When does cute cross the line into crazy? When does that infectious free sprit lose their undeniable magnetism and become a looney-tune straddling the edge of self-destruction? Parker Posey’s portrayal of a possible manic-depressive, permanently scarred from staring down death at fourteen due to Carcinoma, called to mind another masterful turn of another charismatic agent of chaos—Heath Ledger’s Joker.
While Liz’s code of ethics may be intact and she isn’t trying to seduce Louie’s New York City into anarchy, on a micro level she seeks to break the established order in Louie’s life—or, call it was it is, practiced laziness. From the outset, she’s whisking Louie on a “magic carpet ride” showing his sheltered Jasmine the Aladdin perspective of the city. While I doubt that she didn’t come from privilege, and therefore would not have the POV of a street urchin, she’s no less riveting for the cautious, unadventurous Louie. The blindfold of her charm will eventually be removed, but even by the end, Louie doesn’t seem to harbor any resentment. Though perhaps he wants her committed, he seems exhilarated. Life dangling from the ledge, looking danger in the eyes and laughing, is not him. But the season’s common thread of learning, gaining knowledge from different lenses, was taken to extremes.
Before delving into the alluring madness, I wanted to remark on the almost insignificant opening standup. It’s brief, and unforgettable in its disconnection from the material, but it’s noteworthy in that while Louie is far from the rhetoric of a feminist—and would even consider himself an inherently immortal enemy due to their perceived humorlessness—his ability to empathize and absorb the fears of a woman is not only comedically admirable, but it’s a crucial step in combating misogyny. He starts with his own self-loathing and his filthy tinge (I get nervous when I date…I fart for the rest of my life when she goes inside), then veers into a tangent on how it must be difficult being a cute girl. “You’re small, you’re an adult and there’s massive men all staring at you.”
He then pretends to be this series of ferocious grunting men who are simultaneously fantasizing about her in an aggressive, obvious way. “It’s a lot to take on,” he continues. “You’re always someone else’s cum fantasy.” Again, he takes it to a grotesque level, but that disgustingly raw illustration aside, the sentiment is still there. When he adds, “He looks at you and you can can feel buckets of cum hit you in the face,” it’s not meant to repulse. Though it has the humorous affect of putting such a despicable picture in your head, it also addresses a fundamental truth—men make women eternally uncomfortable because they might be viewing them simply as a vehicle for sexual release. It’s not meant to be an ego-driven act, assuming that men are fantasizing about you. It’s a defense mechanism for women. They avoid the stares of admiring men, because they may be envisioning themselves dominating her without her consent. Clearly, this is a comedy show. It’s meant to entertain more than to inform social interaction, but that doesn’t mean it can’t. Keeping in mind the ongoing threat of rape that lurks in the minds of all woman (no matter the supposed level of desirability) is an important exercise in empathy for male allies.
Skipping forward, I’m unsure how this frankly feminist rant by C.K contextualizes the rest of the episode—as the standup bits are prone to do—except that Louie walks what must have exceeded a mile in someone else’s shoes. For a night, he was sometimes aggressively forced out of his comfort zone. In the case of a new eatery, it expanded his horizons and he was grateful for the new flavors. In other cases, his pulse is probably still pounding.
Viewers likely were yelling at the screen—RUN! And don’t look back! She’s cray cray! (That’s what the kids are saying, right?) And that would be an astute observation. She gets her employee’s name wrong (strike one), she takes him to an unbearably loud, bustling bar (strike two—at his age, really?) and then the bartender at said bar denies her two shots of Jager on the grounds of, “Not with what happened last time” (strike three). Hmmm, so she’s self-absorbed, a loose canon, and possibly abusing alcohol? I’m no chef, but that sounds like the ingredients for a clusterf*ck. At the very least, she has issues. But as someone desperate for experience, as indicated in his previous attempts at connection this season, Louie buys these acts of spontaneity like a sucker.
She raves about walking in the city, and when she poses Louie the question of whether he enjoys it too, he lies. It’s customary on dates to hold back one’s opinions for the sake of smooth sailing. But harmony is not her bag. She’s a huge proponent of honesty, and even shouts that she “LOVES TO DISAGREE!” That’s an exaggeration. No one loves to disagree. She’s the type of woman who would love to debate, and make a man whimper into submission. Which we’ll find out. She insists they’ll walk. Louie jokes, “Because I’m fat?” Her response: “Yes, you’re fat. And I have no tits. Let’s be honest. That’s the only way I’ll continue this date.” Though he acquiesces, this is unstable behavior. Going back to my Joker comparison, only a madman would issue an ultimatum (either Batman reveals himself or more people will die). It’s less homicidal, but this is early on. Who’s to say where her limits extend to?
Another trademark of mental instability presents itself—lack of censorship. She begins to reveal her history with illness, of her childhood affliction with Carcinoma. Told by doctors she was “supposed to die,” she conjures up striking images of her vomiting violently into her toilet while she consoles her sobbing mother beside her, rubbing her back. Shot inventively by C.K, the two are shot as though distant from each other, spinning in separate orbits. This serves as a visual cue that these two are on different planes, that his orbit has by happenstance crossed with hers, though perhaps they shouldn’t coexist. He looks on both horrified and intrigued as she darts into a store, shifting from that influential sorrow, spitting in its face and saying “Not today.”
Wandering through this vintage store, she adds, “Death looked me in the face, and then faded back into the mist.” It would seem that this illness shaped her outlook. She admits to never returning to school because sitting in a desk learning algebra would be a waste of her precious time. Ill-advised or not, he’s fascinated by this woman who forgoes the normal because it limits her ability to live. For a man with an almost debilitating sense of routine, this is like introducing him to a drug.
Spastically, she finds a tacky dress for him to try on. While he’s content to listen to her musings on the fragility of existence, he’s not necessarily a willing participant yet. Like a possessive girlfriend, she says she’s testing him. This was my moment where in abject horror I whispered, “Get the hell out of there” as if he were a unsuspecting character in a cliche horror movie, wandering into the haunted house with naive disregard. Then she echoes the shaming of Melissa Leo from three episodes ago—”Grow some guts.” He’s so caught up in the novelty of her that he allows himself to be convinced. She laughs at his husky frame in the slinky number and he feels humiliated. She reassures him, “Congratulations to you. Because you’re officially great.” When a girl dares you to do something to prove your love for her, that’s your first glaring sign of an unhealthy relationship. Love is not an episode of Fear Factor. You are not a contestant on a game show where you must win her affections. Obviously, a person must prove their affections are true to establish trust, but when this becomes a ritual of shame, time to find the exit.
Her manipulations progress when they finally exchange names (I’m glad the show acknowledged this, because it had bothered me even in Part 1). After Louie divulges his, she confesses hers is…Tape Recorder. Astounded, Louie looks on wearily as she explains that her parents argued so vehemently that one day her father pointed to a tape recorder in his desk and sarcastically suggested they just call her that for now. And it stuck.
Now remember, Louie still doesn’t know her. He’s feeling her out. So he is confused and unsure of how to gauge her sense of humor. So he takes her seriously—”Do people call you Tape? She was totally messing him though. She says she’ll have to be careful with him because he took it so seriously, like he’s the one who is distorting everything. She has knocked his world off-kilter. She drags him to another location, Russ and Daughters. It’s a Norwegian deli where they taste herring and trout roe. Louie is particularly taken with their pickles and sandwich bread. They share an sexual high in eating this food, and Louie for the first time gains entry into her world of extremes. And food was the right way to seduce him. As they keep strolling, she rambles about desire and how Louie is so in love with the food because he had never had it. She seems to be aware of her own appeal. She knows that she’s an experiment for him, uncharted territory that he’s exploring. A virgin to her thrilling and off-balance lifestyle.
Louie absentmindedly gives the rest of his sandwich to a homeless man. He acts as though it’s common practice for him to discard food by placing it with a vagrant instead of tossing it in the trash. Now preoccupied with helping him, Posey gets down on her knees and asks why he is in the cold. The man is mentally ill. He sees snakes everywhere, making it impossible for him to function without meds. Of course, the prescription is astronomically priced. After looking up at him helplessly, Louie caves and buys him the pills. Then they check him in to the Comfort Inn. While this is an incredible act of goodwill, oddly it reaffirms her disregard for society. Without a filter, without constraints she allows herself to feel and do things that others wouldn’t attempt to. It leads Louie to delicious treats and a courageous act of charity, but it next brings him to his Everest.
As if she were a motivational life coach, she pushes Louie to climb a considerable amount of stairs. Obviously, he’s not in great shape, and it could kill him. She won’t tell him what’s up there because she wants him to push through his reservations. Not knowing how much pain he’ll have to endure, he consents. After many stories he tries to sit and catch his breath and she screams at him mercilessly. He starts calling her “kid” and “sport.” It could be out of frustration and condescension, but I theorize that he’s finally feeling like she is too much for him. Though I doubt he’s misconstruing her mad behavior for youth, so the condescension might be accurate. Once at the top, he’s unenthused. While it’s a breathtaking glance at the skyline, he doesn’t see how it was worth all that anguish. She relishes this struggle. Since she recovered as a teen, she’s constantly lived as if death’s presence is a blessing, a stimulant for unleashed joy.
She sits literally on the ledge, and Louie is frightened. He repeatedly asks her to get down. She responds, “The only way I fall is if I jump. That’s why you’re afraid. Because a part of you wants to jump. Because it would be so easy.” She then continues to say she wouldn’t dare jump because she’s having too good a time. Louie smiles goofily back at her, entranced by her beauty and the freedom of living without fear. But the wonder drains from her face and she looks over the side somberly. She mutters they should go home. Before closing the rooftop door, Louie looks at the ledge, briefly.
Did some of her words ring true? Absolutely. Louie has even joked onstage that he dreams of the comfort of death. Not because of depression and angst, but because of its lifelessness. No worries, regrets, anxieties. Just nothing. A forever sleep. She suggests that because he isn’t living, his fear isn’t fear at all. It’s a confrontation with his own desires. But perhaps this catalyst for his self-examination was really just her convincing herself that she wouldn’t jump. The quick depletion of her glee would align with my theory that she’s manic-depressive. It would explain her rapid movements, her addiction to thrill-seeking, and it would explain the implied alcohol abuse and constant chatter. Liz (as she finally shares at episode’s end) has serious demons. Louie has his issues, but he isn’t mentally ill. But as The Joker philosophizes in “The Dark Knight”—”Madness is like gravity, all you need is a little push.” How far was Louie willing to go for a girl? He entertained the depths of his sadness, he humiliated himself, he tried new things, and he helped others. While some of the night’s festivities included what we could determine is an evolution for the character, the rest was just contagious insanity. Can crazy be what we need sometimes?
While Parker Posey’s character fits into the framework of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” archetype—the adorable, quirky girl whose unconventional looks and lack of inhibitions revitalize sophisticated, but sad men—she’s much more tortured. I gather she hasn’t chosen her life as a style to try on, it plagues her. Maybe it’s because I watched Memento a couple hours before watching, but my perception of truth in anything she said was shaky. Could she have embellished her cancer story? She isn’t above lying and manipulating to make a connection. The consciousness of her dishonesty is debatable, but her compulsive need to leap from adventure to adventure isn’t. As if she were Jason Statham in Crank, she has to keep her heart rate up or she’ll die, emotionally.
Louie loves contrast, putting his own views up against others so that he might adapt, but this episode has very little to do with him. While most of his dates exhibit a failure on his part, he does more than enough to placate this woman. This is about the date, the risks of meeting new people. We can never know what baggage a person carries with them, all you can do is spend time with someone. Whether you run like heck afterwards to avoid the psychosis from spreading, or you check an item off your bucket list, people are unpredictable. While I still support my thesis statement for this season—to reiterate, “this is who we are, how we act and how we treat each other, are you okay with that?”—I’ll amend it slightly for this episode. I don’t find Parker Posey’s impeccable and gripping performance to be a magnifying glass look at mental illness, I think it’s an isolated, but wonderfully told observation on opening yourself up to being scared, because terrific and terrifying things can happen. Either way, it will change you. Since the show never states what she’s afflicted with, if anything, I don’t think it’s vital. I do, however, think she’s an exceptional rendering of a complex and curious person, aided by Posey’s stellar acting. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is true. Not to say it’s real or certain, just that it resonates. It feels like life, with all its possibilities.