Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete review: Episode 2
Craig Skinner | On 09, Feb 2016Reading time: 7 mins
Warning: This contains spoilers.
With the release of Episode 2 of Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete, the writer, director and star posted the following note on his site:
“Warning: this show is not a “comedy”. I dunno what it is. It can be funny. And also not. Both. I believe that “funny” works best in its natural habitat. Right in the jungle along with “awful”, “sad”, “confusing” and “nothing”.”
It’s perhaps an odd way to introduce an episode of a television series, but as C.K. points out, it’s pretty fair to expect a comedy from a comedian. Also, there did seem to be some confusion when the first episode of Horace and Pete was unconventionally released online last week, with many comparing the series to Cheers and straining to convince themselves that they were supposed to be laughing. As we commented in our piece on the first episode, though, this is very much a drama. But interestingly, Episode 2 brings with it far more humour than the first episode did. Perhaps with this in mind, C.K. was keen to clear things up before viewers dived in.
It seems a shame in a way. One very interesting thing about watching the first episode of Horace and Pete was starting with no idea of what to possibly expect and then being surprised and sometimes even bewildered. The ‘author’ of the piece flat-out stating what his creation is takes away some of the sense of discovery that helped make Horace and Pete feel so fresh for entirely extratextual reasons.
Thankfully, though, the text is really the thing and this latest episode of Horace and Pete is a fantastic development from the story we were introduced to in Episode 1.
The episode begins with a scene in which we see Horace waking up in his bedroom – this episode introduces two new locations not previously seen – and being confronted by Marsha in the doorway, apparently making advances towards him. We later learn that this is almost certainly a fantasy that is playing out entirely within Horace’s head. This becomes obvious when, in his apartment lounge area, Horace later has a frank, flirtatious and somewhat strange conversation with Marsha, who is actually downstairs talking to a date.
Horace and Marsha talk about sex and, in particular, Horace’s sexual fantasies. It’s an amusingly self-reflexive scene in which we are presumably seeing what is going on inside Horace’s head while he masturbates. All the way to a sad climax. To borrow a few of C.K.’s descriptors, the sequence is definitely sad, funny and confusing. Horace sees Marsha as a sexual object, viewing her through the prism of her relationship with his father, but he clearly feels conflicted and uncomfortable with this. He also can’t come to terms with the fact that his fantasies are, in his eyes, somehow wrong. He wants nice, clean sex like he imagines the Obamas have, filled with love. He quips: “Why do me and Clinton have to be such pigs?”
C.K. finds a lot of room in this episode to develop Horace’s character further, and beyond his sexual mores too, exploring the personal and, particularly, familial connections that were introduced in Episode 1. First, we have Horace and Sylvia, who drops by to inform Horace that she has breast cancer – something that she actually uses to try and convince Horace to agree with her that they should sell the bar. But, interestingly, she is pretty upfront about “using” Horace. The relationship between the brother and sister is a fascinating one and this scene opens up their backstory – Sylvia talks about the way in which Horace has always been a good listener for her – and also furthers the drama surrounding the sale of the bar.
The second scene in which we see Horace dealing with another important personal connection in his life is in a sequence with his daughter. This later scene is somewhat perfunctory and feels a little too much like standard sitcom or even soap opera writing. It’s a scene in which a father simply struggles to talk to his daughter, but C.K.’s writing elevates it just enough so that it doesn’t feel wasted. And it also feeds into our understanding of Horace and how he doesn’t, despite his age, really understand his own strengths and weaknesses. His daughter, Alice, ends the conversation because she thinks it has reached a high point. Horace doesn’t get why, but it’s clear that it’s because he was a good listener; he was there for his daughter in a way that helped her, something she’s not used to. The sequence plays out for the most part in a shot from the front of both actors sat on a park bench. But as the characters talk and we get closer to truths about their relationship, the camera very, very slowly pushes in. It’s nothing too extraordinary, but it’s a sign that despite the series’ somewhat hurried and rough-around-the-edges production, care is still being taken in using the camera in a meaningful way. (Another scene in which Horace looks across the bar at Marsha and the camera pulls focus rapidly onto her is another sign that Louis C.K. and co. aren’t letting the limitations of their production methods stop them entirely from using the camera expressively.)
In the conversation between Horace and Alice, it’s also revealed that the reason that Horace dumped his girlfriend was because he wanted to be more available for Alice. which she points out is patently ridiculous. This perhaps suggests that we might not have seen the last of Rebecca Hall, who played Horace’s girlfriend, Rachel.
Elsewhere in the episode, beyond Horace, we get another strong sequence from Uncle Pete (Alan Alda), in which he cruelly tells a story about Horace “pissing his pants”, which morphs into an incredibly melancholic moment, in which we discover that Pete (Steve Buscemi) was a straight A student who excelled at sports when he was younger. Alda switches tone and mood like the absolute pro that he is, and as Buscemi moves out of the frame, head hung low, a real sense of sadness sweeps across the bar.
Uncle Pete also tells a story about a friend being confronted by a concentration camp that takes a highly unexpected turn and allows Steven Wright, as Leon, to almost steal the scene. And in the episode’s best vignette – Episode 1 is not as smoothly structured as the first and plays out in a series of ‘chunks’ – a character with Tourette’s named Tricia (Maria Dizzia) enters the bar and confronts the way in which Uncle Pete views people who are ‘different’.
At first he finds her funny, commenting “I think I’m in love” when Tricia blurts out “n*gger cock!” loudly, due to there being a black guy sitting next to her, but as she explains the way in which she chooses to accept her Tourette’s and not let it ruin her life, there’s the definite sense that he begins to accept her, in a way. This is particularly important, as Tricia is someone who Pete spent time with while in hospital. As Uncle Pete’s father, albeit a reluctant one who has only just told his son his true parentage, there is a thread there regarding the two engaging that C.K. will hopefully tug on, as the show progresses.
Horace and Pete’s second episode is at times a little too disjointed and not all of the scenes hit as hard emotionally as they could have perhaps done, but there is still a solid continuation of the brilliant work done in the first episode. And following the revelation that was Alda’s performance, it’s wonderful to see Jessica Lange also get a great deal to do.
Horace and Pete available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or 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.