In thinking about last night’s “Untitled,” I was reminded of a 1996 conversation between David Foster Wallace and the journalist Robert Lipsky, later collected in Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. The two debate the relative merits of avant-gardism and realism, which leads Wallace to say,“Avant-garde stuff can capture and talk about the way the world feels on our nerve endings, in a way that conventional realistic stuff can’t.”
Until “Untitled,” Louis C.K. had been approaching the fifth season of Louie in a manner akin to the “conventional realistic stuff” Wallace describes. While Louie’s tribulations with Pamela, his misadventures with the cop Lenny, and his mishap at the potluck approximate the feeling of existence for the protagonist whom CK has spent four and a half seasons developing, they do so by aiming at directly representing the existence itself. By contrast, “Untitled” approaches representation in a style more similar to the avant-garde; in doing so, Louie ends up depicting “the way the world feels on our nerve endings.”
Before getting to the surrealism, though, the episode appears to be yet another half-hour in the style of the rest of the season to date. Louie tells a joke about bee-keeping, complete with a corny “be” / “bee” pun which a fellow comedian (Jon Glaser) adores. He then takes Jane (Ursula Parker) to a doctor’s appointment, where she delivers a virtuosic monologue about visualizing energy reminiscent of C.K’s famous “But why?” gag seen in his stand-up and in Lucky Louie. Jane and Louie go to pick up Lilly (Hadley Delaney) from a sleep-over (during which she watches A Clockwork Orange), where the mother of Lilly’s friend breaks down after he explains his inability to help her with a fish tank.
This is all a bit much for Louie to handle, particularly in conjunction with his break-up with Pamela at the end of “A La Carte,” and he falls asleep in a cab with his daughters, triggering a series of dreams which comprise the bulk of the rest of “Untitled.” The nightmares start with him being attacked at home by a slimy, naked figure, but they also include such horrors as having a squiggle for a penis, the fan of the “bee” jokes stealing them, and an Under the Skin-esque encounter with Bobby.
Outside of the bizarre and dynamic visual approach CK uses in these visions, they’re remarkable for their representation of the feelings his character has been experiencing over the course of these five seasons (i.e. the “nerve endings” sensations described by Wallace). The scene of his jokes being stolen ties together the events of earlier in the episode with those of “Oh, Louie/Tickets” from the second season, revealing how they continue to weigh on Louie. His penis turning into a squiggle reflects the emasculation he feels at the hands of Pamela in “A La Carte.”
The dreams become even more effective due to the way in which CK frames them within the narrative. They begin right after he sees the mother break down; though the end of the episode is inconclusive, it suggests that their conclusion corresponds with him sleeping with her. If one views this season as a serialized narrative with episodic segments, the nightmares stem in part from the disintegration of his relationship with Pamela, revealing how the break-up and possible new love affair bookend the dreams.
In “Untitled,” C.K. uses surreal imagery to depict truths about his character’s fears which more realistic storytelling methods never could. Although the preceding episodes of this season have been effective in their use of the latter approach, the dreams of “Untitled” expose Louie and bring him to life in a wholly different way.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.