Now that the season’s over, a chronically late watcher such as I can start. I watched the first 2 episodes about a week ago and, while the second episode seems like it’s going to tie into things moving forward, the first episode seemed like one of those “lesser effort” outings that are tossed off, don’t really tie into the big seasonal movements, and don’t stick with you that well. These tend to be under-stuffed (the main through line is not enough for a whole episode) yet cluttered (you wind up with a lot of bits that don’t fit with the rest). The key word is “seemed” since I couldn’t get the episode out of my head and it actually stuck with me more than maybe one or two season two episodes (as a point of comparison - I still think about the visit to the grandmother, though).
The episode is more cohesive than I gave it credit for and has a unique theme (I don’t know what that word means, so forgive me – maybe I mean “point” or “message”): as we grow older, we loose passion for things and are presented with the choice of going through the motions or simply stopping living… but there is a third way – accept assistance as it is giving and reviving that keeps us not just existing, but alive.
The standups have Louie ranting on the ridiculousness of someone who is 30 bitching about being old, since he at, what, 44 is really old. So it’s a Louie episode about getting old (in other news, water fount to be wet!). It is no coincidence, I think, that there are four characters in the episode that are much older than him who have arrived at different ways to cope (what would they say about someone in their mid 40s saying they are old?).
The first non standup scene seemed like an off the cuff bit, and was the hardest to integrate with the rest of the ep, but on reflection, it acts as connective tissue between the specific theme of the episode and Louie’s broader preoccupations. In the scene he is trying to sleep, but garbage men, acting increasingly like primates, make escalating noise, eventually crashing through the window into the room, and jumping on his bed (is anyone else old enough to remember the American Tourister commercial with the guerrilla throwing luggage around?). In a later scene Louie mentions that the grind of staying up late then getting up for his kids has gotten harder as he has gotten older. So the non-performance opening to the season is simply Louie being irritated that his male monkey urges are hard to deal with as he ages. The intrusion of the garbage men is, in essence, him waking up with wood and feeling not arousal but annoyance. He’d rather just sleep than have to deal with his pesky male itches that are both ugly and silly, which he sees reflected in the city life.
The next scene has a handyman in the hallway trying to tell Louie the Pinocchio joke (“Oh god, yes, lie, lie”) and getting it wrong. He thinks the point is how absurd gaining sexual gratification by mechanical means is. He says this while repeatedly plunging into holes with a mechanical phallic object (a power drill). Louie tries to point out the actual joke’s more subtle humor (the tension between a grade school transgressive dick joke sullying a child’s story and the desirability of being lied to during sex) and is pronounced an asshole, but the question of whether mechanical stimulation is absurd hangs over the entire half hour.
The following scene has a friend of Louie’s advocating him ditching his kids as a solution to his problem of things getting harder as you get old, playing into Louie’s biggest fear that his role as a father is useless. He advocates giving up the hard stuff (one pole of our essential presented life choice). Louie then goes home with his daughters who have increasingly come to stand in for polar facets of his own personality. Here, the younger is joy (passion, youth, hold onto life) and the older resignation (do what needs to be done, plod through – thanks Kierkegaard). At the end of the night, they both want him to do the Beatles – they want to see the spark, and eventually he complies though he is not feeling it, but he kind of feels it through them once he gets going. This advocates for a fake it till you make it – do it then you’ll feel it – approach to the loss of passion, but also stresses the need for others, of feeling through them, of finding the joy by being connected and just plain trying. They shriek whe he leaves them with an aged sitter who has clearly given up and stopped living. When he leaves she just stands in the entrance like an unobserved tree in a forest (why try? What’s the point).
He then goes to the card game where the “plot” really starts. The topic for discussion is a specific distillation of the general concerns till now only obliquely expressed: how does one react to the loss of the primary primate/male drive to masturbate. Resignation is expressed by one, but Louie is more interested in the idea of the advocate for mechanical assistance. So he goes to the (let’s call it) vibrator store, where gay panic/shame grips him and he throws out his back (its shame not just age that causes the problem). He rejects assistance, until he lays on the ground trying to hail a taxi in vain, at which point an old woman, trucking along leaning on a shopping cart, helps (actually wrestles) him into a taxi for home. As he enters his building, he notices a doctor’s office, and goes in. He sees the doctor’s (aged) assistant who, after assessing him, gets him in to see the doc (Charles Grodin, also old).
The doctor delivers an incredibly fatalistic speech (acting as the ultimate Knight of Infinite Resignation) about just having to live through it, there is no helping it (while joylessly eating his sandwich) but the assistant (the oracle helps not the God) shows him that the secret for his “back” is the fabled magic wand (a both magical and mechanical solution). Armed with this, he goes home, and furtively closes the door to his bedroom, presumably to “get busy” livin’.
In the above two paragraphs, note how often words/phrases like “assistance,” “help,” “assistant,” “leaning,” and “shows him” occur. There are assistants, helpers, handymen, and garbage collectors throughout the episode, supporting the lives of others. This is a journey or learning to accept help to keep the fire alive, to keep living, not going through the motions and not abandoning the things we love, but to take the aid where we can get it (and, though we don’t see him do it, give the help when we can) and to let go of the shame (he hasn’t quite learned this one yet – if he does the show might well be over). The older folks that have given up or go through the motions appear depressive or dead, those who pitch in are spry and alive.
I think I’ve told the joke before, but this reminds me of it again. A guy goes to visit hell and finds the dining hall filled with people with 3 foot long spoons tied tightly to their wrists. Its against the rules to eat directly from the bowl so, despite the presence of food, they are all going hungry. He goes to heaven and finds the same setup except that everyone is feeding each other. Imagine the spoons ae vibrators and you have the episode’s essential parable.