In a way it’s fitting that Treme should come quietly to a close with an abbreviated season. The series fades like the sociopolitical issues it was created to address — like Hurricane Katrina, no longer in the public eye as the media moves on to the next story. To many this series will probably be remembered as David Simon’s disappointing follow-up to The Wire, but that’s an unfortunate way to tag it. Treme shares The Wire’s stylistic sensibility, but it’s really going for something different, and it’s a beautiful achievement in its own right.
Treme is at once a celebration of New Orleans’ unique creative spirit and its deeply embedded corruption; each season follows its disparate cast to paint a picture of a unique world. To account for the shortened run time, season four narrows its focus to a handful of the principals. A major theme involves growing up and becoming realistic in the face of life’s pressures. The irrepressible DJ Davis (Steve Zahn) finally starts to reflect on his antics and plan for the future. After years of wild living as a session player, Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) comes to grips with his new role as a father figure, teaching music at a public school. And Annie T (Lucia Micarelli) takes important steps to advance her burgeoning music career — while wrestling with the frustrating compromise that entails. Meanwhile, looming over all this growth, there’s the plight of Big Chief Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), whose failing health is emblematic of the series’ journey — and the city’s. It is the end of an era.
Treme never quite matched The Wire’s knack for compelling plot, but I don’t think it ever meant to. It’s a rich, illuminating portrait of a society, its pros and cons, its goodness and its evil. That said, it does deploys The Wire’s story-telling techniques — patient, subtle, its images and moments building a cumulative effect. In that respect, season four suffers in comparison to its predecessors: a five-episode arc may be plenty of time for a conventional series to wind down its message, but Treme has a particular rhythm, and here it feels uncomfortably rushed. But the final two episodes of the season are particularly strong, eschewing the exclamation point ending for, well, periods of ellipsis: more of a “life goes on” finale. It’s a moving and appropriate send-off for a one-of-a-kind series, and one that deserves more recognition.