TREME’s Final Season Review: David Simon’s Sprawling New Orleans Drama Gets A Fitting Sendoff

     November 30, 2013

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Not many television series are afforded the opportunity to wrap up their stories on their own terms.  Treme marks the second time David Simon has been given that rare pass, showing how much HBO believes in our ability to appreciate his work after all is said and done.  Both The Wire and now Treme were ratings underachievers, but while the former has achieved rabid cult status (and the distinction of being the answer to, “if enough white people stand around talking, they will eventually bring up …”), Treme has never been so beloved.  It’s a tough watch — you need to do your homework.  But in the end, just like with The Wire, Simon has rewarded viewers who have stuck around.  Hit the jump for more.

treme-season-4-melissa-leoA friend of mine was in New Orleans recently with some journalists, who called him out on not having seen The Wire.  What about Treme?  They were in New Orleans, after all, not Baltimore.  If you’re going to suggest a show to watch to people who are visiting a town, maybe start with the one that takes place in that town.  Not just takes place there, but dwells there so intensely that even those who are residents might have a hard time understanding it.

Maybe that’s the issue with Treme, and what makes it seemingly so inaccessible.  But there’s a beauty to the show’s true simplicity underneath its myriad plots and characters.  This is a city that’s special — both for the good and the very, very bad. As Davis (Steve Zahn) says, “If you want your vote to count, the question is … What are you doing here?”  It’s a town worth talking about and exploring. (Exploring is something NOLA.com does an outstanding job of doing with its recaps of the series, by the way, if you need to know why a restaurant was significant, or more about the featured bands).

Still, Treme is dense, it’s insider-y, its many characters live in different worlds from one another, and the ample music is admittedly not to the taste of many.  It’s an ongoing story about a difficult place after an immense tragedy.  It’s dark.  And as the late Happy Endings joked, “I feel [this] is needlessly confusing, like that show Treme.”

But Treme addresses a lot of these things in a meta way during its final episodes.  The characters meet up and bump into each others’ worlds in ways they haven’t before.  The idea of the insider status of the music is considered in a few storylines, from Annie (Lucia Micarelli) being offered a Nashville recording gig if she drops her current band, or Delmond (Rob Brown) and his New York v. New Orleans style, or even Antoine (Wendell Pierce) teaching a white film star how to mime trombone like the jazz great he is portraying … who was black.

treme-season-4-khandi-alexanderRace and politics, as always, has a place in Treme‘s storytelling, but this time it’s one of cooperation and hope.  There are plenty of things that are frustrating — the funding going to the wrong things, the suits looking out for a buck instead of for historical import, the system crushing those who oppose it.  But for once, things are tinged with light.  Thirty-eight months after the storm, Barack Obama is up for his first term as President, and there is hope in there air.  Things don’t change much on the ground level after that event, as we of course now know, but that desire for a difference permeates Treme‘s final episodes.  Naturally though, in a Treme way, there’s still plenty of heartbreak.

The series’ last episodes are slow, even slower than usual, but it’s a fitting end to a slow-burning show about a place where recovery is still happening (though on re-watch this slew of episodes might be difficult to get through).  Still, the music is some of the best that has ever been featured (John Boutte and Kermit Ruffins show up just in the first episode, followed by a long line of other gold-star performers, like Trombone Shorty).  The story also has narrowed to focus on some of the best characters, like LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) and Albert (Clarke Peters) and Antoine, focusing less on Sonny (Michiel Huisman), Sofia (India Ennenga) and Delmond’s personal issues.

Seeing everyone again, like Terry (David Morse) and Davis and of course Janette (Kim Dickens) is like seeing family again.  It’s good to have them back, even for a short time, and at least they’re getting a perfect second line to see them off.  Throughout the final episodes, Davis worries about leaving a legacy.  Treme has done so, leaving its mark with a story of New Orleans that might not have been popular, but is important.  And also, damn good.

Treme‘s final run of episodes starts Sunday, December 1 at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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