Thoughts on this week's Horace and Pete coming up just as soon as I tell you my dad walked on the moon…
Like the opening of Laurie Metcalf's monologue in episode 3, Pete's climactic hallucination in this week's installment was a reminder of the power of this TV/theater hybrid style Louis C.K. is using for Horace and Pete. There's a cinematic way to present the same material – possibly with a different lens and other techniques to distinguish the hallucination from a real scene at the bar, and/or with occasional cutaways to where Pete really is during all of this – that could have been pretty effective in its own right. But by limiting himself to what could be presented on a live stage, C.K. not only left the uncomfortable question of Pete's real whereabouts up to our imaginations, and also captured just how real these hallucinations must seem to him. Even if he's lying in a ditch somewhere – and even if on some level he's aware of that – he still feels like he's really in the bar, really having an argument with Uncle Pete(*), really grappling once again with his difficult medical and emotional history. The sequence hit like a thunderbolt not only for that solid quality, but for allowing Steve Buscemi and Alan Alda's performances (the latter playing Pete's mental picture of Uncle Pete) to play out without any visual distractions. We were just there, in the fight, with them, even though only one of them was real, and both were commenting on the falseness of it all.
(*) I'd been noting the weekly presence of Alda and Jessica Lange in the cast credits, even though Uncle Pete is dead and Marsha is gone, and wondered if C.K. had more plans for them or simply didn't want to change the credits until whenever this batch of episodes ends. (Some traditional TV shows also keep departed actors in the credits for the rest of that season.) Now I'm wondering if Marsha might not wander back in before all is said and done.
The episode leading up to that was pretty devastating in its own right. That C.K. has become an excellent dramatic actor isn't a surprise at this point, but he still showed a level of vulnerability in both the hospital scene with Tricia (where Horace had to accept that Pete had finally crossed the line of hurting someone during one of his episodes) and his exploration of Pete's room. (This was another fine example of less being more, dramatically, with C.K. leaving the camera in place so we would only see Horace's back when he finally started crying.) And Horace's response to Kurt's joke about Pete – when Horace was previously the one defending Kurt when Sylvia wanted him banned from the bar – nicely demonstrated just how out of sorts he is by what's going on with his brother (not, as he points out to Sylvia, his cousin, regardless of what the biology is).
This is also another instance where C.K.'s press blackout has worked to the show's advantage. We had no warning about Uncle Pete's death, or about Metcalf talking over a whole episode, and now we have no idea how many more episodes there are going to be, what Buscemi's status is for them, etc. We're as in the dark about what's coming next as Horace and Sylvia are. That's unsettling, but it also feels very right for what the show is about.
Some other thoughts:
* As both a stand-up comedian and a writer for multiple late-night talk shows, it's unsurprising that C.K. would choose to end this week's episode with a tribute to Garry Shandling, who died suddenly on Thursday.
* Horace and Pete gets topical again with a discussion of the Hulk Hogan/Gawker verdict, with Kurt as usual taking the most cynical and misanthropic position possible. While Leon offering a very different perspective on the gender breakdown was interesting (and part of an episode where Leon took on greater dramatic weight than he has so far), the commentary on current events still feels a bit shoehorned in. Even if that's the kind of thing that might be argued about at a bar, the show's timeline is moving faster than the real world's – there was a big gap after Uncle Pete's funeral, and Sylvia's cancer treatment would have taken a while – yet the characters are still talking about events that just happened for us.
* Of course, Pete's longshot scheme to have Bill de Blasio stop by the bar finally comes to fruition on a day when he's in the wind. The mayor acquitted himself fine on camera (it helps that the show frequently features comedians whose acting range is still limited), though it's a shame that de Blasio and Tom Noonan never got to stand near each other (Tom for some reason goes to huddle in a corner the minute de Blasio enters), since he towered over everybody else.
* Nice little opening vignette with Sylvia politely but firmly rejecting the bartender candidate with the manslaughter conviction. He makes a good argument for why he'd actually bring in less drama than a typical candidate, but Sylvia's too tough, and too wary of any kind of headache after all the family has been through, to accept it or him.
* This is twice now that C.K. has done a story about the child of an astronaut who walked on the moon, though the Yvonne Strahovski episode of Louie went in a very different direction. Among the things C.K. discussed in the email announcing this week's episode was a memory of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission back in 1975: “I'm 48. I actually remember Walter Cronkite reporting that Apollo Soyuz was orbiting and if you live in the north east you could look up and see white and red blinking lights together and that was them. And I ran out into my front yard in Newton Massachusetts and I saw. Wow. Now of course that was probably an airplane and maybe it was Dan Rather. And also I'm a liar.”
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com