The culture that may be the saving grace for the characters of “Treme” can sometimes be impenetrable. That’s the thing about tight systems – they are as resistant to strangers as they are to change.
In “Treme”’s artistic worlds, the necessary passport is talent.
In the fourth episode (teleplay by Mari Kornhauser & Chris Yakaitis, story by David Simon), Janette begins to staff Desautel’s while Annie Tee continues her ascent.
Annie’s been taking the long road – from street musician to fronting her own band that this season gets its own record deal. (The band is called “Bayou Cadillac,” a pun borrowed from my pals in Beausoleil, who used it as the title both of a song and an album; while the band has never appeared in the series, they at least get a mention.)
Slow progress is one of the things that series do best: Simon & Overmeyer let Annie sneak up on us during season one. She moved closer to the series’ center in season two (in large part because of her partnership with Harley, the character play by Steve Earle, who wrote the song that becomes Annie’s touchstone this season). Now, she’s getting insider status and is beginning to move away.
It is, of course, the progress successful artists make: you arrive as an outsider, announce your talent, make your contacts, and get your shot.
The obvious counterpoint to Annie’s story is that of current boyfriend DJ Davis (Steve Zahn). I’ll have more to say about Davis as the season moves on. But the Star is Born balance between Annie and Davis is actually the least interesting counterweight in the show.
In this episode, Antoine Baptiste says, “I’m a teacher.” It’s a statement he would never have made in previous seasons. His growing commitment to his students (he’s battling here for one learning disable young musician) begins to have a profound effect on his self-image and, surprisingly, on his life. Antoine the musician was promiscuous by nature. We’re in episode four, and Antoine the teacher hasn’t bedded anyone but his partner Desiree (Phyllis Montana LeBlanc).
The other outsider – and counterweight – is Jon Seda’s Nelson Hildago, the Texan Republican who came to New Orleans to make a quick buck on the disaster. Nelson was taken in and then shoved out in season two.
This season, he nearly retreats as the old boy network closes around him. It’s not that he’s the wrong race – it’s that he’s from outside. Talent will bring you friends in the world of art. In the world of business deals and politics, the walls are a lot higher and the players better armed.
Nelson is rapacious, opportunistic, and amoral. He’ll grab at what’s available, whether it’s good music, good food and drink, or a gravity-defying pair of breasts. What looks like a one-night hook-up in last week’s episode starts turning into a relationship this week, but it feels more like an alliance than a love-affair. The woman is convenient, good-looking, and not a hassle.
That’s Nelson all over: he doesn’t want to be a part of the culture. He just wants in. Like Annie, he’ll make his assault. But while she enhances the culture, Nelson literally tears down parts of the city. He doesn’t care if he builds or destroys.
He gets his, just like the insiders who try to stand in his way.