Treme, “Accentuate the Positive” (2.01)

Sofia (India Ennenga) records a YouTube video.

A review of the second season premiere of the HBO New Orleans drama, written by Eric Overmyer & Anthony Bourdain and directed by Anthony Hemingway, after the jump…

“You’d think, we came so close to losing everything that they’d appreciate what we have, but no.” – Toni Barnette

Welcome back to NOLA, where the fighting spirit is beginning to die down, and everyone just seems tired. Seven months after last season ended, grief is beginning to settle into everybody’s skins. For Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) and her daughter Sofia (newly minted regular India Ennenga), that grief is for her husband Creighton, whose suicide was part of the closing off of last season. For LaDonna Batiste-Williams (Khandi Alexander) and her family, it’s the long-delayed grief over her brother Daymo, whose body was only discovered months after he went missing during the storm, also at the tail end of last season. But while they’re not grieving any specific deaths, the rest of the cast are also struggling with the grief that comes with a great loss, whether it’s Sonny (Michiel Huisman) yearning for rising star Annie (Lucia Micarelli), Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) and Delmond Lambreaux (Rob Brown) separately grieving the loss of leaving their true home, the widespread acknowledgment that crime is indeed returning to the city after the storm, or the general feeling that New Orleans is struggling to return to its former glory.

And its no accident that a few characters ask whether New Orleans will ever be what it was. Thematically, if last season was about the swelling up of pride and energy that goes into restoration immediately after the storm, this premiere feels like its setting up a season where that first burst of energy is depleted. Where the characters start doubting themselves and their home, and whether things can truly be right again even as they’re relearning, every day, how in love with it they are. That’s present even in the new opening credits; they carry the same energy s before, but are peppered with new clips of death, or people tearing through a post-flood home. They survived the aftermath of the storm, and now that the worst is seemingly over, they must push forward having depleted their strength in the initial fight to survive… and with many trials still ahead.

Two ran out of fight at the end of last season: Janette and Delmond, who left New Orleans in last season’s finale and now must live with the consequences. For Janette, it’s working as entremetier  in a New York kitchen with a megalomaniac Head Chef, missing her home as she struggles to do even a fraction of the great work she did running her own restaurant in NOLA. Downtrodden, living with other cooks who smoke pot and avoiding her chef’s ‘dangerous looks’, she finds herself ultimately dissatisfied with the New York life. This year, by the way, the entire Janette story is being written by Anthony Bourdain, who definitely knows how to write a kitchen. Rather than have him write an entire episode, David Simon let him write all of Janette’s plotline*.  Though my own experiences were limited to a summer as night porter in a Toronto restaurant, I felt thrown back immediately into that summer while watching this plotline, grinning a little as I noted small things I already knew and recognising the setting as similar to my experience.  Janette, last season, quickly grew into my favourite character of the ensemble cast, largely thanks to the work put in by Kim Dickens to make her frustrations sympathetic. And although last season she constantly struggled to open a restaurant hobbled by a thousand financial setbacks and doomed to failure, it’s here that seems even more tragic, watching a passionate and skillful chef play third fiddle in a kitchen where mindgames matter over gastronomical pleasure.

* Though I doubt many of you are familiar with Writers Guild of America procedure, this is a bit of an interesting note for those who do. Essentially, a credit (which is how pay is determined) is evenly divided by each writer credited to a script, regardless of how much each wrote. Bourdain, who is writing all of the Janette storylines, is writing approximately an episode’s worth of pages. If credit were assigned as per WGA regulations, this would entitle Bourdain to an even share of the script fee of every episode this season, making the plan untenable. It seems David Simon has found a workaround by, instead of giving Bourdain one single episode credit, giving him story credits that I assume will add up to roughly the same by end-of-season. I’m a wannabe WGA member, so I’ll be keeping one curious eye on the credits this season to see what happens.

For Delmond, he’s back in New York and is forced to identify either with the New Orleans music scene, which he loves and the ‘elite’ New York crowd look down on, or with the very elites in New York which question why New Orleans is anything special in the first place. If this scene had taken place in the pilot, it would have played very differently; knowing both the world of New Orleans as we do after a season there, and knowing Delmond and his own feelings for his home, means that we are with him every step of the way as he slowly builds in frustration and loses his cool. As he says, only people who know New Orleans are in a place where they can criticise or question it, because its only once you are within that unique environment that you really see it for what it is. It’s like criticising your mother, because New Orleans is more than a city to these people. It’s their home.

To be honest, this episode was the first time I really connected with Delmond. The Lambreaux clan always felt like a detour for me last season (and, despite my Wire love for Clarke Peters, that holds for Lambreaux senior), but Delmond encapsulated a lot of the feelings the show’s tried to express before really well, and in a way that made me like Delmond a lot more than I did before. This was Creighton throwing the reporter’s microphone in the lake all over again, in a good way.

Toni and Sofia’s story is very much in a similar thematic place: seven months after Creighton’s death, they’ve gotten through the initial grieving period, and now have to face rebuilding their lives. Toni, who is still furious with Creighton for giving up on them and committing suicide, is struggling to rebuild their lives. She can’t understand Sofia’s rage – Sofia, who always looked up to Creighton and his love of the city, who has been told his death was an accident, is holding onto him so tight that she’s losing hold of everything else. She’s dismissive of her mother, who is desperately trying to connect with her, but their reactions to Creighton’s death and their diverging feelings about it are sending them spinning in opposite directions. Sofia has, instead, devoted herself to the job her father once did: taking to YouTube to call out everyone who has failed their beloved city, and themselves, as an outlet for her anger.

Annie and Davis (Steve Zahn), after a cute meeting and moving in together last season, are now in a fully-fledged relationship, and its the happiest we’ve ever seen them. Davis is a lovable loser, but he’s miles above Annie’s last beau, the passive-aggressive addict Sonny. Meanwhile, Annie is a sunnier and less troubled lover than Janette, and never seems to judge Davis for who he is, meaning both seem to be at least in the honeymoon phase of their new relationship. However, their happiness is merely a contrast to Sonny’s life, as we’re reminded very clearly in his last scene: their happiness is a reminder of just how far he’s fallen, and how much he’s lost. He’s being overshadowed, replaced, ignored and almost killed at every possible interval, while Annie is having a great run in her career without him holding her back. It seems like he’s in a dark place that can only go darker.

I have to say, though Davis could be a bit annoying last season, I’m a fan of he and Annie together. Though I doubt there’s anything long-lasting in the DNA of this relationship, I have to say I’m a fan of their dynamic. Annie’s shocked “You cleaned for me?” was, let’s face it, adorable.

We also had stories from LaDonna, who is still arguing with her husband about keeping the bar, and Antoine, who is considering marrying his girlfriend and moving into the Musicians’ Village, though both were somewhat sidenotes here. We also got reintroduced to David Morse‘s Terry, who appeared a handful of times last season as a cop, and introduced to Jon Seda‘s Nelson Hidalgo, a developer looking to help rebuild and make some money. Both are here to help the show enter new territory, though we only touch on those here: the rebuilding of the city, and the reintroduction of crime after the initial months of peace.

Ultimately, this episode was, I’d say, my favourite episode so far. I enjoyed every plot, and spent most of the episode smiling and enjoying the company of characters I grew to love last season. I think this is the peisode where I fell in love with the show.

And if I remember nothing, I will remember Davis throwing out his dishes to speed up his cleaning. Wonderful.


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