The sad thing about first dates is that they can only be labeled as such in retrospect, because “first” describes the start of a series. All too many first dates end up occurring within a vacuum, never to be repeated again. These are then tallied up on the great cosmic scorecard of romance simply as “dates” or “bad dates,” and they tend to grate on the soul.
At the top of last week’s episode of Louie, the first of a two-parter that concluded tonight, our comedian-hero was onstage describing a lesson he once taught his daughters about prejudice. Breaking the word down to its etymology, he explained that to have prejudice is to pre-judge someone. As an example, he described pre-judging Scarlett Johansson as someone he definitely wanted to sleep with, despite not knowing her personally. As last we left Louie in that episode, he had just secured a date with a seemingly sweet-natured book store clerk, played by Parker Posey. It turns out he has pre-judged her too.
Here are the five most uncomfortable moments from this week’s episode.
1) The night gets off to a foreboding start immediately when Louie’s still-unnamed date bids goodnight to her bookstore co-worker, Mark, who coolly informs her that his name is actually Roger. Louie briefly looks back at Roger, bristling at the very first indication that the woman he’s with might not have it all together.
The first seriously uncomfortable moment, though, is one that Louie never finds out about. His date (who is ultimately revealed to be named Liz, so let’s just call her Liz) sidles up to the bar they’ve entered to place an order. She is rebuffed. The bartender refuses to serve the two Jaeger shots Liz wants, in addition to Louie’s beer, on the grounds of precedent. It’s never revealed what this previous behavior entailed precisely, nor does it need to be. Pretty soon, we have a good enough idea of what must have happened.
2) After storming out of the bar with Louie trailing haplessly behind, Liz begins to reveal herself. She is a twitchy, compulsive tornado of brutal honesty and lies dressed up as jokes. At first Louie finds the honesty part refreshing. (“You’re fat and I have no tits,” Liz tells him, early on.) Soon, though, it seems like a symptom of worrisome, deep-seated issues. Liz goes on a tear describing her teenage battle with carcinoma, revealing way too much about herself than anyone would ever want to hear on a first date. Louie’s face falls as he starts reconciling his pre-judged image of how this night would go with how it’s ending up.
3) In a fit of whimsy, or perhaps a bipolar impulse, Liz tries to get Louie to try on a sparkly gold dress in a vintage clothing store. He’s able to laugh off the idea at first, until they’re actually in the changing room together and she keeps pressing him to go through with it. This is not the first time this season that Louie felt his sexual identity being undercut (in Miami, Ramon was sure Louie was attracted to him, and he might not have been wrong.) As a comedian, Louie has talked extensively about his empathy for women and his willingness to try new things, so he does it. You can’t help but squirm, watching the two of them cramped in a tiny room together with Louie’s exposed flesh on display far too early, and not even a faint whiff of sexual tension in the air. Then when he’s squeezed into the dress, a final indignity: Liz laughs at him.
4) The sad part about all this is also the most relatable part: despite all of Liz’s glaring flaws Louie still really wants the date to go well. Sometimes you do just want things to work out with someone, due to the pre-judged, idealized version of them in your mind, so much so that you constantly refine what you’re willing to put up with as the situation develops. When Liz almost convinces a deeply suspicious Louie that her parents named her “Tape Recorder,” she laughs at him again. “Come on,” he says afterward, nearly exasperated. The unspoken second part of that sentence is “Come on and just be who I thought you were.”
5) After screaming at Louie like a drill sergeant to climb untold flights of stairs, Liz finally leads him out to the roof. “It’s worth it, am I right?” she asks once they are out there, surveying all of New York City. “Not really,” Louie says, and he’s talking about more than just the view. The night was a bust and he knows it, even if he’s still kind of waiting for her to be the one to say it. Perhaps there was nothing Liz could have done to fully rob Louie of the idea he had of her initially, which we see during the closing credits, in a silent black-and-white POV shot of Liz’s face in the bookstore where they first met, smiling at him and laughing.
Last episode: Louie Goes A-Wooing