A review of the “Louie” season finale coming up just as soon as I throw some crayons into the skillet…
The first two seasons of “Louie” were like short story collections. The stories, themes and tone could be whatever Louis C.K. wanted them to be, knowing that so long as he was playing the central character in each one, the pieces would fit. There was continuity, but only when he felt like it.
The third season ultimately feels like a more cohesive work, and not just because we got a two-part and then three-part story within these 13 episodes. Louie’s ex-wife Janet, finally introduced in the premiere, becomes a frequent presence, even more than Pamela was in the earlier seasons. Louie buys a motorcycle in one episode and drives it in several others. Liz isn’t forgotten, but becomes the absent subject of one episode, and then the tragic surprise of the finale. When Janet shows up to collect the kids on Christmas, she asks Louie about the “Late Show” experience, and it’s clear that the ending of that affair is part of what’s fueling his holiday depression.
But more than any continuity references, what’s tied this season together has been the persistent theme of Louie’s loneliness. Louie needs connections in his life – particularly when his daughters are with Janet – but they never seem to work out. His girlfriend in the premiere dumps him because he’s non-communicative. His friendship with Ramon the lifeguard proves to be a fleeting thing that he shouldn’t have tried to extend. Every time he seems to bond with Liz on their date, her personality does a 180. He asks Robin Williams to come to his funeral because he’s not sure if anyone else would come. He and Marc Maron reconcile, but in a way suggesting they won’t be seeing each other again for five years. He wimps out on seeing his father, and Chloe Sevigny is no help in helping him find Liz. And though the “Late Show” gig would have taken him away from his daughters, it would have given him a much less solitary work life.
The theme of this dark season gets underlined in “New Year’s Eve.” The holidays can be rough even when you’re with people who love you, but when you’re on your own – when you see your ex-wife and daughters and their stepfather go down an elevator together looking like the family unit you used to be a part of – they can be devastating.(*)
(*) They can also be incredibly frustrating – if hilarious to us – as we see in Louie’s prolonged doll surgery, a brilliant bit of near-silent comedy.
Louie has the option to go to Mexico City with his sister Deb(**) – a great little dramatic role for C.K.’s fellow Emmy presenter Amy Poehler – who knows how depressed her brother can get at this time of year. Mostly, though, he just wants to disappear into a junk food shame spiral, tormented by nightmares about a grown-up Jane and Lilly (still talking like their little kid selves) lamenting how alone their father is, and by news reports about the number of expected New Year’s suicides in New York. He winds up on a bus to the airport with Liz, of all people, and for a moment it seems like the episode, and season, have been building towards this unexpectedly romantic moment – but it’s all a sick joke on Louie, who has to watch Liz die when her cancer suddenly returns all at once. (It’s a sequence so surreal one might assume it’s another dream, but Louie goes to this place often enough that we can accept it as something that actually happened.)
(**) Does anyone remember if previous seasons said exactly how many sisters Louie has? I was under the impression he had just the two (the ones seen in “Pregnant” and “Niece”), but C.K. has rewritten Louie’s family tree before (his brother from season 1 no longer exists), so I could see him deciding that it was time for a new character.
At the airport, intending to go to see Deb and her family, he instead draws inspiration from “The Story About Ping,” the book he bought Jane for Christmas, and decides to go to Beijing(***) in search of the Yangtze River – only, in typical Louie fashion, to be led to a spot where the mighty Yangtze barely qualifies as a puddle.
(***) C.K.’s deal with FX is that he’s left alone so long as he sticks to the small budget they give him. When he does something more ambitious like “Duckling,” he has to tell them more about the episode first to get some additional money. This season, with its trips to Miami, Boston and then China, no doubt required a bunch of conversations with FX.
But in a beautiful, unexpected sequence, Louie wanders up to a house on a hill in the Chinese countryside and is welcomed inside for a boisterous gathering where he doesn’t understand the language (and translations are welcome in the comments), but can appreciate the welcoming emotions – perhaps even more than if he could genuinely converse with these people. He has to go halfway around the world to find it, but for this brief moment, he once again feels like a man connected to the world, and not one hiding in his bed watching the news and binging on Hostess snacks. Knowing how the rest of the season went, we can assume that Louie will be back to his old miserable self within days (if not hours) of his return to America, but it’s a lovely way to conclude his journey for the season.
What did everybody think, of both “New Year’s Eve” and season 3 as a whole?