Last week I suggested that Louie’s attempt to make Jack Dall laugh on command was the grimmest thing Louie had ever depicted. Well, uh, scratch that. The shocking death of Liz—Parker Posey’s particularly manic pixie dreamgirl—didn’t just make me wince momentarily. I’m still a little shaken up.
When Liz first appeared unexpectedly on Louie’s bus ride to the airport, I figured it was a happy dream. By then we’d watched what amounted to a very Louie Christmas: a happy scene of opening presents undercut by flashbacks to the horror involved in making that happen—specifically, an ugly scene at a crowded toy store and a seemingly endless doll-fixing ordeal that C.K. devoted a surprising amount of wordless screen time to. I suppose those shots of Louie cutting off the doll’s head and jabbing scissors through its empty eyeholes foreshadowed the violence that was to come. But I still felt unprepared. After Louie tossed the Christmas tree, Never-like, out the window, I figured we were in for a low-key paean to seasonal loneliness—followed, perhaps, by some kind of reconciliation with his daughters, who had left him behind to spend the day with mom and her blimp-riding friend Patrick. (That shot of the happy Louie-less family in the elevator looking back at him was beautifully executed.)
Just minutes later, though, blood streams horribly from Liz’s nostrils and she dies almost immediately after Louie gets her to the hospital. Nurses decide it’s over for her right as other hospital employees begin the New Year’s countdown; Louie wanders out, dazed, amid burgeoning revelry.
But is it all a nightmare? And is everything that follows a dream as well? Moments before the bus ride, we see Louie falling in and out of sleep while watching Flappy Howserton and Fanny Chapcranter deliver the news. Those names probably hint at his semi-conscious state. Or maybe they’re just funny names. Either way, when Flappy tells viewers to “Go ahead and put that gun in your mouth,” it seems safe to say that Louie isn’t all there. It’s a callback to a funny scene in the Season 1 finale, in which a news anchor says terrifically dirty and nonsensical things as Louie watches her report the day’s events while drifting off to sleep in his bed. In this episode, Louie gets up and takes a shower—but he still has his shirt on and he screams. Then the horribleness begins.
After Liz’s death, dazed Louie heads right to the airport, with plans to visit his abuelita in Mexico City along with younger sister Debbie—Amy Poehler! who was exciting to see but not given much to do—and her big boorish husband with the dreadful haircut who bought his brother-in-law “a first-class ticket out of that left-wing Kennedy Airport.” When Louie sees Beijing on the departure board, though, he thinks of Ping the duck, and suddenly he’s in China, clad as almost always in his black t-shirt and jeans, improbably asking random strangers for directions to the Yangtze River.
About Ping: He’s the star of a beautiful children’s book that Louie buys for Jane and reads to her on Christmas morning. The Story About Ping tells of a time the titular duckling got separated from his family, which lives on a Yangtze riverboat. Ping spends the night alone and the next day he almost becomes someone’s dinner. But he’s saved by a young boy who puts him back in the river and he returns to live with “his mother and his father and his two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins.”
Ping is also kin in some sense to the duckling from “Duckling,” a Season 2 episode of Louie in which Louie goes to Afghanistan and finds his daughter has put a duckling in his luggage. At the end of “Duckling,” the duckling makes Louie and some American soldiers and Afghani locals laugh together in surprising solidarity. That’s sort of how this episode ends, too: Louie shares unexpected laughs with foreign strangers. But this ending felt much lonelier to me. I’ll explain.
The Story About Ping provides a leitmotif of sorts for tonight’s episode, which is about family and becoming separated from it. Louie, unlike Ping, doesn’t end his story by returning to dozens of cousins and siblings and parents—or even to his two daughters. Instead he finds a group of people in a humble abode in China, and eats with them, and laughs with them, trying to speak their language. We then cut to an exterior shot of where they’re eating, and the camera turns its lens to a scenic vista, with music playing as the credits roll. This was less reminiscent of “Duckling” than it was of the final shot of the show’s first-season closer, “Night Out,” which ended with Louie and his daughters eating pre-dawn pancakes at Veselka, and went to credits and a closing song over a shot of New York’s East Village. It’s still one of my favorite scenes from this series.
That was a moment of domestic bliss, enjoyed with the daughters who should be around to keep Louie company even if Liz really is gone for good and Pamela never returns and nothing ever works out romantically for our wayward hero. But our last glimpse of Jane and Lilly this season was of their grown-up dreamworld doppelgangers worrying about their pathetic dad, who does nothing but “sit in that big old chair and eat pinwheel cookies.” A quick shot of old man Louie, looking withered in a too-big set of black t-shirt and jeans, shows a truly sad and lonely man.
Considering this season as a whole, I would say that Louie has gotten more ambitious, more varied—and better. And, for whatever reason, it got darker, too. Didn’t it?
I have, like, a career-y thing, and I work—