Last week, the prospect of the largely self-contained “Elevator” being the first of a six-part epic seemed dubious. But the conclusion, with Amia (Eszter Balint) bringing Louie (Louis C.K.) a pie as thanks for helping her aunt, Evanka (Ellen Burstyn), did hint at one possible path for moving forward. Sure enough, the second installment begins with Louie at the grocery store, buying food of a far higher quality than the series ever shows him eating, and he returns not to his own apartment, but the old woman’s, delivering the food as a thank-you present for Amia’s own display of gratitude.
Parts two and three of “Elevator” follow from this transparent act of courtship as Louie asks Amia on a date and pursues a relationship with her. So far, this season of Louie has concentrated even more than normal on Louie’s romantic prospects, and Amia gives the series yet another avenue to explore its protagonist’s hang-ups. With her practically nonexistent English vocabulary, Amia takes her place as one of Louie’s flighty fantasy women as a result of culture, not psychology. His verbal stumbles, like nervously repeating “Hi” five times in a row, are mitigated by the language barrier, and their date in “Part 2” consists of gestures. Louie gesticulates encouragement for Amia to try the cured fish he previously enjoyed on his fantasy date with Parker Posey’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Later, at a market, Amia plays an extended game of charades to try and communicate her need for a hair dryer.
The gulf between these two desires speaks volumes, and though the date proves sufficiently charming, there’s something unsettling about him wanting to date Amia based on getting a pie. His romantic interest in any woman who displays even the slightest kindness toward him suggests deeper issues only magnified by him attempting to replicate his perfect date; that this date was with a woman whom he discovered had deep psychological issues of her own no longer seems to sit in Louie’s mind. As he smiles along to Amia’s lengthy, silent description of a hair dryer, his face betrays contentment with this delightful game, not the realization that she just has a practical need and requires assistance.
Then, in the best-matched set of episodes this season, “Part 3” starts and foregrounds these concerns. Louie tends to come off as a victim of his own socially maladroit behavior and usually comes in for criticism when someone punctures his bubble of self-absolution to make him take responsibility for how insular he is. But “Elevator Part 3” finds Louie displaying darker facets of his personality. Upon learning that Amia intends to return to Hungary soon, Louie makes her aunt translate his plea for her to stay and be with him. His single-minded dejection is reflected in an edit that cuts from him slamming their apartment door to flinging open his own. He storms inside his room, takes out a bat and promptly beats his piano in a rage before Amia and Evanka come to his door and inform him that Amia would still like to see him while in the States. This is a crucial moment, one that trades Louie’s haplessness for the capacity for harm underneath.
A recurring motif in both episodes is how Louie ignores women, despite surrounding himself with them. When Evanka welcomes his gifts in “Part 2” and tells him that Amia isn’t in, she perceptively teases him by asking if he wants to go; Louie stays and shows some interest in hearing about her life, but also sits through her playing a vaudeville tune from her youth only out of perfunctory politeness. Not until the third part of this arc does Louie even ask for Evanka’s name. Louie introduces Jane (Ursula Parker) to Amia and is shocked when his daughter says “Hello” in Hungarian, then doubly stunned when Amia spots the girl’s violin and runs to grab her own. Louie wells up as he watches the two play together, but only because it fits into his fevered imagination of already considering marriage for someone he did not a minute earlier know even played the violin.
Around this main plot, several smaller stories in the two episodes help flesh out this scathing appraisal by spotlighting how other characters reflect Louie’s behavior. Forced to pick up Jane from school over an unexplained incident, Louie asks her what happened, prompting an extended rant from Jane about the school’s poor education that finally devolves into an admission that she simply lashed out at a teacher as displaced anger over being bullied. That faux-intellectual front matches Louie’s tone while debating his ex, Janet (Susan Kelechi Watson), over putting the kids in private school. He objects on sending his children to a cloistered, artificially perfect school without “real people” before admitting that he’s just being prickly over his worries about the children and his lingering issues over the divorce. Even a return appearance by Charles Grodin’s put-out Dr. Bigelow parodies the empty philosophizing Louie (and his real-life counterpart) can fall back on, offering useless relationship advice in the form of a fatalistic riff on his three-legged dog.
The most significant subplot involves the return of Pamela (Pamela Adlon) from Europe. Now fully separated from her ex-husband, Pamela comes back to Louie and, playfully gagging at the very idea of it, suggests that she would now be open to a relationship with him. With her acidic sense of humor and lack of sentiment, Pamela always seemed the woman best-suited to be around Louie in spite, or maybe because, of her lack of romantic interest in him. Now, her transparently selfish, manipulative willingness to be with him to ease her own problems only strengthens her position as his truest match. The modicum of self-respect that Louie shows in turning her down marks a display of maturity he doesn’t show anywhere else in these two episodes, and as “Elevator” continues to pile on its critiques of Louie’s selfishness and destructively impulsive behavior, it will be interesting to see how well he sticks to his decision to stay with Amia.
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