For those who aren't fans of surrealist, edgy sitcoms and thus aren't in the know, episode 4x03 of Louie premiered on FX last night. It was entitled "So Did the Fat Lady." There is a lot to discuss in this episode, and the internets have beaten us to the punch. But that doesn't mean we don't have our individual experiences to bring to the conversation.
The usual recap circuit, posted hastily in every corner of the web, did a fine job of summarizing the episode. But what have been most interesting are the deeper pieces. I'll cut to the chase of what's important about this ep so I can gloss over some of pieces on it out there.
The second act of the episode features Louie's interactions with Vanessa: a pretty, witty, outgoing lawyer whom Louie meets while she's waiting tables part time at the Comedy Cellar. She happens to be a woman of size, so though she flirts adorably with Louie, making him laugh and engaging him in banter, he keeps turning her down. Toward the episode's conclusion, she talks him into meeting for coffee, and the pair hits it off, spending an afternoon walking, chatting, and cracking jokes, until this happens:
"try dating in New York in your late 30s as a fat girl"
He interrupts to tell her that she's not "fat," and she launches into a 7 minute speech about the experience of being a woman of size including not only the invisibility of herself but also the invisibility of her lived experience, through silencing.
"It just sucks. It really, really sucks. You have no idea. And the worst part is I'm not even supposed to do this - tell anyone how bad it sucks - because it's too much for people. I mean you, you can talk into the microphone and say "I can't get a date," you're overweight, and it's adorable. But if I say it, they call the suicide hotline on me. Can I just say it? I'm fat. It sucks to be a fat girl. Can people just let me say it?"
"I'm going to go ahead and say it: it's your fault. Look, I really like you. You're truly a good guy, and I'm so sorry. I'm picking you, on behalf of all the fat girls. I'm making you represent all the guys. Why do you hate us so much? What is it about the basics of human happiness - feeling attractive, feeling loved, having guys chase after us - that's just not in the cards for us? Nope, not for us. How is that fair? And why am I supposed to just accept it. "
"You know Vanessa, you're a very, really beautiful…"
"If I was (sic) a very, really beautiful, then you would have said yes when I asked you out. Come on, Louie, be honest here."
"Have you ever walked down the street in the light of day holding hands with a big girl like me? Go ahead. Hold my hand...You know what the sad thing is? That's all I want. I mean, I can get laid. Any woman who is willing can get laid. I don't want that. I don't even need a boyfriend or husband. All I want is to hold hands with a nice guy and walk and talk."
This ends with the two of them holding hands, and Louie tells the "and so did the fat lady" playground joke.
The first act of the episode is another mini saga about Louie's weight. He and his brother openly look summer shorts-clad women up and down on a NYC street while sweating in dark colored clothing. They determine they should begin a weight loss regimen tomorrow and as such should spend the rest of the day embarking on a "bang bang," their term for eating two entire meals back-to-back at two different restaurants.
There are raised eyebrows on the part of waitstaff, and there are shots of their mouths, stomachs, and many plates of food, but by the end of their second meal, they've decided not to go to the gym the next day after all. Louie does seem ashamed of their gluttonous ritual when his brother nonchalantly defines "bang bang" for an inquiring cute, young waitress. But it isn't enough to make him adhere to his weight loss plan. More significantly, nor does he seem to draw any comparisons between his self-loathing in that moment with the way he treats Vanessa. When she spells it out for him, he looks contrite but says nothing. She informs him that "studs" flirt back with her because they're not afraid for their status...
"But guys like you never flirt with me. Because you get scared that maybe you should be with a girl like me. And why not? You know, if you were standing over there looking at us, you know what you'd see? That we totally match."
There's a lot to unpack here, and the internet is here to help. Two great pieces can be found on Vulture, NY Magazine's pop culture blog. In one, a contributor for Vulture conducts an interview with actor Sarah Baker, who plays the episode's guest character role.
Not being a woman of size myself, I hoped she'd delve into what spoke to her personally about this character and the events of the episode. She doesn't go in-depth, but she does suggest she finds Louis CK's depiction of the experience of women of size accurate:
I just thought it was so brave and really beautiful and a little bit scary. I also thought, wow, Louis wrote this and yet he's given himself the part of the guy who doesn't totally get it and is surprised by this turn of events. He's the one who had all these amazing insights into what is a women's issue for the most part.
When asked to describe her favorite moment, she answered:
"He had us do it a few different ways but when I essentially point in the camera and say, "If you were standing over there looking at us, what you'd see is that we're a perfect match," and he kind of stands there looking into the camera. That's the crystallized truth to pull from that whole thing. They do match"
In an interview for a piece in the New York Times, Baker reiterates her feelings about Vanessa and the speech:
Ms. Baker stands behind her character's point, that the shaming and pitying of larger women is hideous and self-defeating: Louie and Vanessa share a connection and chemistry, but she calls him out for not considering her for longer-term dating because of her weight.
"Her point is more out of a sense of empowerment," said Ms. Baker, who would say only that she is in her 30s and still, she happily noted, getting carded. "Why are we afraid to talk about these things? And really, is a fat girl such a terrible thing?"
Baker and the NYT piece also put the episode in perspective for the whole series:
judging from the show's history, Louie will go back to chasing thinner women. (One plotline this season paired him with a blond model.) In the end, Ms. Baker said, "So Did the Fat Lady" highlighted the inability of many of the show's male characters — including the shamer who says "yuck" — to attain what they yearn for most.
"You see Louie the character all the time struggling to make connections," she said. "Here's someone coming with such an open heart." She added, "And he can't take it."
Not everyone had positive things to say. Danielle Henderson, writing for Vulture in the other post of interest there, drew on her own experience as a woman of size.
Henderson points out the connection between the episode's two acts as well as Louis CK's underlying message:
When you're a fat man, the space you take up is an extension of your masculinity; when you're a fat woman, taking up space is an affront to femininity.
Louis C.K. is smart to point out the hypocrisy and double standards of dating while fat. He's right to point out that he can actively treat his body with gross neglect and still have a choice when it comes to dating or influence his own narrative when it comes to how the world sees him, all because he is a man.
However, Henderson takes issue with Vanessa's monologue, particularly with regard to the character's desire to speak on behalf of all women of size to Louie, representing all men. She doesn't consider the monologue to ring true, finding it "heavy handed and aimless" and quibbling with how reliant it is on "tropes of fat-girlness." Her greatest problem, however, is with its end:
Fat girls fuck. We want sex, and love, and marriage, and happiness in all the ways that every non-sociopathic person wants those things. It could have been indicative of the moment, where Vanessa just wanted to hold Louie's hand right then and there. But that's not what she said. In her entire romantic life, all she wants to do is hold hands, like an anemic fourth grader who doesn't know what dating or sex even is. After all the bombastic pomp of her lead up, in the end she's willing to settle for not much at all.
I'm not a woman of size, so it'd be inappropriate for me not only to invalidate Ms. Henderson's own experience (which wouldn't be okay whatever my size) but also to suggest I can approach this material with the same sensitivity and insight as she. That said, I watched that scene differently and interpreted Vanessa's motivations differently. I heard a woman say she gets all the sex she desires (though I *do* take issue with Louis CK's line about how any willing woman can find sex), but that what she lacks is the freedom to walk hand in hand with a man she likes down a public street. I interpreted her as asking for something she's usually denied, not suggesting that it's all she needs.
What are your thoughts, GTers? What did you make of this episode? What rings true about what Louis CK has to say here regarding women of size, and what does he get wrong? What should we make of the scene in the diner in which a young, conventionally attractive woman discusses the "bang, bang" with Louie and his brother, as the camera films her as a mirrored reflection with Louie in the shot, gazing at her and acting ashamed of his afternoon of eating? I was disappointed none of the pieces I read discussed that last scene and that camera shot.
Anyway, this was long winded, though hopefully not "heavy handed and aimless." But I hope some of you got to the end with me, because I'm eager for all you have to share on the subject. So bang, bang it out!
NB: All images are the property of FX. Quotes from the episode were transcribed to the best of my ability. I apologize for errors.