Louie, Season 5, Episode 4: “Bobby’s House”
Written by Louis C.K.
Directed by Louis C.K.
Airs Thursdays at 10:30pm ET on FX
Remember Louie’s declaration of love to Pamela from season two? Go ahead, watch it again:
Following the possible shifting of their arrangement in “A La Carte,” “Bobby’s House” marks yet another turning point in the Louie/Pamela relationship, one that may or may not have lasting consequences. Whatever lies in store for their future as a couple, though, what’s clear is that Pamela has finally done what Louie did three seasons back: she took Louie by the hand and brought him to a deeply personal place.
Before we get to that, a few words on the first segment of the episode.The last three episodes have all followed a similar structural pattern: a shorter, seemingly less consequential segment, followed by a “meatier” principal segment, with no apparent relationship between the two. This week, Louie gets a call from his brother Bobby (recurring Louie player Robert Kelly), telling him that a beloved, but far-flung uncle has died. That leads them to a funeral for an Asian stranger of the same name; they stick around for the wake anyway. Afterwards, Bobby nags Louie into coming up to his lonely apartment, at which point an argument is struck, signalling one of the season’s pet themes: it’s tough to be Louie, but it’s tougher as anyone else. Bobby is spouseless, childless, and, worse, shooting blanks, as he discovered after he got himself voluntarily tested. Louie can only ask: why go digging up bad news on purpose?
The “meat” of the episode follows, starting with an assault sequence that only Louie would attempt. While waiting to board a bus, Louie unwisely attempts to intervene when he sees a very boisterous young woman yelling at and hitting a poor man. This results in Louie getting viciously attacked, and making almost no attempt to protect himself, beyond throwing his guard up. As a result, he winds up with a badly scuffed face, much to the ultimate amusement of Lily and Jane, when they hear about the culprit. (“Was she pretty?”) Louie tries to turn it into a story about how women have strength they don’t know they have, but his attempt at progressive parenting is ignored. Of course, when he meets up with Pamela, she finds it even funnier – that is, until he asks her to use makeup to conceal his facial wounds so he can perform later that evening. That’s when things get real.
Many words will be written by many people about the seduction, sex, and comedown scenes that follow. Pamela capitalizes on this unique scenario in order to enact a sex fantasy that she has clearly been holding close to her chest for a very long time, and Louie accepts: she makes him up as a woman, then tucks her hair under a ballcap and assumes the role of “Peter.” Louie becomes “Jornetha” (maybe Jorinetha?) and, reluctantly, he allows himself to get drawn into the fantasy, until Pamela quite forcibly takes control of the situation, even going so far as to seemingly penetrate Louie (C.K.’s camera purposely keeps our view of that moment inconclusive, but his reaction in the moment is far from a passive one). Later, as they lie together in the aftermath, Louie isn’t shocked or remorseful; instead, he simply sees this as another step forward for them, another acknowledgement that they’re meant to be together, since she was able to share such an intimate fantasy. Pamela doesn’t agree.
So Louie gets his ass kicked by a strange woman, then gets made up as a woman and physically dominated by his female partner. What’s the message here? As per usual with Louie, it’s almost certainly a mistake to think there is one. C.K. isn’t the men’s-rights sort; he’s not out to paint Louie as some kind of oppressed figure. While the bus-stop assault is traumatic (and, to people who aren’t Louie, funny), the Louie/Pamela scenes are much more complicated: from moment to moment, it’s by turns warm, distressing, funny, awkward, and, yes, romantic. To boil “Bobby’s House” down to one idea: tunnel your way past surface-level emasculation, and you’ll find so much more. As a father of daughters and someone who’s very conscious of appearances, Louie can’t bring himself to hit his assailant (despite the fact that it would have been perfectly justified); despite his speech to his daughters, he is embarrassed to have been perceptibly physically hurt by a woman.
Just as Louie strives to be a responsive, respectful parent, he wants to be an ideal partner to Pamela, who once again demonstrates her inability to commit to Louie at episode’s end. That’s why “Bobby’s House” is, ultimately, a small-scale tragedy: Pamela finally reveals an aspect of her desires to Louie that (apparently) no one else has ever seen, and instead of seeing that as something to build upon, she gets freaked out by the notion of long-term, loving acceptance, and cuts the cord. Louie is able to overcome his initial reservations in order to share an experience with her that he’d never have thought possible; unfortunately, when they reach the other side, she’s still as scared of settling down as ever before.
I’ve watched “Bobby’s House” three times now and I still marvel at those scenes – the intimacy, the precision of the filmmaking, the rapid-fire emotional progression. I suspect any close reading of what the sequence “means” on a thematic level may depend a little on Pamela’s remaining scenes this season, if there are any. Taken on its own merits, however, “Bobby’s House” is easily the most bracing episode of the season so far, and one that will be debated and dissected in days to come.
Unlike other recent Pamela episodes from this season and last, “Bobby’s Place” does not feature a Pamela Adlon story credit. Make of that what you will.
Pamela’s “Peter” guise makes use of the naturally husky voice that has made Adlon a mint on King of the Hill and about a zillion other places.
No more screeners for this guy, meaning next week’s is gonna be up a little later.