Laurie Metcalf just gave the year’s best performance so far on ‘Horace and Pete’

A few thoughts on the latest episode of Horace and Pete coming up just as soon as I close my legs, like a lady…

You can look at the series' third episode in one of two ways: as format-busting (if a series this new and unconventional can be said to have a format already) showcase for guest star Laurie Metcalf, or as a really elaborate, devastating set-up for one nasty joke at the end delivered by Uncle Pete.

Either way, it was amazing.

The episode opens with a nine minute-plus close-up of Metcalf as she tells a strange, intensely-detailed erotic story about an encounter she had with her 84-year-old father-in-law. We don't know who she is at this point, nor who she's talking to. (Eventually, her audience is revealed to be Horace; she's his ex-wife Sarah.) All we have is Metcalf's remarkably expressive face as she goes through the ins and outs of this unexpected, sexually charged incident. From a technical standpoint, Louis C.K. the director just locks the camera in place and steps out of the way, but what Metcalf does makes the monologue every bit as impressive as, say, Cary Joji Fukunaga's Emmy-winning(*)  single-take sequence from True Detective. A different kind of story, and performance, requires a different kind of continuous take, which is no less attention-getting, and no less riveting. C.K. knew he'd written something that an actress of Metcalf's caliber could make a gourmet meal out of, and he set her up to do just that. I didn't put a clock on Metcalf's close-ups throughout the rest of the episode, but there are a lot of similar long, unbroken takes of her continuing to tell this story. Over the course of the episode, I quick went from wondering how long C.K. and Metcalf could sustain this before bringing in the rest of the cast, to not wanting to see anything else but Sarah's confession and Horace's reaction to it. (By the time we got to the end, I assumed the bar was empty save for them, which only made Uncle Pete's vulgar, dismissive, last-second appearance even funnier.)

(*) I have no idea what this show's Emmy eligibility would be, nor what category it might wind up in, but Metcalf and Alan Alda would sure seem like awards favorites if this series was airing on, say, Showtime.

Previous episodes had implied that the end of Horace's marriage was ugly, and the conversation gave us all the sordid details of his affair with Sarah's sister. More powerfully, it gave us the moment where Horace broke down after Sarah told him just a little bit about what his estranged son has been up to. This was Metcalf's episode, and rightfully so, but Louis C.K. the actor absolutely stepped up when Louis C.K. the writer/director needed him to.

For professional reasons, it would be a lot easier on me if I was getting episodes of this show – fast becoming my favorite of 2016 so far – in advance, if C.K. was doing interviews where he explained the production's backstory and his designs for the series, etc. But I think his explanation for why he's kept everything a secret is holding true: there's something magical about getting that email in my inbox on Saturday morning, downloading the episode, and having no idea what I'm about to see. Sarah's story could have just been a little sketch in the middle of an episode featuring the full ensemble, like the Tinder couple from episode 2, but I had no way of knowing, because there was no DVR guide listing, no series of interviews promoting A Very Special Horace and Pete, nothing. There was just the episode itself. And it was special.

What did everybody else think?