Louie concludes its fourth season by wrapping up the “Pamela” storyline, though the minimal role “Part 1” plays in either parts two or three suggests it could have started and stopped on the same night. “Part 2” references Louie (Louis C.K.) and Pamela’s (Pamela Adlon) unnerving last encounter in a phone call where the two quickly mention the moment and move past it when Louie asks her out on a date. He takes her to an art gallery filled with various pieces of anti-art, including a bag of shit titled as such, a square canvas painted all-black and called “Jews,” and a button connected to a speaker that blares a recording of the n-word, but at this point the series has enough scenes of Louie and Pamela proving their compatibility with like-minded sarcasm that for them to make fun of a pretentious art exhibit is low-hanging fruit.
After the two share a genuine, unforced kiss under a meteor shower in Central Park, however, their tense relationship comes to a head. Pamela stops by Louie’s apartment to use the bathroom, and the beeline she makes for the door afterward suggests she hasn’t put the last time she was in his apartment completely out of mind. Louie once again calls her out on her waffling affections, but he backs down, this time explaining his frustrations instead of acting on them. In the constantly resetting world of Louie, this exchange acts as something of a mulligan for how the similar setup played out in “Part 1,” and this time it leads to Pamela honestly reciprocating his feelings, albeit through an amusing prism in which she shows him her underwear, but only by facing away, taking a photo and texting it to him, which escalates into sex.
From there, the show rights itself after the disastrous first installment of this series of episodes and the distracting reminiscence of “In the Woods.” As Louie and Pamela explore their new relationship in “Part 2” and “Part 3,” the show strikes a balance between the characters’ position as jaded and sardonic divorcées, and as emotionally insecure people who behave remarkably as if this was their first love. When Janet (Susan Kelechi-Watson) drops off Lilly (Hadley Delaney) and Jane (Ursula Parker) the morning after he hooks up with Pamela, the girls waste no time discovering Louie’s guest and grilling her on whether she’s their dad’s girlfriend, to which she can only laugh and insult him, to the delight of the children. But Pamela is clearly nervous at being so vulnerable, and when she finally tags along to see Louie’s act for the first time in “Part 3,” both are so stressed out to have to perform for each other (as Louie looks to her for approval) that the show flops and she doesn’t know what to say.
Apart from the too-easy gallery sequence in “Part 2,” both episodes make the most of the show’s loose structure of distinct but connected sequences. “Part 3” opens with Louie returning to his complex to see his furniture being taken out by movers on order of “the lady upstairs,” and as Pamela giggles at having his ugly furnishings removed (and wins the girls to her side), it’s unclear whether she already wants a say in Louie’s life or just relishes the chance to screw with him, or if those are even two mutually incompatible thoughts. Louie gets his revenge, though, when he gleefully latches onto his daughters’ suggestion that Pamela come with them to meet their mom, leading to a brief introduction between the characters mined for discomfort.
When Marc Maron approaches the table where Louie, Pamela, and some other comics are sitting in order to mention that he got a series picked up, Louie greets him with halfhearted congratulations. Maron calls him out on his transparent jealousy with a wounded rant about their tattered friendship. Anyone who knows Maron and C.K.’s real history knows how hilariously inverted this exchange is, a point made more explicit when Maron says he might behave the same as Louie in his situation, and the displacement dissolves their long split more than C.K.’s appearance on Maron’s podcast. The scene has no real connection to the rest of the narrative, other than prompting Pamela to give Louie no-nonsense words of encouragement afterward, but it’s one of those throwaway moments the series does so well, further tweaking C.K.’s personal connection to the material and working out his foibles through his art.
Anyone expecting or at least hoping for a real reckoning for Louie’s behavior in “Part 1” will be sorely disappointed. Taken as mostly separate pieces, however, the last two parts close the season on a strong note by building off of “Elevator” more than their direct predecessor as a study of the show’s ongoing breakdown of romantic relationships and how pop culture tends to process them. The season ends with a deferred dream realized when Pamela makes amends with Louie for being unwilling to say “I love you” by inviting him to join her in a bath, a callback to the first sign of her potential interest in him several seasons ago. C.K. wrings some laughs from the sight of Louie getting in the tub, displacing the water and sending gallons flowing over the edge onto the floor. But it’s also beautiful how reluctantly he undresses for her, and how forthrightly she discusses her reticence to speak about her feelings, asking if a moment like this isn’t good enough without having to rush to put labels on things.
If “Elevator” proved a sweet treatise on being with someone to stave off loneliness, “Pamela” at last lets Louie ease his way into a real relationship. Who knows how season five will treat this, or even if it will continue down this storyline at all, but for the time being, Louie might finally, and through a grotesque and protracted journey, have reached a point where he can be in love with someone like an adult. Louie is so free-form that every season finale seems like it could work as a series conclusion, but this delivers so well on the show’s overarching thematic and narrative movements that it wouldn’t be a tragedy if the series stopped here.
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