Probably the best way to look at the newest episode of Louie is to think about the structure of a joke’s setup. Even the first part of the episode was devoted to his kids telling jokes and how the setup is everything if you want to get a great punchline out of it. Louie is very good at doing that, giving us these seemingly unrelated monologues during the Comedy Cellar scenes that come to mean so much more by the time the credits start to roll. Let me tell you, the punchline of last night’s episode was definitely worth the set-up.
A literal setup as Allan, an old comedian friend of Louie’s, invites him over to dinner which winds up being a scheme concocted by Allan’s wife to hook Louie up with a friend of hers, Laurie. Things go about as well as one might expect they would for Louie as both are goaded on by Allan’s wife Carol to talk to each other with all the small talk pleasantries everyone expects from a date. Asking about occupation being the main question and it’s clear early on that in this environment these two are no match at all as Louie’s feigned attempts of being interested fall flat with the no-nonsense Laurie.
Later on, the two get away from the stifling dinner party environment and relax a little more. They both get to see how much they have in common, namely that they’re both cynical, world-weary, and blunt about everything. Laurie perhaps openly a little more so than Louie but soon they’re off at a bar getting wasted and everything comes to the surface about how they really feel. Before either person’s common sense can make them realize what’s going to happen, they’re both sitting in Laurie’s truck and she starts feeling generous. Where this episode starts to have something to say is when Louie refuses to reciprocate her generosity.
At first there’s disbelief and an incredible amount of tension as Louie flat-out refuses on the basis that “doing that is just too intimate to do with a stranger.” This isn’t just a scene about two adults who are belligerently drunk making a mistake with one another; this is saying something about the sexual politics of why is it mostly acceptable (and in some cases somewhat expected) for Laurie to have provided for Louie, but the idea of a man doing the same with a woman on the first date is so cringe-inducing? It’s an incredibly complicated area for the show to take itself to but one that should spur on some sort of dialog afterward because what happens next just takes the discussion to a whole other level. All of this was just setup remember, and the punchline hasn’t happened yet.
Laurie dissipates the tension with a goodnatured bet that she can get him to do it anyway. A nice little moment to put the audience at ease as if to say, ‘okay guys don’t worry we’re not going to keep pushing the issue as it seems to make you a little uncomfortable just like it does Louie.’ That silence after Laurie and Louie relaxed again was the same silence a master comedian lets linger before they hit you with the punchline of the well-crafted joke. People are going to be talking about that scene for years to come for a lot of reasons. Not just because some may find it obscene, but perhaps because a woman behaved in what is traditionally a very masculine way to get what she wanted.
This season already seems to be really hanging on a theme of Louie’s struggles with masculinity as last week he tried to reclaim it following a breakup by buying himself a motorcycle. He still has that motorcycle despite the epic wipeout he had on it in the season premiere, but Laurie even tries to challenge the traditional idea of what it means to be manly by going so far as to imply Louie simply isn’t into women and that’s why he won’t put out in return for her. It’s got to say something for Louie having a more assured sense of himself than to think that he didn’t take that bait or get violently offended by her attempt to insult him. Louie knows that he’s not and that it’s not some horrific insult to be called ‘gay’ in the first place so there’s no need to put aside his own values in order to submit to her peer pressure—it’s all not that different from a man chiding a woman for not going down on him by calling her a prude or an ice queen, don’t you think?
It’s going to be interesting if anyone calls it ‘the time Louie was raped on a first date’—so many people can’t see the possibility of a man being sexually assaulted as something that can and does happen. Regardless of your feelings on levels of sexual intimacy to go to with someone on a first date there can be no denying that the scene ended with unwanted sexual advances and then assault toward Louie. Again, people are definitely going to talk about this one for a long time to come—personally I’ve never seen anything quite like that on television.
Melissa Leo gets all the credit in the world for her all-in portrayal of Laurie. I’m so glad they found someone who could pull off the brashness and the laid-back aspects that were needed in this character to pull Louie in. She also more than handled what was asked of her at the end of the episode with full commitment to the bit, if we’re going to keep speaking in the terms of the comedy world. I wonder how many people truly laughed at the end of the episode as I don’t think the show would judge anyone for doing so because the act itself was so…desperate ultimately. She just wanted to make things fair even though fair in this particular instance pushed the boundaries of one person’s values system and then their consent. This isn’t the kind of show that has season-long plots so we may or may not get to glimpse any consequences for that happening to Louie, but the fact that Louis C.K. put that on television at all shows how there aren’t any sort of boundaries that he feels are off limits—especially when crossing these boundaries provides a chance to really analyze the culture.
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