“What do we say when we know ourselves?”
I’ve always been fascinated by Louie‘s cognizant imperfections; that is, both the show and the star itself, both of which glean much of their success exploring the ugly underbelly of self-consciousness. Much of Louie and C.K.’s stand up address the darkest corners of nihilism, where one is willing to accept the deep flaws of themselves and others because, in the end, none of it really matters. There aren’t many shows on TV with this particular worldview – but there’s even less television shows willing to admit their worldview and philosophy isn’t an answer to anything, refusing to adhere to the “rules” of defining what is right and wrong. In Louie C.K.’s world, everything is just random, vivid, and pretty screwed up in general – and audaciously, he dares us to laugh at it all. Laugh at our own shortcomings, giggle at the failures of ourselves and others, and lose ourselves in the cyclical journey of self-discovery and realization that often consumes the middle third of most adult lives.
Season 5 of Louie is no different, remaining the ever-ambitious, dense, lucid experience it’s been since the show’s debut back in 2010: “Potluck” kicks the season off with a cult dinner, another awkward sexual experience, and a female character that’s going to generate a lot of think pieces. In other words, it’s vintage Louie, and as it always is, “Potluck” is a fascinating peek into one man’s worldview, beginning the season as many seasons often begin, with Louie reflecting on his ever-present lack of desire in life. Season 3 addressed this with him making a mid-life crisis purpose; Season 5 begins a bit darker, with Louie telling his therapist (who is falling asleep on him) that he’s probably depressed, searching for reasons to “get up and try” any more. To try and feel useful to the world, he decided to attend a potluck dinner for Jane’s school – and of course, ends up at a cult potluck two floors up, where he’s welcomed with open arms and only realizes where he is once everybody starts to sing and dance around.
Now, I’ve been known to fall into some real deep, symbolic Louie holes before (be it conversations about the spine, lines muttered off-screen, or broken elevators) – and of course, there’s an important moment in the season premiere that sticks with me. It’s that fried chicken Louie takes such care of to make and bring to the potluck dinner. When Louie arrives at the cult party, he’s welcomed with open arms, celebrated as a new member, and generally accepted with open arms by the room. The experience, like the chicken itself, was authentic – and even though he was weirded out and left, Louie forgetting the homemade chicken there is an important touch: until the moment he realized what was going on, Louie felt at home. It’s probably why he ran out so fast: he was so comfortable, he let loose and was himself, starting conversations and sharing food with everyone.
When he enters the school potluck, it’s a different story. “Welcomed” by the cold host, he brings his chicken into the living room and leaves it on the table, shuffling around quietly on the fringes of the “party” for the next few scenes. That chicken? Made by Colonel Sanders’ employees, not Louie: in the presence of the judgmental parents of his daughter’s school, Louie wasn’t comfortable presenting his true self to the parents. He doesn’t really even care to try, mailing it in by leaving his “soul” food (coincidence?) at the cult party, and bringing store bought, inauthentic cuisine to the potluck party for the school. Slight a detail as it may be, that chicken is a pretty revelatory cornerstone of what “Potluck” is trying to accomplish, a great visual detail that helps explain some of the unspoken existential discussion of the first half of the episode (which begins with a stand-up bit from Louie about not caring anymore, I might add).
The second half of the episode morphs into something completely different, but totally related, when Louie takes a cab ride home with the potluck host’s pregnant surrogate, eventually inducing birth when they begin to have intercourse in the hallway of her apartment (which looks really, really, really similar to the hallway where the infamous scene from last season’s “Pamela (Part 1)” took place – no, I won’t write two thousand words right now about why I think that is). What precedes that climatic (no pun intended) moment is another one of those Louie Thinkpiece moments: in it, the surrogate mother becomes emotional about being alone through the experience of being pregnant, to which Louie relates various generic stories about his ex-wife being pregnant. He keeps insisting that he understands – and in that moment, a depressed man makes a connection with a depressed woman, bringing us back around from Louie’s earlier contemplations about death to give him a reason to live: to help guide a new life into the world in the only twisted, backwards, messed up,, and uncomfortable way imaginable (which, of course, is the only way Louie seems to do anything on Louie).
Say what you will about the angry lesbian trope or the cliched pregnant woman seeking validation from a middle-aged white man: as it always ends up being, “Potluck” is about human connection, and how beautiful and twisted a thing it can be. It’s the great dichotomy of our consciousness: while we seek out partners and friends, those same people (or a lack thereof) morph our own happiness and self-perception. We hate the things we want and love (the angry woman, with her wife and surrogate mother she’s quite rude to), and we envy the things we were or cannot be: we’re eternally stuck in this spot between where we were when we were last happy, and where we want to be to become happy again, that we literally forget how to live life, as Louie tells his therapist. Sometimes, we just need to let go of the reins and let life be the messed up, random thing it always is. As he points out to the angry lady, she’s ultimately mad about the birth of her child… if that’s how we end up feeling during the most important moments of our life, are we really living at all?
As always, the fifth season of Louie is ambitious, outspoken, cringe-inducing, beautiful – and most importantly, deeply flawed, still arguably television’s most unique, crooked little snowflake. Ever the master of his craft, Louie C.K. continues to find new ways to confuse, amaze, and frustrate us (and by proxy, challenge us) as human beings, something “Potluck” does a bit more subtly than future episodes in this fifth season. Yet there still isn’t a dull moment to be had on Louie, a visually arresting canvas of existential pontification that only grows more interesting and singular with each passing season.
– Welcome back to Louie reviews – I’ll be your host this season, taking over duties from the distinguished Sean Colletti.
[Photo via FX]