“Louie” wrapped up its abbreviated fifth season(*) last night, and I have a review of the finale coming up just as soon as I ask you not to light your fart…
(*) In case you missed it, here's Louis C.K.'s explanation for why the season was shorter, thoughts on how he looks at Louie and Pamela's relationship, and a lot more from the panel I moderated with him and Pamela Adlon earlier this week.
Last week, I wondered if the two parts of “The Road” would tell a larger story, or simply be a collection of vignettes about what it's like for someone of Louie's age and temperament to go out on tour. Ultimately, “The Road” was both, as they dealt not only with the frustration Louie feels at the inconvenience of travel and dealing with people like the club owner and his daughter April(**), but also with the sense of isolation and misery that Louie's been grappling with throughout this season.
(**) April was pretty much a repository of things Louie hates: racist, glued to her phone, dead-eyed (except when Kenny was mocking Louie on stage). The show generally tries to be open-minded and generous about Louie's ideological opposites – see the cooking store owner from “Cop Story,” or Kenny by the end of this episode, for that matter – but every now and then, one of them is just a walking joke, and that's okay.
Louie endures plenty of physical and emotional indignities on this road trip, but he also brings some of the misery on himself. Back in the season premiere, he felt disconnected from the world, but throughout “The Road,” he tries to duck every opportunity someone offers him to connect. Sometimes, the person holding out their hand seems abrasive like Kenny, but sometimes they're perfectly nice like Mike the driver from last week's episode, and still Louie shuts things down and ruins the moment. We've all been tired and not wanted to talk to strangers, but Kenny's not necessarily wrong in calling out Louie as “an asshole” when they finally get into it late in the finale.
That argument in the condo is a terrific and quintessentially “Louie” scene in the way that it starts out with Louie as the clearly sympathetic hero and Kenny as the unbearable hack. We've been conditioned by the show, CK's stand-up, and his public persona to think of Louie is every bit the artist Kenny mocks him for trying to be, just as we're meant to look down our noses at Kenny for doing so many fart jokes, and at the Oklahoma City audience for preferring Kenny's act to Louie's. But it's not like “Louie” has ever been shy about fart jokes – Hell, CK won a writing Emmy for an episode of the show that's essentially one long set-up to a fart joke -and however talented the fictional version of Louie is, we see just how miserable he is, too. Kenny's comedy ethos – “It's not an art, stupid. It's a bar trick.” – isn't one we're supposed to agree with as fans of this arty, critically-acclaimed FX show, but Louie seems relieved to give into the notion and admit (using phrasing that's actually part of his act) that farts are funny, and that the people at that club went home happy because of what Kenny did.
To support his fictional alter ego's embrace of the lowbrow, C.K. then gives us a hysterical sequence where a vomiting Louie is horrified to realize that Kenny's about to leave an upper-decker while he's still trapped in that bathroom. And then crude comedy turns into garish tragedy when Kenny slips, falls, and suffers a fatal head injury on the bathroom tile. He dies as he lived: a bathroom joke in human form.
As miserable as most of the Oklahoma City stop was for Louie, it also leaves him with a nice memory of another moment when he briefly let himself connect with strangers. Not only does he have a great time playing a Civil War captain with the mother and daughter, but it gives him a souvenir to display on the fridge, and a ridiculous story to spin to Jane, who greatly enjoys it, whether or not she believes a word coming out of her father's mouth.
On Wednesday night, C.K. told me that as much fun as he had with the more serialized nature of season 4, he was happy to return to the previous format where he got to tell a lot of stories in one season. Even at this shorter length, I think he managed to get it both ways. Season 5 has a lot of isolated episodes and storylines – some wickedly funny, some sad, some both at once – even as it draws this larger picture of where Louie is at this moment in his life. I would have loved an additional five episodes, but this was awfully satisfying.
What did everybody else think of both “The Road” and season 5 as a whole?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com