Treme(ndous)


I know I already wrote about what I’m watching. Bear with me as I talk about another television show that has been on my mind lately. I missed Treme season 1 when it was first on HBO. But I’ve been catching up as they replay it as a lead up to season 2, which is coming soon. I have one more episode in season 1 and I know it’s going to be a hard one to watch.

But that’s what I like about Treme. It doesn’t shy away from the painful aspect of loss, grief, mourning, corruption, and the severe depression that still lingers. I’m sure many in New Orleans, and the rest of the country, would prefer to focus on the parties, the parades, the music, and the uplifting stories of people working to rebuild everything they lost. Who wouldn’t want to watch a show about Mardi Gras every week?

But that would be glossing over the pain and suffering, and would be a disservice to the people who are living this show every day. And it would be dishonest to ourselves and our lives. The pain is what makes the happy days happy. You cannot have one without the other. That’s as New Orleans as you can get.

Here’s where I have to admit that although I was born in Louisiana, and lived there for a decade, I have never spent any significant time in New Orleans. But I have loved it from afar. And not always in that nostalgic, romantic way. I’m not looking at it through rose-tinted glasses. It’s a dirty, stinking, crime-ridden city. But it also a beautiful collection of characters you cannot find anywhere else. And the culture is a unique expression of people who have come from diverse backgrounds and found a way to live in close proximity.

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of New Orleans? Ten bucks says it’s Mardi Gras. And why not? Sure, there are Mardi Gras celebrations elsewhere, but nothing like they have in New Orleans. The whole city celebrates. Some countries have a party on that particular Tuesday, but New Orleans has a Mardi Gras SEASON. It starts on Jan 6 and runs through to that Tuesday.

I was thinking about why that is, and what it is about New Orleans that makes that happen. Then I read “Island Beneath the Sea” by Isabel Allende, which starts out in Haiti, but moves to Louisiana for the second half of the book. The book reminded me that most of the elite in New Orleans were plantation owners and their families. They would live in town during the winter, but had to go back to their plantations in the summer to avoid the diseases that descended on the city with the heat and humidity. Plantation living was isolated. To these people, their time in the city was a short vacation of sorts, and they partied the whole time. Christmas, Mardi Gras, etc. It was all just one long party. They had to enjoy themselves before they had to leave again.

Americans like to think they’re descended from good Puritan stock. We talk about the Puritan work ethic. But not Louisianans. We’re not Puritans. We’re different. I guess compared to Puritans, we’re considered lazy, but it’s not laziness for laziness’s sake. It’s more an acceptance that life is short and if you’re not having a good time, you’re doing it wrong. Because when the party is over, life will go back to its heartbreaking sadness, and the people we love will still be gone, and others will leave us far too soon.

I think Treme gets this and portrays it well, without resorting to tropes. Each character has a nice arc, and the story progresses at a nice pace — the ebb and flow of life. Even the most broken characters come to some kind of resolution or find at least a modicum of personal growth.

And this is where I am today. Heart-broken.

[SPOILER ALERT]

I love all the main characters in the show. They’re all likable in their own ways. And over the course of the season, I have become attached to each of them.

But none as much as Creighton Bernette, played by John Goodman. He has the most passion, the connection, the love. And over the last couple of episodes, he has been showing signs of being severely depressed. Like, suicidally depressed.

So, it really shouldn’t have been as much of a shock, right? I mean, I started worrying about the plot taking this turn two episodes ago. And yet, here I sit, feeling as though I have been punched in the gut. Like I’ve lost a dear friend. And I’m going through all the stages of grief. It’s not true. It has to be a mistake, or a plot twist. Why couldn’t it have been a lesser character?

But, if I’m honest with myself, I cannot imagine that the writers would have taken the easy way out. I would have been temporarily happier, but I would have lost some respect for them. Because this pain, this loss, was repeated countless times during and after the levees broke. That’s the story you don’t hear often enough. The story of too many people whose pain and loss was just too great to overcome alone. People whose support networks were washed away. People who just couldn’t hold on.

It still hurts.

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