“Louie” ended its most ambitious formal experiment to date with the first of Monday’s (June 2) episode, and in a rare bit of story-to-story continuity for the show, used Amia’s departure in “Elevator Part 6” as the jumping-off point for “Pamela Part 1.”
Since Louis C.K. isn’t always interested in that kind of serialized storytelling, it first seemed like an odd decision to end the “Elevator” story in the first part of the night’s doubleheader. Seeing how the two episodes play off one another, though, it makes a lot of sense, in particular as a way to contrast how these two women bring out very different sides of Louie.
The uglier side on display in “Pamela” we’ll get to in a few paragraphs. Let’s talk about the end of “Elevator” and the story as a whole for a minute.
As it happened, I fell a couple of weeks behind on “Louie” after seeing the start of the “Elevator” story and watched parts 2-6 in one sitting, along with “Pamela Part 1.” Lucky break — if ever a show was suited for a multi-episode binge*, this was it.
(*It’s also hard not to wonder if knowing the way C.K. structured the season played a role in how FX scheduled it. Experience had shown that it didn’t pair especially well with other shows, and double-running it gets enough episodes in before the Emmy qualifying deadline, but the appeal of running a multi-part story like this over four weeks rather than six might have helped push the decision too.)
What C.K. ended up making was a touching, melancholy romance about loneliness, heartache and the difficulty people have understanding one another (literally and figuratively, in this case), with the absurdist touch of Hurricane Jasmine Forsythe. It’s the kind of feature-length* story that in the current movie marketplace would get a few festival runs and a couple-week release in a handful of theaters in New York and L.A.; even with the smallish audience “Louie” draws for FX, many more people are seeing it in this format than likely would have had he made a movie.
(*At 22 minutes, give or take, for each installment, “Elevator” clocks in at a little over two hours, longish for a rom-com but certainly not out of the realm of possibility.)
It would have been formally consistent, too: “Elevator” was filled with long scenes, as he let the camera linger on a conversation or follow Louie’s point of view through his apartment or on a walk. The takes were never showy (and sometimes downright static), but they helped create the sense of unity across all six parts of the story.
The final one of those scenes, with the Hungarian waiter translating Amia’s goodbye letter, was one of those static scenes. The emotions playing out on all three faces, though, didn’t require much more of the camera than it be turned on; it was a lovely moment.
“Pamela Part 1” at first plays like an epilogue to “Elevator”: Louie goes Dr. Bigelow again for advice and is told to revel in the heartbreak, because the bad part of love is forgetting it. Then he circles back to his friend/crush/tormentor Pamela to see if her offer of a boy-girl-kissing thing is still on the table. It’s not, but she does do him a solid and watches the girls after his regular babysitter cancels on a night Louie is performing.
When he gets home, though, a nightmare version of the “Goodbye” scene with Amia plays out: He tries to kiss Pamela, who rather than “bye” says a flat “no.” He grows more and more insistent, and it reaches a scary point when Louie, who is so much bigger than the tiny Pamela, continues to press.
She breaks the tension, a little, by chiding him, “This would be rape if you weren’t so stupid! You can’t even rape well!” But yikes. And still he insists on a kiss before she leaves, and it’s among the worst, most uncomfortable smooches ever put to film. And his fist-pump after he closes the door is just gross.
We already knew that Louie is pretty screwed up when it comes to Pamela, but seeing his obsession manifest this way is really kind of frightening. For as sweet and vulnerable as he was with Amia, he’s ugly here.
As the “Part 1” of the title implies, there’s more to tell here, but “Louie” is not exactly leaving us in a warm and fuzzy place.
What did you think of “Louie” this week, and of the “Elevator” story as a whole?