Zach Dionne called it — Louis C.K. seems to be giving us a movie. These “Elevator” episodes are a well-crafted way to float in and out of Louie’s world with some depth while still sort of keeping us at arm’s length; it all feels a little fantastic, but it’s a sustainable story.
It’s strange to think about how none of these episodes is funny, because I don’t think that’s always the point. If I wanted nonstop belly laughs, I’d watch Louis C.K.’s stand-up, but I come to the show for something much more nuanced and unpredictable. I remember reading an interview he did during the first season, and he was way into editing on his MacBook, figuring out the different types of lighting rigs, and just generally excited about the technical aspects of the show. This season feels a little more technical — I don’t think the story suffers necessarily because of it, but I think the focus on this one story line leaves less opportunity for laughs. He’s dealing with some heavy shit, you know? I resist the urge to always deflect to C.K.’s genius, but I like this enhanced-storyteller approach, and I’m along for the ride.
If Louie and Amia spoke the same language, do you think she’d be out of his league? He keeps showing us glimpses of her genius, like the way she was playing chess with Lily and teaching Jane violin simultaneously during a hurricane. I think their intelligence is well matched, especially when it’s held up to the volatility of his past relationships and Louie’s natural curiosity about life, and you can see how her patience sloughs off on him. He was frantically making a snack in the kitchen, tossing around the spatula and turning off burners, but then he had that sweet moment where he touched her shoulder and they locked hands when he dropped the plate. The focus was all on her — Louie was cut off at the waist — in a way that was like, Yeah, of course she would cover this family in a mist of serenity like early-morning fog on a field.
And they need it, according to the therapist Louie and Janet saw together to talk about Jane’s “high-activity brain.” This episode does three flips: the opening with Amia, the middle part about the modern inconveniences brought on by divorce, and the Woody Allen–inspired flashback. In this tense center, the appointment reveals much more about Louie and Janet than it does their kid, and the chill co-parenting vibe they’ve manifested for the past couple of seasons crumbles away. They disagree about almost everything — how each of their kids reacted to their divorce, who's responsible for the divorce, what they should do about Jane, whether or not it’s cool for Louie to let the kids get attached to a woman who is moving back to Hungary. The therapist (played by Dream On’s Denny Dillon) diagnoses Janet as practical and Louie as emotional, which they definitely didn’t need to pay her $400 an hour to find out. But the episode isn’t really about who they are individually as much as who they are together. Neither thought about the relationship they’d have to cultivate post-divorce, so they’re both screwing it up in different ways.
The flashback shed some light on the first two years of their marriage, primarily their decision to get a divorce while they could still do so “out of kindness and not anger,” before they had kids or got too wrapped up in each other. It was loose and comical, including the awkward too-fast sex and Janet confessing that she really doesn’t think Louie is funny. They both laugh when Louie jokes that what if that last gasp of desperate sex got her pregnant, but that is, of course, what happens, making sure these two are stuck in a loop of separating and coming together for the rest of their lives.
MOMENTS OF BRILLIANCE
- The entire window-screaming scene. Janet has been interrupting and undermining Louie throughout the therapy session; he calmly gets up, opens the window behind the therapist, screams his head off, closes it, and sits back down. The two women have kept talking the entire time. It felt like every single argument you’ve ever had with your partner.
- “Their father is right here, inside my face.”
- “Can we leave now while this feels kind of even?”
- Flashback Janet is white! I like that Louie does not give a shit about eradicating continuity.