Two weeks ago, Louie left us with an exciting cliffhanger. This was a much needed amping up of a season that’s meandered around searching for any sort of real meaning or cause for its stories but largely drawn up short. Then we had a week to think about it, which meant not only that Louie could finally do a largely non-serialized story for the first time in ages but also that we were given something strange and exciting. It was a return to form, whatever that can mean for a show like this. Now we return and, although Pamela is still around, the attempted rape is seemingly forgotten and what we’re left with is yet another quirky romantic comedy. It’s an ending that feels far from climatic and can’t help but give the impression that Louis, the show’s creator and one of the hardest working men in show business, took the easy way out for once.
That isn’t to say that these episodes weren’t enjoyable in and of themselves. Pamela Adlon is always electrifying onscreen, and her alter ego here is the most complex character on the show. She acts as quite a contrast to Louis himself, who’s largely a cypher and sort of a non-entity. We have relatively little interiority for Louis and his choices often seem strange or inconsistent depending upon how a particular story needs him to act. As a result of this, he’s a pretty dull character, and his romantic problems aren’t terribly exciting except for what the other side of the equation brings to the situation. Amia brought little, but Pamela is something else, and both of these episodes ride on her charisma.
That being said, “Pamela Part 2” and “Part 3” are both quirky romantic comedy stories that aren’t terribly memorable otherwise. We begin with the couple’s journey through a museum and here Louis C.K. has arranged for the audience a series of jokes about contemporary art. It’s goofy fun, but it’s also punching an obvious straw man and not very subtle about it. It’s already clear that these episodes aren’t going to rise to the occasion of “Part 1,” as the material isn’t stretching itself. Instead of the absurdity of everyday life, we’re exploring the absurdity of an absurd situation. Of course these characters have good time in front of this amusing backdrop, as anyone would, and as things continue, Pamela gives up and decides to sleep with Louis. Sure, there’s some tension as to what will happen, some weird phone-based flirtation, but not that much, and ultimately the show goes where we thought it would.
“Part 3” is ultimately just a denouement: will they stay together? Once again, the answer is yes, as Pamela acquiesces to Louis’ demands that she act more romantically towards him. Frankly, it’s a disappointing ending, and while both characters are momentarily happy, it doesn’t actually feel like they make much sense together. Instead of exploring that, Louis has Pamela deciding that she’d rather sleep with Louis and tell him nice things than hurt him, and that’s not the character she was before. Pamela is now willing to be subservient to Louis’ needs, becoming less of an individual because otherwise he’s threatening to break their relationship off entirely.
Oddly enough, these episodes do away with so much of the speechifying that haunted the rest of the season, but if there was an implicit message to the Pamela storyline, it’s that men should be persistent and keep pressuring their female friends into sleeping with them, even if these women repeatedly say that they find that idea gross. According to Louie, eventually, they will say yes. I realize that’s an ugly way to gloss what happened in these episodes, which was mostly directed as if the situation was light and fun more than anything else romantic. That doesn’t mean it’s not there beneath the surface.
Beyond ignoring the attempted rape, the season also ends without resolving the storyline concerned with Jane’s future school. That this entire arc, which played a big part earlier in the season and did a good job of putting pathos into the “Elevator” series, is dropped by the end and forgotten is emblematic of the problems that plagued this season of Louie. The stories themselves have been largely rote, and even beyond that, their executions, although always beautiful, have rarely excelled. The emphasis on serialization has also made parts of Louis that would normally be their own vignettes (such as Marc Maron’s cameo this week) feel forced and out of place. Not only does this segment seem like a weird and somewhat nasty way of flip-flopping the pair’s relationship when Louie was first announced, it’s also an interruption, rather than a segment that builds upon an existing story. Pamela manages to play this off, but it didn’t integrate well, and neither have other sequences of this sort in the past. Even the museum exhibit in “Part 2” mostly felt like it was shoehorned into the pair’s date when really Louis C.K. the creator just wanted to show off some museum-based gag ideas he had.
It may have been a fitting end to this letdown of a season, but that’s not a compliment. With Louie I sometimes have a difficult time judging how aware the show is or is not of its own political or story problems. How much irony is involved here, exactly? Regardless of that, what we ultimately have on the screen is a story with a retrograde view on male-female relationships surrounded by the ordinary trappings of a romantic comedy. These episodes aren’t bad in that they’re not fun to watch; it’s that they’re artistically shallow and reliant on the same tropes as any other offering of the genre. The version of Louis that picked those sorts of things apart, the Louis that was intellectually able to bounce between emotions and politics and give new spins on both topics, was largely missing both here and for so much of the rest of the season. I hope it comes back if there’s a fifth season of Louie, but at this point I’m not really looking forward to finding out.