After having made excuses for Louie all season, as the show has veered away from painfully truthful to increasingly uncomfortable, last night’s episode, “Pamela Part One,” cemented for me the fact that no matter how much I’ve respected Louis C.K.’s work until now, I’ll never be watching his show again.
The hour-long block started with “Elevator Part Six,” which saw the heartbreaking conclusion not just to Louie and Amia’s communication fraught relationship, but also to the most ambitious storytelling arc that Louis C.K. has undertaken in the last four seasons. Nothing has made me cry-laugh more than the reactions of the Hungarian waiter as he translated Amia’s letter to Louie, while the pair sat there. Between that scene and Sarah Baker’s infamous speech on why being a fat girl is horrible, this season has built up a lot of goodwill for me: enough to silence the dissension in my head that, yes, even though Louis C.K. is pushing boundaries purposely because we live in a world that doesn’t challenge us to push boundaries enough, he’s doing it in a way that increasingly sets himself up as the sympathetic victim, despite increasingly unconscionable behavior. Until “Pamela Part One.”
The episode opens with Louie more desolate than usual with the absence of Amia and Ivanka, not at all helped by Dr. Bigelow’s advice about heartbreak being the good part of love. He gets a text from Pamela (she’s flipping him off, naturally), the two end up at lunch, and Pamela ends up baby-sitting his daughters after his sitter cancels. So far, so good – especially the return of Pamela, whose on-off relationship with Louie is all too painfully accurate. The episode also marked a return to seeing Louie do what he does best: stand up. In a seven-minute set, Louie unleashed one of his most pro-feminist rants, riffing on God, heaven, the absence of women in the dialogue of God and heaven, all of which quickly shifted into suffragism, the failings of democracy, and how ridiculous it is to use phrases like “wifebeater” as if they’re at all culturally appropriate. Though Louis C.K. fans have heard much of this before, via his monologue from when he hosted Saturday Night Live a few months ago, it was still necessary, and perhaps even timely, given the recent tragedies in Santa Barbara. But then Louie came home from his set, and saw Pamela asleep on the couch, similar to when he first saw Amia asleep on the same couch in “Elevator Part One,” and what happened next was so horrifying I had to turn off the TV twice through it, just to process.
Pamela wakes up and despite Pamela having told him earlier in the episode that a rebound would no longer work (“That ship has sailed,” she told him), he keeps trying to force himself on her to get a kiss, as she steadily backs away, incredibly defensive. He continues to chase her around the apartment, drags her around the place, while Pamela struggles to get free, while screaming “You can’t even rape well!” He retorts back “You said you wanted to do something with me! I’m going to kiss you now,” and she finally gives in, before asking him to let her out. Louie closes the door, and then, perhaps in the most disturbing image of all, he victoriously fist pumps.
This is sexual assault. On an incredibly basic, court-defined level, this is sexual assault. Todd VanDerWerff at The A.V. Club analyzed the episode, opening with an oddly-placed story of how he once physically prevented his wife from leaving a room during a drag-out fight as a means of sympathizing with Louie (and, perhaps, all men caught in a horrible moment at one time or another), before stating “No crimes are committed, and Louie and Pamela might even be able to salvage their friendship or proceed with a romantic relationship.” He goes on to talk about the kiss coming at a terrible price, but the argument was lost on me, because writing off the act itself with a cavalier sentence echoes, yet again, exactly what women are all too used to hearing when discussing the varying degrees of sexual assault: casual dismissal. And while VanDerWerff is but one critic, his analysis echoes what Louie got wrong with this episode in general. His use of predatory behavior simply as a device to show how dark and twisted a man like Louie, our previously somewhat lovable, goofy protagonist, can turn completely undercuts the gravity of what he did to Pamela. Which, to be crystal clear yet again, was sexual assault.
I get it. I get what Louis C.K. was going for in this scene, in this episode, in this season, and I get that likability is not it. I even get that if I wasn’t a person who had a sexual assault story of my own, maybe I wouldn’t be as affected as much, and instead proclaim proudly, “This is what good television does! It makes us talk about the types of things we normally prefer not to bring up at dinner parties!” But, unfortunately, I am a person who went through a sexual assault, and therefore, I no longer care about understanding the other side of evil. I already understand it. I have no sympathy for it, in my life, or on screen.
And that’s why this episode lost me as a viewer permanently. The entire season had been pitch perfect to date, much like the rest of the show, especially in its willingness to expose the “warts and all” sides that television generally likes to keep hidden. But using assault as a device, simply to show a character’s faults? I already knew Louie was flawed. I didn’t need to know that Louis C.K. was too.