What Makes the Struggle So Worthwhile: ‘Treme: The Complete Second Season’

The second season of HBO’s Treme continues its focus on post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, albeit with a bit more time elapsed since the storm. It’s now been a little over a year since the hurricane and distance seems to be the main theme of the season as characters are much more scattered, both physically and emotionally, than they were in the immediate aftermath of the floods in the first season.

While 14 months have passed since the storm, those in New Orleans are dealing with a rise in crime and a short-staffed police force, as well as a continuing lack of federal support. The city is becoming more and more isolated, and those that remain now have to contend with outsiders hoping to cash in on opportunities from a desperate situation. As the government has continually failed the flood victims that have stayed, many have also left the city in order to survive. The distance between those who stay and those who leave is a main theme throughout the series, but certainly becomes more of a focus during the second season.

For example, Janette (Kim Dickens) relocates to New York City to work in several well-known restaurants after the closing of her own in New Orleans. Janette’s arc is one of the more interesting in season 2, as she struggles to adapt to a much more hierarchical kitchen system that in essence places her at the bottom when she’s used to being her own boss. All the while, Janette is going back and forth to New Orleans to deal with personal matters, mostly dealing with immigration issues involving her former sous chef, Jacques, and the back and forth means she’s never able to truly settle into New York or fully leave New Orleans behind.

Similarly, Delmond’s (Rob Brown) rejection of New Orleans ran the gamut from performing modern jazz in New York to coming back to the traditional jazz of his hometown, his disinterest in his father’s involvement with the Mardi Gras Indians, and his generally difficult relationship with Albert (Clarke Peters). However, his visits from New York City become more frequent as he slowly rediscovers his love for the city he thought he couldn’t escape fast enough. His complex feelings for New Orleans are part of what make Treme so engaging. Delmond can clearly see so many of the problems of New Orleans, often spelled out by outsiders, yet almost in spite of himself, he is drawn to it just as strongly.

While some characters are away, there are others still dealing with events from the previous season, particularly Toni (Melissa Leo) and Sofia (India Ennenga) after the death of Creighton (John Goodman). Sofia’s rebellion is understandable in the face of her grief, and brings her further into contact with other Treme characters like Davis (Steve Zahn) and Annie (Lucia Micarelli). Antoine (Wendell Pierce) is forced to take a job teaching music at a high school and to his own surprise, he finds he’s actually a good teacher and enjoys interacting with the students. Annie’s friendship with Harley (Steve Earle) grows and is instrumental in building her musical confidence, while the tragedy of his unexpected death is another reminder of New Orleans’ still unsettled atmosphere.

More time may have passed since the storm, but its ramifications continue to cause upheaval for those committed to staying and reclaiming the lives they had before. The more time that passes, the further they are pulled from their previous lives.

Perhaps no character feels as affected by the state of New Orleans since the storm than LaDonna (Khandi Alexander). Her strength and determination were key components to understanding the resilience of the city in the first season, but the brutal attack she is faced with in the second season speaks to not only her own vulnerability but that of the city, as well. As she struggles to come to terms with her attack, LaDonna serves as just one example of the resolve necessary for those still surviving, with very little outside help.

As in Treme’s first season, music continues to be inextricably linked to the stories of such a diverse and large group of characters. Despite their differences, every character in Treme has a relationship with music. Whether they are professional musicians like Antoine, Annie, or Delmond; music fanatics like Davis; or casual fans like Toni and Janette, the series effortlessly connects them through music.

Indeed, there’s no escaping music in New Orleans (certainly it’s the one thing that no one wants to escape) and a city as rich in musical tradition and talent is proud to showcase its gifts at every opportunity. That the music used in the show is often live and performed by real musicians is a credit to the series. In fact, Treme has even been criticized for relying too heavily on music and indulging full performances that some say go on too long, but that is precisely how the series so effectively shows how vital music is in New Orleans daily life. It’s a beautifully unapologetic statement to make in a series as packed with storylines and characters as Treme and one that creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer understand well.

The second season of Treme continues to deliver, committed to telling real stories in a place where real tragedy has occurred, and the aftermath remains evident to this day. The strength of these stories is the immense amount of hope and joy these characters still find in their day-to-day lives. With a consistently excellent cast and a dedication to authenticity that is most directly tied into the music of New Orleans, Treme continues to tell the story of a city and its people dealing with a great deal of adversity, while still offering a glimpse into what makes such struggle so worthwhile.

The DVD set comes packed with extras including behind-the-scenes featurettes on music, food, and Mardi Gras Indians, as well as music commentaries and audio commentaries. The bonus features are a wonderful addition to the episodes and add a deeper understanding of not only the series, but of New Orleans in general.

RATING 9 / 10