Last night's episode of Louie might have been the weirdest, most aggressive episode of the season, which is saying a lot.
In the middle of the episode, Louie gets beat up by a woman, prompting his daughters to savagely mock him, making the barest effort to hide their laughter. This is kind of funny and horrifying all at the same time (typical for this show), but the violence of the incident in retrospect only sets up the crux of "Bobby's Place," when Louie and his long-time crush object, now sort-of girlfriend Pamela (Pamela Adlon), have some of the most uncomfortable, exhausting sex in the history of the show. (Watch the clip above, via Vulture.)
Part of the fabric of the season so far has been watching Louie learn to be in a relationship (or something like one) with Pamela, something "Bobby's Place" brings crashing down with a reaffirmation of something Pamela has been saying to Louie for pretty much the entire run of the show -- the pair are a terrible match. They break up, but not before Pamela gets Louie to put on makeup (ostensibly to hide his wounds from the "fight") and roleplays as a man named Peter, penetrating him in an act that critic Sonia Saraiya describes as "questionably consensual."
It plays as a funhouse version of last season's infamous coercive scene, in which Louie attempts to rape Pamela while trying to convince her to be in a relationship in the first place. There, Louie ineffectually attempts to be a "man," with all of the attendant swagger and entitlement, while here, he allows himself to become a woman, giving in to "Peter"'s advances. It's a complicated scene, perhaps the culmination of Louie's experimentation with its protagonist's hapless understanding of gender, one that also included the controversial scene in which a character played by Melissa Leo forces Louie to go down on her.
But, even more than raising the specter of its own history, this episode of Louie is reminiscent of "Knockoffs," the fourth episode of the recently-completed second season of Broad City. The main plot, surrounding Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and her mother (Susie Essman) going to Chinatown to buy counterfeit bags, is funny, but the real meat is in Abbi's plot, where she finally hooks up with her crush object Jeremy (Stephen Schneider), only to discover that he wants to be penetrated with a strap-on.
"Knockoffs" is just about perfect -- it's a strong frontrunner for the best episode of TV to air this year -- largely because of its handling of pegging. The script never suggests there's anything wrong with Jeremy's desire, and Abbi eventually consents to pegging him partly because she's curious, partly to assuage Ilana and partly just to feel like a badass. She's still with her crush, even if it's not in the way she imagined.
Still, Jeremy and Abbi don't work out, not because of anyone's sexual preferences, but because Jeremy is just kind of an asshole (sorry) when Abbi accidentally melts his dildo in the dishwasher. That particularity -- the ability for a show to present a character as annoying and intransigent without passing judgment on their sexual preferences -- is, in a sense, beyond Louie, which always makes sex (an arena in which Louie always tries to exert control) uncomfortable and bad for its hero. As much as Louie tries to deal with issues like penetrating men with the sort of nuance, humor and compassion that Broad City does, it returns again and again to this idea that sex can't really be good, that there is always an element of coercion.
Getting Louie to open up -- to allow himself to shed some of his perceived control and masculine shell -- requires Pamela enticing him with "the best sex of [his] entire life," which then proceeds to lead to even more catastrophe. Maybe it's because she's younger, maybe it's because she's kickass, maybe it's just because Louie himself is bad, but Abbi at least has the potential to have good sex -- it's just people who are trash.