Oct 3, 2012

TV Recap: Louie - "New Year's Eve"

Left to right: Ursula Parker and Louis C.K.
Welcome to my recaps of season 3 of the FX television series Louie. Join me as I try to dissect what I hope will be another excellent season from one of my favorite shows currently on TV. I think what makes this show work is the ability for Louis C.K. to be self loathing and artful at the same time in unique and clever ways. Also, keep an eye out for my Bob's Burgers column set for upcoming Tuesdays.

We have come to the end of another superb season of Louie. After the thrilling conclusion to "the Late Show" arc, we ask ourselves where the show can go. Louis C.K. has had his moment of glory and anything that follows doesn't stand a chance of being as enthralling or interesting. Or at very least, it won't have a David Lynch cameo. What we get almost comes close, though.
The episode opens on C.K. as he sits miserably in a blanket on Christmas staring at his two children Jane (Ursula Parker) and Lilly (Hadley Delany) opening presents. It is one thing to see them happy, but another to see it from C.K.'s perspective. He doesn't outright say it, but we get the origin story for each of the gifts, and suddenly we find deep sympathy for how hard he works to bring joy to his children.
We see the story of how he wraps presents, which results in folding wrapping paper into a ball and taping the sides (much like how I do it). Not to be outdone, the next scene shows Jane pulling out a blue monkey and being glad that Santa got her what she wanted. C.K. had to force his way through a mob of angry shoppers to get that monkey. However, the third and biggest reveal was the most elaborate and makes up the video shown above.
Lilly gets a doll that is adorable and looks nice. It didn't always look that way. It all started when the doll's eyes popped out of the sockets and looked possessed. C.K. tries to fish them out with chopsticks to no luck. He ends up drilling open the doll's head and doing some interior work that gets really complicated. He glues it all back together only to realize that the color is a little off. He melts crayons on the stove and colors the skin in hopes of making it look good. This is more tedious than it sounds, but I am impressed with how it came out.
Still, to have this labor of love turn into a thank you for Santa feels like an unintentional back slap. Luckily the final gift is a book called "the Story About Ping." It follows a duck named Ping and his cousins as they live in a boat along the Yangtze River. Jane is enthralled by the imagery and thinks that it would be nice to visit there. 
Later on, Janet (Susan Kelechi Watson) stops by to pick up Jane and Lilly. During this time, she asks C.K. if he got the Late Show job, which he confirms that he didn't. He also says hello to her boyfriend Patrick (Gary Wilmes) before they all take off. C.K. takes the rest of the evening to clean his apartment and throw the Christmas tree out the window. 
With everyone gone and the house clean, he decides to spend his time in bed. During this time, his sister Debbie (Amy Poehler) calls and is wondering what his New Year's plans are. He claims that he is just going to sleep and be alone. Debbie doesn't like that and insists that he join her and husband Doug (Joel Garland) in Mexico. He decides not to, and Debbie finishes the conversation with a concerned voice.
Left to right: Emily Padgett and Jenson Smith
While in bed later on, he has a dream about his children. They are grown up and probably in their 20's. Jane (Jenson Smith) and Lilly (Emily Padgett) are talking at a diner about how they have careers and that it is probably art related. The scene is very vague and paints them in a successful light, even if C.K. seems to have no idea what the details are. However, they begin talking about their father and how he just sits in a chair alone all day. They sympathize and pity him, also praying that he didn't mess them up in some deep psychological way. 
When C.K. wakes up, it is New Year's Eve and suddenly the newscasters (Jackie Tranchida and Steve Lacy) are doing a report on holiday suicide and that New Year's Eve is the most likely time for people to attempt suicide, especially when no one is around the body. It ends with them insisting that the viewer put the gun in their mouths. Such an awkward statement, but is probably just C.K.'s perspective diving into reality.
This sees C.K. deciding to go out into the world and do something. While aboard a bus, he finally sees Liz (Parker Posey), who is excited to see him. After a few very brief words, she begins bleeding from her nose and collapses. They get an ambulance and rush her to the hospital. There, a doctor (Linda Powell) asks C.K. if he has any knowledge about what is going on. All he know is that she had cancer as a teenager and that it is coming back aggressively. C.K. takes the last few moments to talk to Liz before she dies, marking the death at 11:59 PM. C.K. walks out of the hospital as everyone is gathering to ring in the New Year and sing "Auld Lang Syne." 
Depressed, he heads to an empty airport and sleeps on a bench. When he wakes up, he looks at a list of departures and contemplates either going to Mexico or Beijing, China. This reminds him of "the Story of Ping," which he takes as a sign. He goes to China and begins asking people who don't speak English where the Yangtze River is. No one gets it, but he tries by using his hands. 
When he finally gets someone, he is given a ride. This show is really into ducks as symbolism, as this particular fellow has an entire truck full of ducks. When they arrive at the Yangtze River, C.K. is met with a stream and a lot of grass. He is not impressed, but the man insists that this is it.
He begins walking until he finds a hut full of people, who invite him in. They don't speak English either, but he joins them for a meal and share jokes through a translator. The season ends with them laughing and having a good time as the camera pans out over the green hills of China. 

And like that, the season is over. We have seen C.K. travel outside of New York before in "Miami," but this time, he goes to where nobody understands him for real. There is a sense of discovery of what actually makes C.K. authentic in character and as a show. It is also an interesting prospect that the show is slowly developing this metaphorical approach of using ducks to represent something pure. It first popped up last season in "Duckling" and is even more prominent here, both in "the Story of Ping" and on the journey to the Yangtze River. When it turns out to be nothing more than a stream, it kind of humbles C.K. and allows him to move on.
What makes this episode really good is probably that it can also serve as a retrospective of the entire season. He didn't get the Late Show gig. Tragedy always ruins his happiness before it happens. His kids love him, but he is essentially the one sacrificing his life for them. Even the future scene in which the kids are older can represent a lot of points presented in the season that adds to the show's existential layer. He seems to be wasting away, which is what motivates him to do stuff.
And then there is Liz. Poor, poor Liz. As you know, I have been rooting a happy ending for these two since the beginning. They were wonderful together and to see her fall to cancer was so tragic. It was almost too dark for the show, which has dealt with death before, but never on a personal, emotional level. It is also sad because we believe that this could be the happy New Year's that C.K. so sorely needs. Imagine if Liz survived, he could have found the one. Instead, we see her die from cancer. It may seem too convenient of a plot point, but it still has a great impact nonetheless.
I think if anything should be taken from this episode, it is the self reflective nature that New Year's Eve brings. Sure, there are some thoughts of suicide, but it is essentially reflecting on what happened in the past year, and while C.K. has done more than he thinks, he may end up alone and useless. The death of Liz puts that all into perspective and he finally takes a leap by travelling to China. It is at times tragic, but always an insular journey of trying to be happy with your accomplishments. 
Also, since we have established it, can we please have Amy Poehler come back next season? She was so low key in this that all this felt like was an introduction. She also seems like the sanest member of his family. 

Favorite scene: I was going to go with the grown-up girls scene until I found out about the one where Liz dies. While the entire moment is sad and tears apart everything I loved in this show, I think that was the point. C.K. is not supposed to have it easy no matter how much we want it that way. We'll always have the "Daddy's Girlfriend" arc, but I felt that it wasn't enough. However, the most powerful moment in that whole scene is not only that we lost a valuable character, but the whole self reflection and suicidal undertones comes to the surface as Liz is announced dead at 11:59 and everyone is rushing to ring in the New Year. There is something almost haunting about that as everyone is happy, but C.K. is alone without Liz, who didn't even make it to midnight. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Check out more of my work at http://nerdseyeviewpodcast.blogspot.com/ where I post every Wednesday and have a podcast called Nerd's Eye View.

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