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You Gotta Go Away to Come Back

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The first of three parts in Louie‘s “Late Show” arc left off with Louie deciding whether or not he would risk becoming a success, and accept a tentative opportunity to stand as an option in the search for a replacement host of The Late Show. The second part opens with Louie and his ex-wife Janet sharing drinks while Louie explains the situation, and ultimately why he can’t possibly make an attempt to pursue it, citing their children’s welfare as the prime reason.

Louie, you came here so that I would tell you that you can’t do this, didn’t you? Because I need you to do your share with the kids, that’s why you’re here? You don’t have the gall to take this thing on and you want me to blame? Here’s the bad news, buddy: You can totally get this show and the girls will be fine. I mean, the standup thing, where’s that going? Huh? It was going to this! If you don’t do this, I mean, what was it all for? What did you put twenty years into this for? What did I put my nine in for? Listen, you’ve been a fine father, but nobody needs a father that much. The girls need a role model, they need to see you live and succeed.

Janet was right to set Louie straight, but Jack Dall (who’s given incredible form in the second and third episodes by the enigmatic David Lynch) is who turns the switch. Jack, and “the suit.” Inviting him into his office, Jack challenges Louie on his appearance following their introduction. It’s not Jack’s comments about the needed weight-loss or Louie’s hair and beard that slice his ego though, but his demand that Louie dawn a suit that lands foul. Louie’s unwillingness to change his appearance goes deeper than looks, and he argues that in the face of the widespread changes to the rest of his foundation it’s simply a concession he’s not willing to make — his clothes remaining as the last bastion of self. Jumping along in the timeline of events, Jack later sits Louie down again and challenges this stubbornness. “Tell the truth, you’re just scared, like a rookie. You’re like some kid at a talent show with a number pinned to your shirt.” This is a conflicting emotional battle that Louie faces throughout the three episodes, but one that he slowly begins to figure out: How much of himself can he let go of while still retaining his identity? Numerous scenes show Louie jogging, slowly evolving in their depiction of him as desperate-fat-man-running to fat-daddy-running-with-children to slightly-less-fat-man-running-with-neighborhood-kids, a la Rocky. When he’s with his girls though, he explains to them why he’s trying to lose weight, unintentionally breaking the whole thing down for himself in an effort to dumb down the situation. “It’s not really about skinny or fat, it’s just, if you want to get a big thing in life you gotta make a big effort. You gotta try hard, you gotta do things you’re not used to doing.” Taking a step back he adds, “You know girls, I may not get this job,” before Lilly quickly strikes back, “Yeah, but you want this job, right?” Bingo. He’s changing. Moments before Louie’s test-show, Jack returns to present him with a custom made suit and a few parting words of advice.

“Well, I did my part. This will be the last time we see each other. If you get the show they’ll bring in some young producer. If you don’t, well that’ll be that. At any case I told you what I know and the rest is up to you. It’s just… if you can do it. That’s it. Listen, you’re a good guy. I’m not going to say you can do it ’cause I really have no idea. But I hope you do.

And now I’m going to tell you what I know to be the three rules of show business. Number one: Look’em in the eye and speak from the heart. Number two: You gotta go away to come back. Number three: If someone asks you to keep a secret, their secret is a lie. You got that?”

Considering Jay Leno’s superficially intimate phone call with Louie, Chris Rock’s “don’t listen to nobody, and nobody meaning Jay Leno in particular” speech, and Jerry Seinfeld’s backstabbing play at sabotaging him, the conclusion that Louie’s left with is that, yes, he wants the job, even if only to spite those who don’t want it for him. The A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff breaks things down wonderfully in addressing the show’s triumph,

The episode’s greatest success comes from how it gives Louie a moral victory, even if the universe saw fit to yet again kick him in the face. The best thing about these episodes is that they got Louie to care. In a way, this whole third season has been about the series trying to shock Louie out of his complacency, to see if there’s any way to get him to make the changes that might bring him happiness. Is there a way he could escape from the rut his life seems to be stuck in? He’s tried dating, and he’s tried a vacation, and now he’s tried throwing himself into a new project. But at every turn, he seems to be the same self-conscious, frustrated guy, living out his life and painting by the numbers.

Louie crushes it. Later, basking in momentary glory with his friends, Louie finds out that David Letterman has signed a contract extension and would be remaining as host of The Late Show for the next decade. The moment confirms that the network wasn’t holding Louie as an option for Jerry Seinfeld, but merely using him as a bargaining chip to lower Letterman’s asking price. “You took $20 million out of that asshole’s pocket,” adds Nick DiPaolo as Louie leaves the bar. “That’s how good you are.” Louie walks to the Ed Sullivan theater, gives Letterman’s marquee a vulgar (and thoroughly rewarding) salute, and walks away a champ (which, as Jack reminds us earlier, stands for champion). The show fades away with Louie back in the gym, training on his own accord.

In that first scene where Janet’s challenging Louie, she threw out a line that subtly helped change the entire story’s direction: “I’d hate to see what the future will be if you don’t make this happen.” Despite his efforts, Louie stood defeated, having played the role of a pawn in a game he was oblivious to. But the process is what counts. He might have lost a job (that never really existed), but at the very same time no one stood as victorious as he did in the end. His family remained strong and rallied around his willingness to risk his personal comfort, and he was left emotionally renewed because he hadn’t let himself down. He entered a man fixed in his ways, but he came out the other side a different person. And that’s where it comes back to us, you and me. Clearly this show wasn’t just about Louis C.K., right?

I’ve been feeling awfully selfish lately, but it still stands to reason that this program exists only to lend us reflection on our own lives. How could it not? In my life I feel like there’s something off in the distance that’s becoming decreasingly vague, a goal (a dream?) that is coming into focus, my Late Show standing on the horizon if only to urge me out of my own apathetic complacency. For the first time in a long time I want really (!) want something. The challenge is a difficult one, and the outcome isn’t guaranteed, but it’s not beyond me either. To say I haven’t always cared about what happens in life is an understatement, but I’ve hurdled “starting to care” and have somehow landed myself firmly in a place where I really do give a shit.

It’s not that the excuses I once manipulated to my own benefit now fail to cut it, but that their possibility is slowly stopping to even exist. I say all that to say this: I feel like I’m at the point of fat-daddy-running-with-children, where I’m actually actually able to understand how to get that “big thing in life.” On the surface there might not even be a noticeable difference between Louie at the end of the story and Louie at the start of the story, but there is a world of change that’s gone on inside of him. Not only that, but he found it in himself to challenge the pending mediocrity that Janet was so worried of. I feel like I have numerous Janets in my life, internally and externally, reminding me of what I really need to be doing.

And in my case, they’re reminding me that it really is a life-or-death thing (and there isn’t an ounce of hyperbole in that statement). Sometimes you have to stand firm and hold onto your t-shirt and jeans, but if your emotional uniform has left you on the brink of physical collapse, you might have to dawn the suit, even if only for the sake of momentary survival. Sometimes you have to strip the layers of self away in order to appraise the true state of the core. Sometimes you will fall flat on your face, sometimes you will move forward as a more complete You. Like Jack said though, sometimes you gotta go away to come back. And it’s hard to come back without first recognizing that you’re not where you need to be.