Louie 3x13: ”New Year’s Eve”
This episode plays in 4 distinct parts, each turning the character of Louie inward upon himself, deeper and deeper, to examine the happiness and relationships of the character. In the Mandukya Upanishad, the sound of Om is described as having 4 distinct syllables. Each of these syllables has an allegory that accompanies it, and traveling along that allegory deeper into yourself is the goal of meditation at that level. This episode is framed around such a meditation.
The episode starts in silence. Louie is tightly framed with an animal print blanket draped across his shoulders, and he is holding a mug of some undisclosed beverage. After the credits are complete, we hear the white noise krinkle of wrapping paper, and we are pulled out along with the camera to survey Christmas morning. Louie looks at his children, and his face momentarily lights up after seeing the joy his gifts have brought to them, but we are soon brought into his head where he flashes back to the troubles he had with the presents, quashing the joy he momentarily may have gleaned from them. He recounts his troubles wrapping presents, acquiring a blue monkey in a shopping frenzy, and repairing a doll for one of his children. It is hard to tell how much of the doll sequence actually happened and how much of it is a piling on of emotion in the reminiscing. The last we see of the doll in the flashback is a crayon-faced, decapitated mess, but it is presented as beautiful and whole in the scenes of the present. Regardless, the doll represents Louie at this stage. The eyes are turned inward, but he wants to have them facing out again and present the normal facade. He tries a few implements (notice the first implement is Oriental in origin) and attempts to make facsimile eyes, but none of this works, so he must open the doll’s head. He removes the hair, making the doll bald, and cuts the top of the head off. Inside, he finds both eyes and a third eye. He cannot think of what use a third eye could be, so he rejects it and begins to assemble the facade of normalcy. The more he attempts this, the more of a mess the doll’s outward appearance becomes each solution seems to lead to a new problem. This process leads him to tears, to anger, and to curse the fact that he was born. Before we see him able to complete the building of the facade, we are brought to the next gift which is a book entitled The Story About Ping. Louie takes credit away from Santa for having given this present. The story we are told about Ping is that he lives with a large family on a boat that has two wise eyes and sits on the Yangtze River. His daughter says that “it looks like it’s so nice to live on that river” to which Louie replies “yeah, it does, doesn’t it?” his expression looks somewhat considered but belies a bit of condescension. Louie’s ex-wife Janet and her boyfriend (new husband?) Patrick come to pick up the girls and take them on a vacation overseas. Louie talks to Janet and asks for communication and pictures from the girls’ trip to stay connected to them. He observes Patrick examining the doll and worries that he will see through the facade. The family leaves together and stands in a Christmas card pose on the elevator as Louie looks on, apart from them. The doors close them off from him and he returns inside. He tears down the decorations of the Christmas tree and throws the bare beast out the window, erasing all evidence of the holiday and retreats to an artificially darkened bedroom and to bed. His sister awakens him with a phone call before he can get all the way to sleep. She asks “are you all by yourself?” and Louie questions why she needs to say “all”, she points out that he has no family around him, then she invites him to come with their family to Mexico for New Year’s so that he will not be by himself. He refuses, and her husband breaks into the conversation, insisting that Louie come to “Mejico”. He tells his sister once more that he cannot come, and she hangs up the phone after saying “I love you, Louie. You know that.” Louie says he knows, but does not reciprocate the sentiment. This is the end of the reality segment. The O of Om is broken into the “ah” sound and the “oo” sound (A-U) and treated as two separate syllables. The allegory for the A syllable is that of waking life in reality which we have just left.
The second syllable U represents the dream state of the unconscious. This is where we are with the newscasters and as we dive into Louie’s dream of a possible future. Oriental music plays, and we pan across a severed white rabbit head in the window of a cafe. Louie’s daughters have met here to talk about Louie’s future self. They see him as depressing and alone, “so alone”. There is a mirrored version of each daughter in the background. We do not know what those others are talking about, possibly it is an alternate Louie, but he cannot yet grasp this future. He seems to wake up, but we are still in the realm of the dream. We see that the female newscaster’s name Fanny Chapcranter is a juxtaposition of crap chanter, describing what the news is chanting when both anchors begin to repeat that he is one of many “all by themselves” and that he should “go ahead and put that gun in your mouth”. It is evident that this is a dream, because earlier Fanny called Flappy Jeff and in the second sequence she calls him Trisha. Louie gets out of bed, and into the shower, this is when we leave the unconscious.
The third syllable M represents a deep sleep where consciousness is gathered in on itself, and here it is interpreted as pure subconscious. The dream realm is sometimes said to link your subconscious to your waking life, working out through metaphor what is going on beneath the surface, here Louie is diving deeper to find his archetypes. He begins by packing his baggage and taking it with him onto the bus. As Brian Menegus pointed out in his review of the episode, the framing on the bus would seem to show that Louie is using his baggage as a crutch or an old man’s cane. Louie looks neutral. It is revealed that his girlfriend from a previous episode, Liz, is traveling on the same bus with him. His face lights up as he sees her, but before they embrace, she begins hemorrhaging blood from her nose and she collapses in his arms as ominous music plays. Liz represents all of his previous attempts at happiness through romantic relationships. He talks to her at her bedside. She asks panicked and angry, “am I dying?” to which he answers that he does not know. In this meditation, Louie is traveling ever deeper inward, and he is trying to find happiness within himself, all alone, instead of depending on others for happiness. He is about to reach the fourth syllable of transcendence, and this structure he has built in himself based on what other people have told him he needs, is dying. It says “I’m not ready for this, this is crazy”, and Louie says “You’re going to be ok.” Liz lays back, looks at Louie and says with a crack in her voice “bye?”, stretching the word into two syllables. The nurses pronounce her dead at 11:59 PM as Louie stumbles out into the hallway just as the New Year begins. Auld Lang Syne plays as the hospital staff celebrate and laugh in pairs or groups. Louie walks past a hospital calendar that says 2012, and we cut to the airport where he still has his baggage in tow. He spreads out on the chairs and falls asleep.
We are now in the fourth syllable of Om. The fourth syllable is the silence that surrounds Om. If you are repeating Om in meditation, each utterance comes out of a silence and recedes into a silence that then gives way to the next utterance that recedes into a silence and so on. Anahata is the fourth chakra in Hindu Yoga; it means un-struck. It is the sound that is not made by two things hitting one another. It is this sound we are in now, and that is what Louie has been trying to do this whole time. The sound he is striving for is happiness, but he is not finding a lasting happiness by striking against something else, be it his family or his romantic relationships. He stands with his baggage in the airport, sees Beijing on the flight board in the airport, identifies with Ping in his mind’s eye, and is transported without baggage to Beijing, China where he believes the Yangtze River is located. If you listen to this sequence and you do not understand Mandarin, it sounds as if Louie is chanting Yangtze River over and over. In this sequence, there is no other dialogue of any substance. He finds someone who will take him to the Yangtze River, but he must ride with a family of ducks. He is brought to a bog and wanders off continuing to search, not happy with the Yangtze River he has been given. Just as Heaven is not a place and Nirvana is not a place (they are states of mind) the Yangtze River here is also not a place, but a state of happiness as referenced earlier while reading about Ping. Louie comes across his Yangtze River in a small house from which much laughter and joy is emanating. He is welcomed inside with happiness and joy from all present. He, like many of his viewers, has no idea what is being said, but after spending some time in the presence of this joy, he begins to repeat what is being said phonetically, and while doing this his expression changes from one of confusion to one of happiness. In his lecture series on the Masks of God entitled “Interpreting Symbolic Forms”, Joseph Campbell speaks of this level Louie is now at, having heard the Om in all 4 syllables: “now we get to the realm of mythological symbols telling you that things are radiant of a mystery which hides behind their masks, and which you, if you can bring your own spiritual experience up to that center in yourself, will by resonance recognize.” Louie is symbolically resonating through this mask of a language barrier and is discovering the happiness of his Yangtze Nirvana. Auld Lang Syne plays once again, this is how he will begin his new year: his new life.
If the AV Club comment section is a reliable source of Mandarin translation, then the words Louie is repeating at the end of the episode translate to “come to Beijing often, and come be a guest at my house”. Here Louie is being invited to meditate and achieve this place within often. His third eye has been opened. The third eye is a metaphor for having your consciousness raised to a level where you see things differently. You saw these things before with your two eyes, but now they are different so a third eye must have been opened. Louie did not understand what the purpose of a third eye was earlier when he was examining himself as the doll, whether or not he keeps this eye open remains to be seen.
Much has been made in online reviews about how this episode breaks the usual formula by removing the theme song, removing the stand-up, and to some extent removing the realism. In addition to these points, Louie has not brought up a subject like meditation before or played with a structural metaphor so closely. However, David Lynch is very much into meditation and for three episodes prior to this one, Louis C.K. has been working closely with Lynch (who played a character who seemed to be sucking away Louie’s reality), and that relationship may have carried over into this episode.
I will return to the usual Community analysis soon.