I started off this TV Club hoping that Season 3 of Louie would be “as loose and weird and ambitious and tonally uneven and emotionally dead-on as ever.” Thirteen shows later, knowing now that Louis C.K. and some version of his crew flew all the way to China for what amounted to, at best, one-fourth of one episode of half-hour television, the “as ever” part seems absurdly quaint. Perplexing, heartbreaking, hilarious, bizarre, a little lost, a little sexist—this season was, in the immortal words of Superchunk, “everything at once.”
Last night’s finale was all that, including, despite both David and Jonah’s beautiful assessments, a little disappointing. The opener, with Louie slouched and forlorn on his couch as the camera pulls back to reveal Lilly and Jane tearing open their Christmas presents with delight, and then flashing back to reveal the hell that Louie went through to create that delight, was pretty much perfect. Jonah said it better than I ever could: Sweating, and ultimately sobbing, over a fucker of a doll in order to make your kid happy/shield her from unhappiness, is not going above and beyond—it’s being a parent. (Please direct all complaints about over-parenting philosophies to the comments, thank you.)
The elevator family tableaux hit me much harder than Liz’s death (which I thought C.K. kinda screwed up by cutting so obviously to the hospital’s New Year’s Eve cheer). Being alone is one thing—being left alone, as your family shoots down an elevator shaft and off on a two-week vacation with Patrick, seems much worse. To know what having a family is, and then to not have it all the time, and then to watch some other guy have it—this is the kind of stuff I have nightmares about.
Whether Louie was searching for a mate, a friend, or his runaway (well, closeted) daughter, most of this season was, in some form, about Louie not wanting to be alone. He may have stolen a boat in order to not reunite with his father, but all that did was leave him more adrift. Even the three-episode “Late Night” arc feels, in hindsight, like an attempt to let Louie finally commit, and hopefully marry, his career. The finale addressed Louie’s fear—and reality—of loneliness head-on, with those awesomely named local news anchors taunting Louie from behind the TV screen.
Jonah, I wish I saw in that final scene what you saw—camaraderie, community, Louie feeling not so alone. You must have turned off the episode smiling. Instead, I saw a stupid American pronouncing Chinese funny, trying to make his hosts laugh on command, as if performing for Jack Dall. And I saw C.K. (lovingly) condescend to another culture, as he did in the Ramon episode: If colorful Latinos really know how to live, Chinese villagers understand the meaning of life.
But, hey, no hard feelings. I don’t know what in this episode, or season for that matter was real, what was a dream, and what was whatever the third choice would be—and it really doesn’t much matter. Like Louie arriving at the mighty Yangtze only to find a tiny stream but a tiny stream surrounded by gorgeous landscape but gorgeous landscape in the middle of one of the most populated cities in the world and that city being utterly foreign and yet kind of familiar and way better than being in Mexico with your brother-in-law, I’ll suck up the disorientation, embrace the emotion, and rationalize the let-downs of whatever the hell all that was.
Pleasure over-analyzing and sounding pretentious with you guys,