Louie 4.03 & 4.04 Review: “So Did the Fat Lady” & “Elevator Part 1″

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While Louie doesn’t conform to any consistent kind of structure, there are recurring patterns in episodes of its seasons. Sometimes, C.K. goes for an expansive joke. Many times, he offers thoughts specifically on fatherhood or death or something else that stresses him out. But whatever those themes and styles are, there is the occasional “important” episode of Louie. I don’t think this is a concept that C.K. is consciously trying to create or address in an episode, but it happens that some of his scripts are so ridiculously spot-on and relevant to society and humanity that they become much bigger than simple episodes of Louie. I think last season’s “Miami” is one of those episodes, which has more to say about male friendship than any long-running series that tries to develop that idea over seasons. “So Did the Fat Lady,” however, takes sharp insight to a whole other level. No doubt, many people will have already come across some of the smart pieces written about the importance of this episode, but it’s worth mulling over the final sequence of “So Did the Fat Lady,” which excels in every single category imaginable.

Sarah Baker (of last year’s solid-but-cancelled Go On) plays Vanessa, a character who is interested in Louie and gets supremely upset and disappointed when he politely (from his perspective) denies that she is, as she says, fat. Baker gets a beautiful monologue in which Vanessa explains why attitudes toward fat women are a problem specifically because of the shame they are made to feel via the unintentional insults that people make by silencing the voice that is attempting to be honest. If you have not seen this episode or this scene yet, please do. From an acting perspective, Baker knocks it out of the park, immersing herself in that disappointment as the camera sometimes captures Louie’s helpless look in the face of something he’s too afraid to tackle in a confrontation.

But the acting is so just a part of the experience. On the technical level, the scene–which is one long shot that moves clockwise and counter-clockwise when necessary, eventually standing back as the two characters move away from the central location–is among the best of any television that has aired this year, including True Detective‘s spectacular tracking shot from its fourth episode. C.K. has an eye for filming and capturing certain combinations of colors (plenty of grey, in this instance) that enhance sequences, and just to watch the final act of “So Did the Fat Lady” unfold is an experience all on its own.

Because of constraints, I’ll leave it to the longer think pieces to address why this episode is a necessary episode of television, but I will say that some of the most effective storytelling in the medium comes at the viewer in a way that challenges without being too aggressive. Certainly, some people will be offended at the presumptions that the episode makes of them or else you can turn to comment sections in those think pieces to see all the vitriol that comes with addressing touchy subjects (anyone who follows Girls will be familiar with this). But the challenge that “So Did the Fat Lady” presents should be seen as a hurdle, not a barrier.

“Elevator Part 1″ is actually the first of six parts, which doubles last season’s “Late Show” arc. The first half, though, in which Jane steps off the subway as the doors are closing, is a self-contained piece–and a rather frightening one, at that. I am not a parent, but I can at least sympathize with the horror that Louie feels when Jane escapes him. It’s a frantic piece of filming, but more than it just being well-executed and saying something about the things you don’t realize you sign up for when having kids, the series of sequences builds on what the first couple episodes of this season did last week. Again, the focus on the unreality of things is something C.K. seems to be interested in, since Jane’s decision-making process is based on the idea that everything she is experiencing is a dream. She eventually snaps out of it, but that blurred line not only provides some interesting insight into the creator-content relationship. It also says something about the viewer-content relationship, since I would argue that Louie is one of TV’s best series at forcing the viewer to think about real-life and day-to-day issues. In that sense, one might relate to Jane by way of Louie sometimes being more non-fiction than fiction.

The elevator story from the title features the superb Ellen Burstyn (The ExorcistRequiem for a Dream) in the role of a character who gets stuck in an elevator and who Louie reluctantly keeps company and helps retrieve her medicine. When she asks Louie to wake up a character named Amia, who is sleeping in her apartment, it provokes an appropriate response in which Amia thinks Louie is an intruder and attacks him. The aftermath is a sweet apology-by-pie, which ties back to two concepts in these two episodes of Louie. First, it is a great follow-up to the bang-bang scene (a bang-bang, the episode explains to us, is an event in which is you have two full meals back-to-back, each from a different location), and it shows a Louie who is less ashamed of his eating habits in front of another person. The other idea is bridging a communication gap between two people. “So Did the Fat Lady” doesn’t spend too much time on this, but it lets Vanessa explain how fat people and normal people might as well be speaking two different languages, since people will often politely nod their heads at her, unencumbered by having to actually deal with who she is and what she wants. That detachment is something people experience when conversing–or trying to converse–with people who don’t speak their language. In both cases, Louie fumbles at connecting with the characters, purposeful or otherwise. Yet, he manages to find grounds on which to legitimately share experiences with these people, which is a lot more optimistic than your average episode of Louie. I have no idea how the next five parts of “Elevator” will play off this or even how they will function, but only a fool would worry about those kinds of things.

[Photo via FX]

Sean Colletti received his MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. He writes television criticism for @Sound on Site and at his personal blog, There is nothing on. His current favorite shows are Mad Men, Louie and Parks and Recreation.
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