Some critics have complained that there were no real surprises in “I’ll Fly Away,” but that wasn’t really the point. While there were still some moments we were waiting for, the season’s climax was, effectively, last week. This episode was about putting perspective on what had happened and felt appropriate for a series about aftermath.
The biggest Katrina parallel was, of course, Cray’s suicide. I was cringing at the devastation his death would bring, and Melissa Leo’s performance didn’t disappoint. She gave us a stark look at Toni’s grief and rage without ever veering into melodrama. The scene where she find his “I love you” suicide note was particularly powerful. Toni’s means of coping is an interesting synthesis of the “justice vs. life” dynamic that was set up last week. She wisely keeps the note to herself, aligning with Ladonna’s thinking that the truth is just another burden, one she’s unwilling to share with her daughter. But she’s also unwilling to let him off the hook completely, refusing to have the second line he wanted at his funeral. Cray “fucking quit” and there can be nothing celebratory in his death.
Creighton’s last day in New Orleans gets a do-over in Davis and Janette. Where last week’s tour of was gloomy and depressing, this week’s encapsulated the vibrancy and joy the series has shown us throughout. Davis asks Janette for one day to convince her not to leave New Orleans, and delivers all the music, food, fun and peace that characterize the city. The bitterness of Cray’s tour is entirely absent, despite the fact that Janette has already made up her mind. And Davis knows it. The difference is that Janette’s still able to celebrate in the face of her loss. The city hasn’t been what she needed it to be, but that doesn’t stop her from appreciating it one day at a time. Not being able to do so was Cray’s failing.
Speaking of appreciating the city, we finally get to see what the Fire Tribe has been working on all season and the results don’t disappoint. “Pretty” may seem an understatement to describe their St Joseph’s day appearance, but the word’s been gaining weight all season. Their march is as much an answer to what’s happened to the city as Albert’s occupation of the projects was. In the wake of such loss, they’ve held onto traditions and invested enormous effort into creating something beautiful, answering devastation with celebration.
Ladonna’s also able to cope with loss through the experience of New Orleans. Khandi Alexander’s been fantastic at delivering profound grief beneath iron stoicism, and her brother’s funeral is no exception. But Treme’s not about silently bearing your cross. She finds the necessary catharsis in dancing with the second line. Her movements are difficult to describe, a strange mix of spasms and fluidity, but we get the distinct impression of watching grief pour out of her through dance. The season ends much as it began, with a second line march through flood damaged streets. The image is less a contrast than an answer now, a cultural response to some of society’s worst failings.
The flashback sequence caught me off guard, although it probably shouldn’t have.
Antoine hasn’t had a lot to do lately and this episode, unfortunately, was no exception. He finally gets to play in the big leagues… and squanders much of his payoff at the poker table. It was certainly true to the character, although it felt a little predictable.
Annie and Sonny were another disappointment. Their relationship finally comes to close, but I was pretty much past caring at this point. I did enjoy her ending up on Davis’ porch though.
Delmond and Albert seem to make a bit of peace, although, amusingly, not too much. It’s perhaps indicative of Delmond’s newfound appreciation of his home. He’s come to accept it, although his heart still lies elsewhere.
All-in-all a solid sendoff to a great show. I’ll offer up my final thoughts on the season next week.