Finally, Louie wedged an actual movie into the season with last night’s expanded episode.
Lili Loofbourow wrote a great essay about last week’s episodes and raises a crucial point: That Louie uses good fatherhood to “exonerate him of his other human failings.” It’s true — he insists that we look to his parenting as a way to define his goodness overall, and he really wants a lot of kudos for being present in his kids’ lives. But sometimes, like the events that propelled the story last night, being a good father doesn’t look like what you think it should look like.
This was an episode told primarily in flashbacks, since Louie needed to pull from his past to figure out what to do when he catches Lilly smoking pot at an outdoor festival. In his standup act, C.K. talks about using drugs as a kid and says that he can’t in good faith tell anyone that drugs are bad; in a 2011 interview with Rolling Stone, he also said that by the time he got to high school, he “was a recovered drug addict.” A lot of what happened in last night’s episode felt like an apology to his former self.
Louie has a tender relationship with his mother, which is funny if you remember the episode from season one where he screams how much he hates her. They talk easily on his way to school, and he lets her off the hook for being a busy single mom, forgiving her for not having enough time to shop for new clothes for the new dance or being home to make dinner. His science teacher, Mr. Hoffman, picks up on his sensitivity, and tries to take care of him by paying a little extra attention to Louie in class. It’s easy to see how Mr. Hoffman could be a father figure to Louie, but in a way that’s not obvious or clear until you meet his actual father later in the episode. For the time being, he’s just a really nice guy who treats Louie with a modicum of respect, which makes what Louie does to him feel that much shittier.
At the school dance, his friend Brad suggests they go into the woods to smoke a joint he stole from his older brother; the school bully has a light and they all become fast friends, hanging out and bonding over their love of pot right away. Everything changes for Louie; his relationship with his mom becomes fraught, he falls asleep in school, and he becomes destructively curious. When their regular supplier can’t get them weed, Louie takes it upon himself to go directly to drug dealer Jeff Davis, played hilariously by Jeremy Renner. Davis offers Louie a chance to earn more pot by stealing scientific scales from school, and he only has two caveats — don’t bring anyone to his house, and don’t get caught.
Louie gets caught. He volunteers to clean up after an experiment and steals three scales, which gets him six ounces of weed from Jeff Davis. He has so much weed he doesn’t know what to do with it, and Brad and Danny suggest he sell it. His mom suspects him of drug use but can’t prove anything, and when she calls in his dad (masterfully played by F. Murray Abraham), Louie tells him to fuck off, having not been a great presence in his life anyway. It wasn’t necessarily him placing blame so much as Louie saying hey, you don’t get to float into my worldview when it suits you and try to run the show. Every kid dreams of that moment, I think, of being able to stand up to his parents and actually be correct.
The episode is peppered with scenes of Louie taking care of Lilly while she works through her high; he’s taking her to Five Guys and buying her an extra burger, or making her a meal when she wakes up from a long nap. He’s present, even when he’s unsure of what he’s doing, and it takes the bulk of the episode to figure out why he isn’t freaking out, calling Janet, and setting Lilly up in a reform school.
Louie steals ten scales overall, worth about $300 each, so by the time the principal catches on, he owes close to $3,000. The only problem is that the principal hasn’t caught him in the act, and Mr. Hoffman doesn’t believe him. He thinks Louie is a standout student, sensitive and intelligent, and this is the sort of crime other people commit. The guilt of it all sends Louie spiraling, and he ends up at Davis’s house trying to get the scales back even though he has no pot to offer back in return. Davis gives it to him straight — that this is larceny, and Louie is a criminal now. He gets violent with Louie and implores him to clean up his “man-shit mess” without telling him how. And that’s really the crux of the issue for Louie; he’s figured out so much about life on his own, but still has no idea how to be a person.
This whole situation is pretty typical in so many ways — the bored suburban child of divorce turning to drugs — but he’s able to show the various ways that can play out through himself and his friends. Brad gets sent to a private school when his parents find out he’s been getting high; Danny gets arrested for vandalism and “a bunch of other stuff,” giving the impression that he’s sort of setting out for a life of crime or destined to become the next Jeff Davis; and Louie just sort of flounders. He’s filled to the brim with guilt, especially when the principal admits that even though he knows Louie took the scales, he has to let it go. His mother flips out on him but eventually relents and takes him to a social worker played by Josh Hamilton, whom we last saw on this show getting high, throwing a huge jug of water out of a window, and denting the roof of a car. His advice is pretty solid, though, and useful to Future Louie: Try to stop doing drugs, and make better choices. The most powerful thing he could have told him was that his parents were part of the problem; Flashback Louie didn’t have any feelings about them or their divorce, but they were heavy on Future Louie’s mind when he was figuring out what to do with Lilly.
And Future Louie actively keeps that thought in his head and doesn’t really have much to say to Lilly except “Good-bye to your childhood, I guess.” He tells her that he loves her, and he’s there for her, then hugs her. This scene was made all the more poignant by the fact that the episode was dedicated to Phil Hoffman, like a spectral reminder of what can happen when we don’t treat drug addiction with compassion.
Janet was absent from this episode, and it’s not clear whether or not Louie will tell her what happened. He doesn’t have a lot of moments where he’s in total control with his kids; he lets them slam doors and talk back, and most of the time they ignore him. The principal had a prophetic statement for Louie when he was explaining how he had to let everything go, telling Louie that one day this is going to come back to him in some way and he’ll have to deal with it. Adults say that to kids all the time, since it’s a safe bet that as you get older and have kids (if you have kids), you encounter more situations that are close to your experiences, but it was sort of a curse in Louie’s case. Being a friend to Lilly when he wanted to explode into a fit of typical parenting, remembering his younger self at his worst, was his penance.
MOMENTS OF BRILLIANCE
- Flushing string down the toilet is “doing science.”
- “If you fart in your dream, do you fart in real life?” Everyone knew an Albert.
- When Jeff Davis gave his cat Pepper eye drops, he kissed the cat, pulled away, and then the cat put its paw over his mouth in the style of “enough, dude.”