Here's why "Louie" deserves all those recent Emmy nominations: true genius doesn't need complicated plotlines and spastic shot-cuts every five seconds, and Louis C.K. knows it. In an episode in which we find ourselves laughing at natural subtleties far more than the most carefully crafted writers-room jokes ever did, Louie drives his daughters to his aunt's house, and then she dies. That's it.
No, really. That's it!
There's so much to be gained from the ten-minute driving scene, however. Any parent making their way through the mind-numbing maze of child-rearing will recognize Louie's face as his daughter whines "I'm bored" endless times. His response, after what feels like years of pretending she doesn't exist: "I'm bored is a useless thing to say," before berating her for being so lazy of the mind. A lesser man would be screaming, or threatening to drive the car into a tree at high speeds.
Our pasty & melancholic fortysomething hero actually comes out of his shell and gets excited when "Who Are You" by The Who, drumming on the steering wheel and contorting his face in all the odd ways a middle-aged man with rock n' roll dreams does – a rare departure from Louie's standard gloom. His kids, on the other hand, could care less about their spazzing dad. In fact, they're irritated and weirded out. And just when our reflex conditioning kicks in and we're expecting a cut to the next scene, Louis C.K.'s creative command takes flight: he plays the entire goddamned song on air guitar in the car, singing along wildly. We watch the entire performance. And then…. silence. He points out a goose on the side of the road, and the girls go apeshit.
They get to old Ellen, but she's on another planet, fragile and nested for death. Her house is a relic, and nothing looks like it's seen any activity in decades. Has she been sitting in this chair since Louie was 14, the last time he saw her? It's believable. But they sit and chat, and everything quaint and happy comes undone very quickly. Ellen's oblivious to her own flagrant racism at calling a nut a "niggertoe," then goes off the deep end with racist references, scolding Louie for raising his children in the city around such… "types".
She goes into the kitchen to find some cookies for the kids (who aren't interested in nuts), and we all know what's coming when she doesn't return. But in the meantime, the kids grill their pops on why Ellen’s offensive language is allowed to go unchecked. ”I don’t want you to upset her,” he explains, before realizing how silly it is to entertain casual hatred for the sake of not making waves. “She’s from a different time.” He backpedals. But when the kids point out that they’ve come to ask questions and learn about a world they weren't around for, Louie caves to their innocent pragmatism. “When she comes back,” he says, “You can ask her whatever you want.”
But of course, she doesn't. Cut to a stand-up routine about the racial slurs used in Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry FInn, with Louie breaking into a fantastic Bill Cosby impression after bemoaning the “dirty little homeless white-trash creep” named Huckleberry.
Interestingly, the conversation takes a turn towards the presently relevant, examining how America still doesn't know how to examine its troubled history amidst today's many conundrums. “How do you cope with shit in your past?” he asks the crowd, before sharing his own revelation: “When I was 8 years old, I showed my penis to a girl with Down Syndrome that lived down the street. And I’ve got to walk around living with that every day.”
It's a fitting thread connector between his rock star passion in the car and Ellen's ways of old, identifying that we're all stuck in the past somehow. The mind is a torturous monster sometimes, a self-sabotaging labyrinth of disruption and shortcomings. To overcome that and find a present peace of mind is everyone's ultimate goal, whether they realize it or not. Acknowledging that could go a long way towards establishing a bit more empathy between people.
The episode ends with outtakes and clips with the lady who plays Ellen, a quick-witted firebreather with an awesome attitude. She reveals that she's actually 89, by the way, not that it's any of our business. We should all be so lucky as to be able to make someone as talented and revered as Louis C.K. laugh when we're 89 – and not give much of a shit about it either way.