Louie 4×03-4×04 ‘So Did the Fat Lady/Elevator Part 1’: Stepping outside ourselves

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There isn’t a more ambitious show on television than Louie.  Not only does it evade genre classification by blurring the lines between comedy and drama, but it also delves into serious territory without fear of digging too deep.  If Louie wants to remind us of the difficulty we run into when seeking human connection, it has to fearlessly dive into the constructions that impede us from that goal.  And those constructions can be hopelessly dismal to consider.  How are we supposed to connect with other people when we’ve being socially instructed our whole lives about who we’re supposed to connect with?  And how are we supposed to connect each other when there’s already a disconnect between that social instruction and what really makes us happy?

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Source: FX

“So Did the Fat Lady” is one of my favorite episodes of the show, a brilliant vignette about the way we’re constructed to desire connection and the way we’re crippled as a result of that.  I love the way that the character Vanessa is crafted.  She’s a three-dimensional character with feelings, emotions, and her own strong identity.  Almost more so, I love how she’s juxtaposed not only to the women that Louie sees, but the other comedians.  Vanessa doesn’t like comedy, but she’s hilarious, and her witty comments are compared to a male comedian who is bombing onstage or a thinner woman who maliciously rejects Louie’s innocent advances.  But what’s great about that juxtaposition is how Louie has been trained his whole life to connect with the sad sack on that stage or the mean-spirited woman who rejects him.  He’s been trained so much that he comes to expect it.  Rejection is another part of life.  Stagnant, loser friends are the only kind of people who will accept you.  There’s no point in wanting something more because you’ll never get it.  “So Did the Fat Lady” was certainly funny, but the subtext was brutally sad.

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Source: FX

The “bang bang” that Louie and his friend go on reminds us of the key difference between overweight men and overweight women, even before the wonderful monologue at the episode’s end.  Louie and his friend can afford to eat frivolously and neglect dieting because society accepts overweight men far more than overweight women.  Of course, there’s still a huge stigma placed on weight, and overweight men are looked at as lazy, but when we see the cycle of rejection and complacency that Louie commits himself to, how much can we blame Louie for this failure?  Dieting and exercising would mean shedding a perception of himself that has become part of his identity.  It would mean throwing away his own identity with the hopes that something better will come along.  And how scary is it to do that?

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Source: FX

Even though the monologue at the end of the episode threw away subtlety in order to really underline the thematic point, it was a beautiful monologue that still utilized some subtle staging techniques to enrich the experience.  Firstly, it was a SEVEN AND A HALF MINUTE LONG TAKE.  It never cut once from the beginning of that scene until the end of the episode, and it did so in order to really drive home that Vanessa’s venting was this feverish exhalation of her life’s frustration.  It’s absolutely true that overweight women are kept from expressing their frustration because men just don’t want to hear it.  Men would rather express that overweight women are beautiful in a disingenuous and condescending manner because it silences them.

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Source: FX

Louie and Vanessa are drastically different in that Louie lives in a cycle of complacency but Vanessa is always pining for something more.  She quits her job at the comedy club because she finally got a full-time position.  She set herself up in New York, all by herself, because she wants to show the world that she’s better than it.  And she is!  She has the self-awareness to understand who she is in relation to the world, and who Louie is in relation to the world.  The joggers that constantly run behind Vanessa during that final scene show the consistency in which she sees the social message that she is inherently wrong.  So when she talks about just wanting connection, about just being recognized as a person, it cuts deep.  Don’t we all want to be noticed for the people that we are?  We’re all so quick to judge because it’s just easier to do so, because society’s pat on the back feels good.  But this kind of judgment only deepens our struggle.   Actually looking outside of ourselves and being honest requires recognizing our own faults, facing our failures head on.  So when Louie holds her hand at the end and recognizes her weight in a real, honest manner, it feels like the first step to some sort of progress.  It’s a genuine, beautiful ending to a fantastic episode of television.

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Source: FX

I know that I’ve used up most of this review space to talk about “So Did the Fat Lady”, but it really was one of the best episodes of Louie I’ve ever seen, if not the best.  As for “Elevator Part 1”, it was ambitious in that it’s the first of SIX PARTS, and it did use the vignette idea well to keep it from being all setup.  As the episode went on, it really emphasized this notion of reality and fantasy, and how being in real life can become a dream in and of itself.  When Jane thinks she’s still dreaming, she’s willing to step off of the train.  She’s not thinking about the consequences of her actions.  She just takes action.  When Louie freaks out after his daughter steps off of the subway train, the frantic motion of the camera and the structure of the scene reminds us of those consequences, of the horrible things that could happen to Jane.  And Louie makes sure to emphasize that when he finds her.  He wants her to feel the sting of what happened because he wants her to learn.  And it’s good to learn that bad things can happen.  But he’s also teaching her that taking chances could result in all of these bad things happening.  It cripples a person to only remember constrictions, to only remember pain.

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Source: FX

That first section of the episode does a brilliant job bringing context to Louie’s romantic connection later in the episode.   When we look at Louie’s life, we look at all of these bad things happening.  “So Did the Fat Lady” reminded us of how Louie has internalized his pain, how it has become part of his identity.  So, when he has to help the older woman in the elevator by getting her meds from her apartment, he doesn’t even notice at first that there’s a woman (Amia) on the sofa.  He’s been trained to focus on the pain, to not even see the potential for connection.  And so when Amia has woken up, when she chases him from the apartment, it’s what he expects.  Yeah, he runs like hell.  But he gets back into his apartment, his safe haven, and just shrugs it off.  Because that’s what he always does.  So, when Amia shows up to his apartment with some food as an apology, she’s taking the initiative to connect with him.  He may not be stepping outside himself with as much force as he did in “So Did the Fat Lady”, but he’s still presented with the opportunity to make some progress, to connect in a real way with somebody.  Both of these episodes show us something very important, that it often takes somebody to help us overcome ourselves.  Just as Vanessa gave that monologue, Amia came to Louie with a gift, an antithesis to Louie’s worldview.  And we need that perspective to move on.

Louie has never been better.  These first four episodes have done a fantastic job showing us how human connection is so brutally difficult, but also how it can be achieved.  Obtaining human connection means forgetting all of the bad things that can happen to us if we take a leap of faith.  It means withholding judgment in order to look at people as people, even if it means taking an honest look at ourselves.  It means stepping outside ourselves, being willing to shed the pain we’ve so deeply internalized in order to make room for something foreign, but something good.  It may be immensely difficult to become something different, something better, but Louie never fails to remind us that it is possible.  Just like Louie diving off of the Brooklyn Bridge in Season 4’s promo, all we have to do is take a leap of faith.

So what did you think of this week’s episodes?  Wasn’t “So Did the Fat Lady” a wonderful episode of television?  Let me know what you think in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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