The rhythms of Louie are so gleefully unconventional that it’s almost shocking when the show does a conventional episode.  The bulk of “Subway; Pamela” may be the most conventional episode of the series so far. There are moments of dark, purile fun between Louie and Pamela, the only two recurring characters on the show other than Louie’s daughters, but the focus of the episode is unrequited love.  It’s certainly not a unique story, but it was one that felt earned, well crafted and believable.

The relationship between Louie and Pamela is the only relationship of any permanence on Louie outside of the father-daughter relationship. Louie’s relationships with his brother, sister and mother are typically one-episode stories that rarely feel like they are a part of the real world. In addition to its permanence, Louis CK has treated the relationship between Louie and Pamela as one of the few peer relationships on the series. Typically, other characters are on Louie to convey a broader point about society and give us insight into Louis CK’s mind. When Pamela appears on the show, it’s rarely as part of a plot device. She’s there for us to watch Louie and Pamela hang out. It is fitting that the first time we’ve seen a deeply vulnerable Louie came with Pamela.

Pamela begins the day with Louie accusing him of bringing her to a fancy restaurant to impress her. When Louie is forced to admit that it’s his first time at the restaurant, his attempts at subtlety start to unravel. The chemistry between Louis CK and Pamela Adlon, who played Louie’s wife in Lucky Louie, has been palpable throughout the run of the series. It started with “So Old/Playdate” in season 1, when Louie and Pamela connected after sitting through a series of inane complaints from self-absorbed parents at a PTA meeting at their kids’ school. Other than comedian friends and his contemptuous relationship with his physician friend played by Ricky Gervais, Pamela has been the only friend Louie has. The fact that he’s wanted more out of the relationship has been under the surface during all of their interactions.

When Louie makes a joke about the food being so good that he looked forward to eating his own shit, Pamela laughs, applauds and tells Louie that it’s the funniest thing he’s ever said. The exchange is probably the happiest we’ve ever seen Louie. It’s such a small, true moment for those of us who try to make other people laugh. Louie makes thousands of people laugh all the time, but this is different. There is such a sense of satisfaction in getting a genuine explosion of laughter from someone you love and respect. Louie is temporarily victorious. Of course, the power dynamics in the relationship are quickly restored when Pamela tells him that it was the first funny thing he has ever said. “You’re the unfunniest comedian in the world,” she tells him. Louie can only shyly nod.

Of course, the laughter is a curse. For those of us who often find acceptance and love through making people laugh, there can often be a disconnect between the intimacy of sharing a genuine laugh with a person and the actual reality of a relationship. I don’t know if I agree with the sad clown notion of comedy–that all funny people are sad on the inside. But I certainly believe that most attempts to make other people laugh come from a desperate place. Louie’s desperation becomes even more clear at an outdoor market, where he begs Pamela to listen to him talk about his feelings for her. She doesn’t want to hear them. She likes things the way they are. If she knows how he truly feels, nothing can be the same again.

And yet, Louie wants to finally express his feelings for her. It’s doomed from the beginning, but Louie plows ahead. The dynamics of the show are such that we’re expecting Louie to say something wildly inappropriate, shocking or sad, but he doesn’t. The monologue about his feelings for Pamela is particularly heartfelt, genuine and loving, which only makes it worse. Louie is hopelessly in love with Pamela. He knows the odds are against her feeling the same way, but he wants to finally put it out there. It’s a moment of identifiable pain for those of us who feel deeply, have a desire to express those feelings and immediately regret expressing them.

Pamela is flattered by Louie’s touching expression of undying love, but it’s not mutual. Louie can’t help but ask if there any chance that she could ever feel the same way. She doesn’t and she won’t. The fact that Louie keeps asking her if she’s sure about not loving him is one of the most tragic moments in a series full of tragedy. It’s also one of the most real moments. The entire exchange is firmly grounded in the real world. She pats Louie sympathetically and an embarrassed Louie regrets the vulnerability he was showing just seconds before. The entire dynamics of the relationship have changed. Louie promised that he would be fine with just being friends, but the sting of rejection is stronger than the desire to follow social code. When the two get to her apartment, Pamela offhandedly offers Louie a bath, which a scarred Louie rejects. The final scene of Louie screaming out of frustration when he learns that she wanted to share a bath with him is the first cliched comic moment of the episode. Despite the hobbled finish, the vignette is a familiar story of unrequited love told well.

While the second portion of the episode revolves around the power and pain of language, the first story in “Subway; Pamela” is virtually dialogue free. The vignette begins with Louie watching a talented violinist playing a beautiful song in the subway. Louie is transfixed by the loveliness in the unlikeliest of places. The concert is interrupted when a homeless man covered in garbage begins putting down plastic behind the man in a tuxedo playing a violin. The homeless man begins taking an impromptu shower by pouring water over himself. It’s yet another reminder that the beauty of the world can scarcely be appreciated without the ugliness of the world getting in the way. The same world that produced this beautiful piece of music produced the set of circumstances that led another human being to shower in a subway with a bottle of water.

The second part of the vignette features Louie on a subway staring at an unidentifiable puddle in a seat. Beautiful music begins to play and the screen turns black and white as Louie gets up and uses his shirt to soak up the puddle. It’s a well-shot moment of selflessness. The strangers on the train begin to smile lovingly at Louie, his faced is stroked by a large black woman and a middle-aged white man gives him a fist bump and nod of admiration. A pretty blonde lady stares at Louie and slowly kneels before a bewildered Louie, who is snapped back out of his fantasy. The entire vignette is well-worn territory and would probably fit better on a strictly sketch comedy show, but it’s so beautifully shot and executed that it works better on the show than it would on paper.

“Subway; Pamela” ends with Louie on stage talking about relationships. They’re cursed, of course. Louie talks about old married couples slowly developing a hatred for the person they chose to spend their lives with. Louie talks about old men who go on directionless walks—“he’s running out the clock on the rest of his life.” It’s a strangely comforting end to an episode about unrequited love. Even if his doomed plan to tell Pamela about his love would have resulted in mutual love, it’s still doomed.