Louie 4×11-4×12 ‘In the Woods’: Being a man

Louie 4x11 Cover

“You think this is games?  No, no.  This is man s*** right here.  You understand that?” -Jeff

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Source: FX

In “In the Woods”, one of the very best episodes of Louie the show has ever produced, there’s a scene in the second half where Jeremy Renner’s drug dealer character Jeff tells young Louie about how he’s done some “man s***”.  Or, in other words, he’s done something that he’s not able to comprehend the full ramifications of.  As we grow older, we’re exposed to things that we’re not able to understand, things that affect us in ways that we can’t imagine.  As people, we have the capacity to hurt others and to build relationships, only we don’t understand at a young age what that really means.  Children don’t understand what happens to a person when they hit them.  Children don’t understand what happens to a person when they build those relationships and then take them away.  And that’s what makes being a teenager so confusing; everything around you is an incomprehensible mess.

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Source: FX

“In the Woods” had the potential to misfire and feel like an after-school special about the dangers of drugs, but it instead looked to emotional and thematic resonance to make its point.  When young Louie first tries pot, it’s not a moment born from nothing.  He’s stressed out at a school dance after seeing the girl he liked make out with another guy.  He doesn’t know how to deal with heartbreak, so he finds a way to make it go away instead.  And, because Louie is young, he’s so blinded by his search for that numbing sensation that he doesn’t consider the consequences.  He doesn’t consider how he’s hurting his teacher, his mother, his friends.  So, while that third act has the potential to feel like an after-school special, it dwells more on why somebody would resort to drugs, and more importantly, questions of masculinity and parenting.

“In the Woods” is filled to the brim with parental figures, all of whom display varying qualities that have different effects on young Louie and his friends.  Danny’s older brother responds to his frustrating behavior by beating him senseless.  Louie’s mother ultimately makes their relationship about her rather than her son.  And Louie’s father, in one of my favorite scenes from the episode, re-enters Louie’s life to set him straight, even though all he wants to do is feel like a father and a man.  While the teacher seems like the most virtuous of the bunch, even he isn’t perfect.  He wants so badly to make his classroom the fun environment that it should be that he forgets that every kid there is struggling, not just the “bad” ones.  Adults screw kids up, no matter how hard they try to do otherwise, and their intervention isn’t always the answer because they’re the problem in the first place.

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Source: FX

It’s amazing how well “In the Woods” subtly mines the concept of self-delusion in order to lead a discussion on how that delusion numbs you for the moment while making the inevitable crash that much more vicious.  It’s also amazing how that idea is intertwined with the notion of what it means to be a man.  To be a man is to be tough, violent, and intimidating.  But we see how “manly men” like Danny’s brother and Louie’s father ultimately end up beaten down by how alone they are.  Louie’s father, after wanting to interject in his life (even if it is for selfish reasons), is told to “f*** off”.  And, even though that his only real appearance in the episode, we can see just why Louie would be so angry.  There’s so much going wrong in Louie’s life, he doesn’t have a role model to lean on, and this man thinks that he can come in and fix things when he won’t even acknowledge the damage he’s done.  Because it’s masculinity that damns men to inflict the damage that they do.  In trying to be a tough guy, Danny alienates those around him and ultimately end up arrested.  In trying to be a tough guy, Louie digs in too far and gets into situations he simply cannot understand.

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Source: FX

And all this is done by using a wrap-around for the entire story, as older Louie is reflecting on his experiences as a teenager when he sees his daughter smoking weed at a concert/festival/thing.  The wrap-around is one of the most important facets of the story, as it emphasizes how Louie’s daughter is just a teenager who will inevitably be experiencing things that she won’t be able to understand.  It’s part of growing up, confronting the unknown and the incomprehensible, and no matter how hard Louie yells and screams at her, there’s nothing he can do to stop her from feeling that pain.  Being a parent is to try to shelter your child from the world, but the world is always there, ready to beat that child into the adult that they’re eventually to be.  After reflecting on his experiences as a child, about how both parents were more concerned with their feelings than his, he realizes that the best response is a slight one, one that deals in love rather than punishment.  Because we just want children to be happy and safe.  Louie’s parents’ rants show that desire, but ultimately do so with a brutally selfish edge.  There’s little harder than watching your child get hurt, but it’s going to happen, no matter what.

“In the Woods” just may be one of my favorite episodes of Louie, both because it was a brilliant story and an ambitious 90-minute mini-movie.  It subverted the after-school special vibe that it threatened to give off by reflecting on what it means to be a parent, what it means to be a man, and how delusion harms us in the end.  It juggles so many thematic threads that it would be easy to fumble one or two of them.  But no.  Louis C.K. has hit it out of the park again with “In the Woods”, proving that he has the storytelling chops to teach us not only one lesson, but multiple lessons at once.  I can only imagine what he has in store for the end of the season.

So what did you think of this week’s Louie?  Were you as impressed by “In the Woods” as I was?  Do you think next week’s finale will live up to the expectations set by the rest of the season?  Let me know 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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