Louie: “Elevator Part 6″/”Pamela 1”

(Episode 3.09, Episode 3.10)

TV Reviews
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Finally Louie’s “Elevator” storyline comes to a close, and it’s not a moment too soon. The show’s inability to sustain a storyline throughout a whole episode has become harder and harder to ignore as the season progresses. Louis C.K. the creator still seems to fundamentally believe that he’s turned the relationship between the character he plays and Amia to be a beautiful, strong thing worthy of hours of television time, but as it continues towards its crashing end, I question whether it was ever compelling. Did it ever seem like Louis and Amia had a chance, or that their infatuation could’ve sustained itself beyond its time limit? From the beginning, “Louis falls in love with a woman who doesn’t speak English” was always more interesting as an idea than it ever was in execution.

“Elevator Part 6” turns the show into a disaster movie, but the motivation for this strange turn of events is that perfectly named device: the pathetic fallacy. It offers us a pretty poor metaphor for what’s going on in the narrative. As Louis and Amia begin fighting, the storm that we’ve been hearing about through increasingly hilarious headlines is finally hitting New York and much of the city is flooding. It’s a very freshman writing seminar-sort of metaphor, and despite its weakness, this chews up most of the episode’s running time. At first it leads to some decent jokes when Louis prepares for heading out into the storm to rescue his daughters and ex-wife, but once he arrives there’s another strange, irksome problem: Louis’ ex-wife, the woman we’ve seen in the past who’s always ready to cut through the bullshit of life, is screaming and repeating words hysterically, not knowing what to do without her husband. Only Louis can solve this problem, and he simply has them drive uptown to where there’s less flooding. Problem solved, storyline finished, and New York is back to normal.

I’m always a bit disappointed when the dream-logic of Louie is revealed to be all in its lead character’s head, but it’s even more disappointing when the surrealism adds little to the real narrative. It removes one of the things Louis traditionally does best, which is creating a strange world where anything is possible. When that’s removed and the surreal aspects of the show become just extreme expressionism, a little bit of its magic is lost.

It should come as little surprise to anyone at this point that Louis and Amia’s relationship ends with one of the show’s now-trademark monologues. This probably wouldn’t be quite as noticeable if the next episode, “Pamela Part 1,” didn’t begin with yet another. Louis consults yet the doctor and advisor he’d been seeing all season, who once again has odd (and, as usual, pretty terrible) advice for the now depressed-Louis. After getting a phone call with a text of Pamela giving him the middle finger, though, we jump to a scene with the pair eating again and for a while, at least, Louie feels itself again.

Pamela is a great character, but it’s the striking performance from Pamela Adlon that energizes the show. One of the things I’ve always liked about Louie is the way so many of its characters seem to inhabit wildly different worlds, to the point that their existence on the same show is fascinating. Pamela, unlike so many others, exists largely in reality. She doesn’t want to do monologues or take part in the daydream-esque surrealism, and so she tends to cut through not just Louis the character’s bullshit but also the show’s. She agrees to watch Louis’ children, and for a while, with encounters in the diner and on the subway, and through a largely excellent (though surprisingly long) bit of stand-up material, Louie is excellent. It’s the show we all want it to be every week even if it refused to show until now.

Even the ending, which was genuinely frightening, offered something new to Louie that questioned the show’s central character. Pamela wants to leave after the babysitting gig, but Louis won’t let her. He wants them to kiss, hoping that this will rekindle the possible romance between them that he shut down several episodes ago. She doesn’t want this, so he chases and grabs her and holds the door closed until she acquiesces. In a way, it works with the storm from the previous episode. Both of these scenes feel like Louis’ worst nightmares come true. The storm threatens his family and he doesn’t know if he can save them. Then, with Pamela, it feels as if Louis doesn’t wish to hurt her, but is out of control, and his usual ethics go out the window in the face of desire and rejection. It pushes the boundaries of the show, but for the first time this season, it pushed up not against a fictitious audience, but against the show itself. Saint Louis is being questioned, and it’s a strong choice to end with.

Now finally finished with the “Elevator” storyline I feel… well, to be honest, still not terribly optimistic about this season of Louie. The serial nature of things looks likely to continue dragging things down, and ultimately Louie just seems like it prefers to join the world of middling independent movies rather than sticking with its previous uniqueness. The more Louie wants to tell us about life and how we or its characters should feel, rather than showing us through actions and narratives, the less interesting it’s become. Louie is just as ambitious as ever, but when it comes to drama or long character arcs in particular, it’s not nearly as smart. Let’s just hope that Pamela’s return can do something about this.