Sunday, February 14, 2016

REVIEW: 'Horace and Pete' - Horace and His Ex-Wife Have an Ugly Conversation about Self-Destruction in Episode 3

Louis C.K.'s Horace and Pete - Episode 3

A dramatic play featuring Louis C.K., Laurie Metcalf and Alan Alda.

Because he produces and releases the episodes himself, Louis C.K. has so much room to experiment with Horace and Pete. This is a show and a story that he wants to tell and release this way. It's a show that defies any kind of broad descriptions but has already made itself so memorable and format breaking. This third episode is probably the least accessible episode so far. It is literally 44 minutes of two characters talking with each other. It's a story told in very tight close-ups to truly showcase the big emotions of this conversation. It only takes a very minor break in the middle for Horace to use the bathroom and ends on a punchline by Uncle Pete. Other than that though, it plays as one straight conversation between Horace and Laurie Metcalf's Sarah. It embodies all the qualities that have made the previous two episodes so strong. But this one also strips things down quite a bit in order to effectively tell this story in the most gripping way possible.

The episode open on Sarah as she tells her story of falling into an affair with her 84-year-old father-in-law in painstakingly beautiful, haunting and tragic detail to someone just offscreen. It's unclear just how she figures into the fabric of the show. She has no clear connection to any regular character for the first nine minutes of the episode. She is simply sharing this story of how a wonderful and happy family unit was slowly corrupted by her horrible desire and attraction to her new husband's father, Roger. It's moving listening to Sarah as she goes through all the details of this experience. She wonderfully paints the full picture of what life is like living in this little house in a rural and wooded area with her husband and his kids. His parents live close-by and have dinner with them every night. It's a place of beauty and happiness. A place where a family can truly bond over trips out on the lake and horseback riding. But the emotion with which Sarah delivers this story indicates that something is up. As she reveals more about her life, it becomes more apparent that her feelings would soon overwhelm her and force her to make a decision that will change this happy life forever.

Sarah talks about Roger in awe. She admires the life he has lived. She enjoys listening to him talk about his experiences in the world. How he grew up working a farm. She likes looking at his body and seeing how it has been shaped by the life he has lived. This world had a routine. A system that Sarah understood and enjoyed being a part of. She liked being their with Glenn and the children. She liked keeping Roger company as he worked on things around the house. But she was aroused by that conversation as well. It's haunting as the audience listens to her describing an encounter where Roger looks at her while she is sunbathing with her legs wide open (while still wearing a bikini though). It's a detail that suggests a dark and twisted edge to the story. But it only becomes more complicated after that as she soon describes more encounters about actually masturbating while he was in another room in the house.

All of this is crucial to the narrative of the show because Sarah is Horace's ex-wife. One of the funniest moments of this episodes comes when the camera cuts to Horace for the very first time as he is taken aback by this story. This is a woman he hasn't talked to in years. He hurt her in this big and destructive way. He destroyed their family unit. And now, she has shown up and shared this story in agonizing detail. He assumes correctly that Sarah and Roger have started a fully sexual relationship now. It's emotionally draining for Sarah to tell this entire story to Horace. He even needs to take a moment in order to collect his thoughts on everything that he has just learned. It's a tough story to just sit back and listen to. Sarah's yearning for connection and the thrill of this secret was both exciting and terrifying. She didn't know what to do so many times. She stood motionless out of fear of what might by going through Roger's mind. She shares those fears with Horace. He just has to sit back and hear this story.

And yet, Sarah is comfortable telling this story to Horace because he can easily relate to the morally compromised headspace she currently finds herself in. She doesn't want him to tell her what she should do in this situation. She knows what she should do and what she will do. She just wants to know how to handle all of these horrible feelings right now. She feels terrible over what she has done. She knows that this situation can only end horribly. They can't just go back to living that picture perfect family life. Her actions have destroyed that reality. The secrecy can be fun and exciting. But it's also unsustainable. Horace found that out firsthand when he cheated on Sarah with her younger sister, Rosemary. That's the action that broke their family apart. Sarah was forced to raise their two kids while Horace has spent the rest of his life trying to find peace and happiness again. Horace can't talk about that experience as eloquently as Sarah did with hers. He doesn't have some deep and beautiful but tragic meaning behind his actions. He simply kept fucking Rosemary because it was good despite the horrible feeling he felt every single time it ended. He agonized awake every night because of what he did that destroyed this family.

This episode is filled with deep emotions regarding the past. And yet, the episode very smartly never boils down to renewed anger over the same old subject between a divorced couple. In a lesser writer's hand, that's exactly where this story would have gone. Instead, Horace and Sarah are able to have a very frank conversation about their pasts. Sarah doesn't forgive Horace for what he did. And yet, she is no longer angry about it either. Time has stripped those emotions away from her. But now, she finds herself in a similar predicament. All Horace can do is tell her the exact same thing that she has told herself over and over again in her head. Things will end badly because of this affair. Horace justifies it as the easy way out of marriage. To get it over with, one should simply sleep with a family member of their spouse. It's sick but true to Horace. He wanted the whole world to end following his actions. Sarah is suicidal because of what she has done. But in speaking with Horace, Sarah has more clarity over the situation than she ever had before. She's not going to stop doing it though. She's going to continue down this tragic and destructive path. But it's also relieving to get to talk about these emotions out loud with another person who can understand what she's going through.

Horace knows exactly how badly this can end for Sarah. He experienced it firsthand. Because he destroyed his family, he doesn't have a good relationship with his children. It's foolish to think these actions won't have an effect on the kids. Horace wants Sarah to know that once the truth is revealed it won't take away from the good times she had with Glenn's kids. However, the truth is that it will. Horace knows that too. He's just too afraid to admit it out loud. That's an area of his life he is still struggling with. He was a bad father. He's trying to make that up to Alice now. But she's making that very difficult and he continues to mess it up. Meanwhile, it's so heartbreaking as he learns what is going on in his son's life. His son wants nothing to do with him. And yet, Horace really wants to know and Sarah happily tells him just how great their son is doing in college. It's a fantastic stretch of the episode that builds on the relationship these two once had. It was a marriage filled with ups and downs. It spun into hate and anger later on. But now, it's in a place of indifference. They can talk about these things now because of the shared connection. It doesn't change anything. Sarah will continue on her current path while Horace will still have a difficult relationship with his kids. But for this moment at least, they were able to connect with each other on a very emotional level.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Episode 3" was written by Louis C.K. and directed by Louis C.K.
  • Seriously though, Louis C.K. and Laurie Metcalf are terrific in this episode. It's a lot of big, emotional monologues paired with brief banter between the two. It's phenomenal to watch and very emotionally moving by the end of it.
  • Uncle Pete's "I can't believe you married that cunt" is a great punchline to close the episode on a funny note. But it also showcases just how difficult this whole situation looks from the outside. To Horace and Sarah, it's deeply personal. To someone like Uncle Pete, it's just weird and crazy.
  • Sarah is also very critical of her daughter, Alice. She thinks she should just grow up already considering she's almost a lawyer now. That's a conflict that could provide some meaningful drama in the future.
  • The closing credits play out across the image of Horace enjoying a beer following his big conversation with Sarah. That's different than the cut to black in the previous two episodes.
  • Sarah: "The worst part about telling a lie is when someone you love just accepts it."