Sep 21, 2012

Try: How Louie's Late Show Trilogy Details the Breaking of a Depressive Cycle

Depression is ordering a pizza for the third night in a row, despite the fruit about to rot in your kitchen. Depression is deciding that tomorrow would be an excellent time to finally get out of bed. Depression is the full and complete understanding that you will never achieve anything. You will fail at your every exploit because you are lazy, because you are stupid, because you don't deserve any of it. And easily the most difficult idea to grasp isn't the empty platitude "But you ARE worth it!" Because if you're sitting in bed everyday, adding weight and losing friends, you probably aren't worth it at that exact moment in time. Of course, you can't, and shouldn't tell a depressed person this. Upon reflection, though, it is abundantly clear that the only divergence between the happy and the sad is effort. It is so abundantly clear, so obvious and simple, that it could easily cause one to stay in bed for another day.

Depression largely works in two ways: through exterior forces, or interior ones. Louie CK, the character that Louis CK plays on Louie is driven down somewhat by these internal forces, but is largely beaten down by life. He doesn't suffer from depression, per se, but the signs are there. They've been there in his stand-up persona, and within his television show as well. This is of course to say that the character of Louie is depressed, not the real life Louis. I would hope he is doing fine.

Despite loving his two daughters endlessly, Louie (to reiterate and reinforce, this is the character) finds it impossibly difficult to apply himself. Often, when he manages to, he fails. He has been conditioned by disappointment to lose hope. This, again, has mostly been through other people's rudeness, but it is often brought on by Louie's own misunderstandings, or failures. Season three of Louie has seen the most sweeping casualties of any semblance of inner peace. "Daddy's Girlfriend" ends with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl on the wrong side of manic-depressive. A friendship is built and quickly destroyed in "Miami". And the crushing weight of reality and memory halts Louie from visiting his father in "Dad". There has a been a through-line contained in this season (and, somewhat, throughout the entire show). Louie has begun to put himself out there, only to pull back, and not make the full effort. Sure, he goes to Boston, but he can't walk up to his father's house. He courts Parker Posey, but doesn't commit to her spirit while on the date. 

There is no place season three of Louie could have led, but the "Late Show" trilogy. There remains one more episode, titled "New Year's Eve", but should that make a greater statement than "Late Show", the world shall collapse into a black hole within Louis CK's mind. This series of episodes begins with Louie killing it on The Tonight Show, and consequently being offered the Late Show, when he is informed that Letterman is retiring. Part two introduces David Lynch as Jack Dall, a producer for Late Show, meant to whip Louie into shape (both literally and figuratively). Then part three arrives. It begins innocuously enough, with a cute scene between Louie and his daughters. Around the halfway point, the girls give Louie a "good luck" card, an incredibly sweet scene with nary an ounce of cynicism. Where the average episode of Louie is littered with negativity, the show occasionally reminds the audience that sentimentality, when honest and used sparingly, can be as powerful as a twist ending. 

"Late Show Part 3" gives us some twists, one involving Jerry Seinfeld, that arrives as a kick in the pants. When Seinfeld informs Louie that the gig has already been given to the beloved 90's sitcom star, Louie considers breaking down. He's lost, he thinks. Then, in a moment both ironic and sincerely poignant, he and his agent recall what Jack Dall had told them, which leads them to realize that Seinfeld was lying. Infused with a formerly unknown bout of energy, Louie hosts a mock episode of Late Show, and unquestionably kills it. He injects his own persona, riffing on cue cards in an incredibly Louie-manner, while simultaneously charming guests and delivering the "topical" monologue. Louie believes in himself, and he believes in this job. He is trying, he is putting his best foot forward, and…

He fails. Of course Louie fails. There exists no way where Louie could actually take a job that largely separates him from his daughters, and a Louie centered around a talk-show host is undesired. After receiving the bad news, Louie leaves the bar, where he gathered with a number of comedian friends, and begins to walk the streets of New York. He is on the verge of losing any last wisp of hope he may have had. Then, he runs across the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the Late Show is hosted. And he smiles. And he yells and flips off and he walks away proud. For the first time this season, a story ends with a satisfied Louie. Because he ran every day to lose weight. Because his daughters inspired him to keep going. Because he took Jerry Seinfeld's deceit and allowed it to empower him. Louie did not receive a new job. It was not about what Louie was given, or not given. The hope with "Late Show Part 3" stems from the realization of what he gave: a damn.

The most difficult aspect of depression is breaking the cycle, because that's what it is. Much like the episodes of a television show, one wakes up to the sad opening titles, and falls asleep to the same, dark credits. Nothing ever changes, because you never change. Louie's "Late Night" trilogy is a great work of art, because it details the breaking of this cycle. We have been following this sad sack for three years now, and watched him fail, continuously. Here, he appears to fail yet again, but he does not. 

The closing credits of "Part Three" had Louie boxing, continuing his Late Show training, despite losing out on the job. The opening titles were black, opposed to the repetition of "Louie, Louie, you're gonna die" and a sad walk into a basement. Louis CK, the actual man, was of course responsible for these changes. But it's much nicer to think that Louie CK, the character, brought these divergences about. Today was not another day in the long list of every other day. Even if today was offset by yet another failing, this one would not destroy. Even if bad things will always happen to Louie, it does't mean that he must remain as he is. He can break the cycle, simply by attempting to break the cycle. Louie tried. Succeeding would have merely been a bonus.


  1. Wow, really amazing article. I read a lot of recaps on this trilogy but you actually nailed it for what it was supposed to be.

  2. Very interesting read, very astute. I am loving this show more and more, especially knowing he is the sole writer and director. In this day and age of entertainment by committee, this is so real. Not every episode or scene is great, but that is fine. Kinda like life. Louie/Louis keep it real!!!!

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