Picking out a theme for an episode is weirdly academic and sometimes alienating, but I’m about to do it anyway, because I can’t conceptualize or sum up what happened in these 20 minutes without it. At first I thought this episode was about violence (for very obvious reasons), or masculinity, but I think it’s more about reluctance—namely, the reluctance that shapes Louie’s life and decision-making process at every turn.
The stuff with his uncle’s almost-funeral was a strange way to reintroduce us to the “come here, go away” relationship he has with his brother. If you remember the “bang-bang” episode where they ate two full dinners back to back, it’s already clear that the way they interact is abnormal, so when Bobby tries to plop some sincerity into the mix it makes Louie physically uncomfortable. I mean, no one wants to talk about the viability of their sibling’s sperm on the best day, but a floral-printed couch in the apartment of a man who uses a timer for his lights doesn’t really make it easier. Louie puts on pants to talk to his brother on the phone (possibly the funniest part of this episode to me), so of course he’s going to visibly cringe when Bobby starts talking about his junk.
The stark, clear-cut way Bobby envisions life is as refreshing as it is shocking—of course he thinks Louie has it made because he “got a beautiful wife, then you got a divorce,” or that his own life is garbage because he has “no money, no skills, no Twitter.” It’s not surprising that he doesn’t know that he’s actually not Louie’s older brother, but younger by three years. He pleads with Louie to help him get good things in his life (right as the timer turns the lights off), but it’s clear that Louie has absolutely no idea how to get good things, or even how he got the good things he has; he just sort of stuck with something long enough for it to pay out, and you can’t really give someone an instruction booklet about perseverance.
The episode seems to take a hard left here, but the tinge of reluctance is what sets off the disturbing events that encapsulate the rest of the show. Louie gets mercilessly beaten up by a woman, in broad daylight, simply because he stepped in to stop her from beating up the man she was originally yelling at. You could see the reluctance stamped all over his face twice; when he first approached her, and halfway into getting his ass kicked when he seems to really think about punching a girl, even though he’s already said, “I’m not going to hit a girl!” repeatedly. This is how Louie’s world is different—every decision he makes has immediate, disastrous results.
It was sweet that he wanted his kids to know he was beat up by a girl (“You should know that women are strong!”), but after they laugh him out of the house he goes to Pam’s (also laughing at him). What originally starts as a plea for her to help him cover up his bruises before he performs two shows ends in a sexually explicit role-playing scenario that gets wildly uncomfortable. Louie gives in to (and enjoys) a full face of makeup after Pam begs him to let her do it, and even gives himself a name (Jornetha) when Pam puts on a trucker hat and starts doing some masculine performativity. This is all a very convoluted way to say they dressed up as opposite genders and fucked, which was all well and good until Louie said “no.”
Even though they come back from the commercial break with him looking satisfied and saying he’s okay, it was shocking to see it escalate from some gentle playfulness to threatening in less than a minute. When Pam flips him over and starts working the gears, he clearly and loudly says no, and I just can’t get past that. In the post-coital moment he uses what he sees as an intimate act to ask her to move the relationship forward, and she dumps him. Like, immediately, on the spot dumps him. Pam is one of my favorite women on TV for her unapologetic, play it as it lays approach to life, but I was still surprised that she would dump a dude in such a harsh manner, right after she sexually violated him. She ends their relationship the same way she started it—laughing at him, right to his face, while he experiences the deepest pain of his life.
In the end, when Bobby is laughing at Louie, too, you’re not sure if it’s because he tried to revisit the tenderness of the moment they shared earlier by telling him about his breakup, or if he’s laughing at the idea of Louie in makeup having sex. We’re not sure what he’s laughing at, but the reluctance is back with full force, and Louie regrets ever telling Bobby anything at all.