This week’s episode of Louie looks at two of the most consistent headaches for most people in the world — family and love. But since this is Louie, the comic and tragic are virtually indistinguishable from one another. In this week’s episode Bobby’s Place, the larger themes of Season 5 begin to take shape as this season seems to be really focused upon emasculation, not just of Louis C.K. but almost every other male character within recent episodes.
Unlike other episodes this season, there’s no cold opening to the episode. After the opening titles, Louis is sleeping on his couch. Whatever dreams or nightmares that are circulating through his subconscious are more pleasant than what awaits him in the waking world. His phone rings, rising him from his slumber. It’s his brother Bobby (Robert Kelly) asking if Louis will be accompanying him to their uncle’s wake. This all comes as a surprise to Louis, who was completely unaware that their uncle had passed away. After an awkward car ride, the siblings discover that their uncle had not, in fact, passed and that they were at the funeral for an old Vietnamese man. When the evening reaches its conclusion, Louis reluctantly joins his brother in his apartment. In the apartment, though, things take a turn for the even more painfully awkward as Bobby unburdens himself on Louis, expressing all his personal inadequacies when compared to his brother. Most of all, Bobby is distressed over a recent sperm count he had done — this is merely the first example of this week’s emasculation.
The episode then has Louis waiting for the bus in broad daylight. Upon witnessing a woman randomly berate and hit some guy waiting for the bus, Louis intervenes, asking for leniency on the man’s behalf. While his plea had the intended effect of limiting the attack on the one guy, it caused this woman to set her sights on Louis. Hard as he tries, he can’t defend himself from the barrage of punches and kicks levied on him – then there’s the way Louis looks around before a failed attempt to fight back. Louis returns to his apartment, his face bruised and battered. His daughters, played by Hadley Delany and Ursula Parker, are pressing him for answers as to the vicious culprit behind the attack. The young girls are certain that their father was beaten by a man, but Louis’ insistence on using the gender-neutral pronoun of “they” raises their children’s intuition. When their father admits he was beaten by a woman, the children’s faces morph from concerned to amused. Remember when I said this episode was about emasculation? We’re not even finished.
Louis has a stand-up gig booked and goes to the apartment of his on-again, off-again girlfriend Pamela, played by the wonderful Pamela Adlon, asking her to use makeup to conceal his wounds. While applying the makeup to Louis, Pamela has an idea — an outrageous one. Promising Louis “the best sex you’ve had in your entire life” if she can make him up as a woman, Pamela wants to engage in some role reversal. After a bit of denial, Louis eventually agrees. With Pamela donning a baseball cap and the bald, goateed Louis all dolled-up, the scene devolves into one of the most uncomfortably hilarious sex scenes in television history. Louis is then turned over and, well, the result is both implied and ambiguous. When it’s all said and done, Pamela then breaks up with Louis. Saddened, he cries, mascara running down his cheeks.
Following last week’s episode Cop Story, where a man loses his manhood when he loses his gun, this stark theme of emasculated men that is popping is fascinating in the manner with which Louis C.K. is avoiding make these sympathetic tales of men’s masculinity being crushed by an increasingly feminine society – these are all men responsible for their own fates. There’s no victimization here. This isn’t Louis C.K.’s MRA Theater. What we’re seeing here are men who lose their masculinity, sometimes to women, because of their own choices. In the case of Louis, he has ignored repeated warnings from Pamela about the tenuous nature of their relationship. Every time Louis wants to discuss making the relationship more serious, Pamela changes the topic toward sexual thrills and Louis always given following a brief protest. It’s a pattern that Louis allows to perpetuate. It only just so happens that inevitable would occur when he’s wearing mascara.
Bobby’s Place isn’t as funny as the previous episodes this season, but it’s still an overall excellent episode for its bold, provocative nature. As writer and director, Louis C.K. is attempting an exploration as to the modern nature and meaning of manhood, and, brother, it ain’t pretty. But just because it’s not pretty doesn’t mean the work if full of pity. Louie has never been a show scared to challenge its creator or its audience. Sometimes the series strays from its intended messages, but more often than not there’s a deep-seated honesty to Louie. Honesty may not always be pretty, but there’s plenty of humor within.