Louie Season 4, Episodes 11 & 12 “Into the Woods (Parts 1 & 2)”
Written by Louis C.K.
Directed by Louis C.K.
Season finale airs Monday, 6/16 at 10pm ET on FX
Louie isn’t really a “comedy” any more, is it? Sure, it’s still peppered with hilarious moments (like in tonight’s episode, where a simple camera pan gives us the hilarious image of a teenager taking a pot-addled nap), but this fourth season of Louie has aspirations far beyond the show’s first three, where the lines between comedy, indie film, and surrealist drama were already greatly blurred. In many ways, “Into the Woods” is the culmination of that new direction in season four – and although it only retains the slightest of connections to most of the season’s overall themes, stands as a climatic moment for the season, and the series as a whole.
In simple terms, “Into the Woods” is: a short film, one that takes a very small story – Louie starts smoking pot, and bad shit starts happening – and gives it the sweeping feel of a story about the Big Questions of life, paralleling Lily’s first weed experience with his own back in 1981. Focusing on the fallout of Louie’s decision to go smoke pot in the woods, rather than stay at a school dance and talk to the science teacher’s cute daughter, it’s the spiritual successor to season one’s “God” in a lot of ways – though a much subtler, patient one, able to stretch its story over 65 minutes, rather than the normal 20-25 that Louie normally runs. For all intents and purposes, this is a Very Special Episode of Louie, and it knows it: and with that knowledge, creates a short film all his own, an hour-long musing on what it means to give up one’s innocence and enter a world they really aren’t ready for.
Sure, on some level “Into the Woods” is a warning to the dangers of drugs: Louie’s life certainly takes a turn for the world after he starts smoking pot, disconnected from his actions and the consequences – there’s no denying that, be it Louie’s mother’s reaction in the closing scenes, or how disappointed Louie makes every father figure in this episode, be it his real father, a chemistry teacher, or a cat-kissing, pot-dealing Jeremy Renner. But what is most compelling about “Into the Woods” is its exploration of responsibility, of exploring both sides to arguments many would assume pre-determined. Dismissive school administrators and caring science teachers get placed in the same boat of naivety, two characters whose points of view come head-to-head in arguably the episode’s most moving scene – and Louie suggests to us that neither of them are right or wrong.
Should Young Louie’s life be destroyed for a single mistake he made, even if it was a true “crime”? Of course not – but that doesn’t mean the misaligned bully should have to pay the price, either, considering it’s one crime he actually didn‘t commit. These lines of ambiguity come in all different forms throughout the episode: Louie’s middle-school friends, his mother, himself… every character in this mini-film (right down to Renner’s character, who knowingly deals drugs to a child) finds themselves struggling with their sense of responsibility, and what exactly is the ‘right’ thing to do in their situation. The “right” thing – Louie admitting to his crime, and suffering the consequence – is merely the simplest choice among them; as the trappings of life, society, and individual points of view begin to pile up over the course of the hour (along with the rising emotions of every character, who all begin fairly benign until transforming into something much more flawed and vibrant as it continues), it becomes clear that ‘responsibility’ and ‘maturity’ are two very flexible terms parents always struggle with… even if it’s something they’ve already experienced themselves as children.
And in this fascinating hour of television, that’s the most interesting wrinkle: “time is a flat circle” is very much in effect here, Louie recognizing the cyclic struggle that is teenage life, where the comfort and simplicity of childhood is erased, replaced by the much more difficult-to-deal-with world of growing up and being an adult. And there’s nothing more difficult to navigate through all of this for a child than divorce: something Lily is going through now, and something Louie finally realizes had a profound effect on him as a child. Lily may not just be turning to drugs to fit in: as Louie’s therapist points out (in the episode’s only on-the-nose moment), Louie was getting high because it allowed him to live in the emotional void of nothingness, where fear and anxiety and happiness could all be numbed down to a dull roar, where three kids dealing with their own emotional issues could come together and forget it all.
But as an adult watching it happen to his child, “Into the Woods” gains a completely different context, establishing its stakes in the modern world of Louie, rather than some philosophic musing or dream sequence where Louie learns something about himself. In “Into the Woods”, the problem is already known: and like the many characters orbiting around Louie, there’s a lot of different (mostly ineffective) ways to try and recognize this. In closing, “Into the Woods” suggests the best way to help a teenager through all this bullshit is not to scold them or try and control them – after all, kids will be kids: how often did you heed your parent’s warnings? – but to remind them that they’re loved. It may not solve everything, but it’s a fact easily forgotten by both kids and parents (at one point, Louie’s mother tells him she doesn’t like him) in moments of anger, confusion, or disappointment – an important closing lesson to parents, a narrow, effective conclusion to a sprawling episode about masculinity, boredom, drug use, and the very nature of ‘becoming a man’.
– that’s it for me and Louie reviews this season! Kate will return next week to talk about the final two episodes of the season, “Pamela (Parts 2 & 3)”. Thanks for reading!
– another interesting bit of subtext: Louie’s quietly had a lot to say about the public school system and how it deals with the emotional issues of students. They view things in such a black-and-white context, it’s impossible for them to help anyone effectively.
– what a great guest cast in this episode: Jeremy Renner, Devin Druid (young Louie), Skip Sudduth (as Louie’s science teacher), F. Murray Abraham (Louie’s father), and the return of Amy Landecker as Louie’s mother.
– speaking of Skip, this episode was dedicated to ‘Phil Hoffman’, and the science teacher was named Mr. Hoffman. Knowing that Philip Seymour was originally scheduled to appear on the show this season, it appears it would’ve been in this role. Sudduth is amazing, but I still can’t help but wonder what Hoffman would’ve been like in the role.