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Treme, Ep. 4.02, “This City” bogged down by odd character beats

Treme, Ep. 4.02, “This City” bogged down by odd character beats

Treme S04E02 promo pic

Treme, Season 4, Episode 2, “This City”
Written by George Pelecanos
Directed by Anthony Hemingway
Airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO

This week, on Treme: Albert gets some bad news, Janette gets served, and Toni gets spooked

Treme is a bit of an odd one this week, with “This City” delivering affecting, heart-breaking news to several of its characters while simultaneously featuring quite a bit of what a non-fan might call filler. That’s a bit too hard of a knock for this reviewer, so let’s just call the episode problematically-paced. We open with Albert, who finds out his cancer is back after he’s been in remission for all of one episode. It’s a strange narrative choice. Why the quick turnaround? In “Tipitina”, the fantastic season three finale, he’s sick and starting chemo. In last week’s season four premiere, he’s in remission, and this week, he’s not only relapsed, he’s decided against continuing his treatment. The constraints of only having five episodes for the final season are clearly showing here and one can’t help wondering why the writers chose to pick up where they did with Albert. It’s a bit frustrating- Treme has always been a show to take its time and savor the details of the small moments that lead to the big ones rather than skipping ahead to the dramatic payoffs.

Also somewhat out of character is Albert’s response, though perhaps an out-of-character response to a virtual death sentence is par for the course. Big Chief Lambreaux may have said more in “This City” than he’s said in all of his other non-Mardi Gras appearances, combined. It’s strange to hear him continue on and on, offering up details on his childhood to Davina and LaDonna and expressing emotions verbally that Clarke Peters usually more than handles with a glance or perhaps a hrrumph. His monologuing fits far more comfortably in his scene with Khandi Alexander, as LaDonna is still a somewhat new fixture in his life, but either way, it’s plain weird to hear him wax poetic about the days of yore. The jury’s still out on whether this is a good or bad change- we’ll need to see where it’s heading before we can get a clear sense of his planned trajectory.

Another character acting out of the usual is Janette. What possible aspect of her dealings with her former business partner led her to believe she’d be able to sweet talk him into giving her back the rights to her name? She comes off as foolish throughout a sizable chunk of the episode. It’s worthwhile to try honey before becoming too bitter, one must suppose, but Janette’s been around this business for a long time. She should know better. This, combined with an unusual over-reliance this week on musical numbers, gives “This City” an air of stalling.

Speaking of the musical performances, they’re great as usual. There’s a diverse group this week and the show takes full advantage of the delightful mélange of musical tastes in New Orleans. However, there are a lot of them. Usually, each performance follows an appropriate buildup and has a distinct reason for its inclusion. This week, we jump at times from near silence with Albert to large, full bands, one after the other and once Annie and Delmond have made their choices, which happens surprisingly early, while these pieces are fun, they feel like an unnecessary distraction from the emotion at the heart of much of the rest of the episode.

Toni is a fine example, though her mini-arc this week gets just enough time. We get to see her blow up after coming home, finally some strife rearing its ugly head in her relationship with Terry. However, we get little sense of his frustration with his department. It’s nice to see a contrast between the two crusaders against corruption, but where does Terry’s respect for the process come from? He’s seen as much as she or (likely) even more. Is this a fundamental philosophical difference between them we’re only just discovering, or did the writers just want to put a speed bump in their path? Much like Albert, we’ll have to wait to see (though their episode-ending embrace was a welcome and pleasant surprise).

Davis may be Davis, but again, like Janette one likes to think he should know better. That being said, his continued friendship with Nelson has done wonders for that character, making him far more enjoyable. If only the writers had thought of this pairing last season! Sonny, on the other hand, thankfully sits the week out. It’s not that his absence is all that encouraging (the writers have done a fantastic job rehabbing that character), it’s the episode’s recognition that everyone needn’t be in every episode. There isn’t anything for Sonny to do at the moment, so rather than being shoe-horned in, the character and his new family spend the week safely off screen, presumably to return once Sonny has more going on.

In an episode with Albert finding out he’s once again terminal, it takes a lot for that to not be the emotional core, but this week that honor goes to Antoine and his students. The murder of one of his band students is shockingly impersonal, prompting Antoine to be his most parental and the most  anxious we have ever seen him. As he reminds LaDonna this week, he’s grown tremendously over the run of Treme and it’s great to have that underlined in his concern for his daughters, biological and otherwise. For once, music can’t save the day and we’re left with the same quiet reflection we opened with, in Albert’s doctor’s office. It will be interesting to see if this remains a recurring thread throughout the season or just a one-off idea, but while the silence throughout Albert’s reminiscences is eerie and somewhat off-putting, it’s absolutely fitting at the episode’s end. As with any central episode to a mini-season/series, it can be difficult to get a sense of how the pieces will come together by the end of the season, but while this reviewer’s faith in the series remains unshaken, “This City” is a bit of a disappointment, or at least for now, a puzzler. Hopefully the writers’ ideas will become clearer in the next episode or two, helping this episode’s impact upon rewatch.

What did you think of this episode? Were you surprised at Albert’s relapse? Think any of the other kids are in danger? What do you want from the next few episodes of Treme? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick