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'Louie' Has Always Been Afraid of Continuity. Until Now?

KC Bailey

“Just pick a road and go down it, or don’t.” Maybe I’m reading too much into Dr. Bigelow’s (Charles Grodin) advice at the end of tonight’s second episode, but I couldn’t help hearing the message to Louie as a message for “Louie” as well. The show has always avoided any sort of allegiance to continuity, and that’s one of its strengths—you never know what you’re going to get each week: a surrealist farce, a heavy drama, or a series of fart jokes. Basic facts about Louie’s life—the personality of his mother, the number of siblings he has—change, seemingly at random. Most episodes play like loosely connected short films, linked only by the character at the center. But what used to seem the show’s strength has begun to feel like a crutch, a way for Louis C.K. (and his character) to wipe the slate clean each week instead of building something real. Just pick a road!

So there’s something dramatically satisfying about the return tonight of Evanka (Ellen Burstyn) and Amia (Eszter Balint), the two Hungarian women from last week, in parts two and three of what will be a six-episode arc. Of course, even more satisfying is the long-awaited return of Pamela (Pamela Adlon), Louie’s caustic, unrequited crush from the first two seasons. Two years ago she left for Barcelona, asking Louie to “wave to me,” a request he misheard as “wait for me.” But things change, and tonight he looks at her as if he’s seen a ghost—when he first turns around and sees her, the camera stays on his face for more than a few beats too many. The silence feels as uncomfortable for us at it does for her. They go to a diner to talk, and she says he “got under [her] skin,” and offers what, for her, amounts to a declaration of love: “If you wanna try to pursue a guy-girl kissing type of thing, I’m willing to go down that road with you, if you’re interested.” She can barely finish her sentence before Louie cuts her off to say that he’s seeing someone. It’s partly a protective measure: he’s angry at being a second choice and too proud to be with someone who calls him (affectionately!) a “stupid asshole.” In her long absence, it was easy to forget just how terrible she is to him. (“No one wants to be with you Louie! Stop lying!”)

But “Louie” does mean it when he says he’s with someone, even if he and Amia have only gone on one date by this point. They don’t speak the same language, but every scene with them follows the formula of a classic romantic comedy: their meet-cute in the first episode, their meandering date, him begging her to stay in New York for him. He takes her to Russ and Daughters, which Parker Posey’s Liz introduced him to. Louie and Amia have chemistry, but she's also someone on whom he can project anything he wants. Pamela is real; she's, literally, a kick in the ass. If he goes down that road, there's the possibility it may end up like his broken marriage—it's not surprising that this episode also shows Louie bickering with his ex-wife, who knows all his weak spots. With someone who doesn’t speak English, it’s a little easier.

In some ways Louie’s daughter Jane—who’s in trouble this week for pulling down a teacher’s skirt during recess—is just as unknowable to him. Louie didn’t know she could say “hello” in Hungarian and he didn’t know she hated school. She’s eight-years-old and full of questions her teachers can’t answer:

Like, why is there even an America? How come France isn’t part of New York City? Why isn’t let’s say Africa and India in charge when they have the most people? And why isn’t God on the news?”

Behind the kid logic, there’s a keen ethical intuition at work here, and Louie isn’t able to offer the moral guidance she needs; he can’t figure his own life out. Jane and Amia are the only people in his episode he’s able to communicate with, even though he can’t have a real conversation with either. He’s too emotional to talk to his ex-wife, and he’s too scared to talk to Pamela. There’s too much history built up there—which is exactly what happens when you don’t press reset each week.