kimberlee rossi-fuchs looks at episode ocho…
“Dad,” this week’s installment of Louie, was one of the season’s stronger efforts. Like “Daddy’s Girlfriend,” it followed a more focused, single-story rather than multi-vignette format, yet the darker moments were paired with consistently funny ones and more strikingly, the episode ventured to cast its lead in a much more unsympathetic light than usual.
“Dad” opens with Louie’s younger daughter, Jane, masterfully playing the violin in their apartment. (And yes, that’s Ursula Parker’s really playing. In addition to being a fantastic young actress, Parker is also a violin prodigy and possibly the most charming nine year-old on the planet.) Her virtuosic performance is hardly the cacophonous pounding of an ADD-riddled toddler on a My First Drum Set, and yet Louie storms in pissed off, yelling, “It’s not time to do that now!” Always defiant, Jane protests, “But it’s beautiful,” and attempts to keep playing until Louie rips the violin out of her hands and sends her to her room, angrily muttering to himself. Louie has portrayed its hero as a good father time and time again — we’ve seen him do everything from cooking his girls fancy dinners to laughing at their terrible jokes to tending to a stowaway duckling — but here he lets his apparent bad mood get the better of him and we get a rare glimpse of a very human, yet pretty terrible instance of parenting, one that his daughter will likely store in her permanent mental file of shitty dad moments.
Louie’s uncharacteristically nasty mood carries over into the next scene, when he visits an electronics store in search of a combination Blu-Ray / DVD player and quickly pisses off the store’s employees by acting like an impatient asshole. While being ignored by gossiping store employees can certainly be infuriating, Louie’s interrupting demand for assistance still comes across as brusque and rude. The employee who eventually deigns to help him doesn’t hide the fact that he couldn’t give a fuck, listlessly professing ignorance at Louie’s questions. When Louie cuts him off to take a call on his cell (a collect call from his Uncle Excelsior, who’s in town and sets up a lunch date for the following day at the Russian Tea Room), the man trips Louie by positioning the Blu-Ray player box right behind his feet and he and his coworkers erupt in laughter when he Louie falls backward over the box a moment later.
Continuing to be a total buzz kill, Louie immediately approaches the store manager and claims that “one of your employees just assaulted me.” The manager has security staff show him the alleged assault on the store’s cameras and can’t even choke back his laughter when he sarcastically asks Louie if he’d wish to press charges. Realizing how ridiculous he appears, Louie storms out, and the still laughing manager asks the security guard to “show me that shit again.” The humor on the show is always self-deprecating, but rarely is Louie the butt of the joke in the way he is here, portrayed as the type of whiny, irritating asshole – like the old lady at the pharmacy counter in last week’s episode or the silly, tantrum-throwing man at the airport in season one — whom Louie often presents as a source of ridicule.
The central plot of the episode is set in motion when Louie meets with Uncle Excelsior (Uncle X for short) for their agreed upon lunch date. Another seemingly incongruous family member, Uncle X is an urbane Mexican diplomat, the kind of well-travelled man who orders Cornish hen for lunch and tells stories about his friendship with credenza-gifting Dukes. Even when Uncle X begins to approach the reason for the lunch date, it takes him a while to get there, launching into a bizarre, laugh-out-loud metaphor about hookers and condoms and fathers and sons before finally making the point that Louie should man up and visit his regretful father in Boston.
As Uncle X, F. Murray Abraham may have been my favorite guest star so far this season. Abraham ran away with the scene, from his Dracula-esque line delivery to the animated facial expressions and poses he relied on to describe the Duke, he was beyond hilarious. That he used not his pointer, but his middle finger for emphasis while talking was a great sight gag and I couldn’t stop laughing as he gestured, waved, and pointed it right in Louie’s face, like an enormous, yet dignified “fuck you.” While Louie seemed just mildly annoyed by his uncle’s suggestion during their lunch date, it becomes clear that the prospect of visiting his father has stirred up some strong feelings for him when he vomits all over himself and the table during a poker night with friends, including Nick DiPaolo and Jim Norton. It’s always good to see CK’s comedian friends appear on the show and I was especially glad to see Sarah Silverman back again this week and totally in her element as one of the guys, joking about selling her breasts on EBay and “getting fucked in her titty holes.” The bit about Jim Norton jerking off to his own poorly-drawn pornographic cartoons was pretty stellar, too.
Concerned by the vomiting as well as a sudden rash, Louie visits the doctor’s office the next day, where the doctor determines the root of his symptoms is most likely psychological and inquires about any possible stressors in his life. Louie’s response, “Boilerplate misery, all alone in the world, might as well be a maggot sucking a dead cat’s face, what’s the point. Nothing new,” may as well be a description of the essence of the show in general. After he divulges his recent conversation with his uncle, the doctor recommends that Louie either visit his father or just come to terms with his choice to have nothing to do with the man.
Louie decides to try the former and we next see him on a flight, preparing to land in Boston (“Where your father lives,” Louie hears the flight attendant announce as they begin descent). The trip to Boston is surreal, with fantasy and reality blending together in a manifestation of Louie’s anxiety. His panic over seeing his father causes him to vomit on his rental car and he’s chastised by an employee to “See him or don’t see him. You’re forty-four years old!” Later, he argues with the car’s GPS, which reminds him in her pleasant, faux-human voice that “You missed the turn for your father’s house,” and tells him not to be a pussy since “It’s not like he touched your dick or something.” He flies off the handle and almost starts a road rage-induced fight with a “Boston ignoramus,” until Louie’s sudden nosebleed and admission of his pathetic daddy issues garners a bit of pitying sympathy from the other man.
Louie’s clearly no calmer by the time he reaches his father’s house, as the scene’s nagging, monotonous music and dizzying, blurred camera work indicate that he’s now in full-on anxiety mode. (Maybe it’s just because any parent-induced panic attack evokes images of The Sopranos for me, but the staging of the scene in which Louie approached his father’s house reminded me a bit of Tony’s balking at entering the grand estate during his coma dream.) He rings the doorbell and then quickly reconsiders, furiously running away from the house, then stealing a motorcycle (Louie whipping around a city on a bike has been one of the season’s recurring images), and finally hijacking a boat and speeding out to sea, in an effort to put as much distance between he and his father as possible. Clearly meant as a fantasy sequence rather than an actual city-wide crime spree, Louie’s escape montage and his laughter and apparent relief once he’s floating on the open sea serve to illustrate that he decided to go with the doctor’s second suggestion after all and has made the decision that he’s ok with never seeing his father again.
Before the episode began, I initially assumed that its title, “Dad,” referred to Louie himself and maybe in a way it does. As the hero of the show, Louie is typically shown in a sympathetic, though flawed, light, and casting him as an asshole here may be a way of likening him to his unseen father. We never actually see Louie’s father being a dick and only hear about his behavior in the scantest of snippets (he let Uncle X’s beloved horse die), but the episode certainly gives us our fill of Louie’s dickish behavior. I love that the show continues to subvert and defy our expectations in such ways and “Dad” was one of my favorite episodes of what’s been a so far amazing season.