The debut of Louie’s second season ends with Louis CK in his natural habitat on stage delivering a rant that eloquently summarizes the dominant theme of the show and the episode and has the added benefit of being funny and profound when he confesses, “Any parent who is honest will tell you, you live with that ambivalence. You look at the face of your beautiful, lovely child and you think two things at the exact same time: ‘I love this kid so much that it ‘s changed my whole life. I love other people more because of how much I love her. I love people that died years ago more. My love has traveled time because of how completely I love her and she loves me back. She’s completely given value to life that didn’t exist before and I regret every decision that led to her birth’. That’s how it feels.”
The raw, cathartic, strangely liberating closer serves as a perfect bookend to an opener that similarly wrestles with the profound ambivalence endemic in parenthood, especially single parenthood. In it, CK is lovingly and carefully brushing his adorable little girl’s teeth when she guilelessly enthuses, “I like mama’s better. I like mama’s better because she makes good food and I love her more so I like being there more.”
The actress playing CK’s daughter does not deliver the words with malice. In her mind, she’s merely stating her preferences, not accidentally feeding every single parent’s worst fears. She’s even intuitive enough to see the subtle look of hurt, rejection and disappointment on her father’s place and add the caveat that she enjoys spending time at his place as well; it’s just that enjoys spending time with her mother more because she has better mastered the technical aspects of parenting in way CK hasn’t.
CK is deeply hurt if not completely devastated. As is sometimes the case in Louie it’s not entirely clear whether what we’re watching is an objective account of an actual conversation between our tortured hero and his daughter or a subjective dramatization of his worst fears. The sequence has the perfect capper: after lovingly sending his daughter away, he flips her the bird behind her back. It’s an aggressive gesture, sure, but also a purposefully pointless one, since CK’s daughter is never going to see him flipping her off. CK’s daughter wounds him accidentally. It’s up to him as the parent to be the bigger man, but he can’t resist making one pointless passive-aggressive gesture of defiance. He’s a dad, after all, not a saint.
With that opening scene, Louie once again quietly lays down the gauntlet. It’s letting us know that Louie is going to deal with parenthood and children like no television before. The tenderness in the opening scene gives it its bite: if CK’s daughter uttered her words in anger or to hurt her father they wouldn’t have anywhere near the impact they do, just as if CK responded with rage or indignation the final gesture would have felt shrill and obnoxious instead of guiltily satisfying.
After maybe my favorite opening credit sequence of any show on television (who has a better opening credit sequence and/or theme song?), Louie explores one of its pet themes: the impossibility of trying to employ logic and reason when talking to children who are by definition irrational and ruled by urges and hungers.
In explaining why his daughter can’t have a treat her sister received, CK waxes metaphoric and attempts to say, “The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough.” He’s trying to sound wise and profound. He’s trying to act the role of dad and deliver the sort of bromides a father should. But the words and ideas come stumbling out of his mouth because he’s not that guy and his daughter is either too bored or too confused to either pay attention or process what she’s saying. Ultimately he gives up; it’s easier to concede defeat than impart values to kids whose brains are programmed to scream “me, me, me, me, me, me!” on a perpetual loop.
When CK’s pregnant, overweight, foul-mouthed and unmistakably middle-aged sister shows up and she praises her brother for being a real father, he modestly accepts her praise before acknowledging, “There are times when I wish they weren’t alive” with no anger in his voice. He’s not being mean. just honest. And we’re not used to seeing TV shows or movies about children or parenting or single parenthood that are as honest as Louie is.
We also aren’t used to seeing pregnant women say things like, “(CK’s ex-wife) sucks shit out a sprinkler” or “That pasty, big-titted, black-eyed guinea bitch can suck my dick,” especially when talking about the mother of her beloved niece, as the actress playing CK’s sister does here. Louie isn’t putting these deliriously profane words in the mouth of a pregnant woman for shock value but rather to convey that CK’s sister has reached a point in her life where she has no more time or energy for bullshit or social niceties like pretending she doesn’t hate her ex-sister-in-law just because it’s the honorable, political thing to do.
When CK’s sister begins screaming in pain, CK does what he generally does in times of crisis: he panics. I wrote earlier that at times in Louie it’s hard to ascertain whether what’s happening is really happening or only happening in CK’s overactive imagination. That’s particularly true when a quietly authoritative gay couple from next door swoops in to rescue CK and his sister from themselves and calmly restore order and reason to a situation lacking in both and the neighbor looks CK square in the eyes and tells him, “Brother, Do not let your sister die from pain or lose her baby because you are awkward with strangers.”
Even the greeting of “brother” is perfect, in that he clearly means it in both the practical sense—for all intents and purposes, CK’s identity at the moment is the freaked-out brother of a freaked-out pregnant woman—and in the humanistic, “we are all brothers” sense.
The couple next door could easily have come off as impossible Liberal fantasies: selfless, endlessly kind homosexuals ready to bail silly breeders out of a jam. But, like so much of the rest of the episode, the vignette is defined by unexpected tenderness.
The scene is a surprisingly moving acknowledgment that sometimes living in the city means being surrounded by lunatics and sometimes living in the city means living next door to good Samaritans who want to help you even if you don’t understand why they would want to do so.
That’s the gamut of emotions Louie runs in a single ten-minute stretch—from a deeply pregnant woman calling the mother of her brother’s children a pasty, big-titted, black-eyed guinea bitch who could suck her dick to the quiet exhilaration of understanding you’re not alone in the world, even when you think you are.
CK is touched by his neighbor’s gesture and ashamed that he never took the time to get to know, or even really introduce himself to these people with kindness and compassion in their souls. We never think we need that connection to the people around us until we find out, like CK in his bind, that we do. I don’t want to spoil the ending so I will just say that there is a very big dramatic moment that traffics in a much coarser, more vulgar style of humor than Louie generally employs yet is perfect all the same. Perhaps it’s perfect specifically because it employs a coarser, more vulgar style of human than Louie generally employs. One of the great things about Louie is that it really employs every kind of humor, from the absurd and the cerebral to the scatological and profane.
Louie is humanistic without being sentimental, unafraid of emotions and emotional complexity without veering into melodrama. Usually when a TV show or movie cycles through different tones the effect is jarring and distracting but Louie has found a way to radically shift tones from one scene to another and even from one moment to another in a way that feels organic and real.
So the moving vignette about CK discovering just how much he needs other people is followed by a stand-up rant about the creepiness of making a new friend at foury-three that ends, “And then I ate his asshole. If you don’t eat your friend’s asshole with your tongue you’re not really a friend. You’re a fair-weather friend” before the closing stand-up routine about the profound ambivalence of parenthood ends things on a perfectly bittersweet note.
For the second season in a row, Louie is the television equivalent of a one-man-band; CK wrote, directed, edited and stars in every episode. That’s taking on a seemingly impossible workload, especially when you’re trying to replicate the brilliance of the show’s first season, but judging from the four episodes of the second season I’ve seen so far CK looks ready to do the impossible all over again, god bless his workaholic, perfectionist soul.