Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete review: Episode 6
Craig Skinner | On 12, Mar 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen this episode yet? Catch up with our reviews of Horace and Pete so far here.
Act Two of Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete begins with a location hitherto unseen. Pete’s small bedroom in the bar. Here we see Pete (Steve Buscemi) alone and getting ready for a date. He’s full of beans and seemingly devoid of any of the anxiety and troubles that usually plague the character’s life. Buscemi holds himself differently – shoulders slightly further back, held held higher – and moves like he has energy and purpose. Contrasting this with the very end of the episode, in which Pete has shrunk and deflated, highlights the difference casting an actor of the calibre of Buscemi has.
The next scene sees Pete in another new (to us) environment. He’s in a restaurant and on a date with a beautiful and charming younger woman. The conversation starts out awkwardly, as Pete is confused as to why the woman, Jenny (Hannah Dunne), is there. She’s 20 years younger than Pete and he doesn’t understand why she’s interested in an older guy and assumes that she is disappointed by him.
But Jenny quickly explains herself and the pair being to bond, with a chemistry slowly but surely growing between them. Amusingly this is helped along by Pete recalling a memory from when he was only three years old, when he saw a man die in front of him. As the man died, he evacuated his bowels and Pete’s never eaten chocolate since. It’s a funny, awful and somewhat tragic story, but Jenny seems to like it. It’s a good sign that the pair might be a good fit for each other.
C.K. shoots a lot of this sequence in a very simple shot, reverse shot manner that is completely unremarkable and feels incredibly familiar. But it works because of this familiarly. C.K. is setting us up in a way; as Pete and Jenny become engrossed in each other’s company, so too do we. And in shooting the scene in a way that recalls many a romantic comedy or drama, C.K. taps into a style that brings about all the necessary feelings we’ve been conditioned to experience. The scene plays like a very traditional sequence in which a boy meets a girl and the boy and the girl hit it off. It’s after C.K. has pulled the audience in with this that he begins to upset the apple cart and play upon our emotions more deeply.
Following Pete and Jenny’s date, the music comes in and the episode transitions to a new time and a new location. There’s no intermission card, though, as there has been in previous episodes, even though this change comes at almost the exact halfway point. I’m starting to wonder whether the occasional lack of the card might just be C.K. forgetting to include it in a rush to release the episodes. There’s seemingly no rhyme or reason to it.
As the episode comes back in, we are confronted with the start of another dinner. Pete is bringing Jenny home to meet the family. A significant amount of time appears to have occurred since the end of Act One and Sylvia (Edie Falco) is now living with Horace above the bar. From the moment the characters are on screen together – the scene begins with Horace and Pete, before Sylvia arrives to cook dinner and then, finally, Jenny joins the mix – there’s a tension and underlying sense of uncomfortableness.
There’s passive aggressiveness from Horace and flat-out aggression from Sylvia and this just builds and builds throughout the dinner, climaxing with Pete being beaten down by his cousins and Jenny walking out. It’s an utterly horrible scene to watch, but it’s also occasionally very brilliant. Watching the three cousins – Sylvia’s most hurtful jab is perhaps the one in which she makes it clear that Pete isn’t her brother – we see three very different personalities all failing to coexist happily in a forced situation.
Sylvia is clearly brimming with resentment over her health and the fact that Pete’s mental health and financial situation has, in her eyes, blocked the selling of the bar and forced her into a living and working situation that is the last place she wants to be in. Also, the sight of 26-year-old Jenny with the much older Pete makes her want to puke, she says – something that is no doubt informed by the terrible experience she had with her father, who had younger mistresses.
Sylvia’s behaviour at the dinner table is incredibly mean and often absolutely horrifying, but it comes from somewhere real and understandable. It’s a remarkable piece of writing. Sylvia is doing and saying things to tear Pete to pieces – a character who is pretty loveable for the most part – that could make her some sort of monster, but C.K. has seeded enough throughout Horace and Pete to clue us in to the whys. Sylvia may seem like a horrible person, but her actions are the result of her history and the horrible things that have happened to her. And mostly things done to her by men. She’s pushing back against this in the only way that she sees that she can.
In talking about the elections prior to this dinner, she basically says that she’d be happy with anyone for president as long as it isn’t another man. The toxic and awful environment that has turned her sour is the bar, an institution which is founded on, and continues to rely upon, a male lineage. The parallels aren’t exactly hard to see.
Horace’s behaviour in this episode is also incredibly hurtful to Pete, but harder to parse. The moment that really sets the dinner into a descent into hell is when Horace reveals Pete’s mental health history. It’s not clear why he does this. Perhaps it’s to stop Sylvia from laying into Jenny over her feeling that it’s better when there’s a male president, or maybe he thinks he’s helping to stop the relationship between Jenny and Pete before it goes, in his eyes, “too far”. Where this episode falls down, and it does fall down pretty sharply here, is in C.K.’s writing for Horace. Not all of what happens seems in keeping with his character and it’s often too extreme and difficult to understand, emotionally.
As the credits roll and Horace and Sylvia sit finishing their spaghetti, seemingly content with their behaviour, it’s hard to understand where C.K. will go next with the relationship between Horace, Pete and Sylvia. But as he’s explored with the show before, life just keeps going on. Cycles repeating and attitudes hardening. There’s a limit to how long that can happen within fiction, before it just becomes simply too gruelling to bear. For the time being, though, Horace and Pete remains one of the most gripping and remarkable shows of 2016.
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.