Perhaps this was simply an arbitrary choice on C.K.’s part, but I found it fitting that the name Parker Posey’s character gives Louie, at first, is “Tape Recorder.” When he first falls for her at the bookstore, he regards her, to a significant degree, as a device, as a vessel—one to be filled with his sexual and maternal fantasies, as in the black-and-white cutaways, and one to be filled with his own self-doubts and anxieties, as when he asks her out and does the talking for her: imagining, voicing, and countering her reasoned rejection without once letting her speak. In last night’s episode, which I agree was astonishing, the tape recorder comes to messy, unpredictable life (the way real people, and not devices, are wont to do) and morphs, over the course of 20-odd minutes, into Liz.
And how. This is partially a function of Posey’s performance (the Emmy campaign starts here?), and partially a function of the relatively luxurious two-episode arc, but can you guys think of another supporting character on this show who has been granted as much of a nuanced, idiosyncratic, flesh-and-blood, living, breathing existence? We got a glimpse of this at the bookstore in Part 1 with Liz’s parenting advice, as she offered insights into adolescent girlhood that felt smart, real, breezily lived-in—the perfect thing to send prowling Louie over the moon for Liz, although that conversation loses some of its meet-cute luster in hindsight, given what we learned last night about Liz’s own harrowing adolescence. (Provided that confession wasn’t a fib, too.)
That’s not all we learned about her. She has trouble handling her Jägermeister. She is mirthful, bullying fun in vintage clothing stores. She knows about weird, wonderful pockets of New York, not to mention a way to seemingly teleport from Park Slope to midtown. And she can have a nosh with the best of them! (I have a buddy who briefly worked the counter in a white lab coat at Russ & Daughters, Allison. He liked to call the place “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for Jews.” Faced with the lox there, I’ve been known to go the full Violet Beauregarde.)
David, I had no trouble with the interlude with the homeless man. It seemed drawn, in its premise, from one of my favorite stand-up bits of C.K.’s in which he tells the story of a young woman, raised on a farm, coming to New York for the first time and arriving at the legendarily grody Port Authority bus terminal. She notices a homeless man there and, appalled, takes a knee, asking him, “What happened?” C.K. says, “She's the only one who actually saw him.” In the bit, he and a pal hurry the woman to her feet and, embarrassed for her, tell her that she’s not behaving normally: “This is the crazy part: We immediately go to her. We start correcting her behavior, like she’s doing something wrong. ‘Why, is he okay?’ ‘No, no, he needs you desperately. That’s not the point. We just don’t do that here.’ ”
It’s a masterfully crafted portrait of warped metropolitan ethics, an extreme but entirely common example of how city living can inure us to the humanity of the other people crammed in here with us. Liz smashes through that callused-over mentality in a way I didn’t find scary so much as audacious, tugging Louie’s perfunctory display of caring into more meaningful territory.
It also reminded me of the sequence in the best comedy of all time, Groundhog Day, when Bill Murray gets the homeless old guy some soup, spends a night with him, and sees him for the first time. There’s an argument to be made that, in both cases, homelessness is reduced to a symbolic foil for our jaded urban protagonist’s moral-empathic awakening—and that’s true. But our jaded urban protagonist’s moral-empathic awakening, via exactly these sorts of collisions, is Louie’s stock and trade, week in, week out. I bet Liz wins a lot of points with Louie for taking that knee.
Implausibility sidebar: No chance in Hebron that Louie had never heard of Russ & Daughters before.