I’ve been generous with the praise for the second season of Louie, so I’ll also be honest about last night’s finale, “New Jersey / Airport”: it was not one of my favorite episodes of the season. (If you’re wondering, I would include “Eddie,” “Country Drive,” “Duckling,” and the one or two other episodes that you are about to remind me of.) Nor did it close on a note to match the transcendent diner-pancakes scene that ended season one.
But it was probably one of the most representative episodes, hitting on most every theme and device that has marked this terrific season of TV.
In the “New Jersey” segment, the surface plot had two recurrent season two elements: the surreal Louie misadventure that goes badly, raunchily wrong, and the Socratic dialogue with another comedian. (Two, if you count the run-in with Steven Wright that launched the whole debacle.) F. Murray Abraham was delicious as the affected swinger who got righteously offended at Louie’s refusal of a surprise threesome (“That’s a bit of none of your business!”).
And Louis CK’s reunion with his old colleague Chris Rock (The Chris Rock Show, Pootie Tang) not only made for a contrast with Rock’s stable suburban married life but returned to an issue established in the season’s first episode, “Pregnant”: Louie’s doubts (maybe justified) as to whether he’s matured enough to be a responsible single dad. For a raunchy comic, Rock has made a version of family values a base of his act—think of his “If your daughter’s a stripper, you fucked up” bit—and he’s talked in interviews about the contrast between his risque comedy and his actual suburban-dad life.
Whereas Louis—the “Louie” on the show, at least—is very much the guy in his private life that he is in his act. Not a bad or irresponsible guy, but one who is still honestly figuring it out. Rock may seem to be piling on at a time when Louie already knows he’s screwed up, but he’s also confronting his friend with a question he’s implicitly asked himself all season: shouldn’t you have already figured things out by your age? (A question exacerbated by his responsibility for his daughters: they’re the one element of season 2 that’s not physically in the episode but their presence—his pickup deadline is the ticking time bomb over his visit to New Jersey—looms over it constantly.)
“Airport,” meanwhile, returns to one of the few continuing storylines of the season, Louie’s seemingly doomed love for Pamela. (One element of continuity that didn’t come up: Louie’s niece from last week. Though I wouldn’t assume that the show is done with that story. I would be just as likely to believe that she’s still likely to return as to believe that Louis CK just assumed that Louie’s sister’s breakdown got resolved somehow, offscreen.)
As in several episodes this season, the segment is willing to go a long stretch without laughs, before building to one big, poignant one. Louie and Pamela’s goodbye plays like a reprise of his declaration of love for her, but with her doing most of the talking this time, as she tries to tell him in no uncertain terms that there is no chance for them. (Side note: like Louie, I have a hard time believing that she can have the kind of connection she seems to with him yet not reciprocate his feelings at all. But do I just see it that way because this is a TV show, and we necessarily see things from Louie’s perspective?)
The closing misunderstanding—”Wave to me” / “Wait for me”—plays like something from the dark-comedy movie Louie pitched Ellie a few episodes ago, about the guy who continually makes the wrong choices in life while thinking he’s turning his life around. Pamela goes to her departure gate thinking that she’s finally, definitively set Louie straight, while he skips off like Charlie Brown after finding a note in his lunchbox from the little red-haired girl. (Sidebar 2: do any NYC-area Tuned Inlanders recognize the seemingly small airport with convenient surface parking and flights to Paris? Teterboro? Westchester? Or is it a part of a major airport I don’t recognize?)
You could feel awful for Louie, set up in this kind of situation. But should we? Looking at at this from a Louis CK-ian point of view, he’s facing the same kind of unpleasant end either way (assuming he’s wrong about Pamela). Is his eventual heartbreak, and the time spent in wasted hope, a tragedy? Or is that interlude of hope, however deluded, a gift in itself?
It’s the kind of question we’ve come to expect from a bizarre comedy that dare to ask big questions—about life, responsibility, community and the human condition. Louie may have a rough wait in front of him, but I’m going to bet that ours, until season 3 comes, will be even tougher.