The romantic entanglements of its writer/director/star have always been a concern of Louie, but as its fourth season draws to a close, they’ve never been more central to the series. Previous seasons gave us questions of career and friendship to counter the romantic plotlines; this year, with the momentary exception of last week’s lengthy flashback episode “In the Woods,” nearly every episode has revolved around Louie’s love life. So in that way, it’s not just that last night’s episodes, “Pamela Part 2” and “Pamela Part 3,” are a continuation of the first “Pamela” from two weeks ago; they represent a culmination of the entire season, really, and show some honest-to-God growth in the character. But, this being Louie, this isn’t some idealized happy ending; he gives his character a moment of happiness, though it’s not a worry-free one.
If there is a concern about these two episodes, it’s that we don’t really get a resolution/explanation/much of anything about that odd rapey scene in “Pamela Part 1.” This viewer found it troubling, but was willing to give the show some slack, to see where it was going; the answer is, not much of anywhere (aside from one loaded moment at the end of Louie and Pamela’s first date, seemingly recalling that encounter, and her comment that “you can’t just make people do things”). Does the way that such a scene falls within an overall romantic arc mean that Louie is some sort of sexual predator? No. It was just a peculiar way to go, particularly considering how little payoff we get for the trouble.
That complaint aside, there’s much to admire in these episodes. The Louie/Pamela relationship has always been one of the show’s most interesting, setting up the parameters of a likable schlub and a sexy ball-breaker, and pushing it to the limit. As “Pamela Part 2” begins, even the process of asking her out on a date is filled with landmines; she never misses an opportunity to give him a good, hard poke, and both the writing and Pamela Adlon’s playing resist the urge to simply make her a lovable jokester. She’s hard to get a handle on, and she kinda actually sometimes doesn’t know when to stop.
So there’s a real frazzled quality to their courtship in these two episodes, in which one or the other seems perpetually on the verge of pushing too hard or pulling away too fast, and it’s thus easy to imagine them as the kind of couple who are breaking up and getting back together all the time. And yet, the attraction is convincing. C.K. and Adlon are banking on nearly a decade-long off-screen relationship now, back to their time playing a married couple on his first, less successful HBO series Lucky Louie, and the chemistry is palpable; these episodes are full of great little throwaway moments, like the way she awkwardly caresses his head (“Your head is so baaaaaald”), or surprisingly effective set pieces like their first semi-sexual encounter, which is weird and wonderful and, yes, a little sexy. (“Okay, let’s do more” is a pretty great come-on.)
And there’s an argument to be made that, lack of kid gloves notwithstanding, Pamela’s tough love is something Louie is in need of. When he runs into his old pal Marc Maron at the Comedy Cellar and finds out Maron’s TV show has been picked up, he gets jealous—which Maron picks up on, and turns into an opportunity to accuse Louie of being a shitty friend. (There’s some pretty great subtext happening here as well, both in terms of the way the scene inverts their conflict—Maron’s jealousy issues are a long-running topic on his podcast—and since most observers agree that Maron is quite clearly modeled on Louie.) When Pamela tells him to “Go get on TV. Go get a show and be a star,” it’s a nicely meta moment, but it also indicates that she’s giving him the kick in the ass he somewhat desperately needs.
Theirs is a relationship with some pretty basic, and perhaps ultimately insurmountable issues—namely, his sensitivity, and her refusal to be demonstrative. But when you see them vibing off each other in the art gallery, or having a great time (almost in spite of themselves) on their Central Park date, you do get a sense of the kind of genuine communication that Louie’s relationship with Amia, for all its charm, sorely lacked. The episode’s (and season’s) closing scene is markedly candid and honest, and not just because Louie literally strips down to nothing; he does so figuratively as well. When they talk, we discover that Louie’s first kiss was a dare, and hers was basically a fight. Both stories tell a lot about them now, don’t they?
Their ultimate compromise is that Louie wants certain things, and she just can’t do some of them—and that doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship, or even the conversation. “Can this just be okay?” she asks. That question is the closing line of Louie’s fourth season, but the more you think about it, the more it could be the credo for the entire series.