If there's been a theme of the third season of "Louie" so far (although it's been less present in the last couple of episodes), it's "manning up." Louie's girlfriend accused of him of not having the courage to break up with her, he was eviscerated by Melissa Leo for refusing to go down on her, he had a curious, semi-romantic encounter with a man in Miami, he failed to satisfy Maria Bamford in bed, and was emasculated and dared into all kinds of things by Parker Posey. Masculinity, and what it takes to prove it, appears to have been on Louis C.K.'s mind of late, and none more so than in this week's episode, tellingly titled, "Dad."
Something's clearly off with Louie's universe right from the start. If nothing else, he's normally a pretty good dad, and yet as the episode begins, he cantankerously stops his daughter from playing her violin (despite, in the last episode, having taken up an instrument himself), and sends her to her room. It's almost shocking, given his usual attitude toward his kids, and his bad mood continues as he goes into an electronics store to try and find a Blu-ray player.
The staff aren't immediately helpful, but Louie is openly hostile to them from the off (although one has to sympathize a little when one guy can't tell if the player does DVDs as well...). Things get even worse when one of them trips him up, and he makes a complaint to the management. But his tumble may have been related to something else entirely; a phone call from his Uncle Excelsior (yes, Excelsior), who appears to be some kind of vaguely European gangster/supervillain, judging by his almost robotic phone message.
By now, things have taken already taken a turn for the surreal. Louie, when watching the surveillance footage of his "assault," has a "Lost Highway" moment, seeing himself on screen as an entirely different person, only for the footage to switch between his odd surrogate and the real Louie. Things get even stranger when he meets Excelsior at the Russian Tea Room, not least because the uncle is played by Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham, who appeared in an earlier episode, as one half of a swinger couple.
Here it's a different role, and a broad, hilarious one. Excelsior is from a different world entirely, full of stories of men with hunting dogs and boots and buying credenzas in Geneva, and ordering "two Cornish game hens and some water"; he and Louie don't share a single reference point in their lives, except one. Excelsior saw Louie's father in Boston, and he urges his nephew to go and see a man that he hasn't seen in two years.
This seems to cause a sincere upset to Louie's world. Playing poker with his comedian buddies (a device that hasn't been used for some time in the show, and whose ranks now include Sarah Silverman, returning from last week), he suddenly vomits without reason. Combined with a rash, it's reason enough to go and see a doctor, who suggests that there might be a more existential malaise behind his symptoms. Louie says there's nothing out of the ordinary, "I might as well be a maggot sucking a dead cat's face, but nothing new," but the physician soon works out that it's the potential visit to his father that's become the problem.
And so, Louie flies to Boston – absent mindedly crushing a cup of water on the plane. And all the way from the airport, Louie imagines his surroundings egging him on; the rental car worker who tells him "Either see him or don't see him. You're 44 years old," the GPS that asks him "Why are you being such a little pussy about this?" But Louie can't go through with it. He bolts at the door, fleeing first on a three-wheeled motorbike and then a speedboat in a sequence that, brilliantly, is shot like a movie car chase. But Louie isn't fleeing anything except his own past and his own fears, and even out in the middle of the ocean, he finally realizes that he can't get away.
It was an outstanding ending to the best episode of the season so far. The third season has been remarkably consistent to date, but it's now hitting the dizzying, bizarre heights of some of the finest episodes of the early series. This was (while not the funniest), the best-directed, acted and most profound of the recent run, and we hope it bodes well for C.K. pushing the show into stranger territory in the second half of the season. [A]
Bits & Pieces
- This felt like the most stand-alone episode of the season, with C.K. playing quite a different version of Louie than the usual protagonist. So will this storyline about his father pay off later in the season? More importantly, who would you cast to play Poppa C.K.?
- Louis' real father is Luis Szekely, who was half Jewish Hungarian, half Mexican. We're assuming Uncle Excelsior was meant to be from the Hungarian side of the family, but there's clearly some major disconnect here...
- The absolute comedic highlight of the episode was F. Murray Abraham's intricate, subtle miming of rolling down the base of a condom on his middle finger.
- For the record, Abraham is the third Oscar-winner, after Robin Williams and Melissa Leo, to feature this season. Who'll be next?