This second episode of Treme felt like a bit of a let down from the opening one, for one specific reason, the appearance of the street musicians Sonny and Annie. Their two scenes were odd and seemed misplaced and even superfluous. There may be a reason for them, yet unclear, but they seem pointless. Sonny comes off as a complete prick, which I don’t think is intentional, I think he’s meant to be justifiable aggrieved, but the context in which he is a prick is a combination of music and authentic New Orleans–ness. The problem is that the scenes are overplayed, and the music the two play is frankly mediocre.
Being a prick is perfectly fine for a character, but an interesting thing contrasts Sonny and Davis; the same group of naive young tourists Sonny insults are then directed by Davis, with total sincerity, towards what Sonny would consider an authentic New Orleans experience. They have a great time and come off as attractive characters. The connection also demonstrates that Davis, despite being a fuck-up and a jackass, has better taste in music. The second scene, placing Sonny and Annie in a dull and aimless conversation in a bar, is a cipher, and ends up with the attention literally drifting to the New Orleans Jazz Vipers, who are wonderful in every way that the younger pair are not. It is the street musicians, placed in the context of a show that begins with Coco Robicheaux, who are musical misfits.
The rest of the episode is very strong, weaving the reality of society together through details, how people work, play, bargain and fight with each other, how they build their own systems and subcultures, independent of the establishment that exists to protect a few and disappoint the many. This may be the fundamental idea in the show, and of course the subcultures are created via music. It’s not shallow sociology or hipsterism, again it goes back to the origins of society. The eruption of brief violence is surprising, but not gratuitous. There’s no apology for it, but the reason for it is clear, and it has to do with opposing forces of destruction and construction, the latter ending the show in a truly incredible moment when Chief Lambreaux and the one member of his tribe he has found start rebuilding their ritual with two tambourines and ‘Shallow Water.’ It’s like the last scene in Nights of Cabiria, the one where the fragments come together into something indescribably beautiful.