Treme Recap, Season 3, Episode 5: “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say”

Lindsay Beyerstein

The noose is tightening around the New Orleans. After receiving a panicked phone call from a neighbor, Desiree arrives in time to see a demolition machine reduce her mother’s little house to kindling. Somehow, it was on the remediate” and to be demolished” lists at the same time, and nobody can explain why.

They’re trying to wash us away, son,” Chief Albert Lambreaux says when he hears that City Council is fixing to demolish four housing projects. These buildings weren’t damaged in the storm. So, their planned obliteration is an act of open class warfare.

For generations, New Orleans elites have nursed the fantasy that the latest hurricane or flood will finally roust the city’s underclass and clear the way to remake their raucous, sensual, hopelessly inefficient city as a gleaming capitalist paradise. The shock doctrine is nothing new in New Orleans.

The Chief’s line about washing away poor New Orleanians echoes the chorus from Randy Newman’s song, Louisiana, 1927,” about a real-life flood that killed hundreds of thousands and sparked a major political realignment in which southern blacks shifted their allegiance from Republicans to Democrats. Clearly, New Orleans wasn’t washed away in 1927. Maybe it will survive Katrina, too.

Christmas is coming and family tectonics are shifting all over town.

Delmond defied his father and told his sisters about Albert’s cancer. He implied that he wouldn’t, he seems to have flinched at the last minute when it seemed like his sister was planning on spending Christmas with her husband’s family. The old man, whose mind is sharp and suspicious as ever, realizes that Delmond spilled the beans because they’re suddenly coming after all.

Everyone is afraid that the Chief’s going to die, but nobody will come out and say it. Over Christmas dinner, the Chief tries to put his family at ease. He knows they cooked turkey and pork and two kinds of pie for the same meal because they fear this will be his last Christmas. He swears he’ll cook dinner next year, but his dejection over the fate of the projects casts doubts on his protestations of vigor.

A few days before Christmas, Delmond and Albert tried to attend a public hearing at City Hall on the fate of the projects. The proceedings were a farce. Pro-demolition factions swore witnesses in an hour early and packed the hall with their own supporters so that nobody else could get in. When the anti-demolition protesters started rattling the metal gate, clamoring to get in, police burst out and pepper sprayed the crowd.

Ultimately, City Council voted 7-0 to demolish the projects, an even more one-sided vote than anyone expected. Aspiring mogul and current sleazeball Nelson Hidalgo realizes there’s a conspiracy afoot. He knows you don’t get a 7-0 vote unless there’s something in it for everybody.”

In a previous season, Albert was arrested for staging his own impromptu occupation to defend public housing. At Christmas dinner, he tells his family he’s too tired to keep fighting, which is an ominous sign for both the projects and the Chief.

C.J., the good old boy architect behind the National Jazz Center project, proclaims that the City Hall protest was the last gasp of a dying mentality.” He, for one, is thrilled that the projects will be torn down to make way for the sanitized corporate future. C.J. has already recruited Delmond as a kind of cultural liaison between the Jazz Center and the artistic community and now he wants to get Chief Lambreaux on board, too. Delmond doesn’t yet know that C.J. is gunning for his father’s beloved projects.

C.J. definitively shuts Hidalgo out of the National Jazz Center deal. He brushes off Hidalgo by saying that he doesn’t see what an outsider” like Nelson can bring to the project. Fightin’ words. It will be interesting to see where Hidalgo’s loyalties lie after this betrayal.

Chef Janette realizes that her business partner’s real goal is to capitalize on New Orleans nostalgia. At the soft opening of the restaurant, he brags to his friends that the Steen’s Cane Syrup is a money-maker because it’s half the price of maple syrup and tourists and locals like to see the name on the menu. This is hard for Janette to hear because Steen’s Cane syrup is practically a religious sacrament for her.

Battle lines are being drawn. Janette thought she was siding with Authentic New Orleans, but it turns out she unwittingly allied herself with Corporate New Orleans.

During another one of his ragtag musical history tours, Davis opines that – unlike New York and Chicago, where musical landmarks are simply bulldozed – New Orleans prefers preservation through neglect.” Here, landmarks are ignored until they fall down on their own. Davis doesn’t know it yet, but the National Jazz Center might be the first step towards a New York/​Chicago model of demolition.

At Christmas dinner, Davis’s rich parents applaud the City’s plan to bulldoze the projects. Davis counters that an attack on the projects is a frontal assault on the culture of New Orleans because these communities have produced so many legendary musicians. What about all the criminals that come out of the projects?” his father asks.

What about all the criminals that come out of your alma mater, LSU?,” Davis counters.

Sensing blood in the water, Auntie Mimi rattles off some notorious LSU alums: Edwin Edwards (a corrupt former governor), Billy Cannon (a football player turned counterfeiter), Gil Dozier (a corrupt former Ag Commissioner), and David Duke (ex-grand wizard of the KKK turned politician). Touche!

LaDonna is squarely on the side of Authentic New Orleans, but it’s not clear whether her husband shares her loyalties.

LaDonna’s brother-in-law Bernard comes to see her at the bar and a glorious pissing match ensues. Sipping Courvoisier from a plastic cup, he tries to invite her for Christmas dinner, but she turns him down flat. She counters with an invitation to have Christmas dinner at Gigi’s. She’ll close the bar and cook. Her brother-in-law is unmoved.

On Christmas, LaDonna shows up at Antoine’s to pick up the boys, but her husband Larry isn’t with her. She claims that Larry is flat on his back with the flu at her brother-in-law’s place, but is he really? Or did he side with his brother over his wife? 

Lawyer Toni Bernette and reporter L.P. Everett are working closely together on the Glover homicide. The cops are harrassing Toni’s 16-year-old daughter Sofia to get back at Toni for taking on a brutal NOPD officer. Toni sics her investigator on Sofia’s boyfriend. She’s remarkably calm when the investigation reveals him to be surprisingly respectable” for a street musician – despite being 27 years old.

The writers are playing up the creepy factor with the boyfriend. The actor appears to be in his mid-to-late thirties. We saw in a close-up that he has L-O-N-G” tattooed across the knuckles of one hand and L-I-F-E” across the other. Nice touch.

Unfortunately, a guest appearance by Isabella Rosselini couldn’t save a lame storyline about Annie’s snobbish classical-music-obsessed parents coming to town and being charmed by New Orleans and its vernacular” traditions and brandy milk punch at lunchtime. Annie’s parents weren’t a dramatic obstacle before, and they’re still not. Ho hum.

Also, Annie can’t sing and I really wish the show would stop trying to pretend that she can. It’s embarassing to see her vocal numbers juxtaposed with the performances of real virtuosos.

Despite some dramatic moments, much of the momentum from last week’s episode seemed to dissipate.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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