On Louie. Again.

[Content Note: Description of depicted sexual assault. Misogyny.]

Yesterday afternoon, Kristin Rawls let me know that, in the latest episode of Louie, the titular character, played by the show's creator Louis CK, attempts to rape someone. I read a couple of articles about the episode, and then I watched the episode (and some lead-up episodes) last night.

A couple things to note, by way of background:

The name of the episode is "Pamela 1," which refers to the character Pamela, played by Pamela Adlon who plays Louie's longtime friend (and also played his wife in his short-lived HBO series Lucky Louie).

The innocuous description provided in the OnDemand cable listing is, simply: "Louie on the rebound."

The episode aired on FX with its usual warning (ahem) for mature language. There was no warning for sexual assault or violence.

Louie is fresh off a relationship with Amia, a woman with whom he shared no common language, thereby circumventing the inconvenience of having to acknowledge her actual personality instead of the fantasy he imposes on her. Hence his being "on the rebound."

Several episodes earlier, Pamela had returned to town and asked Louie if he wanted to try a romantic relationship, but he turned her down because he was pursuing a relationship with Amia, even though she had told him she was going to be leaving soon.

The coverage I've read about the episode has mostly been written by people who seem to like the show and are flummoxed by Louis CK showing an attempted rape, which is played for laughs. As a result, the seriousness of the episode has been largely played down. I'm going to give it as fair and comprehensive description as I can.

When the episode opens, Louie strolls through Amia's now-empty apartment sadly. Later, he gets a text from Pamela, and invites her to meet him in a diner, where he tells her he's ready to give a relationship a try.

Pamela: "Oh, so the thing with that lady, it didn't work out, and now you've come sniffing around me? Is that the basic outline of this thing here?"

Louie: [after a long pause] "Yeah, that's basically it."

Pamela: "Well, sorry. Ticket's no longer available. That ship has sailed. The option is closed."

Louie: "But you said that I got under your skin and that you thinking about us—"

Pamela: "Yeah, that was before, and you didn't bite. The cookie is gone."

Louie: "Jesus. Why are you so mean to me?"

Louie gets a call from his babysitter, who has canceled. He's got two shows that night. Pamela offers to watch his kids while he goes to work. He is very appreciative.

Later, we see Louie doing stand-up, which is described in other articles about this episode as a sort of "pro-woman" set. I'll come back to that.

When Louie gets home, Pamela is asleep on his couch, and he stands over her, looking at her. She sleepily mumbles that she is awake and asks him not to jerk off on her.

Pamela gets up to leave, and Louie stops her from walking out. He grabs her arm and holds her. "Okay, bye-bye now," she says. "BYE BYE." She tells him goodbye with increasing urgency, as he holds her by both arms and turns her around to face him. "I'm really late for not being in here right now," she tells him, trying to wriggle away.

He holds her and tells her to listen, then leans over her and tries to kiss her. "No no no no no," she says, leaning away from him, as he continues to grip her forearms.

"Come on," he says, dragging her across the room. She frees one arm and grabs the corner of a table; Louie drags her, and the table along with her, until she loses her grip. "Just come on," he says, trying to push her through a doorway toward his bedroom. She puts her arms across the open doorway and wedges herself inside. "I don't like that!" she says.

They continue to wrestle, and he tries to lift her t-shirt. "Oh my god," she exclaims. She puts her hand over his mouth as he tries again to kiss her. "This would be rape if you weren't so stupid," she tells him, shoving him away. "God, you can't even rape well."

With a heaving shove, she pushes him to one side and grabs her coat and makes for the front door. He races after her and corners her, literally holding her in the corner at the front door by putting his arms on either side of her. "Hey, listen to me! Listen! Look at me!" he tells her. "Please!"

She turns around toward him, her eyes closed, then reluctantly looks at him. He towers over her, pointing his finger at her. "You said you wanted to do something with me," he says, "and I don't believe you that the ship has sailed."

She looks at him without responding, and he tells her he sees in her face that she wants to do something with him but can't. She doesn't reply, which he takes as a confirmation (and we are certainly meant to take as a confirmation, too, that he knows better than she does what she really wants). He informs her that because she can't take charge, he's going to.

"I'm going to take control, and I'm gonna make something happen," he tells her. She just looks at him. She looks frightened. We're meant to interpret that as her being frightened of her feelings for Louie, and not frightened that he is trying to rape her.

"You said you wanted to be in a thing!" he says. She says, "Does kissing have to be a part of that, though?" and he tells her it does and informs her he's going to kiss her. "Eww," she says, and turns her head away. "I'm gonna do it," he says. "Hurry up," she tells him. Louie kisses her while she closes her mouth tightly and grimaces.

"Okay," she says, turning away from him into the wall. "Thank you for the that. Okay, bye now." She leaves and closes the door behind her.

Louie clenches his fists and says, "Yes!"

There are a lot of rape culture narratives at work in this scene—the idea that because Pamela wanted something sexual with Louie at one point that she doesn't have the right to rescind that offer; the idea that Louie knows what Pamela wants just by looking at her; the idea that rape isn't really rape if it's a Good Guy just being too aggressive because he's awkward and doesn't know any better; the idea that reluctant women really just need men to take control; the idea that bumbling men can nearly rape someone by accident without realizing what they're doing.

In reactions to the episode I've seen, people are trying to make sense of the attempted rape scene in light of the "pro-woman" stand-up that precedes it. But I think it might be more useful to try to make sense of the actual message of the stand-up in light of the scene of sexual assault.

That is, look at the stand-up material without affording Louis CK the benefit of the doubt that he's definitely a Good Guy about women—something no one should be inclined to do, if they've really listened to him instead of hearing what they want to hear, because they don't want to not like him.

In one part of the set, Louie shares his theory that women once ruled the world:
I think that, uh, I think that we made god a man because we wanted men to be in charge, so it made sense. 'Cause it doesn't make sense that men are in charge. It makes sense that women would be in charge.

Because your mom is the first person who takes care of you, so how— It just makes sense that mothers would run the world. And, uh, it's the opposite—so we have this weird system of, uh, you know, men being— It's kinda upside down.

And I think the reason is 'cause women were in charge, a long time ago, and they were really mean. They were horrible, and they would—you had to walk around naked and they'd flick your penis and laugh at ya. So we're so scared of them! And then finally one guy punched a woman and she was like, "Wahhhh!" and he was like, "We can hit them!" and then that was it! That was it.
The set is not actually as feminist as people seem to think it is—or want it to be.

Women once ruled—but were mean to men so men punished them with violence.

Let us now recall the scene in the diner, in which Louie asks Pamela, "Why are you so mean to me?" Louie is frustrated that she won't acquiesce to his request to start a "boy-girl thing" with him, and he justifies his use of force by saying he's taking control because it's "obvious" she wants more.

But is that it? Is that all? Or are we looking at a man using violence against a woman because she is in control and being mean?

I am continually amazed by people's willing refusal to hear what Louis CK is telling them.

[Previously: Louie & Fat Girls.]

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