Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen this episode yet? Catch up with our reviews of Horace and Pete so far here.
Louis C.K. is trying to do a lot of things with Horace and Pete. Sometimes certain ideas and approaches work and sometimes they don’t, but his commitment to clearly pushing hard for it to be something special leads to a lot more successes than failures. But by trying to make Horace and Pete a mix of many things – weaving moments of comedy through drama and taking on political and social commentary through the lens of a family-run bar, for instance – there are times in which scenes can feel disconnected from others. A lot of the time, this does work towards an overarching theme that comes in to focus as the credits roll, but not always, and even when it does, there is still the sense, albeit a minor one, that the flow of the episodes is occasionally sacrificed as a result.
This is not the case, though, with Episode 9, which is the most beautifully and smartly constructed episode of the series to date, with a number of times in which various aspects of the show intersect. But instead of jarring, even a little, they weave in and out of each other and coalesce to form a stunning televisual ballet.
One such moment, in particular, is the scene in which Horace (Louis C.K.) returns from visiting Tricia (Maria Dizzia) in hospital. Pete (Steve Buscemi) has been missing for a week and it transpires that he was with Tricia all along. The pair appear to have fallen in love, but after they decided that Pete should try and give up his meds, things went horribly wrong and Pete ended up injuring Tricia and disappearing. Horace comments that Pete has never hurt anyone before, despite all the problems he’s had. He looks noticeably shaken as he points out that they can no longer say that about him.
Horace returns to the bar carrying the weight of this information on his shoulders and distraught about the fact that Pete is still missing. As Horace walks into the bar, Kurt (Kurt Metzger) and Sylvia (Edie Falco) are arguing about the payout Hulk Hogan received this past week. He removes his coat and stands behind the bar, as Sylvia and Kurt continue to go at it. As Sylvia walks away and Kurt continues to rant on and argue with the other people at the bar, the camera settles on Horace. Then, with an expert use of lighting (the bar is slightly darker than usual and C.K. makes good uses of spotlights with a lack of fills), focus shifts and a very slight push in on Horace, C.K. builds tension between Horace and Leon (Steven Wright).
Leon – who we learn in this episode has a history of battling his own mental health problems – had previously chastised Horace for not knowing where Pete was and for not being out looking for him. As the pair’s eyes meet across the bar, the tension slowly builds and then Horace finally snaps. “I don’t know where he is!… He’s my brother! And I don’t know where he is!” The bar falls silent, Kurt’s discussion about Hulk Hogan is no longer the focus of the scene, instead replaced with the raw emotion of someone worried about their brother. It’s emotionally wrought and exquisitely well done; Horace is paralysed and in pain and this all bleeds from the screen.
Those at the bar may be silenced by the outburst from Horace, but that’s not because C.K. is using them merely for background chatter. Prior to the Hogan discussion and Horace arriving, they were talking about the near impossibility of finding love in the world and how you can’t force it. As Tom (Tom Noonan) puts it, referring to how difficult it is to fall convincingly on purpose, “That’s why they call it falling in love. You can’t fall on purpose.”
Tricia and Pete were in love. But it was all too fleeting and seemingly destined to fall apart. But Pete had a moment of happiness and a time in which it sounds like he felt alive.
Just after Horace explodes at Leon and then at Kurt, the police arrive, escorting the Mayor of New York City into the bar. One of the cops is a friend of Pete’s and has brought the Mayor – played, unbelievably, by the actual Mayor, Bill de Blasio. This scenario was set up in a previous episode in which Pete revealed to this friend that he is trying to get landmark status for the bar and the Mayor visiting could really help with this. But Pete’s not there to see his plan coming together. The Mayor meets Horace and immediately asks “Where’s Pete?”, the same line that caused Horace to fly off in a rage at Kurt just moments ago. It would almost be comic, if it weren’t so tragically sad. Horace just walks away silently to sit alone in Pete’s room and cry.
The camera stays locked off on Horace’s back as he weeps, missing his brother and unable to cope with the various ways in which he seems to feel he’s failed him and can’t help him now either. The lighting is again highly expressive – the somewhat flat lighting of some previous episodes is a distant memory for much of this episode – and the shot is beautifully composed, with the room feeling so silent and empty. The composition also recalls the scene from Episode 6, in which we saw Pete getting ready for a date and happy – in a similar way to the echoing used in last week’s episode. The space in the frame on the right in which we saw Pete in Episode 6 – a time when Pete seemed more comfortable and happy than we’d ever seen him before – is now empty, the light from the left dissipating, as it stretches across the room, leaving only black.
C.K. then cuts to the final scene of the episode, an imaginary sequence that we are presumably meant to understand is taking place within Pete’s head. Pete is working in the bar and Uncle Pete (Alan Alda) is there too. They are both aware that this is not reality – we’ve moved from Eugene O’Neil and closer to Samuel Beckett here – and argue about that, among other things. But this is not another scene of Uncle Pete beating Pete down or of the pair just spitting fire at each other, it’s a moment for reconciliation and a connection. It’s desperately sad – Pete’s wavering speech when talking will bring on floods of tears for any who are invested in this show and its characters – and it also feels incredibly ominous. It doesn’t feel like Pete’s coming back at this point. But at least there’s some sense of him coming to terms with his life and his relationship with his father. It’s a complex, highly allegorical scene and one that leaves you with a great deal to think about. More will no doubt reveal itself in retrospect too, as the rest of the series unfolds.
Episode 4 ended with a foreboding shot of a door that signalled the death of Uncle Pete. This was then dealt with in Episode 5, which marked the end of Act 1. Here we are again with another final sequence that suggests a dark turn – this time for Pete – as we head into Episode 10 and, presumably, the end of Act 2.
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.