Louie often achieves what you might think is physically impossible – leaving you open-mouthed and laughing at the same time. It’s also a show to which the old saying of ‘it’ll make you think’ could not be apt. Just one of the great things about Louie is that it’s not afraid to tackle big themes, and it manages to do this without sacrificing laughs. We’ve seen that throughout the show’s run, and more specifically this season with observations on the nature of adult relationships and the place of middle-aged men in the world. This week Louis C.K. tackles the issue of gender roles in society.
He did this a bit last season when he seemed to focus more on women’s issues, such as in “So Did The Fat Lady”. In that episode Louie was pursued by a waitress who wanted to go out with him, giving men a glimpse of what it might be like to the object of unwanted attention. Now he does it more explicitly in an episode when he’s put in positions that might be more traditionally seen as happening more to women. He gets beaten up physically and emotionally, wears make-up, is dominated sexually and then discarded.
“Bobby’s House” concludes with Louie ‘losing his masculinity’, allowing himself to be vulnerable and ending up hurt, but it begins with him in the opposite position. After going to the wake of his uncle with his brother Bobby, which actually turns out to be for an Asian man with the same name, Louie reluctantly agrees to go up to his brother’s apartment to hang out. “I wanna talk to you about something, and this is kinda hard for me” his brother Bobby says, but Louie groans and screws up his face, “Then you don’t have to.” Louie might think his life sucks sometimes, but Bobby opens up and tells him he doesn’t know how good he’s got it. He’s making money doing something he loves, married a beautiful woman (even if it did end in divorce), and has two beautiful kids. In contrast Bobby’s got nothing, “no money, no skills, no Twitter…my sperm don’t work.” He asks his brother for help (who he’s mistakenly convinced himself is his younger brother) but Louie doesn’t know what to do, he doesn’t think his life is great at all and the two end up arguing in the dark.
The show then moves quickly into a new story which shows that Louie doesn’t know how to get good things in his life and the decisions he makes usually turn out badly. Once again he tries to be the good guy and it doesn’t go well. He’s on the street waiting for a bus when a young woman starts railing on a guy who she claims was looking at her. Louie steps in, lightly touching her on the arm and telling her to leave him alone. Unfortunately the woman doesn’t take this too well and turns on him, getting in his face, stopping him from getting on the bus and then smacking him around. It’s initially funny as Louie flails his arms, cries “I don’t want to hit you” and then takes a look around before ineffectually hitting her on the back. But it gets increasingly hard to watch as she just beats the crap out of him, leaving him crying out in pain in a heap on the sidewalk, using a piece of dirty snow to ice his face.
Studies have shown that female on male violence, especially domestic, is more prevalent in our society that most people know or expect. It’s less socially acceptable to be violent towards a woman than a man, and the expectations of masculinity are that “you can’t hit a woman”. Of course any type of violence is unacceptable, but the point here is that Louie gets badly assaulted by a woman and it’s seen as a joke by those around him. He tries to avoid telling his daughter what happens by using gender neutral pronouns because he knows what they’ll think. When he reveals it was “a very strong woman” they laugh at him – “Was she pretty?” It raises the questions of why do his girls assume it was a man? Why do they now think it’s so funny, after being so concerned about their father’s injuries?
The only one he feels comfortable telling openly seems to be Pamela, and she laughs at him too. He asks for her help (“You need me to beat her up for you?), asking if she can put makeup on him for his upcoming shows. She agrees and finds that making Louie look pretty is actually turning her on, begging Louie to let her make him into a woman for the best sex of his life. The scene becomes a sexual role-reversal role-play as Pamela becomes Peter and a newly pretty Louie, reluctantly at first, becomes Jornetha. They slow-dance and then ‘Peter’ takes control, pushing Jornetha onto the bed, feeling his breasts and then flipping him over and penetrating him as he cries no.
Afterwards Louie lies low in the bed with the covers pulled up while Pamela towers over him, mirroring the traditional post-coital scene in movies. “Can I ask you something?” Pamela sighs and says “I’d rather you didn’t.” He feels that they’ve just had a very intimate moment and surely this puts their relationship in a different phase. Louie, taking on what would be seen as the woman’s role, wants to talk about their feelings while Pamela laughs and asks just to be friends. Pamela realises this is just illustrative of how Louie wants, and deserves, more out of a relationship. Is it so strange that the woman is the one that doesn’t want emotional intimacy? He tries to cling on to a relationship that isn’t fulfilling him, but she breaks up with Louie right there and then, leaving him crying with mascara running down his face.
At least it makes Bobby feel better though, as Louie is laughed at for the third time in the episode. “You got…” he says between laughs, leaving us wondering just how much Louie told him about his eventful day.
Louis C.K. continues to push the boundaries for both his show and the character of Louie, and it’s refreshing to see a sitcom go in directions and take on themes and ideas that other shows wouldn’t even think about. “Bobby’s House” is full of laughs, ‘feels’ and thinking points. You can’t ask for much more.
Louie airs on American channel FX Thursday nights