In many ways, Season 4 of Louie felt like a call and response between Louis C.K. and the Internet. The season focused heavily on Louie’s interactions with women: the gorgeous model he accidentally hits in the face, the fat woman who calls him out on his shit, the Hungarian woman that he literally can’t communicate with — what an ideal relationship for Louie! — and, of course, the brassy Pamela. Each one of these episodes or “relationships” (and even the strange, pot-fueled “In The Woods”) was practically begging for Internet discussion, demanding thinkpieces, and teasing episodic recaps. Louis C.K. spent Season 4 giving us essay prompts but never provided the answers.
Louie has always been a series that stood out from the rest. It is, at once, beautifully cinematic, impossibly hilarious, and deeply troubling. It is strikingly original while retreading basic TV territory. There is nothing original about a plot involving a schlub landing a beautiful blonde or a parent discovering his child is smoking pot, yet both stories felt original in Louie‘s hands because of the execution and also, maybe, the cult of Louis C.K. Season 4 was original both in structure — there was the six-part “Elevator” saga, the three-episode Pamela arc that was separated by a 90-minute mini-movie centered on Louie’s childhood, etc. — and in the way Louie was raising questions that most other television shows, particularly ones that are technically comedies, wouldn’t dare to. But where did it go?
Season 4 had plenty of good and memorable moments (the strange trip through Todd Barry’s day is one of my favorite things the show has ever done, though I suppose it’s telling that it’s not a story about the Louie character), but overall, it didn’t stick. It felt disjointed and without resolution. Louie isn’t a show that relies on continuity or realism, but for the first time while watching Louie, I found myself craving an ending because he had built up a narrative that seemed to call for one.
“Pamela Part 1” was a shock to the system, featuring a scene with Louie cornering Pamela in the doorway, forcing a kiss while she shrank into the corner trying to make herself smaller and smaller. It was incredibly uncomfortable, which I’m sure was C.K.’s intention, and made even worse by the pathetic and fucked-up victory fist pump he does at the end. There is the great juxtaposition with Louie’s long stand-up act: a consciously feminist-friendly set we first saw on Saturday Night Live, that was immediately hailed and GIFed and reblogged. In the span of one episode, he is both the Feminist Comic and the asshole who aggressively forces a woman into a corner. The juxtaposition is important, and somehow simultaneously makes the scene easier and harder to watch. It’s not exactly far-fetched, either; in my experience, there are countless men who have no problem tweeting about their feminist beliefs but rarely put them into practice in the real world.
The key to “Pamela Part 1” is context. It is deliberate that Louie paused the entire story to instead go in a different direction with “In the Woods.” We had an extra week to recap, to speculate, to discuss and debate. We could vilify the Louie character, or even C.K. himself, only to be proved completely wrong with the conclusion of the three-part episodes (the final two, it should be mentioned, were co-written by Pamela Adlon). But that didn’t really happen. What did happen were some cursory, indirect references of the scene — “You can’t just make people do things,” Pamela says at one point — and lots of emotional back-and-forth between the clearly doomed couple before they eventually get together. It’s a happy ending, of sorts, but it’s also oddly frustrating.
Louie started a dialogue about a character — an unhappy, pathetic mess of a character that we still sort of love and generally think is an OK guy — overpowering a woman who is saying “No.” The reactions to the episode ran the gamut: viewers and critics were uncomfortable, or they laughed, or they ignored it, or they decided to never watch Louie again. But the show never really finished the conversation it started, opting to end, instead, with Pamela and Louie taking a bath together — a scene that I would’ve found funnier and more emotional if that doorway scene wasn’t lingering in my head the whole time — and an uncertain future (for the character and the show, which hasn’t yet been renewed, though I suspect whether it continues will be Louis C.K.’s decision more than FX).
I’m not saying that I demand answers from TV writers or think they have a responsibility to answer every question that they pose, but Season 4 felt like Louie just upped and walked away mid-conversation. It’s hard to wrap my head around this season of Louie, a show that I admire and adore, but that ended with shrug. And that’s basically the only reaction I can muster up for Season 4: a shrug.