Louie's Deeply Sad Flashback

What did the glimpse of younger Louie in "Elevator Part 4" mean for the rest of the show?

After he returns home alone from a stressful therapy session with his ex-wife, Louie puts on thick, black eyeframes, pulls out his iPad, and lays back in bed, looking like a portly, tech-using Woody Allen. He glances up at the ceiling. The neighbors are making noise.

“Goddamnit, those people are loud,” says a female voice offscreen.

The camera turns and there’s a woman who viewers of Louie don’t recognize, a young brunette in a red dress, played by the actress Brooke Bloom. The camera pans back to the bed, and Louis C.K. has been replaced by the actor Conner O’Malley—a younger, skinnier, still-bespectacled version of the title character.

Thus begins the extraordinary little flashback we saw Monday night on Louie, a scene that’s worth a close read for how it illuminates what C.K. has been up to with his FX dramedy's six-episode "Elevator" arc. (Installments four and five aired Monday; the flashback was during four.)

O’Malley’s performance alone makes the scene worth watching for any C.K. fan. He embodies Louie’s mannerisms with the glee of a caricaturist. There’s the grunty, grizzled voice. The big, gulping laughs. The uncaring way he tells the front-desk receptionist that the people upstairs are being “crazy loud” followed by one of C.K.’s tics, a sullen, faux-uncomprehending “What?”  When he faces conflict with the woman we quickly realize is his wife, he makes like Louie often does, falling silent and planting his chin into his chest.

But it’s Bloom who drives the scene. We can tell Louie’s passivity and coldness has made her desperate. She pleads with him to do something about the noise; when he gives in, it's by using as few words as possible. Later, there’s mention of the two of them previously having an explosive argument during which she had demanded a divorce, but what’s on screen is a woman trying to channel volcanic feelings into a difficult but constructive conversation. She’s in the hotel room; Louie’s on the deck, smoking; she's mouthing words that we can't hear. A surreal twist? No, there's a glass door separating them. He opens it.

As she talks about their earlier argument, she twirls her hair nervously, and then lets out a high, sad “oooh” before getting to the tough stuff: “So what if right now, when it’s calm and, y’know, we’re not fighting, what if we say that now?”

Him: “What if we say…”

Her: “I…”

Together: “Want a divorce.”

From there, we see the tension between them start to wane—she's less upset, he's less standoffish. Passing a cigarette back and forth, they reason that because they’ve only been married for two years, and because they have no kids, a divorce would save them a lot of heartache. It’d be done not “out of anger,” Louie says. She finishes the thought: “Out of kindness.”

Next they’re on the bed, smiling, play-fighting, joking about who they'll date when they're single. In a surprising display of affection, he's grasping her hand with both of his. You can see, finally, why they were together in the first place. He wants to have sex one last time—“Making love?” she asks. No, something quicker, more transactional, “just for the record.” She says ok. They leave their clothes on, and, laughing, orgasm almost immediately. In the next sequence, she shouts from the shower that that was the best sex they’d ever had.

The communication barrier between them has crumbled. She confides that she never liked his comedy, and then immediately apologizes: “Oh my god, I cannot believe I said that.” He’s absolutely delighted: “What a relief. Finally, you say it!” Then, one last joke. What if he’d just gotten her pregnant? Those big, gulping laughs emerge, and then we’re in the present day.

When I first watched the scene, I’d assumed it depicted the end of Louie's previously unmentioned first marriage. I was wrong, but the scene resonated anyways. The “Elevator” episodes have largely centered around Louie’s budding relationship with Amia, the neighbor’s daughter who speaks no English and is soon heading back to Hungary. Their time together is idyllic and piano-accompanied, contrasting starkly with the fractious scenes Louie shares with his ex-wife, Janet, and for a few moments, with his ex-girlfriend Pamela. But in this flashback, we get a hint of what’s actually going on—Louie can only warmly connect with women when there’s nothing to lose. He prefers his females unheard, as through a glass pane, or leaving, as with an impending divorce. And so Amia is the twistedly perfect girlfriend, mute and ephemeral.

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Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's Patch.com and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club, RollingStone.com, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

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