With a show as tonally erratic and narratively elastic as Louie, it can be hard to find themes connecting one episode to the next. But after last night’s installment, I think we can safely divine at least one central idea for season two: Namely, that Louis C.K. really has it in for the homeless. In the last month and a half, he’s shown them losing their heads in traffic, getting abducted by the government, and, in last night’s opening “Subway” segment, washing their asses in public. Though I’m guessing it’s not his intent to be cruel, C.K.’s bum-bashing has become a weirdly insistent, quickly diminishing go-to punch line. What happened to the upbeat portrayals of homelessness — your Fisher Kings, your Oscar the Grouches?
But that’s hardly the biggest problem with “Subway,” the mercilessly whimsy five-minute short that opened last night’s episode. It starts out innocently enough: Louie descends underground, where he quietly observes the sights and sounds around him — the violinist playing for change, the wise-ass teenager trying to pick up a girl on the 2 train. As with much of Louie’s depiction of NYC living, the subterranean world feels instantly familiar, yet exaggerated just enough to get across the city’s ambient magic. Suddenly, though, the screen goes black and white, the music turns somber, and Louie’s locked into a heroic fantasy sequence in which he uses his jacket to sop up a mysterious puddle on one of the subway seats — an act that earns him a fist-pound and a blow job. Then it’s over.
Look, I get that C.K. pretty much has complete control over this show, and that his independence is one of the reasons Louie is so singular and great. But couldn’t someone at FX have maybe sat him down and gently pointed out this whole opening, with its Woody Allen/Fellini daydream and first-year-film-student black-and-white switcheroo, is a bit precious? And that it’s going to take away from the second part of the episode, which, by the way, is one of the best segments of the season thus far? And that five minutes is a very long time to roll your eyes?
Oh well. On to “Pamela,” the episode’s longer, meatier chapter, in which Louie finally makes his move on the smack-talking single mom of the title. It opens in a swanky French Bistro that Louie’s clearly picked to impress her — a plan that not only backfires, but prompts Pamela to make a state-of-their-union address: “You’re very, very uncool, Louie, and you’re very boring,” she says. “You think I’m awesome. I think you’re okay. It’s just the way it is. We need to admit that, or just walk away.” Instead, Louie hangs around, listening to Pamela’s anal-sex history and cracking a joke about eating his own poop — a gag that makes Pamela stand up and applaud. For a moment, you can tell he feels very, very cool.
Next stop: A Manhattan flea market, where Louie — inspired by a nearby piano player — starts laying out his feelings for Pamela, who doesn’t want to hear it. “Stop the car, Louie,” she says. “I value your friendship, and you’re about to end it I can’t go that way. You’re gonna get so bummed out, and you’re gonna want to stop hanging out with me.” He makes a deal: He’ll stop pressuring her and accept their just-friends status if she lets him explain just once how he feels. And, after admitting he’s in love with her — a statement that mortifies Pamela — Louie goes all Dobler. “Every time I look at your face, or even remember it, it wrecks me,” he says. “You’re just fun. You shit all over me and you make fun of me, and you’re real I feel like I’m gonna die if I can’t be with you. And I can’t be with you, so I’m gonna die. And I don’t care, 'cause I was brought into existence to know you. And that’s enough.” Holy crap, I’m ready to sleep with the guy. And I wanted to turn the episode off before the credits rolled!
Pamela doesn’t reciprocate, perhaps realizing that there’s a rare beauty to their relationship, one that would likely become muddled with sex: She wants someone who’ll be in awe of her, and he wants someone who’ll be honest with him. Sleeping together would make Louie pine for her less, therefore sapping some of her awe-inspiring powers; and it would likely make Louie question whether all her rejecting of him had been for real, or just a game — therefore making him doubt her honesty altogether. Screwing would leave them just plain screwed.
Afterward, Louie helps Pamela take her groceries home, only to find that she has the place all to herself. “You want something to drink?” she offers. “You wanna take a bath? You hungry?” Louie makes some lame excuse about having to go home, and they end the night with an awkward handshake. Once outside, though, Louie panics and calls Pamela from outside of her apartment. “Did you just ask me if I wanted to take a bath?” he asks.
“Yep,” she says. “And Jesus, did you just blow that.” She hangs up, and Louie, realizing he’s blown his one and only chance with her, lets out a street-side howl that would make Wesley Snipes proud.
The episode ends with a stand-up riff on how old couples hate each other — which, considering Louie’s plea to Pamela that he’ll love her till he dies, is almost bittersweet. “Pamela” may be the least funny Louie in recent memory, but it’s also the most affecting; every one of us, at one point or another, has made the kind of desperately lovelorn pitch Louie throws at Pamela. But that’s the sort of plea you make when you’re young. Watching a middle-aged guy fall so hard for someone and realize it’ll never work, is a rarely seen, deeply felt kind of heartbreak. Thanks for making us get misty-eyed, ya bum.