By the time “The Road Part 2” begins, it’s well established that Louis C.K. is a man under siege. In the fifth season of the series, we’ve seen Louie at war with his body, his mind, his children, his girlfriend, his job, strangers, acquaintances, and the Midwest at large. But if there’s a skirmish that’s been revisited more than any other this season, it’s the battle over what it is to be a man.
In part one of the season finale last week, Louie was apathetic to being back on the road, particularly when it involved seedy Ohio motel rooms and overly needy chauffeurs. While he was willing to suffer through forced civility with his driver Mike to a point, eventually he lost his cool and pointed out how it was his right to be alone on the road and not be social, a rant that ended in the well-meaning, if annoying, driver in tears. So when he lands in Oklahoma City this week and is treated to precisely the opposite reception by the club owner’s daughter, who can’t be bothered to take her eyes off her phone while driving, much less make conversation, Louie still isn’t happy. And when he arrives at the club’s condo and meets his roommate, Kenny, the feature comedian at the club — a shirtless older man who offers him whiskey because it’s past 11 a.m. and asks the club owner’s daughter if he can cram his dick in her asshole — well, Louie isn’t super pleased about that either.
But none of that is new for Louie, which has always been keenly honed to just how dissatisfied we can be with every new iteration of our life, no matter how minute. Louie is put off by the frattish, misogynist tendencies of his condo cohort and deeply underwhelmed by his lazy set full of fart jokes and audience propositions. The club’s audience, however, disagrees with Louie’s assessment and thinks Kenny’s a laugh riot, while Louie’s observations on race in New York City and the harrowing process of aging fall flat. Louie is uncomfortable. He’s out of sorts. He’s out of place. You can tell it’s a bad situation when the highlight of his time on the road is being the token man in a replica Civil War photograph.
Louie’s time at the flea market is particularly enlightening because it comes immediately after he flees the condo, and Kenny and his Oklahoma City groupies. He escapes to a tent literally inviting him into the past, where he’s able to slip the bonds of his life and into a simpler time, when men were soldiers and women wore dresses and war was being waged over whether all people were people. I guess no era is perfect. But all the same, Louie does seem much more comfortable playing a role where he knows what’s expected of him and masculinity seems genteel, as opposed to toxic. (Also, and perhaps, most important, the mother character is played by national treasure Connie Ray, whom you may know from any number of her roles as a character actress, but should know as the protagonist of the greatest early ‘90s sitcom of all time The Torkelsons, the sitcom so nice they renamed it Almost Home, added Brittany Murphy, and it still didn’t succeed.)
After another unsuccessful set, after which he’s unceremoniously demoted thanks to Kenny’s popularity (some of which stems from a most unflattering impression of Louie), the roomies have a falling out, with Kenny accusing Louie of being an asshole and snubbing his hospitality, and Louie telling Kenny that he’s an unfunny hack who doesn’t appreciate the craft of comedy. But unlike last week’s dressing-down, it’s Louie who ends up in tears, admitting to Kenny that he thinks that farts are hilarious and he doesn’t know how he ended up in this place, judging others, looking down on joke selection, and being a general snob. He and Kenny make peace, crack open some Jack Daniels, and set to killing the bottle. Sadly, by the day’s end, the only thing dead is Kenny, killed by a blow to the head after falling off a toilet in an attempt to take an upper-decker.
The problem, as always, is not being different from other people or wanting different things or seeing the world in a different way. The problem is comparing yourself to those people as if there’s a correct way to do anything. There’s no right way to be a man or a comedian or a father or a person. It’s not wrong to want to be alone and it’s not wrong to drink in the morning. The error enters in when you start making judgment calls, either about yourself or the others, and trying to ascertain superiority when all anyone is doing is trying their best to get by.
That said, those choices, even without the stigma of being right and wrong, have consequences, and even if Louie never learns to move beyond judging others, he may at least come to understand that as ashamed as he may sometimes feel about the man he is, it’s the choices he makes that bring him home each trip to a curious daughter and silly tales of imaginary snake-bit ancestors, and keep him from a fate of bleeding out on the bathroom floor of a shitty condo. Louie may not know much, including what an upper-decker is, but he does know how to always come home.