There's another aspect to the LaDonna story which began last week and continues through the end of the season.
LaDonna – a “difficult” woman if there ever was one – is hardly someone who can be seen as pure victim. (Although in this episode – teleplay by George Pelecanos; story by Pelecanos & Jordan Hirsch – she is victimized twice, once when her bar burns and again when her rapist is freed.) But "Treme"’s writers have leavened her sorrows with a beautifully handled flirtation between her and Albert.
Last week, with Mardi Gras over, Albert finally started chemo. He’s in no position to enter into an affair. And while LaDonna’s marriage may be strained, she is still shown (in an earlier episode) as someone sexually interested in her husband.
The attraction between her and Albert simply happens. Neither is looking. Neither is pushing. But when a threat happens in Gigi’s, Albert is the man who happens to be there to see it. To understand it. To tell her (unlike Larry) that she cannot back down.
In last week's episode, Piazza and Overmeyer wrote a beautiful moment at that point. “Easy for you to say,” LaDonna says (about not backing down). Albert’s response – “no, it’s not” – is said so flatly, so certainly, with such deep history behind it, that LaDonna knows he has been where she is.
(This is, of course, one of the great advantages of television. Piazza and Overmeyer were writing for Clarke Peters and knew exactly what he could do.)
At that moment, these two people are linked, whether they were looking or not.
The flirtation keeps going, and it's a marvel to watch. Both characters have far more important things on their minds than sexual attraction. Neither is consciously looking for comfort.
But the two connect. The emotions have found them. There is not a hint of moralizing in this story, any more than there's a whiff of soap opera. Watching LaDonna and Albert sit across a table from each other is like glimpsing two people in a restaurant who clearly delight in each other's company. Their city and their lives are both in crisis, but, at the same time, they have found this unexpected place of comfort, unsanctioned and unexpected.
And when everything goes to hell in LaDonna’s life, she goes to Albert for comfort. From his chemo chair, he recognizes her pain. All the two do is hold hands.
"Realism" is a slippery term that changes over time. It is often mistaken for grit. But this relationship is realism in the most timeless and best definition of the term. We forget we're watching fiction. We're watching life.