Louis C.K shouldn’t be likable. Seriously. I mean, how has he morphed into the charismatic, self-loathing schlub that sells out arenas nationwide to spew nonsense about how grotesque his genitalia has become in middle age—I grant you, there is more to his act and him than his mashed-up penis.
To further emphasize my point, nearly every action he takes in “Dad” is either reprehensible or irksome. He breaks up the lovely violin solo orchestrated by his daughter to scold her, “It’s not time to do that right now.” He sounds like the overzealous guy at work who believes he’s an extension of the manager and therefore holds authority over you. When adorable Jane whines sweetly, “But it’s beautiful,” it has no effect on the brute. The bone-chilling notes are rendered worthless because she should be doing her homework. Brush aside the comedic timing of his interruption for a second. If we are to still assume that continuity is fluid—considering last week’s “Ikea/Piano Lesson” an exception to the rule—then our reintroduction to Louie’s character starts with an antagonistic relationship. He took the pretty music away.
After grating, relentless shouts of “Go to your room!” he continues his tour of party-pooping at a generic electronics store. He searches high and low for an employee to help him and turns the corner to see a gaggle of them shooting the shit. Ah, how I could relate to the scene. A guest wanders in, somehow unaccustomed to the customs of a “restaurant” confused as to whether they just sit, or if they will be seated. It’s an off-peak hour so the three servers and I that haven’t been cut are gathered at the bar, fighting for the attention of the cute bartender. Believe it or not, although we’re being pay to care about this aimless guest, I couldn’t care less. But I feign concern for their needs because, that’s the job. But some twentysomethings (a group Louie loathes for its entitlement in one of his earlier standups) can’t even pretend to be bothered with providing the simplest of retail services.
Louie, armed with sarcasm and impatience, flails his arms in the air. “Can somebody help me?!” Reluctantly, one employee volunteers. When Louie turns around ironically thanking him, the employee flips him the bird behind his head. To be fair, this salesman is atrocious. Louie asks plainly, does this play Blu-Rays and DVDs. And dude just lifts the box and reads the specs. This is a pet-peeve of any customer—we could have read the box ourselves, dummy. Even so, like when the episode began with him as the villain sucking the life force out of the soothing violin solo, he set this interaction up to be contentious. Therefore, when he takes a phone call from his uncle and ignores the salesman, his comeuppance was deserved. Eloquent Uncle Excelsior—who we later see is played by Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham, not reprising his role as a swinger husband from New Jersey from season 2’s finale—calls to set up a lunch at the swanky Russian Tea Room. And as Louie hangs up, he turns around and falls on his face. The vengeful salesperson stuck a box behind his feet to initiate the tumble.
Incensed, Louie searches for a superior. He finds a suit who seems just as indifferent as his subordinate, but when Louie hyperbolically claims assault, the manager is forced to listen. They look over the security tapes with a security guard and he’s astounded by how he looks on camera. Of course, to establish a surrealist bent, Louie does, in fact, replace himself with a lookalike in some of the fake footage. When they replay the “assault” both the manager and security guard crack up, much to his chagrin. I suppose if that happened to me, I’d seek justice as well. But with psychic distance, Louie comes off as a stick in the mud. Holding back laughter, the manager asks if he’ll be press charging. Instead, Louie storms off upset that he’s being mocked instead of being served respectfully as is expected.
Circling back to the point of likability, why would we be in Louie’s corner at this juncture? He stomped on the dreams of his darling daughter, and he doesn’t see the humor in him stumbling over a box like he was shot in the leg. Maybe he’s not the bad guy, but he’s not the hero. A hero never complains. The answer is convention has no place in “Louie'” universe. As in life, we’re stuck with him. Whether we find his behavior endearing or annoying, or cringe-inducing, he’s all we’ve got. Watching Louie is like looking in a mirror. There’s shame, regret, sometimes pride, and sometimes hatred. But it’s a reflection of our selves that we can’t escape, especially when it gets uncomfortable.
At the Russian Tea Room, Louie sits in his lavish booth while Uncle Ex tells a winding story about a duke and a credenza and “this kind of fellow.” Skip ahead, and he sent the gift credenza to Boston where he stumbled into Louie’s dad. He rhetorically asks if Louie knows what he said. He rambles into two, seemingly unrelated (but hilarious) tangents, In the first, he tells a short anecdote about how he had a horse when he was little. When he went away to school, he asked Louie’s dad to take care of it. In three months, it was dead. Okie dokie. Second, he uses a disturbing metaphor for father/son relationships. While lifting his middle finger he says, “When a man has sex with a prostitute, and he covers his organ with protection, so he won’t catch her wretchedness, it is in the interest of his family. So that he won’t take it home to his wife, hm? Louie’s utterly perplexed response helps his likability immensely—”That’s a question?” I laughed for a straight two minutes with my DVR paused. Ex continues, “But between a father and son there can be no separation, no boundary,” as he pulls off the imaginary condom. Brandishing that naked middle finger he imparts, “This is for life, Louie!” So, to recap, his obligation to his father can be likened to be being fucked without a condom. Yikes.
Repeating the refrain, “Shame on you,” demanding he visit his father, the guilt is hammered in. It’s embedded so deep, he seemingly forgets. But it resurfaces at a poker game with his comedian pals like that in one of my favorite episodes, “Poker/Divorce.” Nick DiPaolo is back, so is Rick Crom, and Sarah Silverman shows up for the second week in a row. She talks as innocently as one can about selling her tits for money, physically cutting them off. In a bit of witty repartee, Louie says he would still bang her even with bloody holes where her breasts used to be. Always the good sport Sarah calls his remark sweet. Then they rag on Jim Norton when he accidentally reveals a a pornographic drawing he did to get off to. Apparently, it’s a practice that goes back to adolescence. As Rick begins to talk about a NYT article on ancient pornography, Louie suddenly vomits, disgusting everyone at the table. He goes to a doctor (an actually helpful one, not Ricky Gervais) and he has a huge rash on his neck. Appearing unrelated, the doc asks him what’s new to make sense of his ailments. And Louie’s reply may solidify why we fans like him so much.
“Boilerplate misery, alone in the world. Might as well be a maggot sucking on a dead cat’s face. Nothing new…”
First, it’s ridiculously funny imagery. An just superb use of language. But second, it is the essential Louie. He’s miserable. Our protagonists of the past may have gone through sporadic hardships and met insurmountable obstacles, but there’s never a hint that they are disappointed with themselves and the path their life has taken to a degree of eternal despair. That sort of depression and admitted loneliness is a rare discovery in human beings, let alone TV characters. The stigmas surrounding sadness are still enormous. Especially sad sack single men. That’s like a cold sore on the lips of America, it’s unsightly. Reality tells us though, that most men don’t have a soulmate. Maybe they have a wife, but they struggle to love them. Maybe they chase tail, but there’s no substance to their sexcapades. And then there are the Louies that are entirely alone. And it is because of this shameless depiction of a life left searching for completion and satisfaction that he is revered. For the not-so-attractive folk, each day is spent coming to terms with a lack of fulfillment. It’s a constant fight, and it takes courage to portray that sort of honesty. So while we may not love what we see, what makes me compelled to watch is that Louie, most likely, doesn’t like what he sees either.
When the doc asks about foods he’s eaten, he recalls the cornish hens at Russian Tea Room. He then riffs on what they discussed: his father, and whether he would go see him. The doc then makes an elaborate psychological diagnosis for a physician—adding still to the surreal quality of the episode where it’s unclear if this is his inner world or reality—that his conscious mind isn’t ready to face the hugeness of seeing his dad, so his stress is manifesting itself in his skin and stomach, because his head can’t handle it. Louie buys this—mainly because it’s coming from his mind, I believe—and departs for Boston to pop in on his pops.
From here we spiral into the twilight zone. Over the intercom on the plane, a woman says,” Ladies and gentlemen, we are making our final descent into Logan Airport…where your father lives.” Startled, he crushes his cup of water. The eerie references to his personal mission by the outside world persist when he hurls on a rental and he’s berated by a woman who tells him to “be a man.” Quick thought, this is a major theme of the season. You’ll often hear the phrases “man up” or “be a man” used in this abstract fashion as a call to action for Louie. What does this reflect? Is C.K insecure about how his masculinity is perceived (this harkens back to the sexual confusion of “Miami”)? Does he find it intriguing that the characteristic of assertiveness is attributed almost exclusively to males? Or is he commenting on how women can often be the worst offenders in perpetuating a patriarchic society? Perhaps, it’s nothing too complex, and maybe it’s a throwaway line. But being familiar with his standup, I know that Louie is fascinated with the differences between men and women, and how we relate to each other. So I could certainly see him subtly exploring the nature of sexual double standards and manhood. It also aligns with my thesis for this season—”This is who we are. how we act, and how we treat each other. Are you okay with that?”
Even his GPS with a simulated, soft female voice mocks him for “being such a pussy”—another derogatory phrase that brands women as weak. The GPS goes on, “…it’s not like he touched your dick or something.” While the scene functions mostly as a comedic setup with how he gets into an argument with a machine that isn’t really talking to him, highlighting his anxiety, it’s also serves as the sole indicator to the audience about this relationship. All we know now is that he wasn’t around, but didn’t sexually abuse him. Therefore, the man is a mystery to us too, putting us on edge about the meeting.
He gets into a shouting match with a townie driving behind him when he stops short. He reverts to his old blue-collar Boston accent calling him a “Boston ignoramus.” And this masshole is the epitome of Boston. Rough, muscular exterior, his default setting is confrontation, but he shows concern when he see Louie’s nose bleeding. He throws him a rag, but when Louie shares about the stress of not seeing his dad in two years, the tough guy responds, “I haven’t seen my dad since he died. So think about that, you queer.” No sympathy, homophobic comment. Welcome to Beantown. Even better, is they bro-hug it out right after, complete strangers, but bonded by where they come from.
Outside his dad’s place, he shuts the car door and the glass shatters. Bad omen. We get some brilliantly dizzy and disorienting camera work as he approaches the doorway. He rings the bell and as we see a shadow of a man on the other side, Louie panics and books it down the street. He steals a three-wheel motorcycle (I saw it called a “roadster” online). It’s filmed like a chase scene, but no one is behind him but his past. He stops at the waterfront and jacks a speedboat and races out to where there’s no land in sight and kills the engine. After catching his breath, he chuckles. Then silence. We pan out as the end credits roll and we’re left thinking about whether he ever really flew to Boston or if he’s just elaborately running away from his problems of his psyche. We leave with more questions about his father than when we started, but I’m fine if we were only watching his imagined encounter, how he thought it would go and really he’s not floating in the Atlantic, but rolling with the waves in his head.
The end leaves us viewers rocking with the tides too. Whether the pacing to get to that indulgent one-man chase scene was shoddy or not can be debated—since I watched it recorded, I knew we were near the end, so it bothered me less—but I’m confident that no one walked away with an understanding of what happened. You may be able to articulate it in summary like I have, but what it meant is elusive. Clearly, Louie isn’t ready to deal with his dad yet, and maybe this was just a half-hour excursion to that realization. Even so, it was affecting. Between the mistreatment by electronic store employees, the sickness, and the uncanny references to his quest from the mouths of strangers, I was as unbalanced as he was.
Having to confront a person you’ve decided is not a part of your life anymore is like traveling back in time, but you don’t get to fix what went wrong. You just get to relive that agony. For me, the best way to deal with these resurfaced traumas in through fiction, and “Louie” provides a therapeutic service this week. We can suppress our giggles like the manager and security guard did because it’s not us having a bad day. While empathy is a value that should be more lauded, sometimes instead of feeling what others feel, we just want to distance ourselves from that queasiness of emotion and watch the discomfort play out onscreen. There’s nothing funny about it when you’re in a funk by yourself, but when we can commiserate as a community, it’s much easier to self-examine and laugh at the ridiculousness of screaming at your GPS to shut up as you’re en route to your father. We’re imperfect creatures, and in our missteps there’s humor. Hell, what taps into your primal funny bone better than when someone trips and falls? The luxury of comedy is that no one is left on the ground. Everyone fully expects you’ll pick yourself up. And if you don’t? We’ll share a laugh at your expense.