“Telling Jokes/Set Up” is a fitting title for this week’s episode, given that its two halves, as with many others in the series, have little to do with each other. The first, and shorter, half of the episode is about the strangeness of his daughter’s jokes. Louis gives as an example, “Who told the gorilla that he couldn’t go to the ballet?” which is less a joke than a thought piece that feels like it was written by a slightly more whimsical David Lynch. Like all of the show’s sections about his daughters, it’s charming. It’s also rather slight, but its low stakes and happy tone are the point, and Louie shot this with light gleaming through a window, creating a world of idyllic home life.
The transition between this first scene and the rest of the episode occurs, as they usually do on the show, in a comedy club. This is the liminal space for Louie, where he and other comedians have the freedom to tell jokes about anything from their daughter’s adorable traits, like Louis C.K. does, or their penis, like his friend Allan Havey. After the show, Havey invites Louis to have dinner with him and his wife, which turns out to be an attempt at setting him up on a date with a woman named Laurie (played by the fantastic Melissa Leo).
The pair initially hates each other, largely just because neither of them wanted to be set up on a date. But they bond from the awkwardness of their hosts fighting and really enjoy each others’ company when they head afterwards to a bar. Drunk afterwards, she briefly drives him and turns a corner into a secluded alley. She offers to go down on him, and he takes her up on this. But then, when she asks him to reciprocate in kind, he refuses, saying that it’s not something he likes to do with someone he’s just met.
Here, Louie goes along with the old, incorrect adage that men can’t be raped, and when she forces herself on him, Louis ends up liking it. Last week, I felt that making his wife black was a method for him to intentionally raisie questions about race and representation. In most respects, the end of this episode isn’t similar, but it also contains a moment that’s there to immediately question viewer assumptions, in this case about male-female relationships. The violence here, with his head breaking through the car’s window, is part of that, as is more than anything else the kicker at the end of the segment, where Louis says he wants to see Laurie again.
The episode transitioned so wonderfully from the innocence of his daughters’ jokes to this rape scene at the end that returning there for the credits is a great choice. As usual, the episode is put together in this way not for story-related reasons, instead the two stories are linked together for the sheer force of their contrast.The more pleasant he makes the episode’s beginning, the darker it is at the end, and the credit sequence reminds us of how far this journey has taken us in just 20 minutes.
This shift in tones is another thing that makes Louie different from other television shows. The model for television, even in more avant-garde venus like Adult Swim, is to offer the same pleasures week after week, with enough variation that you keep watching. That’s the challenge of TV, and the best shows tend to be the ones that give us those pleasures while still subverting expectations. Louie, though, is intentionally schizophrenic. Very few shows alternate tones so much, and with this it never allows its viewers to expect what will happen next. A person who watches the beginning of the episode and assumes that it’s all a light-hearted family comedy, suitable for all ages, will find themselves horribly corrected by the violent, sexual ending.
There’s a certain surrealism in this sort of juxtaposition—again, think of Lynch and the blissful smalltown Americana of Twin Peaks that contrasts with its prostitution, murder and rape—that doesn’t detract from the semi-cinema verite feel of the whole show. Everything in it always still feels real, like something Louis C.K. just recorded moments out of his life rather than carefully juxtaposing elements. It’s just that the reality he finds himself in is itself a surreal landscape.
•I was pretty surprised Louie still had a motorcycle, especially since he presumably needs his car for driving his kids.