A grieving Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) above.
My brother’s gone. Lotta people gone. The people left have to worry about the day to day.
In Treme’s s1 e9, entitled “I Wish Someone Would Care”, David Simon did the unthinkable, killing off Creighton Bernette, played by John Goodman, who, if he wasn’t the show’s biggest star, then certainly a strong case could be made for him as its most pivotal character and most ardent advocate for the beleaguered city. Bernette, disgusted by events in New Orleans post Katrina, jumped off of a New Orleans’ ferry boat in “I Wish Someone Would Care” in a defining moment for the young Treme, David Simon’s and Eric Overmanyer’s latest masterpiece in television realism, which comes on the heels of HBO’s Generation Kill and the cult classic and our favorite television show ever, The Wire.
We have lampooned Treme a bit early on for being too dependent on obscure jazz terminology, and New Orleans, for as a city as dire as it is post Katrina, would still make Simon’s and Burn’s depiction of Baltimore look like the demolished city and the crescent one look like a washed out cradle of culture populated by a few displaced musicians. But Treme distinguished itself as master reality television in its own right with a tremendous first season, who by the weight of characters and action, now have us hanging on the fate of new Orleans’ great displaced community. Treme built to the Bernette suicide with deft foreshadowing, and went back to it’s most pressing storyline as it opened s1 e10, “I’ll Fly Away” with detectives talking to Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo), Creighton’s wife, and relaying to her the story of the ferry operator, who a fellow rider told shared a smoke with Creighton Bernette, saw the “big guy” walk over to the edge, looked back a minute later, and that man was gone.
Toni Bernette, a pit bull of an attorney and perhaps the only character besides the musicians who has gotten anything done professionally in Simon’s post Katrina Treme, tells the officers that the man could have easily gone inside the boat and may have been taking a ferry “joy ride” when they tell her the big guy did not get off the boat in Algiers, and proceed to ask her if Bernette was under any pressure or whether he was on any medications. The next time we see Toni Bernette, she is crying hysterically on her couch when her daughter, Sophia (India Ennenga) comes home looking for word of her father. Toni just shakes her head in the negative, and the two embrace each other on the couch.
The news is read in the local paper by Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) and Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens, Deadwood), together at a breakfast cafe, and both recognize that they know the man from the ferry–McAlary teaches piano to his daughter and Bernette’s wife is McAlary’s attorney, and Desautel recognizes him too, from her closed up restaurant, and says “that’s Cray.”
Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), the chief, readies his band of Indians to march, as they are hunkered down in the throes of the final preparations on their magnificent costumes when he is paid a visit by a police commander, who tells him he is worried that he will not be able to keep the peace between his forces and the tribe during the march. The chief has developed a high profile politically by publicly squatting at a housing complex, shut since Katrina, which is one of many that still have power and are inhabitable, yet the federal government has kept shuttered, because they do not want the residents of such low income housing developments returning to their homes, in what was the poorest city in the nation per capita before Katrina hit. The chief exacerbated his problems with the police by forcefully resisting arrest when the police came to remove him from the complex.
Toni Bernette refuses to stop and mourn for her husband, and arranges for his body to be cremated, over suggestions that she might want to give him a proper New Orleans funeral, with a band, that it might be best for her daughter. Bernette bristles at the notion, and says that everyone else was doing their best every day, and that her husband just gave up. Instead, she will be there for LaDonna’s (Khandi Alexander) family, as David Brooks, LaDonna’s brother, lost in the system since being arrested on the night of the flood, is finally being laid to rest.
Davis, granted a day by Janette to convince her of the virtues of New Orleans in attempt to stop her from moving to New York, having failed in the New Orleans restaurant business, gives it his best shot, starting early at her door, a singer in toe who serenades her when she greets them, and then takes Janette on a day of New Orleans filled activities. That night they find themselves in front of a live band, of course, that Antoine Battiste (Wendell Pierce, The Wire) is playing with in a bar, where they dance to Drink a Little Poison Before You Die, before one last romantic interlude with Janette leaving town the next morning.
The talented violinst Annie (Lucia Miccarelli), who had left Sonny (Michiel Huisman), her piano playing street performing boyfriend hooked on heroin, finds the transient lifestyle very difficult, and returns to Sonny’s place, to find another woman there, and then quickly flees again. It sends Sonny out to a bar to score heroin, which he snorts off a dirty sink in the bar’s bathroom (below) and leaves Annie, the sweet character clearly at a crossroads, who came to New Orleans with Sonny, firmly entrenched in doubt about her future.
The chief’s tribe, late in its march, runs into a another tribe, whose rival chief, adorned in yellow feathers, seems to have Albert beaten, costume wise. The two men come to loggerheads, then shake hands. Delmond (Rob Brown), Albert’s son, explains to a younger tribesman that the two chiefs embraced out of respect, and that it was “respect for respect.”
When police cars screech out to the scene of their march, lights blazing, we see more “respect for respect”, when a senior officer commands some angry cops who are mad at Albert for swinging on a cop during his public stand on housing to get back in their cars. “Get back in your damn car. Now God damn it!”
The next morning, we see Delmond, who also happens to be a successful New York jazz musician, at the airport, waiting for a flight in a seat near Janette, also on her way to New York. We see Annie on Davis’s stoop holding his party invite as he returns home from his last day with Janette, a fitting end of the season for 2 characters who seemed to bond well, impromptu, during the Fat Tuesday celebration. Also, a deserving end for Annie, who has all along deserved better circumstances.
Then, artfully done, the season ends with the funeral of David Brooks, juxtaposed with the night of the storm, showing vignettes of all the main characters and where they were right before and during the storm–all seemingly pretty happy before and some during–notably, Creighton alive and well with his family, Annie and Sonny dancing and kissing in the streets, and giving a face to David Brooks, who had until then, been just a name who LaDonna and her mother pined for, and who Toni Bernette tried so hard to see justice for. It was an excellent way to show the contrast between pre and post Katrina Treme, before showing us something that would have been an injustice had we gone the year without seeing: a proper New Orleans funeral march.
And the recently widowed Toni Bernette marched, and smiled as LaDonna danced.