Season four of Louie has been an unusual one, even compared to the rest of this unique show. After seasons of standalone shorts and only a couple multiple-episode arcs, Louis C.K. dove in head first with three large-scale stories, “Elevator” (parts one-six), “In The Woods”, and “Pamela” (parts one-three). While each is distinct, these three pieces all explore connection and communication, both verbal and nonverbal. “Elevator” sees Louie pursuing and enjoying a relationship with Amia, with whom he is unable to verbally communicate, but it also shows him becoming involved in the lives of his neighbors and confronting the lingering damage of his divorce, to himself as well as his ex-wife Janet and their daughters. Throughout “Elevator”, Louie assumes. He’s so wrapped up in his experience and his fears that he projects all of his onto the women in his life, reading his insecurities in their silence. He attempts to overcome communication barriers by speaking louder and more emphatically and in the process, doesn’t listen to what those around him are trying to say.
“In The Woods” is a far more internal journey, as Louie reflects on his difficult teen years and decides how to best help Lilly through a potentially similar struggle. Though he begins the story once again presuming to understand her experience, by the end Louie takes a different approach. Remembering the therapist he saw as a young man—who may have been on the money, but just as likely was simplifying a complicated situation into a rather pat answer—Louie realizes he cannot truly know his daughter’s motivations or what she’s grappling with, so rather than a lecture on the dangers of drug use or an unrequested overshare, he makes himself available to his daughter, ready to hear what she has to say and aware that that may be something completely unexpected, or nothing at all.
“Pamela Part 2” and “Pamela Part 3” bring these various threads together, as Louie abandons his disturbing approach of “Pamela Part 1” and opts instead for dialogue. “Pamela Part 1” showed how an enlightened feminist, as Louie shows himself to be with his extended standup routine, can become an abuser without realizing it, when he physically barred Pamela’s path when she wished to leave and assaulted her, then pumped his fists in triumph afterwards. With the right combination of loneliness, rejection, and self-justification (Louie’s assertion that he knows what Pamela wants better than she does), even a trusted friend can become a threat. Placing “Pamela Part 1” before “In The Woods” is crucial, as the distance between the first and later sections of the arc gives the audience, Louie, and Pamela needed space. Louie isn’t as raw from the loss of Amia, Pamela hasn’t just had her space invaded by Louie, and the audience is given a reminder of the kind of person Louie has been. This way when the two embark on their relationship, both the characters and the audience are more able to accept it.
Louie may come up with a lovely (and original—nice to see Louie learn from his early “Elevator” mistake, as he unsuccessfully tried to replicate his deli dinner with Liz to win over Amia) first date for him and Pamela, but it’s their interaction at his apartment afterward that won over this critic. Poised to repeat his behavior of “Pamela Part 1”, his hand resting on the deadbolt of his front door while Pamela asks to leave (reminiscent of when Louie locked in Amia before persuading her to escalate their courtship), he suddenly retreats, moving to the other room and when prompted, expressing his frustration with honest communication rather than another display of physicality. It may not feel like it to him in the moment (it certainly doesn’t prompt a fist pump), but this is a quiet triumph for Louie, and one that ultimately leads to his and Pamela’s relationship moving to the next level. By respecting her space and opening up a dialogue, by trusting that she’ll listen to what he has to say and that if she doesn’t, she isn’t worth investing in, Louie shows how far he’s come from the man who took the waitress’ hand at the end of “So Did the Fat Lady” as much to shut her up as anything else.
This progression continues in “Pamela Part 3”, which was a late addition to season four. C.K. realized he had some budget left over, so he made 14 episodes instead of the originally planned 13. The season could easily have ended with “Pamela Part 2” and the happy unveiling of Louie and Pamela’s relationship to his daughters (and the couple themselves), but instead we end with an exploration of the complications even a successful relationship brings. As content as Louie is in his relationship with Pamela, she is a force of chaos and uncertainty in his life. She upends his home, getting rid of his furniture. She makes him self-conscious during his standup, and ever a bastion of insecurity, when she doesn’t immediately return his, “I love you,” he becomes frustrated and scared, overlooking her numerous displays of affection because he’s focused on his ideas of what love looks like.
The scene that follows, the final one of the season, is absolutely beautiful, with both Louie and Pamela laying themselves bare, physically and emotionally. Pamela is not interested in becoming someone she’s not, she won’t transform herself into Louie’s ideal girlfriend, but she does make an effort, showing him in her way how important he is to her and once again, opening up the lines of communication between them. Louie may not yet be able to fully hear her, but he’s listening, and that’s a start, and while he may not get an “I love you”, the season ends with a long stare between Pamela and Louie, the kind Louie referenced the scene before and one that offers the promise of the two seeing each other more fully than they have to this point. It’s a lovely way to end their arc, for now, and the season as a whole.
Seeing Louis C.K. continue to grow as an actor and filmmaker and watching his interactions with this season’s many memorable guest stars has been a true pleasure. From the entertainingly comedic “Back” to the impressionistic “Model” to the honest and moving “So Did the Fat Lady”, C.K. has shown time and again this season his ability to capture moments with perceptive specificity and his longer-form experiments “Elevator”, “In The Woods”, and “Pamela” have challenged him to tell stories in a more conventional, filmic structure without losing his distinct and memorable voice. There’s still no word of a season five for Louie; this may be the final episode of the series, at least for a while, and if so, it’s wonderful to see season four end on such a graceful, respectful note.