Understanding why people do they things they do is something Louis C.K.’s comedy is always exploring: why we do things as a society, how we’ve changed throughout the course of human history, and how little we actually pay attention to our own behavior. This suggests that C.K. is fascinated with the subconscious, an idea backed by many of Louie‘s most creative episodes, be it how two people who speak different languages fall in love, or exploring Louie’s childhood in flashbacks, examining formative moments of his life. And although it features a boogeyman, weird Jane speech, and Lily watching A Clockwork Orange in the hope of a depressed divorcee, “Untitled” is very much about the subconscious – and the best episode of Louie‘s fifth season yet.
“Untitled” uses the simple metaphor of a boogeyman haunting Louie’s dreams to tear about the surrealist fabric of reality C.K.’s show exists in; once he falls asleep in the cab after Jane’s appointment (where she goes on a long monologue about sweating inside her head and seeing electrons), Louie spends most of the episode in his own head, waking up and falling asleep over and over into different scenarios, all accented by the appearance of said boogeyman, a slim, almost nude pale man with small black holes for eyes. It’s genuinely frightening the first few times Pale Man runs on screen to bite Louie; but the more and more he appears, the more his presence becomes muted, drawing attention to the situations Louie’s mind is putting him in.
Younger comedians stealing his jokes; a strange knock at the door in the middle of the night; castration anxiety (or emasculation, depending on how you want to view it); a sequence that devolves into Louie pretending to sleep with his brother (some Freudian stuff, Louie might say) and getting attacked in a suit by the Pale Man… all of these situations speak to the fears of life as we reach middle age. Not being able to protect his children, age draining his masculinity – these are the things that quietly scare us in the mid-points of our lives, when the regrets of past years and fear of the future can weigh quite heavy.
Ultimately, it’s Dr. Grodin (without the dog, but still – Dr. Grodin’s back!) who penetrates the nightmares, even as he exists in one: Louie feels guilty about his own lack of humanity. In an earlier scene, he picks up Lily from a sleepover, where a worn out divorcee begins bawling after Louie amicably declines her request for him to move a massive aquarium. When he says no, she begins bawling, and Louie covers her with a sheet and leaves, pretending that nothing actually happened. And yet, it clearly sticks with him; it weighs on his conscience that he could show such little humanity to someone that might’ve been a complete stranger, but desperately needed to make a human connection. So he goes back, and fills the role of husband for a day: fixing things, sleeping with her in the kitchen, and, of course, moving the aquarium to the living room.
There’s nothing more striking than a human admitting they might just be too old to care anymore; if it’s not in the direct line of Louie’s life at this point, he can’t be bothered to stop and alter his life in any insignificant (or meaningful) way. And that haunts him; as Louie devolves further and further into twisted Lynch-ian imagery and metaphors familiar to art house films, the series presents a man whose conscience is preying on him in his sleep. Some of the imagery is random, there as part of the “mental flush” Grodin describes, which in itself, is the mental equivalent of letting go – and sometimes, the mind doesn’t allow us to move forward so easily.
There’s a lot of fear portrayed in “Untitled,” which couldn’t be a better episode name. The lack of actual title speaks directly to the horrors of the mind: they can come from anywhere, be about anything. Without a title, it cannot be defined , and in our world, what is scarier than that without definition? At first glance, “Untitled” may seem like a rote Louie-as-auteur attempt , but it’s a very real, emotional piece that speaks to both humanity as a whole, and the very personal exploration of self, gripping the audience by approaching the topic through horror and subtle imagery, like C.K.’s own personal homage to A Clockwork Orange (the movie Lily watches at her sleepover). Few artists are able to work on such large and small scales at the same time. “Untitled” is just another example of how masterful Louis C.K. can be when he finds a singular prism to view them through.
[Photo via FX]