Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “In the Woods”


Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: Louie struggles with “do as I say, not as I do.”

Episodes 11 and 12: “In the Woods”

This episode is dedicated to Philip Seymour Hoffman. It is about drugs.

Louie catches his oldest daughter smoking pot. Louie gets upset. She says, “what do you even know about it?” Louie remembers. That’s all you need to know about the “what” of the episode.

It’s almost entirely told in flashback, which is amazing. There have been a number of reality jumps and flashbacks in Louie over the years, but this one is the most fully realized. It helps that it’s a kind of double episode. You feel the pain of Louie’s mother as she feels her son slipping away. You feel the distance of Louie’s father as he both tries to help and shrugs at the same time. You feel the world of young Louie, which is both the actual history of the character and a dream state.

“Real” Louie has a brother on the show, but the brother’s not in the flashback. In a previous episode, a flashback revealed his wife to be white when she’s black in the “reality” of Louie. This all means something.

It never matters what happens. It matters what you take away from it.

Teenage Louie in the flashback gets obsessed with pot. He dedicates his life to obtaining pot and escaping his boring life by getting high. An episode dedicated to a man who recently died of a heroin overdose is about pot, which at first seems weird…

…but it’s not about pot. It’s about the ways we hide from the people that care about us. It’s about booze and pornography and music and general deceit and exercise and biking and cooking and smoking and comic books and religion and politics and whatever else your particular crutch is, really. It’s about Louie, a teenager, who is getting high not because he’s mad or sad or lonely, but because he just is getting high. It costs him his sense of self. It costs him the girl — and the scenes where he and a young classmate look longingly at each other over the gulf of addiction are dreadfully perfect — and it costs him the closeness of his family.

Adult Louie has to decide how to turn this memory into a lesson for his daughter. He has to figure out what we all have to figure out: how do you make your past mistakes productive? He wants to be a warning, but when she asks him if he’s going to yell at her, he knows he has to be careful.

There’s no way to spoil this episode. This is the pause between “Pamela 1” and next week’s season finale of “Pamela 2” and “Pamela 3.” This whole season has been about Louie’s love life, but it’s been more interesting to see how we got to the version of adult Louie in the show. The explosion is more noteworthy, sure, but watching the fuse is more fun. Louie’s childhood isn’t necessarily atomic, but it’s sad and relatable because Louie is some version of who we all were and — some days — still are. This one is heavy on the intended morals, but I take the following:

Pay attention to who you were, if only to be damned sure you aren’t ever them again.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.