Turn off the Lights

Louie – Duckling

We got an hour-long installment of
Louie this week, and C.K. came up with just the story to fill
it. Afghanistan served as the setting in what turned out to be a
humorous and moving episode following Louie on the first leg of a USO
tour. “Duckling” showed that sometimes the good intentions of
children can be enough to overcome any differences, and scored plenty
of laughs while doing it.

Even before Louie headed off,
“Duckling” was making me glad the episode had a whole hour to
play with. It kicked off with the usual stand up segment, but Louie
seemed more open and relaxed than he normally does; just riffing with
the audience instead of doing a set. And the very child friendly
joke about the lion and the giraffe was a fitting opening to an
episode that was actually inspired by an idea from one of C.K.’s
real-life daughters. The classic over-explanation of the joke
actually got a bigger laugh though. Dolores(from “Blueberries”)
showing up again to give Louie the evil eye in the first scene also
didn’t go unappreciated. Louie’s last night before heading out can’t
just be a quiet evening with his girls though. So after a few more
shots of him wrangling ducklings and putting the girls to sleep,
while having to emphatically deny Jane’s request to keep one of
them(“Dude, no!”), you can’t knock Louie for needing a
smoke break. He’s just a 43 year-old man, with a secret stash of
cigarettes and a bathtub full of baby ducks. Who better to entertain
the troops?

To say Louie looked like a duck out of
water in the helmet and flack jacket is probably too easy, but that’s
certainly what he was going for in jumping from the shot of the
wading ducklings, to him clinging to the inside of a Black Hawk
helicopter. Even better was his one word summation of his
surroundings at the base; a simple F-bomb does just about cover how
most of us civilians would be feeling right about then. Now the
episode just wouldn’t have been called “Duckling” if the little
guys all stayed back in Manhattan, and it wouldn’t be Louie
without some weird tangent involved in his already larger-than-life
adventure. Lilly’s note was sweet, but heartwarming can’t compete
with hilarity, and Louie’s reaction to the boxed up duckling ended up
being much more memorable, “Holy s*** on the tits of a dog!”
Louie’s fellow entertainers also got a laugh, especially the
introduction of Keni Thomas, the former Army Ranger and current
country singer who was playing himself. Thomas packing his own heat
convinces Louie to bring the little stowaway around with him –
because as anyone will tell you; if you don’t have a pistol, a duck
is the next best thing.

Louie’s performance at the base was as
comical as his normal standup routines, which is impressive
considering the circumstances. Whoever organized the lineup should
have their head examined(perhaps it was the emcee played by comic
Todd Glass, who has appeared in a bit role on the series before).
Thomas comes out first to depress the hell out of everyone with a war
song, next the cheerleaders get the guys frisky with their number,
and then Louie is expected to make the soldiers laugh? Talk about
FUBAR. Louie rolls with it though, and as I said, does better than
ever would be expected. Seeing how much these soldiers really
appreciate having them there was a touching scene to follow up the
laughter(the responses of “Sir” hit harder than anything else for
some reason). But the best part of the episode was still to come
with Louie’s trip out to Camp Timothy.(Which was likely dubbed that
after Tim Hetherington, the photojournalist who was killed in Libya
earlier this year, and to whom the episode is dedicated.)

The fear of the awkwardness that may
ensue not withstanding, you couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of
Louie traveling halfway across the world only to end up in a cramped,
smelly venue, just like in New York. Louie adapts instantly though,
realizing that this close-knit pack of alpha males would pounce on
any of his usual self-deprecation. Insult comedy isn’t foreign to
Louie either, it’s just not something he relies on often. He can
fall into it easily when he needs to though(“I don’t know you
either, dickface.”
). At least this time he only had to follow
another one of Thomas’ sad numbers and not get the guy’s minds off
the cheerleader’s pom-poms.(I’m not a fan of country music, but if
you look at his past, you’ll see Keni Thomas is one of the few who
can justifiably sing about the life of a solider. He just needs to
work on his timing.) You have to respect that these men haven’t seen
any of the creature comforts we take for granted every minute of the
day, but are still more receptive to laughing and generally being
entertained than many of the jaded audiences Louie plays for back
home. Of course, just as Louie is forgetting his fears with a soccer
game, in fact forgetting about leaving all together, is when the
helicopter returns to pick them up. The water that was in Louie and
Kenni’s eye’s after saying their goodbyes seemed very genuine on both
their parts.

The Black Hawk’s emergency landing
effectively cutoff the waterworks, and if it didn’t, the heated
standoff certainly did. I’ve seen plenty of Chekhov’s Guns in my days
spent in front of a television(just last year The Walking Dead
gave us a season long one with a grenade), but a Chekhov’s Gun with a
duckling has to be a first. It did the trick though, as the broad
appeal of physical humor is only outweighed by everyone’s love of
laughing at Louie. Whether Afghan or American, anyone can appreciate
watching a man slathered in sunblock scrabble after a duckling –
especially when the alternative was bloodshed. And though the moment
was a little sappy(as were other parts of the episode), Louie
has more than earned the right to a little sentimentality; if only
for how often it has cut to the bone in the past by portraying real,
raw emotion. You also have to consider that C.K.’s children were
likely more on his mind with this episode than any other, because as
mentioned, his youngest, Mary Louise, apparently came up with the
original concept. And even someone as cynical as me couldn’t help
but feel a little choked up watching Louie leave the life-saving
duckling in the hands of the young girl; especially after, for the
second time of the day, his ride shows up just when he had forgotten
he was waiting for one. In an episode with several brilliant subtle
touches, Louie waving off the Kevlar before boarding the Black Hawk
was one of the best. He may not have his duck with him anymore, but
it’s clear Louie’s fears aren’t going to dampen the rest of his USO

“Duckling” may not have have
reached into our psyches to expose something we didn’t want to know
about ourselves. It may not have had the single biggest laughs of
any episode. It may not have even had the greatest soundtrack. But
none of that stopped it from being one of Louie’s best
episodes to date.


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