Sometimes Louie gets bleak by following a monologue off to some inescapable fact of life. “The Road Pt. 1” is bleak from its name through to its bones. Louie’s going on the road, first to Cincinnati and then to Charlotte, but we only get the Cincinnati leg this week. Nothing much happens. That’s part of it. There isn’t one exciting moment but instead a morass of little frustrations, and even those don’t stand out much.
There’s also a cyclical feeling to the structure. The episode begins with Louie packing: “Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, sweat,” he says as he rations the appropriate number of black T-shirts and grey boxer-briefs. In the final scene, after he loses his luggage, he buys an identical black suitcase and packs it with the identical dreary clothes: blue jeans, black tees, and grey underwear. It has the same relentless monotony as Inside Llewyn Davis, but completely drained of wonder or yearning.
Even the drama lacks intensity. Things only ramp up at the end, when Louie’s on his way to his terminal for the trip to Charlotte. A gaggle of children and a couple of adults get on the tram and get off at the next stop. After the doors shut, someone squeaks in Louie’s direction, and it’s one of the kids. He helps her off at the next stop, tries to get help from an attendant, loses his luggage in the process, possibly recovers his luggage but refuses to take the risk that it’s not his, and almost misses his flight, and none of it gets the heart racing. This is a controlled demolition.
Maybe it’s my distorted view of TV this week—a sad march to the gallows on the other show I review, and a suicidal talk on the Mad Men finale—but I got worried for Louie. After all, the ratings are less great than usual, and prestige only takes a show so far. Could this be the end?
Just listen to him. When his driver drops him off at his room in Cincinnati, he calls his agent. “Why am I staying at a Motel 86?” He skips the numerical symbolism to make a different but related point. “I’ll kill myself in a place like this.” When his phone call is interrupted by a knock on the door, he opens it to find some kid looking for Roger. After a brief back-and-forth, Louie tells him Roger’s dead. That night, Mike the driver shows up two hours early and just waits outside Louie’s window. When Louie pulls back the curtains, Mike’s standing right there, looking in, and waves. We don’t even find out if Louie lets Mike come in. That’s how lethargic “The Road Pt. 1” is.
At least Louie has enough fight to demand better housing in the future. He exaggerates a “person-sized cum stain on the floor,” but one look at the room justifies Louie’s mood this week. The ugly yellow light barely does its job, but the birch headboard and brownish curtains paint a sad picture on their own. Louie tells his agent to stop maximizing profits and use his paychecks to put him up in nicer places. It turns out Roger isn’t dead.
Louie also comes alive on the stage. His subject this week is how fundamentally strange it is that we’re not trying harder to have sex at all times. “Our favorite thing is a secret.” That leads him to some material about clothing, and how all you really need in apparel is to cover your private parts. All of which brings us back to the opening and closing of the episode, Louie and his interchangable copies of a single outfit.
His relationship with Mike goes about how you expect once you meet Mike. He’s standing there with a sign at an airport. Louis CK is misspelled (Louie CK). The weirdo keeps holding the sign up until Louie tells him he can put it down. And even though everything seems to be going fine on the drive to the motel in silence, Mike can’t help but try to start a conversation that Louie clearly doesn’t want. One of his ice-breakers: “I’ve never been to New York.” He eventually turns it into a question, and Louie eventually answers it, and Mike just eats up the interaction. But as Louie tells him that night, he doesn’t want to have to chat. For those other comedians Mike has driven around and hung out with, the road might be an adventure. For Louie, “it’s like going to the toilet. It’s something I have to do.” All through Louie’s mini-rant, Mike’s face drops. Red lights shine over his eyes, and we can see tears streaming by the end. He meekly whispers, “Okay,” when Louie’s done, and he nervously tries to hide his tears.
The airport the next day is more absurdist. Louie gets a cinnamon roll from Jizzy Buns, a worker taking him to find his luggage drives him past men pulling bullets out of planes, and even background announcements get weird: “We would like to start pre-boarding those customers who need assistance, or those customers who are dying or afraid.” The lost child speaks in meows or moans, and the hotline attendant speaks in garbled gibberish. Eventually Louie has to identify his unattended luggage with binoculars as men in Hazmat suits hold it up above a controlled demolition container. For some reason Louie doesn’t just fudge his confidence and identify it as his bag—probably because on this show, he’d find a bomb in it if he did—so instead he watches them drop it into the bin.
And what has he lost? A few changes of the clothes he wears every day. That’s the kicker of the credits. All that and nothing was at stake. He makes his plane, but there was never any suspense about that anyway. I assumed he was going to miss it, but it didn’t seem to matter one way or the other. It’s a sad, grey start to Louie’s week on the road. But I suspect there’s light ahead. The next half of his tour is on the weekend, and he’s being picked up by the club owner’s daughter. Things could always go wrong, but the second part would have a hard time out-glooming “The Road Pt. 1.”