On Louie, serious means sex.
For the first three seasons, Louie was almost entirely episodic. Plot arcs like "Daddy's Girlfriend" and "Late Show" felt like rare extended stays in the otherwise short glimpses we get into Louie's troubled life. Most of his show's one-off plots — visiting Dr. Ben, traveling on the subway, for example — lasted no longer than a stand up bit. They were mere ten-minute sequences barreling toward one punchline, or more aptly in the case of Louie, one gut punch. Which is why in Louie's fourth season, Louis C.K.'s decision to linger in a six-episode story arc, "Elevator," is a startling one. If Louie ruminates on one plot or one character for this long, we, like his older neighbor Ivanka and his ex-wife Janet, must ask: is it serious?
In last night's episodes of "Elevator" Part 4 and Part 5, Louie had sex twice. The first scene appeared in a flashback in Part 4, where we encounter the early marriage of a young Louie and Janet (played marvelously by Conner O'Malley and Brooke Bloom), who amicably decide to part ways after one too many fights. Friendly splits also means break up sex, and Louie and Janet have brief, though highly satisfying sex. It's an above-the-bed shot, filled with giggling and candid joy, quickly followed up by a frank after-sex conversation in which Louie jokes that maybe he got his soon-to-be-ex pregnant. It's the best sex we as an audience have ever seen Louie have — Maria Bamford isn't giving him crabs, there's no violent Melissa Leo. It's filled with emotion, history, defeat: it's serious.
The second sex scene comes at the very end of Part 5. Louie is clearly developing strong feelings for his Hungarian neighbor Amia, despite the fact that in 10 days she'll be leaving the States, and the women in his life want to know where it's going. Louie assures his ex-wife that it's fine that his new love interest Amia is leaving, that sometimes it's okay to be sad. Janet chides him for not having sealed the deal with her yet. Ivanka asks Louie if his relationship is serious, crassly gesturing penetration with her fingers, and claiming, "If you don't screw the cow, she's not your cow." Louie, prodded by the women in his life, does decide to "screw the cow." The shot is interesting: Louie at first hesitantly and then frantically kisses Amia in the dark. The camera spins around him. The kisses are tender, the touches are hungry, their faces lit red. In the morning, Amia claims, "No good." It's a refrain Louie's received from women in bed before, only this time, what she means is that this has gotten too serious.
Amia and his relationship is full of glances, gestures, graspings at meaning in light of a massive rift in communication. It's a similar rift that exists between Louie and Janet, only this one, as Louie's comedian friends point out, will skip the part where the relationship gets stale. As we know, without that part, Louie won't really ever evolve.
"Elevator" Parts 4 and 5 were not only groundbreaking structurally (I'm not even mentioning the brilliant Todd Barry sequence), but they gave us the first ever scenes of Louie truly making love (that phrase always gives me pause, but it's the only one that suits the scenes). Louie being just as serious about his women and his happiness as he is about his comedy. Continuity has never been of much importance on Louie (for example, older Janet is African-American whereas younger Janet is white), but there's something unabashedly consistent about where Louie lands in the last moments of "Elevator Part 5." Alone. If Louie alone in bed, confused and rejected, is where this story arc was heading to, then why have it at all?
If there was a vehicle of transportation that best suits Louie's character, it is indeed the elevator. It's a small confined box where a lot can happen, where our mind may drift, but the box is also trapping and terribly limiting. It's also the only vehicle which gives you the keen sense of movement without ever really going anywhere. You're always in the same building, going up and down, feeling the stomach drops without ever really moving forward. As Ivanka puts it, that kind of stagnancy is a "box of death." That's vaguely analogous to the plot of Louie; it's an all-for-naught venture into the psyche of a comedian, who we know is perpetually trying to better himself – get the better gig, and get the better lady – but he never achieves it. So far.
"Can you figure out how to live a life already?" Janet asks Louie. The question seems as good as any posed at him. If Louie's an elevator ride, then maybe we'll never really get off, no matter how long the story arc, no matter how surrealist the turn. After all, Louie has always been more about standing around and pressing buttons.
Image via FX.