This “I told you so” is bittersweet. Artistically, Louie accomplished precisely what I thought would be the organic, gratifying end to this trilogy. I said last week, “By my estimation, I would bet Jerry Seinfeld, his rival in this late night war, gives him a seal of approval. He’ll have the blessing of a revered peer, and then some wild card enters and shatters his dream, just as he’s embraced it.” Pretty close, right? It’s the little bit of treachery that I didn’t account for, and because of that surprise this episode soared to the top of my list for the season overall.
Another feat of this episode that exceeded brilliance, was that it doubled as a parody, a sardonic tribute to the comeback story, while still providing a cathartic and heartwarming comeback story. The “Rocky” nods were pretty overt. My DVR cut out with like a minute to go, but I’m told the final image was Louie back in the ring with Isaiah Whitlock Jr, a.k.a Clay Davis. Spectacular. You can’t ignore the two jogging scenes either, one to start the episode with his daughters in tow on their respective bike and skates, then the one before his big day where schoolchildren started to run alongside. These scenes served simultaneously as respectful homages and sarcastic potshots. And never does it feel like ass-kicking or spitting on a grave. It acknowledges the predictability of the form, while admitting its effectiveness.
After Jane has made it clear that he is not skinny nor big, just fat, and after he’s confessed it will mean he will only see them on weekends if he gets this job, Louie sits down in Mr. Dahl’s office (I guess it’s not Doll as I thought last week), waiting for his coach to finish a phone call. When he does, he asks Louie if he has experience in being funny. Incredulous, he says, “Yeah, I’m a comedian.” Dahl quips, “I’ve known you a week and you haven’t made me laugh once.” Thought he was a newsman. Louie tries to qualify saying he isn’t “that kind of funny” where he makes people laugh at the drop of a hat. Dahl doesn’t share that view of comedy. “You’re whatever you have to be to make people laugh.” He gets nasty, saying he’s scared like a kid at a talent show with a number pinned to his shirt. He has nothing, or he would have shown him by now. Louie starts to storm off.
This is the moment where the Louie of the past eleven episodes goes through a change. He takes what he wants. In the past, whether it was a date, a friendship, a reconciliation with a father or colleague, he has avoided taking personal responsibility at ALL costs. Here, he can run, too. He can walk out the door, stopping meeting with Dahl, drop out of the late night sweepstakes. But he voices his concern—”This is the beginning or the end, a door or a wall for me.”
For the first of two instances this episode, he gets teary-eyed. Dahl starts counting down, saying show me the funny or we’re done. He breaks out into a painful, borderline disturbing “pencil penis parade” song and dance. He’s buys himself another week. Probably the hardest laugh of all is when the camera pans out and you see that wunderkind agent Doug has been sitting there the whole time. And David Lynch slays the line reading, “Please leave the room now.”
Next, he has to practice interviews. The scene is stunningly shot with Dahl sitting in the far right corner, Louie in the foreground so we can feel the coach’s presence as he does. Without an interviewee, Dahl grabs Elaine, a cleaning lady. Louie says “Hi.” Dahl yells that he already introduced her. He asks “How are you?” Dahl yells that he’d find out if he asked an actual question. Louie moves on to inquiring about her parents. She says her mom was a ballet dancer and he prods further as to what kind. She says ballet. He wonders if she danced around the house. She doesn’t remember, because the mother died when she was eight. She breaks down crying. Fail. There’s a clever cut to him getting pummeled at the gym, taking body shots mercilessly. Oh, symbolism, how you permeate.
Then the episode picks up steam with Louie in front of his video camera practicing. He hurls obscenities as he can’t muster up the courage to even begin. Then, edging into parody, his girls stop by with their mother to wish him good luck. They drew something for him. He’s all verklempt. It is a genuinely sweet, tender moment when you consider that this cyclical man only cares about these girls. They are his reason not to be slob who just jerks off and shovels ice cream down his throat all day. At least that is the broad brush the real C.K has painted his fictional self with. Cue the Rocky-esque music, and him confidently jogging through the city with inspired youth running beside him.
He’s sitting in front of the vanity mirror. Dahl brings him a gorgeous pinstripe suit, custom-made. His pep talk is precise. “I’m not gonna say I think you can do it, because I really have no idea. But I hope you do.” Then he divulges his three rules of show business. One, look them in the eye, speak from the heart. Two, you gotta go away to come back. Three, if someone asks you to keep a secret, the secret’s a lie. A perfect setup for Jerry Seinfeld who walks in moments after. He tells him some bad news. The contract has already been signed, they’re giving him Late Show. He thought it was unfair they are making him do this when they are already printing out the t-shirts. Louie is cordial and congratulates him, and thanks him for his honesty. As he’s closing the door behind him, Jerry says, “Nobody knows just yet, so if you could keep it a secret.” BOOM.
The lightbulb moment is acted with appropriate cliche by C.K. His face gets wide, and Doug starts the refrain of Dahl’s last rule. Then he blurts a prolonged, “Motherf*cker, goddamit.” According to the comeback formula this is that moment where he’s inspired to whoop some ass. He does, decidedly. His opening monologue was delightful. “Obama promises the economy will improve in the next four years. He also promises to kill Bin Laden a couple more times.” He adds, “It’s funny reading jokes off cards because you see your death in front of you.” With his first guest Susan Sarandon he admits she was the first woman he masturbated to, after seeing Rocky Horror Picture Show. She’s so nonchalant about it, too, what a trooper.Next was Paul Rudd. He teases him about his daughter’s name, Darby. Rudd claims the name comes from one of his wife’s favorite movies, The Pelican Brief. Louie says he hopes there is no one actually named Darby in that movie. Cue the raucous audience laughter and Garry Marshall reprises his role as the exec, who is watching the feed. He rings up Dahl and tells him good work, he has an option.
Out with the guys at the bar (Nick DiPaolo, Todd Barry, etc) he’s watching “Extra” again. Letterman is signed on for ten more years. Doug informs him they were using him to drive down the price. DiPaolo tries to cheer him up and say he was so good he drove the price down $20 million on that asshole. The others mock his crappy news, clearly uncomfortable. Louie leaves and stares at the Ed Sullivan marquee. He screams, “I did it!” “Hey Letterman, I did it!” It’s certainly not how “Rocky” ended, but it meshes with not only Louie’s worldview, but the character development. As much as “Louie” has benefitted from a tabula rasa format, this continuity streak has done wonders. Louie ends this episode with confidence. The world just shit on him yet again, but it doesn’t matter. He knows that he could host a late night talk show. Now where could this translate in his life? While it would have been far too drastic for the tone of the show to have him be a huge star, it provides tremendous possibilities now that he has taken a risk and succeeded even if everyone else won’t recognize it. His triumph was a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear, except him.
Next week, we’ll step back into the ring with him for one more round. Fittingly, it’s entitled “New Year’s Eve.” What sort of resolutions will Louie have for himself? He tried and failed, but unlike most people, he’s not afraid to get back on the horse. He’s just excited he mounted the damn beast at all. I don’t think he ever expected to get the job. Even if Seinfeld lit a fire under his ass, he only wanted to prove him wrong. That it wasn’t done, that HE wasn’t done. Now that the season, and Louie’s year draws to a close, how will he capitalize on this new sense of purpose? Last season ended with him content to wait for love. This season I would venture to bet he searches for it, and finds something else by accident. Not better, just different. Because Louie’s not “that kind of show.” The hero doesn’t get the girl, or the gig, and he damn sure doesn’t save the day. He’s a sad clown that stumbles upon happiness and all its repulsive beauty.