Relationships that aren’t really relationships can be even messier than actual relationships.
Some people drift into our lives, romantically or otherwise, and occupy an ambiguous shelf space without handy labels. As much as it helps when our feelings about these people crystallize into one distinct form, they tend to remain mutable on a moment-to-moment basis, in light of new information. Then, because they already hover on the periphery, it’s that much easier for them to fall off of it and disappear forever. Or not.
Last night’s episode of Louie was a triptych of tales about people from Louie’s past – both recent and not so recent – returning for various reasons. The places they are returning from are all muddled. Delores is a fellow parent from Louie’s daughter’s school with whom he shared a bizarre evening once. Maria Bamford is a fellow comic with whom Louie was recently revealed to have occasional dalliances, until that went sour. And Marc Maron, another comic, is an old friend Louie “hasn’t talked to in 10 years,” for reasons that remain unclear. Because you already know that this is Louis C.K.’s television program Louie, it’s pretty obvious that these situations are not going to end well. The beauty, of course, is in seeing how the inevitable blowout will be ushered in.
Here are the most uncomfortable moments from last night’s episode.
1) When Louie sees Delores coming down the steps of his daughters’ school, heading toward him, he quietly mutters a curse before greeting her. This greeting takes three efforts to get right. “Hey, how you doing?” he says with a falsely chipper note in his voice. Immediately he course corrects (twice!) because there is no point in putting on airs with Delores. The last time these two saw each other it was because she offered a no-strings sex-invite, which ended in her breaking down into uncontrollable sobs after her requested spanking unearthed powerful, unresolved father issues – basically some of the stringiest no-strings sex of all time. Until now.
2) The reason that Delores has confronted Louie is that she has some “residual feelings” about their night together. It is obvious to him and us, though, that this woman has residual feelings about life. After refusing a request to accompany her to a therapist’s office to work out these feelings, Louie does cave in to her follow-up request that he go with her to the premier retail therapist’s office for non-wealthy divorcees, IKEA. In exchange for a blowjob. It’s our second uncomfortable moment of the night, and it’s a doozy.
Louie clearly doesn’t want to be in IKEA. He barely even wants the blowjob, having rejected the offer as sounding too unbecoming at first. While Delores peruses rugs, Louie reads from his phone, until she gets mad that he doesn’t seem to have an opinion on anything. It’s a common enough fight for couples to have in stores. (I have had this exact fight.) The only difference is that they are not a couple, which makes it bizarre. After she keeps hounding him for an opinion, he goes off on a season-high rant about his thoughts on the rug, how it’s “not coated with AIDS, but it’s not a portal to another place.” This ends in a repeat of their previous encounter’s tears.
3) On the way home from IKEA in her borrowed van, a calmed-down Delores offers to make good on her previous offer to fellate Louie. Either he doesn’t think she should have to do it, or he is just the opposite of turned on at this point, but Louie deflects, telling her she can do it some other time. Utterly awkward when it comes to saying anything sexual, Delores tops herself when she lets Louie know that the offer is still on the table: “Notify me when you want me to . . . suck it.” Deglamorizing sex is one of this show’s stocks in trade.
It’s worth pointing out that this scene ends perfectly. When Delores absently mentions that she should have maybe gotten “those chairs,” Louie casually does her a kindness. He briefly slips into the role of the partner any woman would want. He is present for her, he remembers the chairs she is talking about, validates her concern, explains why she made the right decision, and then compliments her on doing so. As often as he is a slovenly walking homunculus, Louie can also be a real mensch.
4) In the second part of the episode, Louie is getting piano lessons for the best possible reasons – to spite his daughters. (“Screw them, I’ll learn,” he says to his new teacher of his daughters, who were uninterested in the piano he bought for them.) Before he has much of a chance to make a good impression on his teacher as a 44-year-old student, though, Louie gets a phone call wherein Maria Bamford informs him that she has crabs, and he may or may not have given them to her, but he definitely now has them, too. The look on the piano teacher’s face as she can’t help overhearing this information says, I wish I could slink away through the cracks between these piano keys. Also priceless is Maria Bamford’s exit line from Louie’s life, and probably from the show: “Fuck you, or sorry: I don’t know which one.”
5) In the final third of the show, Louie gets a little misty when he ends up catching a late-Eighties comedy special that a younger, fully haired Louie C.K. performed on. He can barely watch himself. Up next, though, is a teeny tiny baby Sarah Silverman, who Louie ends up calling to reminisce with. Eventually, the two watch Marc Maron’s set on the old special, which brings up old hurt feelings – as he recalls it, the two haven’t spoken in 10 years.
Much like Dane Cook, Marc Maron is a comic who has real-life issues with Louie, issues which are now filtered through the prism of this TV show. Unlike Cook’s powerful episode, this one takes more liberties with real life – Louie was a guest on Maron’s justly lauded WTF podcast, and some of the details of their relationship revealed there don’t quite jibe with what happens here.
In any case, while on the phone with Sarah, Louie has a revelation: the unknown-to-us catalyst for the long-term fallout between these two friends was something that Louie has been mad at Maron for this whole time was all his own fault. He can’t wait to run over to his estranged friend’s apartment (notably not a cat ranch) and apologize. After a long, protracted apology, though, it turns out that he had the same exact revelation, and said the same exact thing five years previously. It’s the kind of well-intentioned act that, rather than bridge a gap, ends up turning it into an abyss.
Last Week: Pariahs Once and Future