Louie, Season 3
Are Louie’s dark thoughts getting darker?
Jonah, I think you got Jeanie’s motivations to a T: She wants a vicarious thrill, and sees in Louie a chance to get it. And how she gets it. That Park Slope self-pleasuring made Allison Williams’ autoerotic moment on Girls seem downright decorous. (And it was far more convincing than Meg Ryan’s famously persuasive put-on at Katz’s.) Chloë Sevigny is, like nearly every guest star this season, terrific—she looks genuinely spent as she brushes past Louie, her goal for the afternoon accomplished.
And the part she played highlighted one of the great virtues of this show. On a more conventional series, or in a standard Hollywood rom-com, Jeanie would exist to further the ends of our hero. She would find his lost love, or fall for him—do something to advance the narrative arc of his life. That’s not how real life works, obviously, and it’s not how this show operates either. Whether it’s the aggressive Melissa Leo or the disappointed Maria Bamford or the self-absorbed Sevigny, the characters Louie encounters are independent entities, with their own lives and their own interests. They don’t usually coincide with his.
I agree, too, that Posey’s Liz haunted the second half of the episode as much as she did the first—and not only because Lilly is developing in just the way Liz said she would. Recall that “Daddy’s Girlfriend” began not with fantasies about some woman saying “I love you,” but with idyllic, black-and-white images of parenthood shared: a blanket in the park with books, a happy stepmom reading to her stepdaughters. On the afternoon of “Lilly Changes,” Louie could have used some help—this may be the most flustered he’s been as a father in nearly three full seasons of the series. A few weeks back, Allison said that C.K. generally presented his character as a pretty great dad, but that wasn’t the case here. First, he replies ungenerously to a teacher who, alluding to “budgets cuts,” asks if he can help carry some chairs. (The request comes from someone Louie considered, in one of those black-and-white daydreams, as a possible stepmom—before deciding, it seemed, that he just didn’t find her attractive enough.) His carousel-and-ice-cream solution to Lilly’s brooding also seemed unusually simple-minded. (Though I’m sure it was also meant to highlight Lilly’s new grown-upness; these childish pleasures are not enough for her anymore.)
But the most notable of Louie’s parental failures was his refusal to call his ex-wife when Lilly went missing. His fear of her rebuke beat back his concern for the safety of his child—which is a fairly dark thought to have about yourself. And it’s a thought he returned to in the stand-up segment at the end, when he said he wouldn’t put seat belts on his daughters in cabs because he was afraid to dig through those dirty seat cushions to find their buckles. “So my kids get in a cab and they just hurtle through space at a speed determined by the profit motive of an exhausted man from another country where life is shit-cheap, where kids die all day and it’s boring.”
But then this episode began with some very dark thoughts. “I was having trouble sleeping, like we all should,” he says, in a stand-up excerpt that opened the episode. Then he characterized life in general: “Buy some shit, use it, it breaks. Try to fuck somebody, hope your shits don’t hurt too bad.” Calculating his dwindling years on Earth, he described it as “happy math.” This is par for Louie’s course: Just last week, he described his life as “boilerplate misery, alone in the world, might as well be a maggot sucking a dead cat’s face, what’s the point.”
There’s something cathartic in this, to be sure, putting words to your grimmest thoughts. I’m brought to mind again of Maria Bamford’s comment, that there might be some relief in creatively facing your worst fears. And surely losing a child in the manner depicted tonight must be one of a parent’s absolute worst fears. But has the note of misery sharpened lately? Or am I just too young to understand the happy math?
Taxis are magic, nobody dies,