Warning: This contains spoilers.
In my review of Episode 4 of Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete, I suggested that, based upon the ominous way in which that episode ended, perhaps Uncle Pete (Alan Alda) would die, having been shot. Uncle Pete did indeed die, but not in a way that I had expected at all.
Episode 5 opens with Uncle Pete’s wake and we learn very quickly that he committed suicide. Very few people are in attendance – only blood relatives and Marsha (Jessica Lange) – and none of them seem to know quite why Uncle Pete did it. But C.K.’s not particularly interested in this episode with the hows or the whys of Uncle Pete’s death, instead choosing to explore the ramifications of his passing for the other characters and the legacy, both good and bad, that he left behind.
From the beginning, Horace and Pete has been about legacies. The bar is very much a physical representation of this idea, and the way in which things do or don’t change. This latest episode is about the central characters coming to terms with a significant shift in their lives, the death of Uncle Pete, which could represent an opportunity for them to bring about radical changes. But do they want things to change?
Sylvia (Edie Falco) seems desperate, as we’ve seen before, for things to change and has been pushing since the beginning for Horace (Louis C.K.) to sell the bar. In this episode, we learn that they could get upwards of $6 million if they sold, which would greatly help Sylvia, who is no longer working and is running low on money, thanks to the costs of her cancer treatments. But what of those that depend on the bar? (And not just the regulars who prop up the bar every day and you can’t help but feel have nowhere else to go.) Pete (Steve Buscemi) is reliant on the bar not just for the health insurance that supplies him with vital medication, but also the stability that the job provides for him in his life. He basically admits that without the bar he’d be back in hospital, or worse.
And then there’s Horace, who sits between these two and essentially has the deciding vote. The three represent an argument broken down to basics – one in favour, one against and one somewhere in the middle. With more talk of US politics in this episode – Kurt is keen to see a Trump/Sanders co-presidency – it’s easy to see a lot of the familial debates working as a microcosm of sorts for America as a whole.
And like the country, the central characters seem incredibly unsure about the future and what the next step should be. Horace proposes a compromise: to have Sylvia move in and help out in running the bar. Things could change in minor ways that would hopefully be better for everyone, but they don’t have to completely eradicate the rich history in the process. It would be very surprising if this wasn’t the direction that the series went in next, with Sylvia becoming more central to the story and taking an active role in the bar. The male lineage of Horace and Pete’s has reached an end – Horace’s son isn’t called Horace and it seems unlikely that Pete will become a father – and a move to include a woman in the running of the bar could bring a halt to the (male) toxicity that Sylvia has previously criticised it for perpetuating.
Another change that could happen is the absence of Marsha, of whom this episode seems to suggest we have have seen the last. With Uncle Pete now gone, Horace and Pete are no longer interested in supplying Marsha with free drinks or generally providing her with a home of sorts. If this is the last episode to feature Lange, she goes out with a fantastic monologue that helps us to better understand her character and also explores the importance of the bar as an institution that provides something for people that need it.
While Marsha monologues in this sequence, C.K. wisely holds the camera on her face for a long time, allowing us to be enraptured by Lange’s affecting performance. Elsewhere, though, shots don’t last quite as long as in previous episodes and there seems to be a lot more going on in the editing than we’ve seen previously. In previous episodes, a lot of the editing has been somewhat perfunctory, but in this episode there is a there definite sense that C.K. and regular editor Gina Sansom are trying to create a more meaningful pace. While previous episodes have been great, they have, at times, felt a little too loose and even structurally, a bit messy. Episode 3 aside, which was something very different, this is easily the tightest episode of the series. It’s also better lit than previous episodes, with C.K. and co. presumably refining the production to some degree as they go along.
Episode 5 ends with a sequence in which Horace and Pete sit down at the bar and drink coffee, while Dion and Paul Simon’s New York Is My Home plays on the jukebox in the background. The pair are positioned almost identically to how they were when they were drinking coffee at the start of Episode 1. This is no coincidence and speaks to the theme of change and lack of change that Episode 5 and the series as a whole has been so strongly tapped into. So much has happened in the five episodes we’ve seen, including death, a cancer diagnosis and the end of multiple relationships, but Horace and Pete are still there, at the bar drinking coffee.
Prior to the credits, there is a title card that states “End of Act 1”. Whether this is the first act in a two act, three act or even five act piece will not become clear, I’m sure, until much, much later, but it’s relief to see that this is still very much the beginning of a project that will continue to go on for some time yet.
C.K. sent out an email following the release of the episode that is his lengthiest since the first episode went live, but somewhat amusingly, it doesn’t actually provide any further information about the show or its future. It’s mostly just minor details about the emails, the show’s release and complaints that he’s received. He does mention an upcoming tour, though, that he describes as “a big long tour of lots of cities”. How this will affect Horace and Pete’s production remains to be seen but presumably, a break will occur at some point.
Also, for those interested in why C.K. chose to release Horace and Pete online rather than have it broadcast on FX, THR published an interview this week with FX CEO John Landgraf, who went into a little detail as to C.K.’s reasons. Which sound like they were mostly surrounding control of the content.
Horace and Pete available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. It is also available to stream and download from Louis CK’s website in up to 1080p in any country.