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Louie Recap: The Woman Named Tape Recorder

When Louie fans and fence-sitters alike were reeling from the show's first season, collectively wondering what the hell we'd all just seen, someone suggested that if the best scenes of those thirteen episodes were assembled into a feature-length cut, it'd be 2010's brightest indie film. As waterproof as that idea was, Louie can just as often feel like a whole film in the span of a 22-minute show. Last night's conclusion to the two part episode "Daddy's Girlfriend" was one of those instances.

Like season one's grim, contemplative "God" and season two's equally dark, possibly more ruminative "Eddie," this'll be an installment our thoughts inevitably turn to when we think of Louie, if not Louis C.K. as an entity altogether. He's a comedian first and foremost, but it's hard shaking the notion that walking straight-faced through discomforting themes are as satisfying to C.K. as artfully wrought dick jokes.

This week's thesis is something like: How far will we go to avoid loneliness? or, How blind does attraction — that prejudice Louie riffed on last week — render us? Regardless of how humorous "Daddy's Girlfriend" was or wasn't conceived as, last week was the setup; this week was the punch line.

Louie meets up with Parker Posey's character, whom he'll later think is named Tape Recorder for a minute before learning she's really just plain old Liz. (Is he that gullible or is she that compulsive a screw-with-you type — and that magnetizing a person — that she can get anyone to do or believe anything? It's one of the night's great ambiguities.) After Louie's fist-pumping success of asking Liz out last week, you want to be hopeful for the date, but examining Louie's long streak of romantic failures, it's not a safe idea.

Almost straight away, we see a handful of signs this could go poorly: Liz doesn't know her co-worker's name although she seems assured she does (Has she worked at the bookstore long? If not, why?); her demeanor is totally businesslike — that glow she shined on Louie in their flirtations has faded, making us wonder if it was merely the professionalism of being at work or feigned kindness or if she's tired or something else entirely; and, the last bad omen, Liz is refused Jägermeister at a bar where she's recently made a memorably bad impression. We don't learn what happened (she doesn't seem to be an alcoholic, based on how quickly she shrugs off the idea of having a drink), but we don't need to be informed in order to feel unsettled.

"You're just gonna have to keep up with me, because I reveal myself very quickly to people," Liz tells Louie as they wander Manhattan's streets. She vaults into the frenetic story of a misdiagnosed fatal carcinoma she ended up beating as a 14-year-old. This woman may believe she's up-front, but her every word and action is so theatrical, eccentric, elliptically guarded, and nakedly needy that we'd be lucky if we understood her after nine seasons of her own show. Which isn't frustrating or obnoxious whatsoever. To the contrary, it’s one of the most fascinatingly written and performed roles Louie has ever dealt us.

The date feels stunningly natural, like one consistent shot (it's not), and like we're there, participating and feeling the stakes of our singleness looming behind the whole desperate getting-to-know-you procedure. We don't know any more about Liz than Louie does, although our perceptions lack the cloudiness (just barely) of romance. We try to find our footing with this incessantly moving and shifting, sharing and oversharing woman in real time along with Louie. It's hard to study his reactions to Liz, because she not only transfixes us, she almost makes us afraid to let our eyes wander elsewhere.

C.K.'s empathy with his characters is first-rate. Similarly to the scene between Louie and the character portrayed by Melissa Leo, it's impossible to realistically assign any quick TV character descriptor to Liz. "This chick is crazy." "She sucks." "What a bitch!" "What a babe!" None of them work because she's a fully realized human who doesn't fit into any one box. The second we land on one of those assertions, Liz uproots it. She humiliates Louie by coercing him to strip and put on a shimmering thrift store dress (he looks like a freckled Flintstone), then validates him with a kiss. She laughs in a throe of pure hilarity, then looks perfectly seriously into Louie's eyes and tells him he's "officially great." What is she affirming so somberly, just moments after she laughed that raucous chuckle in Louie's face? Is she celebrating that she's found someone who will tolerate her wild whims? Another mystery.

Their date plays across a couple similarly obfuscating scenarios — a decadent snack spree at Russ and Daughters and a break to assist a homeless man. Finally, Liz pulls them into an unlocked, anonymous door that opens to stairs. "You have to pace yourself," she says, laying out the mission. "It's a long way up, but I swear to God it's worth it." Louie asks how far the staircase goes. "I'm not telling you. If I told you, you wouldn't do it." Is she making a power grab or desperately trying to combat loneliness? Is Louie paralyzed at the prospect of exercising his true hesitation, like he was with his girlfriend played by Gaby Hoffmann in the season premiere, or is his vision blurred?

So they climb. The stairway ordeal is like a toxic marriage — physically and mentally exhausting, an endless cause for self-doubt, sprinkled with bouts of explosiveness, and overall a task you endure with the dim assurance that it'll pay off, or at least work out. "We made it," Liz breathlessly says when they reach a mid-level Manhattan rooftop. "Look where we are. It's worth it, right?" "Not really," Louie pants.

At the roof's edge, Louie panics that Liz will fall and die. Thrumming with life and momentarily omnipotent, Liz informs Louie he's afraid he'll fall, because part of him wants to jump. But her? She's having too good of a time. For fifteen seconds or so, at least, until some ghost we'll never know punctures her verve, and they leave, quietly.

Stray Observations

• That credit with Posey's face in black and white — wow. I imagined if I studied her at that range for that long, with no distracting dialogue or cinematic fanciness, I'd finally learn something concrete about her character. Surprise: I didn't.

• Rule one for my forthcoming Louie Drinking Game: When Louie bumbles through a drink order, drink.

• Rule two: When the show hovers on a silly curiosity of a character for less than a minute, then never shows them again (here, the guy inside the pool hall who walks up and leers at Liz — who Louie is clearly on a date with — then casts his lecherous eye Louie's way, as a co-conspirator), drink.

• This show's music has really carved a niche for itself, but the feverish, off-kilter jazz swelling through the rooftop conclusion took it to the next level.

• The opening stand-up, though certainly funny, felt superfluous to this story.

• The segment with the homeless man is like an alternate universe version of an onstage Louie bit about a naïve farm girl's first walk into New York City, with C.K. and his friends baffled as she tries to make sense of the unfairness of homelessness — "What happened? America happened. What do you mean, what happened?" — then quashing her audacious instinct to try and help: "No no, he needs you desperately, that's not the point. We just don't do that here, you silly country girl."

• So they check the homeless man into the Comfort Inn Manhattan Bridge, where the Internet tells me the cheapest same-night room is $266.28.

Photo: FX