Debates are raging this week on many Web sites that cover television programming about one of the two episodes of “Louie” that were telecast on FX Monday night. It was a scene in the second of the two, titled “Pamela Part 1,” in which the usually lovable lump Louie clumsily but aggressively attempted to force himself on Pamela, a young woman with whom he has had an on again, off again shared attraction for some time now.
The details of this very brief encounter have solicited all kinds of observations and responses from critics and bloggers and some of their readers. Several have identified it as an act of sexual aggression or assault and determined that they can no longer watch or support a show that features a man capable of such behavior as its lead character -- one with whom viewers have been encouraged to sympathize or somehow relate to throughout the life of this singularly eccentric series. Others have attempted to explain Louie’s behavior as that of a heartbroken man desperate for comfort who wasn’t in his right mind, or whatever.
“Pamela Part 1” was the first episode after the six-episode arc titled “Elevator,” the primary storyline of which was Louie’s sweet relationship with Amia, a gentle Hungarian woman who spoke no English but nevertheless won his heart. At the end of the sixth episode Amia and her aunt Ivanka (Ellen Burstyn in a performance that should bring her yet another Emmy nomination) returned to their homeland, leaving Louie alone and adrift. (A scene at the beginning of “Pamela, Part 1” in which Louie visited their apartment, empty except for the red couch on which Louie first saw Amia many episodes back while she was napping, was profoundly moving and a perfect example of the kind of raw realism that “Louie” does better than just about any other series on television.)
So does Louie’s heartbreak and despair, coupled with the specifics of his relationship with Pamela, justify his aggressive attempt later to have physical contact of some kind with her (after she had spent several hours in his apartment watching his young daughters while he was performing at a comedy club) even though she was protesting and saying “no”?
In a word, “no.” Last I heard, “no” means “no” -- especially when it is repeated over and over again, as Pamela did when Louie grabbed her and wouldn’t let go.
The scene and Louie’s aggressive, manipulative, scary behavior in it was nothing but ugly, which becomes even clearer with repeated viewings. His actions alone toward Pamela were bad enough -- but he behaved the way he did while his two little girls were sleeping in the next room!
Even if sympathies had been with Louie leading up to the scene, it was so disturbing to sit through that it is easy to understand why the character is forever compromised in the hearts and minds of so many people. In brief: Louie forcefully grabbed Pamela and over her repeated protests tried to push her into his bedroom, tried to remove her top, cornered her (breathless and disheveled and looking frightened) by his front door as she attempted to leave, suggested that he was behaving the way he was because she had indicated interest in him in the past, told her that he was “going to take control and make something happen,” forced a kiss on her, watched as she slipped out the door and then double fist-pumped and quietly said “yes” as if he had accomplished something.
We have come to know Louie as many things over the last four seasons. Now we know him also to be a creep -- or worse.
In hindsight, a comfortable exchange between Louie and Pamela in a diner earlier in the episode that seemed funny and innocent and a little bit touching at the time set the stage for the assault that followed.
Pamela: The thing with that lady [Amia] didn’t work out and now you’ve come sniffing around me? Is that the basic outline of this thing here?
Louie: [sheepishly] Yeah. That’s basically it.
Pamela: Well, sorry. That ship has sailed.
Louie: But you said that I got under your skin and that you were thinking of us …
Pamela: That was before and you didn’t bite. The cookie is gone.
Louie: Jesus. Why are you so mean to me?
Pamela: Why do you like it?
[Louie’s cell phone rings.]
Pamela: You better get that. Maybe it’s your balls calling from wherever they went.
[It was his babysitter calling to cancel. Pamela then offered to stay with the girls, which placed her in his apartment when Louie returned home from his gig and the assault took place.]
Interestingly, in the comedy club sequence that took place before the assault, Louie with great insight and comic wit lamented how unfairly and badly women have been and continue to be treated in our society. (It is also interesting and kind of annoying that most of this material was included in Louis C.K.’s monologue when he hosted “Saturday Night Live” earlier this season.
I’m not sure which would be worse: Louie somehow being redeemed in future episodes or the deeply disturbing events of “Pamela Part 1” being forgotten and never referred to again. I’m interested to see which way the narrative turns and how the show will be impacted going forward.