This sprawling, multi-part Louie episode that began two weeks ago and will conclude, next week, after part six, is titled “Elevator,” and it’s worth pausing for a moment to ponder what a vague and uninformative moniker that actually is. Yes, in the first episode, the Hungarian neighbor Evanka (Ellen Burstyn) is stuck in one; in “Elevator Part 5,” the second of last night’s episodes, she passes out in the same one, which she then dubs “an evil box of death.” But the elevator is not (or certainly does not yet seem to be) some kind of overarching metaphor or other such literary device; these episodes are not about how life or love or parenthood are, in some hack ways, an elevator. On the other hand, what kind of title could Louis C.K. have possibly affixed to this ambitious yet charmingly rambling tale? Could any title, aside from one of Fiona Apple’s protracted poem titles, truly sum up what Louie is up to here?
More pressing to the matter at hand, could any recap sum this up either? With any degree of accuracy, well, apparently not until next week. In this pair of episodes, C.K. again changes his rules and storytelling methods; in the first three episodes, he juggles the story’s A- and B- lines (the romance with Amia and Jane’s troubles in school, respectively); this time, he doesn’t split his focus, tackling one in each episode. But he doesn’t really do that, either; “Elevator Part 4,” which begins with Louie and his ex-wife Janet visiting a behavioral therapist (Denny Dillon) to talk about Jane, ends up being about that failed relationship.
Their conversations inside the office are so passive-aggressive as to prompt a perfectly executed physical manifestation of Louie’s inner turmoil (in mid-conversation, he gets up, goes to the window, takes a deep breath, and screams his lungs out). Outside, they discuss their current relationships—again, in a single, unbroken take—and the Amia situation, but Janet’s parting words may as well be Louie’s mission statement: “Can’t you just figure out how to live a life already?”
The extended flashback that follows is, in its odd way, kind of remarkable. Louie’s insistence on color-blind casting puts the viewer in a state of uncertainty; we’re not sure who exactly this flashback is actually with (a first wife, perhaps?) until the sequence’s closing line (“What if, just now, you got pregnant?), and even then, confirmation from the end credits (Yep, Brooke Bloom is credited as “Young Janet”) is required. But the specifics might not even matter. Here is an evocative scene, capturing a very specific moment in two peoples’ lives, and doing it in what is, to put it mildly, not the standard, expected fashion.
The “Day in the Life of Todd Barry” sequence in “Elevator Part 5” is a similarly peculiar detour, a seemingly self-contained sequence that appears, at first glance, little more than a clever bit of filmmaking (bending the rules of narration and the fourth wall) or a welcome showcase for one of the show’s favorite utility players. But there’s more going on than that: Todd’s laid-back, single man’s life isn’t just something Louie can’t have any more, but something he doesn’t want anymore. He can’t imagine going back to listless days like those once Amia’s back in Hungary and the kids are back at Janet’s, so he’s gotta make a big move, the physical stakes-raising that both Janet and Evanka are shocked and amused has not yet occurred.
There is real intensity and (dare I say) eroticism happening when Louie and Amia finally take that plunge—C.K.’s camerawork, direction, and acting keenly capture the tug-of-war that can push and pull two people into bed, even when they both know it’s probably not a good idea. That notion seems confirmed the following morning, when all Amia can communicate to Louie is an offhand “Is okay.” But something went wrong, somewhere, and the question of what it was (and if their relationship can recover) will, alas, have to wait one more week.