Review: ‘Louie’ – ‘Elevator Part 2 & 3’

Senior Television Writer
05.19.14 44 Comments

FX

A review of tonight's “Louie” episodes coming up just as soon as my hydrogen collection is awesome…

“But there's gotta be a way to decide which one's going to make me happy.” -Louie

As we get further into the six-part saga that is “Elevator,” it's now clear that the Jane prologue from Part 1 last week wasn't an isolated sketch, but part of this larger story of Louie struggling, as usual, to relate to all of the women in his life – where he's so screwed up that the one woman he can come close to understanding is the one with whom he doesn't share a common language.

Once upon a time, his daughters seemed immune from this failing of his, but they're getting older and more complicated. Jane has turned out to be a square peg at a public school that only offers round holes, and she's too smart and inquisitive and also lacking in some basic self-control to function happily there – and Louie's too hung up on his own issues to see that Janet's probably right about putting her into a private school. When Louie and Janet argue, you can see that she's just as much at a loss to reason with this crazy man as Louie was when Jane insisted she was still dreaming on the subway. Later, when the school principal all but orders the exes to talk about a plan for Jane, they instead take out their phones, because Louie is less capable of communicating with a woman with whom he was married and had children than he is with a woman whom he's known for only a few days, and with whom he requires either an interpreter or extensive pantomime to convey the simplest bits of information.

We see that Louie has an easy rapport with both Ivanka, who came from a family of performers in Hungary, and with Amia (played so warmly by Eszter Balint, whose expressive face has made her a camera subject of many of C.K.'s kindred filmmaking spirits like Jim Jarmusch and Woody Allen), who doesn't speak the same lingo as Louie but can get her point across in time. And the amount of time it takes them to get an idea across turns into part of the fun, like when she performs an intimate yet fully clothed pantomime of taking a shower so he'll understand that she's looking for a hair dryer.

It's not love at first sight, but it's a connection, and something happy and unexpected in Louie's predictably miserable life – so of course it's the perfect moment for Pamela to reappear and literally kick him in the ass. C.K. and Pamela Adlon have such a natural rapport that it's easy to forget just how terrible Pamela is to Louie, and how toxic and all-consuming his infatuation with her can get. In their time apart, Louie has grown enough – or simply been hurt enough by other people – that he can recognize the cycle of self-destruction she's inviting, even if he responds to it in the irrational Louie way of putting all his hopes, dreams and fears into this scrap of a fraction of a scintilla of a relationship with Amia. And that puts him in the vulnerable position where the very first hint of trouble from Ivanka and Amia sends him storming off to do bodily harm to his piano. 

In the end, the miscommunication is cleared up – even though, were I Amia, I might be very wary of spending more time with such a clearly volatile individual – and Amia and Jane even get to share a moment, performing a lovely violin duet in the hallway while Louie looks on, pleased as punch to be in their presence at this moment, even if it seems only a temporary reprieve from his confusion, self-loathing and difficulty articulating his feelings.

Dr. Bigelow returns to offer more cryptic wisdom, but Louie can't appreciate it, because he gets caught up in worrying about all of the things that Bigelow dismisses as unimportant in the grand scheme of things. By Bigelow's standards, Louie's life has plenty of leg; by Louie's own standards, he's disabled and struggling just to keep on moving.

Though these are middle chapters of a bigger story (one that will be the length of a feature film when it's done), there is such emotion and care in these beats – and the way that C.K. films so many of the scenes in a single fluid take, which inserts you right into the scene so you can feel the awkwardness or anger or joy that Louie himself is feeling – that I'm more excited than ever to see where this is going.

Some other thoughts:

* It appears C.K. didn't bring Bobby back into continuity just for the sake of introducing the world to bang-bang – And hands up, everyone who at least thought of trying a bang-bang in the last week. We won't judge. – as he appears briefly in the teaser of Part 3 (another instance this season of Louie getting upset at someone invading his personal space), and then in the tag, where the two brothers laugh uproariously at a video we never get to see.

* Jane is apparently 10, but as he's describing his kids to Amia, he refers to her as 8. As a dad who has occasionally aged his kids up or down without meaning to, I will give him the benefit of the doubt that it's not a continuity error.

* Louie's shopping trip to make a gift basket for Ivanka and Amia was another reminder that C.K. shoots food very, very well, and evoked the sequence last season where Liz took Louie to Russ & Daughters – a location he now pays forward by bringing Amia there on their day together. Unfortunately, she seems less enthusiastic about eating the whole fish than he was. More for the rest of us, Amia!

* Ivanka tries to convince Louie that she was very pretty as a young girl, but C.K. frames the scene with Ellen Burstyn in a tight close-up so that we have no doubt on that question, given what a beauty she remains even in her 80s.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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