TV Club

Louie “Telling Jokes/Set Up” recap: Melissa Leo punches Louis C.K.

Wait, why are we supposed to love the scene where Melissa Leo punches Louie?

Still from Louie.
Melissa Leo and Louis C.K. in Louie   

Courtesy FX.

Patton, thanks for addressing my question about whether or not Louis C.K. is gaming the system by subverting traditional notions of plot and character development. Your answer, however, makes no sense! “Louie has not foregone narrative logic; he’s embraced illogic,” you proclaimed. But are these really two mutually exclusive things? Or can both be true? I say the latter, and so still wonder: If C.K. is forgoing narrative logic by embracing illogic, does that mean he has made his show impossible to fault?

Here’s the truth: I can’t shut off that nagging voice in the back of my head that whispers If you don’t quite get it, maybe you’re not the only one to blame. Or, as a commenter who’s less than enthusiastic about the show, Davec844, writes: C.K. “is not a philosopher king spewing deep thoughts that the rest of us need to appreciate as prescient insights into the human condition.”

In a world overrun by writers like us blabbing about every single thing we come into contact with, this is good to keep in mind. Maybe we don’t need to assign meaning to things that might be meaningless. Or, as Lily says to her little sister at the dinner table in response to Jane not getting what was funny about something that actually was not funny: “If you don’t get it, you just don’t get it.”

Let’s see how others are getting it.

At Vulture, Zach Dionne writes that both Louie and Laurie “are shown pretty squarely equally in the right and wrong.” But this can’t be true! Laurie bashed Louie’s head into a window with such force that the glass shattered, and then climbed on top of him, forcing her vagina onto his mouth.

At Salon, Willa Paskin has fallen in love with Laurie. “Melissa Leo appeared in all of 15 minutes of last night’s episode of Louie as the indelible Laurie and I am already desperate for her to have her own sitcom,” she writes, going on to say that she hopes Louie goes out with Laurie again and that “the portrayal of Laurie is far too sympathetic for her to just be another date rapist … Though Laurie does, in fact, physically assault Louie, almost up until the moment she does, he is not scared to be in a car with her. He’s not physically threatened.” This reads to me like a crazy double standard, perhaps partly inspired by the episode, which, as Paskin rightly points out, does not complete a full gender reversal. (Very hard to stick that landing!) Paskin reads this as nuance, but couldn’t it conceivably be failure? Or maybe it’s that C.K. has trained us to see everything as surreal, or askew, so that when there is such a stark moment, like the one in the truck, we won’t let ourselves digest it that way.

Paskin’s willingness to embrace Laurie is also out of an understandable excitement that television is finally showing a sexually self-confident woman, going after what she wants, and taking it. Melissa Leo is badass, and her performance is too. Paskin had me a little convinced, in fact, that maybe I should not only appreciate the acting and writing, but also cut the character some slack, until you, David, emailed me this GIF, which accompanies Roger Cormier’s Splitsider recap, with the note “this is pretty good.” “This” is Melissa Leo ramming her elbow into C.K.’s head, smashing that window over and over again. It is probably going viral as I type. But why?  Is it … funny? Outrageous? Empowering? A great visual distillation of how taboo-crushing Louie can be? I can’t imagine Splitsider would make a similar GIF of the Lorraine Bracco rape scene in The Sopranos. And I can’t imagine we’d pass it on. Is the difference here a matter of context—Louie is supposed to be comedy, The Sopranos was drama—or is the difference gender? And do you really think C.K. wants us liking that shit on Facebook?