“Elevator Part 6” takes the aesthetic premise of Louie, in which the world around its protagonist matches his passive, fatalistic outlook, to its logical extreme. As Louie’s (Louis C.K.) stress over his finite relationship with Amia (Eszter Balint) and his kids’ educational future reaches its limit, the hurricane mentioned throughout the six-part saga at last makes landfall in New York. Weather reports, the only reliable source of comic relief in this increasingly sad, tender storyline, note that everyone in western Brooklyn has already died, and that the occupants of the borough’s northern section will be dead by tomorrow.
The physical danger manifests around Louie getting into a heated discussion with Amia and her translating aunt (Ellen Burstyn), a hurricane warning siren whining in crescendo with their escalating voices. Before they can hash things out, however, Louie must contend with Janet (Susan Kelechi Watson) and the kids being trapped in a marked evacuation zone. What ensues is a rescue as only Louie can pull it off: clumsy, slow, and reliant on the committed customer service of Hertz in keeping a rental station manned during an apocalypse. The series occasionally broaches tense moments, but this sequence epitomizes C.K.’s capabilities as an action director in addition to his carefully controlled anti-comedy. Claustrophobic shots of Louie inside his rented SUV as torrents of rain render windshield wipers useless generate great suspense, and when he finally arrives at Janet’s and hugs his catatonic ex-wife to reassure her, the lazy lump looks like a genuine hero.
Yet the episode’s true centerpiece comes immediately afterward, when the metaphorical usefulness of the storm fittingly disappears from the frame as Louie and Amia meet in a Hungarian restaurant to speak openly and honestly about their feelings. In an unbroken long shot of Louie and Amia, the unwitting interpreter who sits between them reads Amia’s heartfelt note to Louie, occasionally putting in a gestural emphasis as if conveying his own thoughts. Louie, for his part, glumly grabs the man’s hand, not Amia’s, when the gist of her sweet farewell letter becomes clear. Louie graciously tells her, “I wouldn’t trade [our time] for anything. Except maybe a situation where I know what you’re saying and I could talk to you and we’d live in the same place.”
The women in Louie’s life tend to exit it on poor terms, fleeing from his awkward nature, if not outright dying. These departures let Louie down without forcing him to really take stock of anything. Amia’s dignified, loving goodbye actually makes him sit there and process his sadness like an adult instead of getting to displace his emotions through an exaggerated plot development. As amusing as it is that the server finds himself emotionally involved in their moment and that Louie even makes him a deeper part of it, when the second man cries after relating Louie and Amia’s exchanges and excuses himself, it’s an appropriate conclusion to a mature, gently heartbreaking scene. Taken collectively, “Elevator,” with its symbolic storm imagery, neurotic protagonist, and thoughtful consideration of the choice of remaining alone or risking heartbreak for even a few weeks of companionship, stands as one of the finest rom-coms of the last decade, able to combine the genre’s sweetness, outsized absurdity, and anti-romantic deconstruction into a cohesive whole.
And it’s almost ruined by the next episode. “Pamela Part 1” starts promisingly, with Louie once again turning to Dr. Bigelow (Charles Grodin), bad enough as Louie’s physician and downright nightmarish as an unwitting therapist, to talk about his sadness over Amia leaving. It’s hard to pick a single sentence out of Grodin’s lines, as every single one is gold. The actor’s wizened tone clashes with pearls of non-advice like his conviction that Louie’s misery over losing Amia is “the good part” of love, a reminder that she really mattered even though she’s now out of his life, only to loop back around into some kind of zen genius by saying that the “bad” part is forgetting that person.
Soon after, Louie gets a text from Pamela and sees an opportunity to rebound. Naturally, Pamela, sensing that Louie’s now single and looking to hook up, tells him “that ship has sailed” and needles his desperation. Even so, she volunteers to babysit his daughters when the original sitter cancels the day of a planned performance, and later refuses payment for it. However, when Louie gets back from his show, seen in an excerpt of him riffing on how men established an entire social order just to give them total control over women, he lives up to his material by insistently leaning in for a kiss as she tries to leave, then grabbing her and refusing to let go until she admits she has some feelings for him.
In theory, transitioning back to Pamela from Amia should allow Louie to mine even richer ideas regarding love and compatibility: Amia is kind and fun, but her language barrier and intent to leave the country take the idea of two people being attracted to each other but having nothing in common to its furthest point. Pamela, meanwhile, shares much with Louie: a similar pessimism, a mordant sense of humor (even though she doesn’t find him funny), and a resignation to the second, more depressing half of a life that wasn’t that great even when it peaked. Yet Louie and Pamela perhaps have so much in common that they cannot stand to be around each other, a disruption of typical rom-com binaries of who is “right” and “wrong” for a person.
Approaching the topic with an act that Pamela says “would be rape if you weren’t so stupid,” however, just smacks of C.K. falling back on poking at taboos, which ironically sticks out as his safety net. Louie always pulls these stunts after it delves into something potentially serious, just as C.K. offsets his more revelatory stand-up material with a garish enthusiasm for slurs he arrogantly thinks he can repurpose. But of course, the problem of getting worked up about this is that this marks only the first third of a complete story about the pair. Maybe the episode already critiques itself, with Louie’s stand-up bit about male supremacy as the status quo a dig at his subsequent behavior. Pamela’s own chaotic inability to come to terms with how she feels about Louie also needs time to develop. But if these episodes form parts of larger arcs, they still force the viewer to consider them in their sectioned pieces, and for the moment, “Pamela” seems like too much like a reflexive retreat from the profundities so deftly scrutinized in “Elevator.”
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