The most vocal and esteemed advocate for post Katrina in David Simon’s and Eric Overmayer’s Treme, writer/professor/youtuber Creighton Bernett took the plunge off of a New Orleans’ ferry boat in last week’s episode, s1 e9, “I wish Someone Would Care.”

The apparent suicide has already sent shockwaves through Treme’s fanbase, though from our perspective, the plot point is crucial to Treme’s developing identity, even if it came at the expense of one of the show’s best actors, John Goodman, who played Creighton Bernett.  The affable and sometimes ornery Bernett, frustrated by the ruination of his beloved New Orleans, and by his inability to get a novel finished that his agent pushed him to try to make a more contemporary story of New Orleans than the 1920’s flood which was the novel’s subject, had spent many a night of late, up late, staring at his word program, deleting things he had just written, and ripping up whole pages he had typed, in disgust.

Then Fat Tuesday came, and Bernett, who was looking forward to the celebration, seemed to lose his taste for it almost immediately when it began, and went home early and got drunk.  Famous for youtubing a diatribe in which his salutation to the world was, “Fuck you, you fucking fucks!”, Bernett went back to youtube and lamented the destruction of New Orleans, which he said, “had a good run” and “will never be the same.”  Bernette also took his daughter Sophia on a somber tour of the city, narrated by Bernette, also a historian.

Sunday night, it would seem that Bernett checked out of the new New Orleans, one he just couldn’t bare, despite a good marriage, an intelligent, beautiful  daughter, a writing career, and job teaching at the University.  His suicide was  foreshadowed  in his english class, where he taught The Awakening by Chopin, which ends with lead character, Edna Pontellier, fed up by societal norms and her place as a late 19th century woman, drowning herself. 

For Treme, Bernett’s suicide marks the second and most resounding plot point, that let’s you know how broken New Orleans is, despite the people who go on partying, and playing their music, full of spirit.  A few weeks back, we learned that David Brooks, LaDonna’s (Khandi Alexander) brother, who had been arrested on the night of Katrina and who was then lost by the system, was dead.  For Brooks and for Treme, there could be no other fate, on a show whose point is depicting a broken city.

But Brooks was a character without a face, or personality.  Bernett’s zest for life, and for his city, may quite well have been the most notable hallmark of the young show.  And in s1 e10, this year’s Treme finale, “I’ll Fly Away”, the excellent ensemble cast will begin to reconfigure itself around the hole Goodman leaves.  It also stamps a new hallmark on Treme, which has so far dealt with death in a superficial way, but which now will have to look death straight in the face, in a Wire-esque turn of events, that, though foreshadowed, sends the message loud and clear, that like on any great HBO drama, almost anyone can die at any time.

So Bernette kissed his wife (Toni, Melissa Leo) and daughter (India Ennenga) in the morning, and gave them messages of encouragement in his last words to them, and then headed to school, where he explained to students who struggled to understand The Awakening and who thought it depressing, that the end of the book and Edna’s suicide was not the end, just a transition.  He no doubt believed that his own suicide would represent the same, and we believe that the sad death will represent a bit of a transition for the show, which has had a season to find the right pace.  Goodman’s Bernett’s passing also represents the firm establishment of an excellent tone for the show, which we now know, will not just gloss over death with funeral bands.

That doesn’t mean the bands won’t be in step and ready to go, no matter who happens to be in the coffin.

–Crack (