Louis C.K. and Melissa Leo Take On Sexual Reciprocity on Louie

What Women Really Think
July 6 2012 9:47 AM

Louis C.K. and Melissa Leo Take On Sexual Reciprocity on Louie

142080686
Comedian Louis C.K. attends the 2012 FX Ad Sales Upfront at Lucky Strike on March 29, 2012 in New York City

Photograph by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images.

"I just like listening," Louis C.K. told me of the way he approaches politics on his FX sitcom Louie, when I spoke to him at the Television Critics Association press tour in January. "I try to take people who are way far away from what I think or understand and put a representative of them on my show. I like to try to learn from them." Those representatives have included everything from a serene anti-masturbation advocate to Louie's racist great aunt. But he's never had someone quite like Melissa Leo's character Laurie, with whom Louie was set up with in last night's episode, on the show before. Previously, the people who have challenged Louie's worldview have been charming, if kind of risible, proposing ideas that aren't really in the mainstream. Laurie went straight at a more risky and broadly pertinent subject, the sexual double standard for men and women. The result was a wild half hour of television, and an instant, hugely uncomfortable feminist classic.

When Laurie and Louie initially meet at the dinner table of mutual friends who have hoodwinked them into a blind date, they're miserable and awkward with each other. But their friends starting to fight gives them an out: They sneak off to a bar, get drunk, and in Laurie's truck, she offers him oral sex. That alone might have made the episode highly unusual. The sexuality of people toward the end of middle age, even on cable television, is generally played as if it's a risible sign of mental breakdown, as on Raising Hope, or a somewhat grotesque overreach, as with Tony Soprano's affairs, rather than something people, particularly divorced people like Louie, are negotiating all over again.

Advertisement

But when Laurie finishes, telling Louie "Okay. Let’s get some payback. Strap on the feedbag," the show goes places almost no other television program would dear to tread. Louie demurs, and Laurie proceeds to break down Louie's objections to doing for her what she's done for him. When he claims shyness, she wants to know why "Me sucking your dick’s not intimate?" Then, he insinuates she's easy, telling her "I’m saying if I had done what you did, I would feel like a whore."

I found myself cheering for her ideas, even though Laurie is awful. She's aggressive and violent, at one point threatening to break Louie's finger, at another, bouncing his head off her passenger-side window. And Laurie's emotionally nasty, too, implying that Louie is gay because he won't reciprocate sexually. But even if she's hard to identify with, even if her behavior is embarrassing or horrifying, even if I felt physically uncomfortable watching C.K. give in to her demands, there's something powerful about the way this episode of Louie threw every possible objection at Laurie, made her as unsympathetic a spokeswoman as possible, and acknowledged that she was right anyway.

As his last hedge against Laurie's demands, Louie claims that Laurie has suckered him into an unfair bargain. "If you doing that for me hinged on me doing that for you, you should have said something," he grouses, inadvertently proving her point. Louie's default assumption is that he can get something he wants without having to give anything up or think about the other person's needs in return. There's something refreshing about the blast of rage Laurie sends back to him. "You know how many dicks I sucked that I didn’t want to suck, because I’m a good kid?" she asks, her voice echoing with years of pent-up indignation. Laurie may be a scary, irritating pain. But Louie doesn't have an answer to her question, or a defense against the accusation that he's let a lot of women go unsatisfied even as he's judged them for being attentive to his desires. Once they're over the shock of Laurie, I doubt anyone in the audience has a good justification for that double standard either.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and theatlantic.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?