Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen this episode yet? Catch up with our reviews of Horace and Pete so far here.
Horace and Pete is a show that is littered with moments of sadness, bitterness and even tragedy, but there’s one character who elicits more sympathy from difficult situations than any other every week: Pete (Steve Buscemi). Pete is a man struggling to live what is essentially a pretty dull life. He’s not asking for much and he doesn’t expect much, but as someone who suffers severely from mental illness, he just wants stability. And some sense of normality. It’s the reason he initially rejects Trisha (Maria Dizzia) in Episode 2, not wanting to associate with anyone that reminds him too strongly of the hospital he was in and that side of his life.
In Episode 8 of Horace and Pete, the wall between these two sides comes crashing down and it’s devastating to watch.
Pete is attending a regular check up with a doctor, accompanied by Horace (Louis C.K.), and he is told that the drug that he has come to rely on has been shown to have very severe side effects. As a result, they are going to have to pull him off of it and admit him back into hospital, presumably whilst they can figure out what to do next and what to prescribe him. It’s a crushing blow for Pete, whom we have seen coping with his illness and even managing to form a relationship with a woman – even if Horace and Sylvia did take a cleaver to it at the first opportunity.
The moment Pete is told this news, he breaks down and cries. C.K. holds the camera on Pete and Horace, who is also noticeably shaken, and the Horace and Pete theme plays over the shot, which seems to last for an eternity. Buscemi conveys so much emotion in this sequence and C.K. is wise to keep the camera on him. With every added second that we see him sobbing, the emotion and empathy for Pete hits harder and harder.
Back at the bar, the two talk about the situation and C.K. switches the emotional for the ‘rational’. Pete talks about his fears, how he doesn’t want to go back and how he is seriously thinking about doing the same thing his “father” did and ending his own life. It’s a bleak discussion that makes it clear how horrible this scenario is for anyone who finds themselves in it and the fact that the unthinkable begins to look reasonable.
Pete also makes it clear that mental illness isn’t like what we see in the movies – C.K. takes a (pretty fair) jab at A Beautiful Mind – and people don’t necessarily just work through it and get better. Pete’s point speaks to the ongoing struggle that many people have with mental illness, that it’s complex and not just something that you necessarily get better from, you just get better at dealing with it.
Into this conversation walks Trisha, who has recently lost her job and has heard about the drug that Pete was taking and is worried about him. She’s there to help and, after speaking to her a little, Pete actually seems keen to be helped. But his comments about a A Beautiful Mind don’t suggest that C.K. is going to make this story simple and have Trisha be the magic bullet that solves all of Pete’s problems. In fact, if anything, the episode seems to suggest something very different and Trisha’s comments about losing her job actually appear more likely to be setting up her working at the bar in the future.
Following Pete and Trisha’s exit from the bar – Pete, understandably, takes the night off – Horace and Sylvia have to deal with a drunk woman named Lucy (Lucy Taylor), who is causing a scene and swearing at the customers. Ultimately, Horace throws her out, but prior to that, she makes the point that Trisha, a Tourette’s sufferer, has also been shouting obscenities. Lucy also admits that she is an alcoholic. Both women are ill, but their treatment is radically different. This idea is drawn into even greater focus by the fact that Horace’s new girlfriend Rhonda also has a drinking problem and at the start of the episode we see Rhonda waking up and Horace immediately pouring her a drink, without prompting. When one pulls together the various connecting moments in the episode, it paints a highly complex point of view on mental illness and raises a number of questions about the way in which we as a society treat people who are struggling with it.
The episode ends with the most ominous shot there’s been in Horace and Pete, outside of the one of the door that preceded Uncle Pete committing suicide. In our review of Episode 5, which marked the end of Act 1, we made reference to an important shot in that episode, in which we see Horace and Pete sat at the bar. We said the following:
“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.”
Episode 8 continues this story, a multi-episode Kuleshov effect, with a shot of Horace sat at the bar again, in the same position and framed by C.K. in the exact same manner. But Pete’s not there. Horace realises this, looks clearly affected by this fact and then looks deep into his coffee cup.
Following this, Sylvia steps out of the background and into focus – and into the position where Pete was previously. You can see screen grabs of the sequence below. The first shot is from Episode 1, the second from Episode 5 and the last two from this episode. It’s a sequence that strongly suggests something that Episode 5’s image seemed to be telling us wouldn’t happen: change. And it also clearly foreshadows a situation in the future in which things will get even worse for Pete.
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.