As a general rule, I try to avoid reading recaps of shows I’m covering during the run of the season; it’s not that I think whatever I’m feeling about the series is the definitive last word or anything, but more a matter of trying to prevent other (often better!) writers from influencing my own responses. Yet I stumbled upon The AV Club’s recap of last week’s Louie episodes after posting my own, and had an odd realization. Writer Todd VanDerWerff noted that some of his critic friends were grousing that the show wasn’t particularly funny this season, and that if he chose to, he could see their point: “If, for some reason, you were watching Louie as a program that would hopefully make you laugh uproariously, then this season would be unlikely to do that. “ What was so striking about this observation was not that it was inaccurate; it’s that I realized I had stopped even considering Louie on those terms.
It’s not like this season hasn’t been funny (frankly, the perfect beat Louie takes before rolling up his window at the “I’m looking for a dog!” guy in “Elevator Part 6” prompted as big a laugh as any show’s given me recently). It’s that Louie (and Louie) are so clearly interested in doing much more than merely being funny, and over the course of this extended “Elevator” arc, the sophistication of the storytelling, the evolution of the character, and frisky, swoony quality of the interactions have clearly trumped such basic, boring, Big Bang Theory-inspired concerns as belly-laughs-per-minute. Louie’s not just a comedy anymore, any more than The Wire was just a police procedural, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer was just a high school show.
All of which is a long way of getting around to saying that this rather bold (and potentially self-indulgent) experiment of a six-episode arc ends smashingly—with emotion, and kindness, and even with something akin to an action climax, as Louie braves a Manhattan crippled by the Sandy-esque Hurricane Jasmine Forsythe to save his ex-wife and kids. A man of action, armed with a flashlight, a light bulb, two birthday candles, and a banana, it ties up unexpectedly the family element of this storyline, with a moment of real and honest emotion shared with Janet (“I didn’t know what we were gonna do!”), and a chance to make a real connection with Jane. But most uniquely, Louie is, for once, allowed to be the hero of his own story. This is a character that things usually just happen to; here, he takes charge, and everyone is better for it.
But he can’t take charge of the Amia situation, which is now strained to a point of breakage. Their lack of shared language was initially charming, some kind of transcendence of conventional communication—though there was also a compelling argument to be made (similar to the one lobbed at Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown) that C.K. was, on some level, implying that his perfect woman was one who couldn’t actually speak to him. However, by this episode, the communication gap has become something relatable and common; once anyone reaches this sticky point in a new relationship, it can be impossible to actually talk to each other honestly, even when you speak the same language. “I don’t know, I don’t know why I’m sorry,” he says, and that’s not unique to their lack of translator. The way she looks at him in the church is more devastating than any words could be; when he tells her, “I’d pay a million dollars to know what you’re saying right now,” you believe him.
The solution is so perfect, so lovingly realized and evocatively crafted, that you have wonder if the entire foreign language angle was concocted to create this enchanting payoff: a dinner at a Hungarian restaurant, where a waiter reluctantly becomes their translator. “It has been a beautiful and unexpected adventure in my life, to know you, and to feel what is between us,” he reads from Amia’s goodbye letter. “It is almost and maybe someday could be love.” Louie’s reply is less poetic, but just as heartfelt: “I’m gonna miss you so much. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Except maybe a situation where I can talk to you and I know what you’re saying and we live in the same place.”
Last night’s second episode, “Pamela Part I,” begins a new narrative, but one connected with the previous; we find Louie heartbroken, trudging through the snow to sad guitar music, peeking in on Evanka and Amia’s apartment, now empty (save for the couch where they first met). He again bothers poor Dr. Bernstein with his problems (“I’m not sure what your name is, but you may be the single most boring person I’ve ever met, no offense”). And a reconnection with Pamela brings up, quietly, in the background, the question haunting the entire Amia relationship: how much of it did he made it serious—more serious than it was—so that he could rebuff her?
There’s more to get into in this episode: the way he crosses the edge of discomfort with that weird, uncomfortable, and (yes, ultimately) funny first kiss; the quick but amusing impression of how you can overhear really insane things in a New York diner; the way his conversation with the kids about Pamela is totally diverted by the spitting-on-the-bus-business; and a good, long, healthy chunk of stand-up (some of it familiar from his recent SNL hosting gig), seemingly included to make up for the lack of stage bits in recent episodes. But it’s again hard to gauge exactly where he’s going with this new story, so it might be wise to hold off until this arc completes (not next week, which will apparently go in a different direction, but in the week that follows) before fully appraising it. If “Elevator” is any indication, Louis C.K. has certainly earned that trust.