This week’s episode is about tradition and renewal.
Antoine is itching to be a musical mentor. The New Orleans jazz scene is stirring and someone has to nurture the next generation of players. Antoine worries that he might be the last in a long line of New Orleans jazz musicians and he feels guilty about neglecting his sons’ musical educations.
The boys have been staying with their stepdad’s brother, a judge, and his socialite wife in their gated community while their parents, LaDonna and stepdad Larry, look for a new home in New Orleans. When Antoine comes to visit, he can’t even get through security because the ice queen “forgot” to put him on the list.
The bourgie lifestyle is rubbing off on the kids. One of Antoine’s sons asks for tennis lessons and the other announces that he wants to be a DJ. A little bit of Antoine dies.
Antoine can take comfort in the fact that one of his band students, Jennifer, is showing promise. In the opening scene, he reminds her to stop improvising during marching practice, but he’s not mad. He’s excited that somebody is taking an interest in jazz. Later, they bond over an old jazz recording in the band room and Antoine offers to take her to see some live music at Preservation Hall. Antoine asks his girlfriend Desiree to help him chaperone. (This is a very clear and welcome message that, while Antoine Baptiste is an unrepentant pussy hound for grown women, he’s not creeping on teen girls.) Desiree doesn’t expect to enjoy the show, but she’s delighted to see Antoine blossoming as a teacher.
The name of this week’s episode comes from a sign at Preservation Hall that says, “Traditional requests $1. Other requests $2. “The Saints” $10.” Why? Because When the Saints Go Marching In is beloved, but it’s also a cliché.
LaDonna, Antoine’s ex-wife, is equally fed up with her in-laws. Meanwhile, her rape case is grinding its way through the justice system. At the rate things are going, she wonders if she’s ever going to put it behind her. The incident with Antoine and the security list is that last straw for LaDonna viz her in-laws.
Delmond Lambreaux is back in New Orleans, grappling with change and tradition. His father’s mysterious cough is finally diagnosed as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The doctor says it’s an incurable occupational disease from decades of plastering without a mask. COPD is treatable, but it can be fatal if the patient doesn’t follow doctor’s orders. It’s not clear whether Albert, the stubbornest man in Crescent City, is willing to change. He gripes that his doctor is making him give up fried food. “Son,” he says, “There’s two things that make life worth living, and fried food is one of them.” He’s not wrong.
For most of his life, Delmond has held back from the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, preferring to carve out his own musical identity. After his father tells him the about the COPD diagnosis, Delmond makes a faltering attempt to lead a bar in an Indian chant.
Janette is being courted by another New Orleans restauranteur who wants to set her up in business, but she continues to hold back. Her indecision is getting annoying.
A fresh murder mystery brings Terry back into Toni’s orbit. Toni’s longtime friend and hairdresser has been bludgeoned to death. The cops are assuming that it was a “gay thing” because he lived in a gay neighborhood and had a pink feather boa in his bedroom. Terry is skeptical. The homicide squad may have botched the case before they’ve even begun. A key detective was out working a private security detail when he should have been attending to the case. Terry hates it when moonlighting takes his men away from their real jobs in public service.
Meanwhile, investigative reporter L.P. continues to delve into unsolved post-Katrina deaths. The reporter’s character is based on A.C. Thompson, a real-life reporter for ProPublica and The Nation who exposed the Danziger Bridge shootings.
In another nod to real-life events, Nelson Hidalgo, the charming Texan rogue, is back in town. This time, he’s trying to do well by doing good. Nelson figures out that a local contractor is doing sham restorations and pocketing money from the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership (NOAH) program. He wrests some of those contracts from her, intending to do the work.
Annie’s musical career is finally taking off just as Davis’s seems to have stalled out. I’m delighted that the writers are treating Davis’s dream of a New Orleans R&B opera as a big joke. They let him get away with making a rap CD last season, even though he’s always been an outrageous dilettante.
Davis loves music and musicians, but he’s not a professional in his own right. When he compares himself to Verdi, real-life musician John Boutte cuts him down to size.
Annie announces that she’s found a manager who wants to put her on the road as much as possible. It seems inevitable that their divergent career paths will eventually stress their relationship.
Sonny is still in recovery, working on a shrimp boat and courting a hyper-protective Vietnamese fisherman’s daughter. He’s getting sick of skulking around like a teenager and having her dad chaperone their dates. Now that he’s back playing gigs in New Orleans, it’s only a matter of time before Sonny rebels against the strictures of chemical and carnal abstinence.
Sam Wilkinson of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen argues that the Annie, Davis and Sonny plot lines are the weakest of the show. I have to agree. I’m especially disappointed with Annie. The writers have given her plenty of challenges: she’s escaped an abusive relationship, risen from busker to respected gigging musician, and survived a robbery that killed her mentor.
Still, her character seems flat compared to the other major characters on Treme. At least Davis is a big personality with charisma to match Antoine or LaDonna. Annie is perpetually wan. So far, her entire arc has been about various men seeing unlikely musical promise beneath her demure exterior and trying to draw her out. That trope is getting old. It’s well past time for Annie to emerge as a talent and a personality in her own right instead of existing as a perpetual protégée.
Overall, “Saints” was a satisfying episode, but it’s still slogging through some heavy-duty exposition.
By having LaDonna leave over a sleight to her ex-husband, the show is ratcheting up tensions that eased slightly when her current dentist husband suggested moving back to New Orleans. LaDonna is going to have to choose between her working class roots and the new world she married into. LaDonna’s struggle is a microcosm of the battle for the future of New Orleans. Is she going to go back to her old life as a tough bar owner, or is she going to move home only to recreate the sterile suburban life she hated back in Baton Rouge?