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Louise showing her vulnerable side is Bob's Burgers at its emotional best

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After 10 seasons, Bob’s Burgers has been around long enough to have not just its go-to moves for storytelling, but also some go-to ways to mix things up. In the case of Louise, the show is usually happy to get narrative momentum from letting her be a spirit of id-driven chaos. But every so often an episode like tonight’s comes along, which reminds us that she really is a nine-year-old girl underneath all the bluster. A lot of them have to do with how much she loves her dad, loath as she is to admit it. “Spaghetti Western And Meatballs” established that dynamic way back in the first season with the Burnt Unit and her feelings of betrayal over Bob and Gene bonding over Banjo. “Carpe Museum” let that end the episode on an unusually sweet note—and introduced us to Regular Sized Rudy, but we’ll get back to him. And then there’s the direct antecedent to this latest episode, as “Hawk & Chick” closed out the fifth season by using the series of dubiously dubbed martial arts movies and the estranged father and daughter behind the characters to explore just how scared Louise is deep down about growing up in a way that will make her grow apart from her dad.

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Tonight’s episode, the wonderfully named “The Hawkening: Look Who’s Hawking Now!”, revisits how much those movies mean to Louise, though here the show pivots away from her relationship to Bob. I mean, yes, this episode does give us a fresh contender for the worst thing Louise has ever done to her parents, as she forges the security deposit check for $1,000 to secure the screening of the director’s cut of Hawk & Chick Vs. The Cephalopod Monster. But this proves less about Bob than it does about Louise desperately needing to be the center of attention. That immediately takes us into deconstruction territory, as the episode explores what it’s like when her steamroller style that Bob’s Burgers normally uses in service of other stories doesn’t actually work, and the likes of Tammy and Jocelyn respond to her like the weird younger kid she is. She gets so excited about putting on the perfect film screening, and she is woefully unprepared for her Wagstaff classmates to have no interest. Worse, Regular Sized Rudy diverts attention with his broken arm, which even gets him superficially comforting head rubs from Chloe Barbash, who is all too happy to dismiss Louise’s event.

That whole scene gives us the episode’s emotional conflict, so then it’s just a question of choosing the stakes. “The Hawkening” goes big on this score, as Louise puts her parents at serious financial risk when she writes the check to get the rare film print. We know as soon as Dominic from the movie theater mentions this deposit where the episode is headed, as shows far crummier than Bob’s Burgers do at least understand the concept of Chekov’s gun. But what separates this show is how it takes the inevitable plot beat to come—the imperiling and possible destruction of the film print—and wrings it for every last bit of character development that it can. A lesser version of Bob’s Burgers might have the print destroyed by a random twist of fate, or perhaps by a family member’s negligence. The show was closer to that in its early days, back when there was a lot more Jimmy Pesto and Hugo and the show seemed to believe that Bob had to have even the tiniest win cruelly reversed. That’s less a thing now, and while I’ll admit that’s just nice on its own merits, that shift has also opened the show up to traveling more unexpected paths.

In this case, it’s the twist that Shinji Kojima, the actor who played Hawk, is so desperate nobody sees the director’s cut that he runs off with the second reel. At first blush, this seems like it’s going to be a hard thing for the episode to justify—seriously, what could be so bad that Shinji refuses to let even a small screening party see it?—and so we get the fun of the other Belchers coming up with increasingly ridiculous explanations involving haunted scenes, monster romance, and disco debts. While the rest of the family is busy being useless, Louise goes off on her own to track down Shinji. Another episode might play Louise’s hunch that it was Shinji texting on his daughter’s phone as an example of her knowing better than everyone else. Here, she’s just desperate to put things right, and she is reluctant to tell her family where she’s off to because there’s a real chance it’s a waste of time. Tonight’s episode has some of Kristen Schaal’s best acting as Louise. She’s masterful at pivoting from the familiar, cocksure Louise to the scared little kid underneath. The scene at Yuki’s garage as everyone tries to talk Shinji out of destroying the film is probably the most sustained glimpse of this other Louise that we’ve gotten, as she tries to get through to the actor by begging him to open up about what is bothering him so much.

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What pains Shinji, it turns out, is that he had an actor cut out of the movie because he was just too damn good, because his performance exposed Shinji’s Hawk as a mere cartoon by comparison. (Not that there’s anything mere about cartoons, of course.) I was pleasantly surprised by how satisfying this explanation was, as all the wild theorizing earlier had me worried the show would struggle to come up with a non-contrived explanation. Even better, what happened all those years ago is a neat parallel for what is happening now between Louise and Rudy. “The Hawkening” doesn’t overplay that connection—I’ll be honest, the link only clicked into place for me as I started thinking back on the finished episode—as it doesn’t have Louise explicitly use Shinji’s mistake to realize where she’s also gone wrong, but the moral of the story is there for anyone who wants it. The episode ends on a lovely note, with Louise inviting Rudy to what sure sounds like a two-person Castaway party. Yes, she says he’s paying, but that’s just a detail—the kind of detail Bob’s Burgers knows when to deploy to keep the funny and the emotional balanced just right.

“The Hawkening: Look Who’s Hawking Now!” is a terrific episode, taking Louise out of her usual verve and letting us see her at her most vulnerable. Even after 10 seasons and fast closing in on 200 episodes, that’s still a rare sight. Louise can go back to being her usual fearsome self next week—even here, she shows plenty of that side of herself—but it’s a testament to the show’s strength that it has developed two such completely different approaches to how it can use the littlest Belcher, and both fit seamlessly into the show’s wider setting. Bob’s Burgers doesn’t need Louise to have a human side for the show to be funny, even poignant, as other characters like Tina can typically handle that. But that just makes it all the more fun when the show does switch gears like it does here.

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Stray observations

  • I remain firmly in the camp that Louise and Rudy are perfect for each other and this is the only bit of shipping in any show I would ever deign to countenance because, again, they are perfect for each other. So yes, I quite liked that whole part of the episode.
  • Linda just losing it over Yuki’s baby was a very funny touch, especially when they brought it back as part of the quick ploy to get the film back from Shinji.
  • Say what you want about Gene’s not tight five, but he’s never going to get better if he’s not out there workshopping his material. Let the kid work!
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