Louie Attempts Rape (and Explores the ‘Nice Guy’ Phenomenon)
Louie tends to work like the mind of a comic: circling around a set of themes and neuroses, examining them from all angles and mining for humor and insight. Death, aging, fatherhood, love, and sex are among the show's most consistent preoccupations. But this season, Louie seems to be adding a new topic, women and gender relations, to his roster.
In "So Did the Fat Lady,” Louie took on the perils of the dating world, emphasizing the difficulties that women face when they're not societally sanctioned hotties. In "Pamela 1" Louie wades deeper into the gender pool, doubtlessly inviting a tidal wave of backlash. In this episode, what starts as a rebound turns into so much more: an exploration of rape and the "nice guy" mentality, a particularly zeitgeist-y discussion in the wake of the UCSB shootings.
The episode opens on Louie looking even more bummed out than usual. Amia, Louie's temporary girlfriend, is gone, leaving him to wallow in his heartbreak—at least for a few scenes. Louie seems instantly cheerier when he gets a text from Pamela, his former love interest; emphasis on “interest,” as the two never actually got together. Louie and Pamela meet up, and Louie reiterates his romantic intentions towards Pamela, only to be rebuffed once again. "Why are you so mean to me?" the bitter Louie asks. "Why do you like it?" she replies, setting up the delicate power balance that will be challenged and explored throughout the episode.
Next, we're treated to an uncommonly long stand up excerpt centered around, naturally, God and women. Louie's discussion of women's rights is extremely feminist-friendly, especially given the fact that male comedians aren't famous for their evolved attitudes towards the ladies. He riffs on the absurdly late date at which women were granted suffrage, and how that essentially negates all previous elections, quipping, "there are people in my building older than American democracy." He relays his disgust with the term "wife beater," as well as the general notion of men owning and abusing women.
When it comes to the political issues, Louie is essentially a feminist comic: he believes that women are treated unequally, and that this is an artificial and unjust state of affairs.
However, woven throughout his set is an inherent fear/misunderstanding of women, which, paired with Louie’s “nice guy” artifice, hints at the fact that his beliefs might be more problematic than they initially appear. An abbreviated definition of the "nice guy" phenomenon is a man who believes that his "kindness" towards women ought to be repaid with romantic affection and sexual attention. A "nice guy" does everything right—and if his love interest is simply uninterested in him, then she is being cruel and unfair, and ought to be punished for her inability to recognize a nice guy when she meets one.
Louie is a typical nice guy: he respects women! He is anti-domestic abuse, and pro-suffrage! But underneath this PC veneer, Louie is hiding some troubling assumptions. These are revealed in his anecdote about women ruling the world, when he describes how women were once in control, and ruled by being super mean to men—that is, until men realized that they could hit them in order to reverse the power roles.
While Louie is clearly making a joke, the implication that women are needlessly cruel to men boils over in the next scene, with explosive results. Louie comes home to his apartment, where Pamela is kindly looking after his daughters. Pamela is half passed out on the couch, and clearly exhausted. But this doesn't stop Louie from aggressively attempting to sleep with her, physically restraining her, grabbing her, and chasing her around the apartment. When Pamela finally makes it to the door, Louie informs her that this is what she really wants, insisting, "I'm gonna take control." Pamela acquiesces to an extremely uncomfortable kiss, and then is finally allowed to go. Immediately after she leaves, Louie pumps his fist triumphantly, exhibiting a stupefying belief that this encounter was a success, that he finally got the girl.
The most talked about line of this scene, and perhaps this season, is fated to be Pamela's "This would be rape if you weren't so stupid—you can't even rape well." Louie's inefficacy and dopiness is Pamela's favorite topic of discussion, which is one of the reasons this scene is so uncomfortable—for a few seconds, Pamela is physically overpowered, losing her otherwise omnipresent sense of control. While Pamela reverts to ribbing Louie, she's visibly shaken. Louie might not have raped her, but he certainly could have, and the implied threat has changed their relationship for good. What's truly disturbing is the fact that Louie interprets this as a victory. Much like the men of his comedic creation myth, Louie has put the woman who bullied and rejected him in her place, asserting his long dormant masculinity once and for all.
Of course, anyone who hasn't been living under a rock can draw the obvious parallels here. A man has been good and followed the rules, and believes that he deserves sex and affection in return. He is so starved for these things, and so convinced of his merit and worthiness, that he violently lashes out at the woman who is denying him. What this episode accomplishes so masterfully is a realistic evocation of the "nice guy" mentality that we've all been forced to confront in the wake of the Santa Barbara shooting. Louie shows us how a man can be liberal, evolved, and forward thinking, but still interpret an attempted rape as a victory.
Louie is so clueless and ineffective that he sees this isolated incident as a personal triumph, proof that he can be a man, and can get what he wants—even if it's merely a kiss under duress. Because he believes in women's rights, and is a kind man and a good father, Louie does not see himself as the problem. He isn't a misogynist, or a rapist; he's a nice man, who deserves to be appreciated as such, instead of bullied and ignored. What Louie doesn't see is how his treatment of Pamela, itself a form of intimidation and subjugation, mirrors those gendered injustices that he previously deplored. While Louie the character doesn't see the connections, I suspect that Louis the writer knows them all too well—and we have him to thank for producing an episode of television that manages to reflect lived realities while simultaneously challenging them, and even sneaks in a few great jokes in the process.