In Praise of Pamela on ‘Louie,’ the Ultimate Emotionally Unavailable Woman


On this week’s two-part Louie finale — which the Internet will not stop talking about, I know — we got something I never expected: a happy ending*.

I put an asterisk there because with the two people involved — Pamela and Louie — nothing is simply happy, despite the fact that their friendship is, at its pinnacle, effortlessly candid. After emerging from their candlelit bath together, maybe they got into a huge fight when Louie — the disgusting slob that he is — ate peanut butter out of the jar with his finger and inadvertently smeared it on the sheets, or after Pamela (played by Pamela Aldon) rebuffed Louie’s advances in bed again. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

People say love is effortless when it’s right. I never particularly believed that. Louie and Pamela’s relationship took an unconventional path that involved years of friendship, ping-ponging bouts of rejection, and a disturbing incident Pamela described as Louie’s inability to “rape well” — a moment I’m shocked they moved past so easily. It’s the kind of romance that requires battles, a big part of which of which stems Pamela’s tough exterior and emotionally unavailable core. She’s a tell-it-like-it-is, can’t-take-a-compliment female character we don’t see enough of on TV and in movies, at least in a fleshed-out way, and one that lent itself to the reversal of gender roles Louis C.K. played with in the final, vulnerable moments of Louie‘s Season 4 finale.

Aloof women are not impossible to find on the screen, but oftentimes their emotional distance serves merely as a character development tool for the male protagonists vying for their affections. You know, the girl who’s hard to crack but once you do, she’s yours forever. Even Shakespeare makes sure the shrew is tamed (frankly, I liked her better as a bitch). Most commonly, love interests in rom-coms and sitcoms come to mind: skeptical girl carries emotional baggage after traumatic experience (dead mother is a common one), man proves his trustworthiness, baggage disappears completely as he swoops her up into his arms. I prefer the strong and, at times, stony demeanors of series heroines like Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games) and Hermione Granger (Harry Potter); at least their frigidity thaws gradually, over an extended amount of time, like actual humans.

Another thing about love: it doesn’t make people’s deepest flaws disappear. In our first introduction to Pamela, in the fourth episode of Season 1 (“So Old/Playdate”), she warns Louie that “everything down there has been shut down for a long time” when he inquires about a playdate between their kids. She’s got her defenses up, but after a few glasses of wine, they’re replaced by dark secrets and easy jokes.

A typical sitcom may have forced the Louie-Pamela romance then, after it seems as though C.K. has cracked the tough shell of an attractive yet emotionally compromised single mom — the type of woman we assume has been wronged by a man and has every reason to be wary. But that’s not Pamela, and Louie is better than that, even if their first kiss was a cliché under the stars. It takes Louie another season to tell Pamela how he feels (Season 2, Episode 6), at which point she rejects him. Two seasons later, after she’s given it another unsuccessful go with her son’s father, she slowly nudges into a “love-sex thing” with Louie. In spite of Louie’s awkwardness, the two have chemistry that feels more natural than C.K. and Adlon’s marriage on his short-lived HBO sitcom, Lucky Louie.

Pamela may be a fucked-up female character, but everyone on Louie has their neuroses, and she’s certainly no Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s feisty and funny, childlike in the sense that she’s not above crude jokes and mischief-making. Most of all, she’s incredibly articulate when it comes to what makes her feel uncomfortable. She’s not willing to compromise herself to please a man, and yet she recognizes that her emotional unavailability causes problems in her relationship with Louie. She makes a big gesture to communicate the things she cannot say aloud, hoping that’s enough for Louie — flaws and all. Ultimately it is, and it’s enough for me too.