Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete review: Episode 4
Craig Skinner | On 24, Feb 2016Reading time: 6 mins
Warning: This contains spoilers.
The first episode of Horace and Pete, which already feels like so long ago, thanks to the rich material we’ve seen since, featured a debate surrounding the concepts of conservatism and liberalism and Episode 4 returns to this, with a number of the regulars discussing abortion. The subject is, of course, one that provokes a lot of emotion in America and many views on it are hardline and often very extreme. Unsurprisingly, Uncle Pete (Alan Alda) is very much in the anti-abortion camp, mostly citing religious views as a justification for his opinions, which he presents not as opinions but as facts. There is also really only one voice who speaks out for pro-choice in the debate in this episode, but he’s hardly giving a thought-out and reasoned argument, and instead is making light of the subject.
What’s interesting about this scene is the way in which everyone arguing against abortion sounds so utterly ridiculous, even though they are laying out widely held beliefs. It’s a tricky balancing act for a writer to do, but here C.K. is giving the characters enough rope and letting them pretty much immediately hang themselves. The strict adherence to dogma in many of the characters’ opinions, for instance, leads to a lot of mental gymnastics in order to make it all ‘add up’ and they still end up in an absolute muddle. Especially over whether or not the aborted foetuses and the women who carried them both go to hell.
Also, cutting through all of this is Leon (Steven Wright), who C.K. continues to use expertly to deliver just enough deadpan wit to season a number of scenes, without ever ruining the dish. Here his best line is easily, “I wonder if God was a baby. What if he was aborted, where would we be then?”
The debate scene also returns to the way in which the sequence on conservatism/liberalism from the first episode felt like it was strongly mirroring social media. The presence of a single woman in the debate, who is ignored until she speaks up, and the assertion that another character is being a “white knight” seems to play very much into this comparison too. It’s an incredibly interesting way to engage with this modern trend, allowing us to physically see how this would look in the ‘real world’. And it mostly looks rather absurd.
Elsewhere in the episode, we see Horace struggling with sadness and loneliness. It’s now a month since Rachel left – suggesting that Horace and Pete is currently playing out in approximately real time – and Horace is not coping well at all, even going so far as to start crying, while talking to Pete about something reasonably mundane. He attempts a “booty call” with an ex, who used to work at the bar, named Maggie, played with spritely brilliance by Nina Arianda, but that is swiftly derailed when she informs him of how she was recently widowed.
This is yet another scene in which Horace is shown to be something of a good listener and it ends with Horace not hooking up with Maggie as he and she had intended, because the story she tells just makes him feel sadder. Maggie always liked him because he was fun.
It doesn’t seen like a coincidence that this scene comes after the abortion debate. Maggie is confident, able to understand and engage with her emotions and dominates her and Horace’s conversation both in a physical and emotional manner. The men downstairs are ignoring the opinions of women and their agency and upstairs, Maggie is illustrating how emotionally intelligent and superior she is to them in almost every way, knowing exactly who she is and what she wants.
Following this scene between Horace and Maggie, the episode ends with a particularly quiet and seemingly nonchalant scene, but it is one that carries with it a great deal of emotion and importance that could echo throughout future episodes. Pete (Steve Buscemi) and Uncle Pete discuss the pros and cons of “going down” on women and Uncle Pete, perhaps unsurprisingly, is dead against it, for reasons that are unpleasant and misogynistic.
But, crucially, there is also another side to his opinions. His feelings towards the emotion and importance of expressing love through intercourse are actually incredibly touching, heartfelt and from a deeply meaningful place; his attitudes are frequently odious in Horace and Pete, but there’s always shading, there’s always nuance. This is something C.K. has returned to again and again with Uncle Pete, and throughout Horace and Pete in general, and it’s a wonderful choice to have made. Showing complex nuance in characters and opinions is vitally important, especially as popular culture seems to continue to slide more and more towards binary thinking.
The sequence also features a highly important and easy to miss character beat between Uncle Pete and Pete. The pair are bonding, in a way, as they discuss sex and at one point Uncle Pete starts a sentence with, “I’m telling you son…” It’s not clear if Uncle Pete was using the word to reference Pete being his son – it’s a term frequently used out of this context – but there’s a flicker in Buscemi’s face that packs an incredible emotional punch.
Also, Pete brings up his idea to buy chairs from a nearby place that is closing down and gets validation from his father, with Uncle Pete telling him it’s a “good idea”. It may seem like such a small thing, but Pete was so clearly infuriated with Horace for not giving him any credit for the idea earlier in this episode that to get it from Uncle Pete feels like a big deal.
Horace and Pete ends with Uncle Pete heading out to do the night deposit with a gun in his pocket. It seems like a perfectly normal thing for Uncle Pete to do, but C.K. ends the episode with a shot of the door that Uncle Pete has just walked out of. The camera slowly pushes in on the door and then the episode fades to black and ends. It’s an incredibly ominous moment and if C.K. ascribes to the theory of ‘Chekov’s gun’ at all, then things don’t look good for Uncle Pete.
One of the joys of Horace and Pete, though, is that C.K. isn’t afraid to experiment – last week’s monologuing and this week’s episode only being 30 minutes, for instance – so it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him pull the rug out from under us in an entirely new way.
A quick note regarding Horace and Pete’s future: When the series first launched, it was unclear how many episodes we would be getting and while it still is to some degree, there is a clear sign that it’s not stopping any time soon. When the first episode was published on Louis C.K.’s website, there were three empty slots underneath the first published episode. Those have now all been filled and three more added. It looks very much like 2016’s best series to date won’t be ending any time soon.
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.