Well, I was wrong. “The Road Pt. 1” drops just enough hints that maybe “Pt. 2” could be the silver lining behind the cloud, but it’s just another cloud. It even begins the same way: the beverage cart violently ramming into Louie’s leg on the airplane, and then a person waiting to pick him up who is not exactly Louie’s kind of person. In this case it’s the club owner’s daughter, April, an aloof young woman who is on her phone most of the time she’s driving while poor, dumb Louie tries and fails to figure out how to politely suggest she stop taking his life so cavalierly from the passenger seat.
But what “The Road Pt. 2” explores is the idea that Louie’s kind of person might be a little narrow. Or a lot narrow. That is, the problem might be his. Unlike certain other conversations about habits Louie looks down on, his exchange with Kenny, his opening act, is fairly balanced all the way through. Louie is an asshole, but Kenny is too. At first we’re still in the “Pt. 1” frame of mind, so when Louie opens the door to find his two-bedroom condo a mess, a shirtless Kenny joke-harassing April, and an offer to start drinking with Kenny before noon, it’s easy to take Louie’s side. Kenny makes a mock j/o motion as Louie walks away, revealing he’s not just a slob but a definitional asshole: He expects everyone else to conform to his own personal standards. During their act, Louie prays to nobody for Kenny not to light his farts, but that’s Kenny’s whole thing. The next night Kenny opens for Louie and then follows him, and this time he adds making fun of Louie’s set to his repertoire. No jury in the country would blame Louie for not wanting to associate with this guy.
The next morning, though, they have it out. Louie’s giving Kenny the silent treatment, so Kenny decides to say something. “You’re a real bummer…You’re just a drag.” Kenny makes a decent case for his friendliness: He did offer food, drinks, a party with some women whose names he doesn’t know, and he just gets snobbery from Louie in return. “You’re too good for me?” That tears it. Because that is what it all comes down to. The other gripes go two ways, but they’re all offshoots of the main idea that Louie thinks he’s better than other people. Which isn’t something I’d ordinarily buy. Louie is always finding himself in strange conversations with strangers, and he’s often open to new experiences. But just last week he made his driver cry, and he sure isn’t interested in making any friends this week.
Like a lot of things that happen in season five, it resonates with Louie criticism. We probably all know a TV fan who scoffs at Louie for acting like it’s better than other comedies, or who scoffs at the reviews that argue it is better than other comedies. It’s a hack joke at this point to say Louie is a comedy that isn’t funny. That it’s too good to just make us laugh. Personally I’ve made a mission of railing against sitcoms that supplement their comedy with sappy romances or schmaltzy melancholy because jokes aren’t enough. But that’s not what Louie is doing.
Louie takes the point, but it doesn’t just surrender. It fires the last shot of the war and misses, so they just call it off instead. Because while Louie ultimately apologizes to Kenny and concedes that of course fart jokes are funny, Louie is still Louie, and “The Road” is still “The Road.” The character realizes he doesn’t have to be so prickly and judgmental, but his point-of-view, the perspective animating his entire comedic universe, remains moody. We smash cut from Louie concluding their peace talks with his first shot from a bottle they’ve vowed to start and finish to Louie hugging a toilet. The scenario is ripe for some bodily function humor, especially when Kenny walks in needing to take a “pizza shit” and decides to use the toilet tank while Louie’s staring into the bowl. So he’s standing on the edge of the bathtub, his pants just below his butt, perched above the tank, and then he slips and falls. “Oh, shit. Oh, dude, man, I hit my head hard,” he says, as dark blood pools behind his head.
The manager’s response to Kenny’s death is to tell Louie, “I’m never hiring you again.” He walks off, and the camera slowly racks to his daughter, inches away from Louie just glaring at him. But then Louie slowly steps out of the way, like he’s trying not to wake a sleeping person or testing if the painting’s eyes will follow him, and she doesn’t move a millimeter. She wasn’t glaring. She’s just vacant. Louie’s out of the line of fire he was never really in in the first place.
“The Road Pt. 2” isn’t an endless fog like “Pt. 1.” There’s rising action, a strong climax, and life-and-death consequences in Louie and Kenny’s relationship. And where the brief detours at the airport contained some muted absurdities, Louie comes to life wandering around Oklahoma. It starts out typically: barren wintry trees, a luminous overcast sky, and just enough drizzle to be annoying but not enough to need an umbrella. Louie wanders into an open-air market, and he marvels at a violin player, and then he ducks into a tent emblazoned with the words, “Go Back In Time.” Inside he dresses up as a Civil War soldier for two women who wanted a man to complete their picture. It takes some begging—and a discordant shot/reverse shot back-and-forth—but once he steps out in uniform, he immediately falls into the part, dancing with both women and the photographer to the violin music that caught his ear. Louie is open to people and experiences. At the market he plays, dances, enjoys music, meets strangers, generally puts himself out there and has a good time doing it. It’s the sound of Kenny’s set that snaps him out of it.
- April complains there are too many “sickies” downtown. “Like sick people?” She sighs. “No, forget it.” Eventually he gets her to tell him. “Mexicans.” Two things. First, see, Louie does make an effort, and second, it’s not Louie’s problem if he doesn’t want to make friends with people like her.
- Nice to see Louie standing up for himself instead of being a doormat with boring clothes. When the manager threatens to fire him for not wearing a suit, Louie responds, “I guess you could, but I’m not gonna change how I dress.” But I grew tired of CK’s exaggerated pantomime expressions by the first commercial break.
- Louie’s set begins, “I’m 47, which means I’m half-dead.”
- The owner tells Louie that Kenny’s going to start following him in addition to opening, to keep the energy up at the end. “Do I get paid the same?” “Yep.” “Then I don’t care.” “You should.”
- “Hey, don’t knock the fart jokes. Those are my babies.” Beat. “Those are my fart babies.” And that is how you milk a joke.