“Eddie.”

FX

I wrote in the review on the season premiere about Louie being a meditation on the fucked nature of existence. Every week, we watch Louie suffer through the pains of living and dealing with other people. “Eddie” is the first glimpse of another person whose life is more gloriously fucked than Louie’s. In fact, Louie appears well-adjusted and happy when standing next to a disaster of a human being like his old pal Eddie.  The episode feels like a reminder from Louis CK that while he’s all too familiar with life’s dark corners, there’s a giant chasm between surmising that life is “shit wall to wall” and deciding that it’s not worth living.

We’re introduced to Eddie backstage at the Comedy Cellar, where Louie finishes a set to loud applause. Eddie quickly gets into an argument with another comic, who innocently asks if he works in Los Angeles. Eddie immediately decides the other comic is a “phony New York piece of shit” from the innocuous question. The tension builds early in the episode, but it really starts to accelerate when Eddie casually mentions that he’s “done and done” with life. The slow build to Louie, the least likely spokesman for the joys of life, being forced to talk his old friend out of suicide is inevitable. Louie is cast into the role of apologetic friend in a liquor store, where Eddie gets into another argument–this time with a racist argument with a liquor store clerk.

Eddie insists on going to an open mic in Brooklyn, where we see Louie being amused by his sweaty friend’s bits about sex being boring and gross. The second season has been full of shots of Louie laughing at other comics. It’s a tired device for the show. Louie doesn’t have a laugh track, but the constant shots of him laughing at other comics almost feels even more manipulative. It’s a brief stumble in an otherwise quality episode.

A series of flashbacks show us that while Louie worked for success, Eddie was too busy searching for an unobtainable, undefined version of artistic purity. It’s perfectly illustrated when Eddie berates Louie for drinking water. Louie responds by telling a bemused Eddie that “when you find yourself railing against water–get a grip, man.” It’s a wonderful human moment between the two. Eddie continues to heap guilt on Louie from the moment they reconnect, when he derisively mentions Louie’s “career” to mentioning that Louie abandoned his “fat” wife.

Truth be told, Eddie is an asshole. He eventually confesses that Louie, his old friend who he holds in complete contempt, is the only person he has left. He’s lost everyone and he doesn’t want anyone else. It’s all over for him. “You get to a point that you think that maybe it’s time to put a period on whatever this was,” he tells Louie. The confession leads us to the inevitable moment when Louie is forced to talk Eddie out of killing himself. Louie pauses when Eddie asks why he shouldn’t end his own life. The moments of Louie trying to quickly think of something he can say to convince his friend that life is worth continuing are some of the most painful in the series’ run. It’s painful because we, as viewers, can’t think of any reason he should go on living. From everything we’ve seen on this episode, death may be Eddie’s best option. Now, that’s a dark concept to introduce on a television comedy.

Louie responds with anger toward Eddie. He should. Louie hasn’t seen Eddie in decades and his old friend isn’t asking for help. He just wants to dump his pain and hopelessness on someone else. Louie angrily tries to tell him that he should try again tomorrow like everyone else, which Eddie sarcastically calls “tough love.” Louie makes one more stab by telling him that life is bigger than him. It’s something you “take part in, something you witness.” It’s a better argument than I could think of, yet Eddie responds with laughter and accuses Louie of being excited that he gets to talk someone out of suicide as a way to feel better about himself. In the middle of the intense exchange, they pause to see a young couple arguing and share a laugh. The exchange ends with an embrace between the two and Louie slowly walking away from his friend, who he will likely never see again. Louie has to pick up his kids in the morning. Tragedy is all around, but life goes on.

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“Come on, God.”

FX

“Uh, no, I know the darkness.”

Louis CK has a dim view of sex. It’s eternally tied to sadness, shame and failure. In the second season alone, Louie’s had sex with a crying woman asking for forgiveness from her “daddy” and Joan Rivers. His one chance for satisfying sex was a missed opportunity. It’s only natural that Louis CK dedicated an entire episode of Louie for defending masturbation, while marrying it with sadness, shame and failure. And flatulence.

The episode opens with Louie on a Fox News talk show. Louie is debating masturbation with a prim, young lady from “Christians Against Masturbation (CAM).” The entire segment is dreamlike, teetering between a fantastical, comic invention of a modern-day prude and the real-life absurdity of a cable news debate. The actress portraying the anti-masturbation activist is a little on the nose with her doe-eyed rhetoric on “purity” and the “crime” of self-abuse, but the scene manages to keep her from simply being a punching bag for Louie. It follows well-worn territory on debate in Louie’s universe: his logic is sound, but his tactics are all wrong.  In season one, Louie ends an Obama debate with Nick DiPaolo by calling the conservative comic a fascist. During season two, he’s tried to make deep observations about life to his daughters, only to abandon the point and teach them nothing. It’s an important distinction from most comedies with strong-minded writers, who use typically use debate as a way to set up comically-inept opposition to give the lead an opportunity to easily prove the writer’s point.

Even in a debate as silly as whether masturbation should exist, Louie manages to foul it up. After Louie condescendingly asks the anti-masturbation activist if she’s ever been married, she asks him if he’s ever been happy. She’s quickly found Louie’s kryptonite. If Louie hasn’t found happiness via masturbation, marriage or anything else he’s tried, how can he be trusted? It’s a faulty argument, of course. We know that Louie simply lives honestly in his unhappiness, which would undoubtedly be magnified by any life choice he makes. The host, Louie and CAM spokesperson sit in silence as he ponders the question about his lifelong unhappiness.

He finally responds with a delayed bit of childish rage. Her purity meetings sound like a “bunch of bullshit,” he says. He wags his finger at her, tells her that she doesn’t know anything more about being happy than he does. God probably hates people who try to tell other people how to live, he says. Then, Louie is forced to defend his existence during a debate on masturbation. It’s a fascinating, honest look at one man’s world falling in around him during a debate where logic is on his side. Television news in 2011 is a sturdy platform for self-assured, self-satisfied people with a consistent point over self-doubting, honest people who are wrestling with their own beliefs. Turn on cable news at any time of the day and you will likely find a talking head speaking with absolute certainty on an issue. The content is secondary to portraying a sense of certainty. Louie is a mess of uncertainty, self-loathing and doubt. He defiantly tells his anti-masturbation debate adversary that he will masturbate tonight thinking about her, then angrily removes his microphone and storms off the set. Louie wasn’t made for cable news.

The second act of this twisted morality play begins with Louie sharing an elevator with a pretty lady. The scene makes no effort to hide where it’s going. In an episode that begins with Louie defending masturbation (the only person willing to go on national television to do so, we’re told), there is absolutely no doubt that the elevator woman will return in Louie’s fantasies. While the setup is clear, the strange and surreal places the fantasy devolves into are some of the series’ highlights. Masturbation is a common theme in comedy, but the jokes normally lie in fantasies being interrupted by another person. Louie ruins his own moment of self-pleasure all by himself.

The fantasy elevator woman asks Louie to place a bag of penises inside her. Fantasy Louie peers into his plastic grocery bag, which is filled with penises. The bag of dicks device is a rare use of the series referencing one of Louis CK’s standup bits about, appropriately enough, a bag of dicks. Unlike Lucky Louie, which opens the entire series with an enactment of one of Louis CK’s standup bits (around the 7:30 mark of the video), Louis CK has been very conservative with his enactments of his standup material in Louie.  The use of “bag of dicks” as the first direct reference to his past standup material is such a perfectly-odd time to start. The fantasy elevator woman appears slightly annoyed with Louie throughout the fantasy, which progresses with fantasy Louie clumsily trying to fit an entire plastic bag of penises inside the woman’s vagina. If there is another show in the history of television that could produce the previous sentence in a straight-faced review, I have never seen it.

The fantasy continues with an elderly Asian man getting on the elevator and telling Louie that there is “no room” for the bag. Elderly Asian man then muses “American women–are very complicated.” The statement is the final straw in the fantasy that keeps spiraling down into a nightmare. Fantasy Louie and real-life Louie both give up. It’s an unforgettable scene that can’t been unseen–no matter how hard we may try–on a show that’s been full of uniquely-memorable moments. While I firmly believe that the fart joke from the season debut was the greatest moment of film or television flatulence, the fantasy in “Come on, God” is undoubtedly the moment by which all other comic masturbation scenes will be judged.

When we next see Louie, he has decided to attend one of the purity meetings he deemed “bullshit” earlier in the episode. It’s particularly telling that Louie’s attendance of an anti-masturbation meeting is in itself an act of self-abuse. The anti-masturbation activist begins to warm to Louie over a drink at a bar, where he admits that he has difficulty mustering up charm without the possibility of sex. It’s a great observation in an otherwise dreamlike episode. The woman tells Louie to pretend like there’s a possibility of them sleeping together. The pair begin talking about sex, which prompts Louie to share the story of the loss of his virginity, which ended with semen, flatulence and derisive laughter. If it’s a true story from Louis CK’s life, it likely explains why his material on sex has been a twisted mix of desire, embarrassment and disgust.

The conversation between the pair continues in her suite, where she changes into a silk nightgown and talks with Louie about her religious beliefs. The religious talk ends when Louie tries to kiss the virginal, purity lecturer. It doesn’t go well, but the moment begins a moment of fantasy for the CAM activist. The fantasy, which involves getting to know Louie and very slowly building toward marital consummation, reveals that her fantasy is just as twisted as Louie’s. It’s a fantasy of withholding pleasure that she’s clearly ran through her head countless times. She’s cruelly teasing him with the possibility of mythical shame-free sex blessed by the lord. The scene ends with Louie masturbating alone in a bathroom, where his delayed satisfaction is finally realized with the same shame–and flatulence–of his first time.  Yeah, he knows the darkness.