It’s official, Louis C.K is an Emmy award-winning writer. He won for both the episode “Pregnant” from “Louie’s” second season—I would have voted for “Parks and Recreation” in this category because he submitted one of his lesser episodes from season two—and for his standup special released on the internet, “Live at the Beacon Theater.” Now that his brilliance has been validated, I feel like a man without a country. Without my endless crusade to spread the gospel of C.K, what purpose does my life have? Although I’m being deliciously sarcastic, this idea of aimlessness dominates the proceedings in “New Year’s Eve.”
Once again foregoing the familiar opening theme music, Louis C.K elects to go with sad guitar. Although it’s different from the melancholic score of the Late Show trilogy, it has the same somber mood. And this makes sense, because Louie is still coping with that loss. He may have walked out of that bar and yelled to the skies that he overcame his demons, but he didn’t defeat Letterman. They don’t tell you that about the American Dream, that it doesn’t come true for everyone. I don’t intend to delve into sociological theories here, but let’s just say the late night game is no different than the American “success” machine. It’s rigged. At any rate, Louie is sipping on his mug of tea while draped in blankets. He would appear to be consoling himself alone. He’s actually witnessing his girls frenetically ripping open their presents on Christmas morning.
Even this joyous occasion of giving is tainted by struggle. Jane opens up to find a blue monkey, just as she had asked for. We see the darkness behind his procurement of said monkey, squirming through a sea of voracious parents to ask for assistance. Lily opens a box to find a creepy Victorian doll. She finds her angelic and pretty, but Louie can only see her as the bitch that put him through hell. The next four minutes are devoted to the reenactment of his torment. He smartly opened the packaging to check the doll’s condition to find that the eyes had rolled inside its head. In the process of trying to extract the eyes he destroys this doll. First, he tries tipping it, to see if the eyes roll back into place. Next, he fishes for them with chopsticks. Then he tear the hair off its head to drill in like a lobotomy. The eyes fall out and, inexplicably, there’s three of them. Now, it’s a matter of gluing them back in.
He curses, “Shit on my father’s balls!” dropping the eyes, then wiping his brow with the doll’s dress. He saws off a section of the head so he can fit his fingers in. He lies on the floor to get the proper angle, a glue droplet dripping into his own eye. He reattaches the legs that had been torn off in the debacle, and then goes back to the head to find it has stuck to the couch. He peels it off, but obviously now chunks of couch fiber have adhered to her face. At this juncture, he gets weepy, and understandably so. As a remedy, he scrubs the doll in the sink first, then the toilet, pissing on it in anger. With the face now discolored he resorts to cooking crayons that match its complexion into a paint of sorts. Then he brushes the melted-down crayons on, and it looks horrendous. For the full ordeal, check it out on YouTube.
This sequence is so excruciating to watch, because at some point we have all been lowered to this shoddy craftsmanship. Whether it is for our own possessions we slaved over, or if we’ve ruined a prized commodity of someone else’s—we’ve all looked like idiots trying to fix something with minuscule parts that couldn’t have possible been assembled by human hands. The added frustration is knowing that you are making it worse, but you’ve reached the point of no return. Louie’s pain has always been a source of amusement, but here we’re commiserating—because it could happen to us.
Jane opens the next one, and it’s a book. Not from Santa, but from the dad himself. He reads this story about a duck named Ping and his enormous family who live in China by the Yangtze River. Jane remarks how pretty it looks, and Louie can’t help but notice. Janet then arrives to pick up the girls, some schlub of a boyfriend coming along. Janet says they won’t be back in the States until January 14th. She then asks about Letterman, and Louie shrugs it off saying it didn’t happen, when he could have easily devolved into tears. Looking at it from this perspective, it was his shot at a life outside of his girls. There’s nothing wrong with having a world that revolves around your kids. But without them, what does he have? He stares longingly into the elevator as the door closes. He discards of all the wrapping paper and strips the tree of its ornaments and garlands. He tosses the bare tree from his upper-floor window. He shuts the blinds, and burrows himself a hole in bed where he’s content to hibernate for the holidays.
He’s woken up by his younger sister, being played by Amy Poehler! It’s sort of disgusting though, because she has been his girlfriend on “Parks and Recreation.” They also made a fine pair of presenters at the Emmys, playing up Louie’s disinterest and Amy’s enthusiasm. So, Debbie, is calling to ask what he’s doing for New Year’s, to make sure he won’t be alone. She invites him to join her family on the excursion to Mexico to visit Abuelita (grandma). Doug, her husband gets on the phone. It’s astounding how fast Louie can flesh out a character. We hear his southern accent, he makes a crack about “Left-wing Kennedy airport,” he calls him “funnyman” and highlights the wings and heated pool as the major amenities at the hotel. All the same, he insists his brother-in-law join. Even in a cynical show like Louie, the stereotypical folks have a redemptive, gentle side. Sometimes, it’s more demonstrative than the “good guys.”
Louie says he’ll think about it, but he seems against it. Amy Poehler does a phenomenal job in a bit part. She epitomizes the overly-concerned sister who dances on the ledge of hysterics. He falls back asleep as the fake news reports that a local woman was surprised by an anonymous gift—she didn’t know her neighbors were gay men. He dreams about his daughters, meeting up at a cafe. His unconscious is stupidly vague with his daughters saying, “Wow we’re like grown up,” “We’re probably in our 20s,” “I’ve got a career-y thing,” and “I’m probably an artist, hopefully it’s going well.” They discuss how lonely their father is, and how all he does is sit in his chair and eat pinwheel cookies. But he isn’t jolted awake until they come to the conclusion they’re “probably kinda fucked up from having that kinda dad.” He doesn’t make a change for himself, that’s still a hurdle. But nothing is as powerful a catalyst for him as his girls.
The news is still playing on the TV, and female reporter Fanny Chapcranter talks about how busy crisis centers are in preparation for New Year’s. The holiday is one of the most popular for suicide. It’s estimated that 400 New Yorkers will take their own lives, especially those spending the night by themselves. Male reporter Flappy Howerston even adds, “Go ahead, put that gun in your mouth.” Done with being downtrodden by his isolation, he packs up, bringing his passport and takes the bus presumably to JFK to join his sister in Mexico City. On the bus, he sees none but Liz—the girl that fascinated and frightened him—played by Parker Posey. It’s a moment of pure bliss, hope surging inside him as he realizes he won’t have to be alone and has a chance at connection. But alas, the universe doesn’t care about his plans. She falls into his arms, black blood oozing out of her nose. She transported to the hospital where it seems the cancer she had in childhood has returned aggressively. She asks if she’s dying and Louie is unsure as everything escalates around him. Her last words are a perplexed “Bye” as she can’t be resuscitated. She’s declared dead at 11:59pm.
As the world celebrates around him, he brings in the new year on a note of loss. He can’t even mourn Liz because he didn’t even have time to create something with her. He sleeps on a bench at JFK, using his suitcase as a pillow. He wakes up to the bustling airport and looks at the flight listings. He focuses on Mexico City at first, but his eyes divert to Beijing. He lands in this strange land, wandering. He asks folks for directions to the Yangtze, hoping he’ll find the serene river from the storybook. Most aren’t helpful, and one man even confuses his gesture for “river” with tai chi. Louie then gets sucked into these elegant movements, thinking he’s communicating. Eventually he gets in a three-wheeled truck with a man carrying crates of ducks. He directs him to what amounts to a grassy stream.
Disappointed, Louie keeps trekking these mountains and stumbles upon a woman. She lead him into her home where they are enjoying dinner. They cannot speak with one another, and yet the language of humor and generosity is heard loud and clear. They provide food and laughs, trying to teach him words for which he cannot assign meaning. However, the sense of community and welcoming seems to wash away the worry from Louie’s weathered face. He smiles as he’s immersed in this scene of family, who have shared their riches with him.
It’s an odd way to end the season. It’s irresolute and yet sums up this profound journey he has been on to take control of his life. He’s been searching for something to complete him—a girlfriend, a companion, a job, courage, motivation, a purpose. In his quest to find this elusive thing that would make him happy, he forgot that happiness isn’t found, it’s experienced. It was only when he let go of the fear he would fail to find something that he walked into it willingly. I’m not suggesting season four will begin with Louie entrenched in Chinese customs, fluent in Mandarin and working in the paddy fields. His home is New York, but he rarely ventures outside his comfort zone of his own volition. I think it’s also worth noting that he was only miserable by comparison. While his anguish over the Christmas season absurdity was justified, his removal was pathetic. Yes, his girls were gone. He wouldn’t have his family. But he’s got a sister who loves him. He has his comedy. Why didn’t he consider a club for refuge? He was only shameful because he wasn’t doing what Hallmark says you are supposed to do on the holidays.
And it’s impossible to live up to other people’s standards, so why do we try? This whole show is an advertisement for the unconventional. There is nothing comfortable about it. Remember Melissa Leo’s borderline rape of him in episode two? Remember his trip to Miami, and his friend mistaking his affection for homosexuality? And let’s not forget all the investment he put into a late night gig that was never in the cards. Robert Frost would be proud of Louie though. He’s made all the difference in the world, by taking roads that some would not dare travel. While the character may have taken thirteen episodes to go after what he wants, Louis C.K the showrunner has never stopped going for it, making all the difference. There is no show bolder than this one, breaking the mold of sitcom, individual achievement, and of character development. Overall, I may have enjoyed season two more, but there’s an indelible footprint in the sand from season three. And there are disciples who will surely follow it, but it won’t be as freshly trodden as when “Louie” discovered the path first.