Dear, dear TV,
I would apologize for being so very late on my response to Lili’s wonderful recaps (three episodes!), but it would mean repeating a narrative we’re all familiar with. Belated apologies, nonetheless: Louie’s and mine (but mostly mine).
Apologies are difficult. As Louie shows in “IKEA/Piano Lessons,” they’re often best repressed to the point of being forgotten. When Maron explains to Louie that they’ve already had this conversation five years ago, Louie comes off even more the jackass. Does he have to apologize for having forgotten to apologize now too? Does it matter since the sincerity behind all Louie’s apologizes has now plummeted to hover right above zero? If Louie’s initial apology to Maron comes from not realizing that they fell out over an issue entirely Louie’s fault, then how much are we urged to believe that all of Louie’s estrangements are founded on an ability to blame the other (so as to obliterate his own guilt)? It does begin to seem that all relationships—all scenarios—in Louie could go either way: “fuck you, or sorry.”
As Lili writes, “Everything that’s wrong is everyone’s fault, probably, but the point is something else.” The pointed finger also often falls somewhere else, until (as shown in the final scene of “IKEA/Piano Lessons”) it returns directed at one’s own chest. And again, and on, and on.
While many note the elements of surprise and off-model counterintuitiveness that energize Louie, the show often feels to me like a continuous circle—or at least a spiral. There is a kind of balance to the episodes—and I don’t just mean in how the frequently dash-split titles weigh one premise exactly against another. No matter what, we always return to Louie—and there is stability, predictability, and safety in that. As the show grows increasingly claustrophobic in its Louie-inflected dream sequences (“Dad”!), Lili suggested that Louie might be a tad insane. It’s true that the surrealness of some episodes might stretch our systems of realism and belief, but if we’re willing to buy into the fact that Louie’s world is, well, Louie’s, then any train of stolen vehicles also feels routine.
Much later, yes, let’s talk about Dad.
That title is great! It implies a dash without drawing a typographical one. There’s Louie as dad, opening the episode by castigating the virtuosic Jane for playing the violin. Then there’s Uncle Ex (a sort of surrogate dad to Louie), treating him to Cornish hens at an expensive restaurant Louie would otherwise probably not frequent. There’s, of course, the illusive literal dad (and figural Dad) of Louie’s, who we never see because son flaps like a young hen and chickens out just as dad’s shadow approaches the door.
Having two actual dads (Louie’s and then Louie himself) seems too much for one title, not to mention one scene. As Uncle Ex colourfully describes with a condom metaphor, the encounter at some point might just become too close: “Between the father and the son there can be no separation. No boundary. A father calls; A son answers. A father beckons; A son comes.” What happens, though, when the son becomes his own kind of father, as Louie so clearly is at the start of “Dad“?
Moreover, what happens when you’re both dad and single dad, yet still someone’s son? The existential crisis was worked out beautifully right up until the hallucinated end (unlike Lili, I adored it—found it perfectly nonsensical in its flight from frantic sprint, to stolen motorcycle, and finally stolen boat; a fish out of Boston waters). As single dad, Louie tells Jane to finish her homework (“Go to your room!”), and then picks up a pile of dirty laundry. This scene is followed by Louie arriving at an electronics store in a huff, interrupting a bro circle between four coworkers there, which leads me to my next point:
What are the resonances between infantilization and threatened masculinity? Problems of fatherhood (for father—and now for child) often mix with problems of masculinity in Louie. The show is fascinating in how it often swirls and blurs these two topics and positions. There can be no separation.
At the Russian Tea Room, Uncle Ex orders for Louie, who responds with an “Uh…O–K?” look on his face, a rather child-like response. Who was this grown man to be ordering for this other grown man? Except they are family, and such things are often difficult to change. “This is for Life Louie,” his uncle emphasizes, “for life.” In order to convince Louie to visit his father, he works on his nephew’s sentimental side, telling him how his father cries “like a woman.” Of course this line is said with mocking disparagement, for Uncle Ex likes to make clear the divide between genders. In illustrating Louie’s eternal bond to his father, he compares it against the condom-wall erected between men and women. Between the father and the son there can be no separation. In “Miami,” Ramon tells Louie: “When my uncle says all men are brothers, it’s true right?” An uncle can say that—but can a father?
But Uncle Ex isn’t Louie’s father, ultimately, and he won’t be there to clean up the vomit his words inspire. Louie throws up while playing poker with his all-but-one-male comedian cohort, though the one who responds with “Sweetie, are you okay?” is of course Sarah Silverman. (She cracks jokes during this boy’s club, making fun of another man’s childhood masturbatory habits, but she’s also the girl who’s just terrible at poker!) Like single dads and children, women and children can be conflated and then sorta equated.
Such are the jokes of sausage fests, but here–in the middle of one on porn–Louie vomits. And he just can’t seem to stop. A taste of his own medicine sends Louie to the doctor where he lists his recent diet: “Cornflakes, pizza, Cornish hen.” Sounds like he needs some taking care of. There’s also the question of moms, women, single fatherhood, masculinity, and children I’d like to explore especially in regard to “Lilly Changes.” Lili asks, “Why do all the moms at the school…only trust and confide in him?” Another question: “Why only moms at the school?”
Like an infant, Louie starts losing control of his body, and then gradually his mind. His car window suddenly bursts, but if we’re to follow Uncle Ex’s Freudian logic, there might be a broken mirror in there somewhere too.
“Be a man. You’re 44 years old. It’s your fault!” the car rental saleswoman shouts at him. Another woman’s voice comes across the car mapping device: “Why are you being such a little pussy about this? He’s your father. It’s not like he touched your dick or something.” Don’t be a pussy, Louie, and please don’t be a girl—but oh whatever you do, please leave another dude’s dick out of this. “Think about that you queer,” a muscular Boston man tells Louie after their cars bump one another. He’s had to do with a dead father, so why is Louie so nervous about visiting his own live one?
There are many vehicles in the world of Louie, and while some of them add to his masculinity (motorcyclesmotorcyclesmotorcycles), others take away (Laurie’s truck, or not wanting to strap his daughters’ seatbelts because that would mean getting his hands dirty). There’s a bus scene in the next episode that I want to linger on, since it feels off (Doesn’t Louie own a car? Did he really have it totaled then?), but I’ll leave that for the next post.