Louie is a series that has always defied the rules of television, but the show's recent third season really grabbed the wheel and jerked the series into the land of surrealism. Sure, there's always been a gloss of improbability over the entire show -- the homeless man being decapitated by a bus, for one -- but the show's third season really tested the boundaries of the medium. This year's episode "Dad" wouldn't have been out of place in Jean-Luc Godard's filmography, while the "Late Show" trilogy of episodes featured the master of surrealistic television, David Lynch himself, in a recurring role that occasionally invoked the sensibilities of the weird-movie auteur. Some of the plot points of Louie's third season have bordered on dreamlike, but none have dared to delve quite into the dark possibilities of surrealism as the season finale, "New Year's Day," did.
The episode was centered on loneliness in the holiday season, and the first ten minutes or so of the episode were focused on Louie struggling to please his daughters for Christmas, bringing himself to an emotional breaking point as he tried to repair a doll that his daughter wanted. It's yet another example of how Louie is a fantastic father, but the fact that all of his daughters' gratitude went to Santa Claus almost brought him to the level of holiday martyrdom. I was half-expecting Louie to crack and reveal to his daughters that Santa Claus isn't real (a scene that I really hope to see on the show one day), but instead he simply allows them to be happy, his thankless work done.
Of course, he doesn't get much time to see his daughters happy; his ex-wife and her husband appear to whisk the daughters away on an international vacation, leaving him sad and alone throughout the remaining Hollywood season. His as-yet unseen sister (Amy Poehler) phones him -- how many sisters does Louie have? -- and invites him to accompany her and her redneck husband to Mexico for New Year's, teary-eyed at the thought of him being alone for the holidays. While I'm a big fan of Louis C.K. and Amy Poehler's chemistry -- just watch Parks & Recreation to find out more -- Poehler simply wasn't given enough to do here, and I hope she gets to reappear in season 4, because otherwise, it'd be a waste.
Here's where the episode descends into a surrealistic nightmare. Louie is reminded of his loneliness by newscasters, who even urge him to commit suicide. Here's where we begin to wonder: does Louie inhabit a universe where this is real? Or are we viewing things through his own depressive, fractured psyche?
A dream in which he sees his adult daughters talking about him with pity, as a lonely old man, seems to add to that. This really is an episode about depression, and nothing makes that hit home more than the two people that Louie works the hardest for looking upon him with pity. It's heartbreaking.
He seems to get a reprieve when he runs into one-time date Liz (Parker Posey) on a bus to the airport. The episode briefly played with the idea that the two might not see each other (which would have been pretty depressing), but instead let the former bookseller from the two-part "Daddy's Girlfriend" episode notice Louie. But, just when we thought Louie's luck might be turning around, Liz developed a nosebleed and suddenly died from that childhood illness she had once mentioned. Her death falls at 11:59pm on December 31, leaving Louie alone on New Year's after a quick "bye" from the one woman who might have actually made him happy.
Of course, Liz's death happens so suddenly, so improbably, that we're left to wonder if it ever really happened at all. It's probably a moot point; to have her character, such a beacon of hope for Louie, removed, serves the purpose of breaking him down even further emotionally. It's a twist that's intentionally cruel, and might be the saddest moment of a show that deals in sadness. The way that Louie drifts through it, unbelieving, makes it seem like a dreamlike occurrence. And perhaps it is. But after being enamored by her and fruitlessly searching for her, Louie suffers the brunt of the universe's cruel sense of humor. Does this undo the bit of self-esteem he gained in "Late Show?" Has Louie's outlook on life changed at all?
Lost, Louie sleeps on a bench and starts off the new year in an airport, where he decides to venture to China, in search of the Yangtze River, which was featured in a children's book he gave his daughter Jane for Christmas. It's an attempt to reconnect with them while they're half a world away, and, surprisingly, it ends in success.
He doesn't find the Yangtze -- or maybe he does, it's not really clear -- but in the end, Louie finds himself accepted on the other side of the world, sharing a meal with a Chinese family. Even though the language barrier between them is terribly apparent, he's at home with them, and perhaps even feels loved by them. It's an incredibly upbeat end note to a rather downtempo episode. Louie might never find true love or happiness (not in THIS show), but at least there's somewhere in the world where he doesn't have to be alone.
What did you think of the episode? Was it too depressing for you, or did it give you a nosebleed with delight? Let us know in the comments section below!
Louie season 4 will premiere next year.