to help. Lest we start thinking he’s matured too completely, though, his interaction with his new girlfriend at the end of the episode confirms he’s still far from mature.

One of the surprises this week is Albert’s diagnosis. He’s clearly very sick, but rather than the lung cancer most would expect from his newly-present cough, it’s Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. We’ll see how he fares. Clarke Peters is fantastic in the role and, should the Chief take a turn, he’ll be sorely missed. Pairing up Delmond, and by extension Albert, with LaDonna is incredibly promising and should help integrate both storylines more fully into the series, as they often feel disjointed, failing to fall into the show’s main New Orleans categories of music, food, and corruption.

Speaking of corruption, Toni reminds audiences this week why we love her when she decides to poke the bear with an inflammatory ad geared towards a suspected dirty cop. It’s nice to see her able to just focus on being great at her job. Melissa Leo has done well with her material, but it’s been a drag to see Toni dragged first through the loss of her husband and then her daughter’s rebellious reaction to it. Sofia seems to be coping much better than she was. Here’s hoping her prods to her mother are a hint of what’s to come. We already like Leo and David Morse separate- let’s see those two crazy kids get together!

All in all, Treme continues to be a solid, utterly musically rewarding and enriching exploration of characters and professions often unexplored in television. Despite a few quibbles here and there, it’s a great show well worth diving into.

What did you think of this episode? Anyone else mega-stoked about Aunt Mimi’s return? Who do you think has a better shot at success this time around, Janette or Annie? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

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