Louie, Season 5, Episode 3: “Cop Story”
Written by Louis C.K. (story by C.K. and Robert Smigel)
Directed by Louis C.K.
Airs Thursdays at 10:30pm ET on FX
Anyone who, in the wake of last season’s multipart epics, was hoping that Louie would revert to its early-season modes of storytelling might be taking some comfort in season five’s first few episodes. “Cop Story” opens with a pre-credits sequence that has no obvious narrative ties to the rest of the episode. Louie goes to a high-end kitchenware store in Manhattan and is denied service by its conspicuously attractive 24-year-old owner/operator Andrea (Clara Wong) after betraying the fact that he probably won’t use the pots that often, he just likes to collect nice stuff. When Louie expresses his confusion and dismay, she calmly informs him that he doesn’t fit with their clientele, and she and her establishment will do just fine without his business, or that of his entire generation. Of course, they’re not really talking about commerce.
Moreso than most Louie vignettes, this opening feels like a chamber play being enacted inside Louie’s brain, rather than a real conversation taking place between actual humans. Andrea feels less like a person than a walking, talking embodiment of everything that makes Louie uncomfortable: she’s young, attractive, self-possessed in every possible way, and utterly uninterested in his needs. The only solace she decides to offer must be one of Louie’s few comforts, as well: the fact that as he grows increasingly irrelevant, his daughters will at least be there to wave from their glorious future, the one they crafted in spite of the influence of their doddering old man. It’s a sequence that reeks of male and parental insecurity, just as much as the dream sequence from late in season three in which a grown-up Lily and Jane imagine an elderly Louie having lived his life bitter and alone.
The meat of “Cop Story,” on the other hand, feels very much as though it’s to be taken at face value (as much as anything on Louie can be.) In a story that recalls one of the very best Louie episodes, season two’s “Eddie,” Louie has a chance encounter with his sister’s ex-fiancé Lenny (a perfectly cast, incredibly overbearing Michael Rapaport), who Louie has had the good fortune not to have to spend any time with since she dumped him. It’s immediately obvious that Lenny makes Louie uncomfortable, and it’s not hard to see why: he’s loud, boorish, racist, sexist, invasive, and, worst of all, debilitatingly lonely. It’s a dreadful combo to have to spend time with, which is precisely what happens when Lenny insists that Louie come out with him to a Knicks game.
If there is a link to the opening segment in the kitchenware store, it’s the primal terror of being left behind by the people in your life. Louie might be staring down the barrel of irrelevancy, but Lenny’s terminal charmlessness has repelled everyone in his life, and likely will forever. All he can do is reminisce about days gone by, whether that means his high-school basketball days or the time he spent as Louie’s sister’s intended. All anyone can do now is try to placate him so he doesn’t go over the edge. The fact that he’s a cop exacerbates things even further; it places Lenny in the mindset of a 24/7 power trip, wherein he can invade personal space and break social norms at will, behind the safety of his badge and gun. While outright brutality never quite enters the equation, it’s not unreasonable to think that C.K. was reading about a George Zimmerman-style offender and wondered, “what would it be like to have that guy as a relative?”
As befits Louie, things get even more uncomfortable as the episode rolls along. Louie might be insecure, but Lenny is pathologically unfit for modern life; he blames the women in his life for denying him the things that h felt would have made him a successful man, and refuses to acknowledge the role he played in his own downfall. That is, until Louie finally caves and tells Lenny how it is, laying into him about his toxic personality and his total disregard for other people. That’s when we discover (thanks to Rapaport’s innate big-baby woundedness) that Lenny is all too aware of the way he makes everyone around him uncomfortable. It’s a devastating scene.
That makes it almost a relief when Lenny discovers that he’s misplaced his service weapon, leading to a full-on breakdown in Louie’s apartment. Louie’s search for (and eventual discovery of) the pistol is funny and surprisingly tense, aided by C.K.’s keen sense of editing and blocking, especially when Louie drops the pistol in front of an emptying caddy wagon. Ultimately, though, this last act lets both Louie and Lenny off easy, with the episode ending in relatively genial fashion. It’s as close to a happy ending as Lenny’s ever gonna get; for his part, Louie’s greatest fortune Is that he didn’t turn out just another Lenny.
It contributes absolutely nothing to the episode on a thematic level, but Louie’s tender moment with a male mannequin head is a fantastic little surreal aside. Hopefully C.K. never loses the urge to keep inserting those at random.
To get a sense of how much C.K. has improved as an actor, watch this episode back-to-back with a season one or season two outing; where he used to cede the entire frame to his guests, he lets himself into two-shots to play off of his scene partner a whole lot more.
Comedy legend Robert Smigel joins an exclusive club and gets his first Louie story credit this week.
After seeing him try on a Southern accent on Justified with a, shall we say, mixed success rate, it’s nice to see Rapaport play a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkian again.
Great incidental work from the cops working the back entrance to the Knicks game, who don’t even try to hide their annoyance at Lenny’s antics.
Next week’s a doozy.