The dream that becomes a nightmare that becomes a cold-sweat awakening that becomes another dream that becomes a horrible pattern, continuing indefinitely… is not exactly a new trope in television or film. Nevertheless, Louis C.K. found a way to make it particularly indelible, and hilarious, in “Untitled,” the fifth episode of Louie’s fifth season.
I think I’d like to start at the climax, deep into the half hour, when Louie takes one last crack at falling asleep and enjoying a peaceful rest. “Okay, here I go,” he says, with no small amount of desperation, seeming to beg the sleep gods to spare him as he frowns into his pillow. Almost instantly, the nightmare begins again: Loud, circus-y music plays, leading to a montage of images:
1. Louie in a hallway, staring at a man wearing a large rabbit’s head.
2. Louie in the same hallway, screwing the rabbit-man.
3. Louie wearing rabbit head, being screwed by his brother.
4. Louie waking up in bed—only to be attacked by a shirtless, muscular man wearing a disturbing, blank-face mask, who has been chasing him through his nightmares the entire episode.
5. A black room, and Louie’s brother appears saying the word “bro” insensibly over and over while Louie plays with his lips.
6. Briefly, Louie in a closet bathed in red light, with the masked man dancing behind him, and a red-haired mannequin in the foreground that he holds while smiling.
7. Louie in a suit, in a black-and-white room that seems to be wallpapered with aluminum foil.
8. Louie making out with the rabbit.
9. Louie being bitten by the masked man.
10. Louie waking up, “for real,” with an emphatic “ahhh SHIT. GODDAMIT.”
I list these moments only to illustrate a point: If you’re going to make a nightmare montage with repeat false awakenings, then go all out. C.K. does—I haven’t even mentioned the part where his penis turns into a weird, flat, corkscrew croissant-thing, in an unsettling Freudian nod to aging and impotence—and it’s a glorious theater-of-the-weird moment that, typically for this show, offers no apologies for whatever strange emotions it might conjure. And despite the intensity of the images, and the off-putting visual style, it somehow manages to be relatable—more than anything I’ve seen on TV, at least, it felt like a legitimate nightmare.
It’s no mistake that earlier in the episode, in a conversation with his older daughter Lilly, the movie A Clockwork Orange came up in conversation (she had seen it at a slumber party, and he was infuriated). The disturbing imagery of Kubrick’s film is mirrored, with comedic shading, in this episode, and the effect is largely the same—I found A Clockwork Orange darkly funny, and that adjective-noun combo, as well as the visceral sensations it produced in me, apply also to “Untitled.”
But where Kubrick seemed to be almost reveling in a sort of ultra-violent anarchy, there is a moral at the heart of C.K.’s art. In this case, it’s rather simple: He ignored a woman in pain earlier in the episode (the mother of Lilly’s sleepover friend, who had a breakdown when she couldn’t move a fish tank), and simply draped a blanket over her shoulders as he left her alone. “I don’t really know you,” he said, in his slouching, awkward way, “so I feel like this is a private thing, and I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t stay while you’re… okay, so… cheer up?”
A moment earlier, his youngest daughter Jane revealed that she had no friends, and that the girl Louie thought was her best friend had circulated a petition around the classroom, getting everyone to sign in order to certify their dislike for the little girl. Jane—played by the incredible Ursula Parker—is a preteen who already has more than a few problems, such as the fact that she feels like she’s “sweating on the inside” and can see the world as a collection of electrons. She even believes that she can make herself disappear and revert to the nothingness she embodied before she was conceived, and to her, this doesn’t sound like a bad idea. It’s dark stuff for a kid, and though the comparison is inexact, you can almost see a future version of the girl in the crying mother. Louie abandons that woman, just as Jane’s friends have abandoned her, and the world tends to abandon those who need them the most.
“Some believe it’s a moral correction,” says Louie’s doctor, played by Charles Grodin, of the nightmares that plague him. “It’s a way of punishing yourself.”
And the only way for Louie to escape the dread is to help the poor woman move her fish tank, and repair her faltering apartment, to atone for his earlier indifference. But just when you think the arc of show has amounted to a cliche—what goes around, comes around—there’s a pleasant, old-timey song playing in the background whose lyrics gradually become clearer, until it becomes obvious that this is no standard song. The singer’s words insinuate themselves, slowly but insistently:
I dream of little monsters,
crawling up my leg.
I fear they’ll come again,
if I go to bed.
I wish that something else would,
be in my dreams.
Here come those little monsters,
crawling up my leg.
I dream of dying babies,
and why do they smile?
I hate those dying babies,
why don’t they just die?
Their smiling faces,
give me diarrhea.
Please die, you dying babies,
in my diarrhea.
The nightmare continues…
—Jon Glaser guest stars as a hack comedian who steals jokes, and his stage name is “Crazy Glasey.” I would kill for a spin-off. Nobody does bad-on-purpose comedy like Glaser.
—Louie’s bee routine—with the punchline “why you gotta bee like that—is easily the worst bit he’s ever done.
—Seriously, Ursula Parker is so great. After a woman doesn’t return Louie’s hello in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, Jane doesn’t lower her voice when she says, “she’s not very friendly,” and though on paper it looks like a normal observation, something about Parker’s delivery is just gold.
—Parker’s full monologue about her “Well, I have this weird thing in my head. Yeah. It’s like, I get this weird feeling that I’m sweating, but on the inside of my face. And then I get this weird thing where my eyes are all weird and I can see electricity. Like, I can see green lines going from like a light bulb, to all around. And then, I can see that everything is just electrons, colliding, and floating and playing. And then, I feel like if I just take one deep breath and then just wish hard enough, I could just vanish. Into nothing. Like I was before I was born.”
And the doctor’s diagnosis? She’s dehydrated.