Hidden beneath the globe-trotting, excellent Season 3 finale of Louie, "New Year's Eve," there was a dark message about loneliness that became an uplifting promise of hope. For anyone, even a middle-aged man abandoned by his family during the holidays. "New Year's Eve" continued Louie's winning streak from the final episode of the three-part "Late Night" saga, but happiness is often befuddled and obscured by the tragic obstacles it takes to get there.
Things started off at the most joyous of times: Christmas morning with the kids, Jane and Lily. They were unwrapping their parents like hyenas, loving everything painstakingly put together by Louie but throwing all their appreciation toward an imaginary fatso named Santa Claus while we saw flashbacks of Louie braving bloodthirsty holiday crowds and repairing a doll that had its eyes sucked back into its head (yeah, he peed on the doll's head). That's classic Louie, showing us a man who can't quite get the fatherhood thing right yet always does at the same time, never expecting any appreciation or respect for his troubles. And even though all the credit was going to a myth with a big white beard and slave reindeer, he still leapt at the chance to read the story of Ping the Chinese duck who lives on the Yangtze River with his 42 cousins to his daughters.
Then his ex-wife arrived with her new (husband? boyfriend?) to take the kids "international" for a few glamorous weeks, reminded us all that Louie didn't get the Letterman gig, and the whole family elevatored away, leaving Louie home and very much alone. The verbal exchange as the elevator doors closed was fantastic, silent except for Louie saying, "Okay..." There was nothing else to say.
It became shut-in time for Louie, who refused an offer from sister Debbie to join her family in Mexico and instead dreamed of grown-up versions of his little girls ("We're like probably in our 20s"—so funny) wondering why their daddy was a lonely old man stuffing cookies in his face. In their dream-fake words, "Why didn't he try harder to be less alone?" His awakened state wasn't much kinder in the face of Louie's mounting anxiety of impending solitude, with news reports encouraging those alone to "Go ahead and put that gun in your mouth," so he made the tough decision to join Debbie and her unintentionally hilarious husband.
But life sometimes has a darkly comic way of making things work out and on the bus to the airport he had a chance run-in with psycho Liz (Parker Posey), and there was a brief speck of light that Louie's loneliness would come to an end. But Liz only had enough time to show Louie how happy she was to see him before she suffered a sudden double-barreled nosebleed and collapsed on the bus. Louie accompanied her to the hospital, because that's what one does in that situation, and she was dead within minutes. Her last words belong on the tombstone of the most subversive dead people: "Louie... bye." But Liz hung a question mark on the end of that "bye" like it was a question because really, what the hell was going on and why was it happening to Louie? As he left her room, stunned, the rest of the hospital was blind to the tragedy and celebrated ringing in the New Year, inconveniently timed 10 seconds after Liz expired.
At this point, Louie must've be feeling like he was holding a sickle and wearing a dark hood. Everything close to him goes away. Or divorces him. Or misinterprets his advances. Or turns out crazy. Or dies. He was alone in the airport ready for a flight that he wasn't even excited about traveling to hang out with people he didn't really want to hang out with. The departure/arrivals board called him, and he saw "Mexico City." But he also saw "Beijing," and it was quacking at him a lot louder.
What happened next was so goddamn beautiful I'm not going to do it justice, so I'll just recap what happened. Louie was in China. Actually in China China, not Bowery and Canal St. Chinatown, asking strangers in the street to help him find the Yangtze River. We didn't know whether he was still in Beijing and hundreds of miles away from the Yangtze or whether he took a puddle jumper to Shanghai, but it didn't matter because the communication barrier kept him as far from it as he could be. Language complications landed him in a creek, which was NOT the Yangtze River, but all was not lost.
While randomly walking around the village he somehow ended up in, a woman took him by the arm and invited him in to share a family meal. No one spoke English except Louie, and everyone spoke Chinese except for Louie. But fun was had in that perfectly magical instance that we should always be searching for. Louie recited what they said, much to their enjoyment, and despite all differences, things were great. Louie was no longer alone.
Louie had to go halfway across the world, as far as he could from his roots and his comfort zone, to find someone who wanted to be with him. But he found them. The message is clear: There's hope for everyone, there's someone out there for everyone, but neither is going to find its way into your dark apartment. And you probably don't even need to go all the way to China. Open your mind, simplify your thought process, define yourself, recover from adversity, and explore the unexplored. You never know what you might find.
– Some folks are making comparisons between this episode and Season 2's incredible "Duckling," but I'm not going to make them. Yes, there were ducks and foreign countries in both episodes, but the messages were much different. "New Year's Eve" was about being proactive and opening yourself up to chance. "Duckling" was about empathy and appreciating what you have and what's being done for you. Louie is always about the message, not the details.
– I'm pretty sure being Louie's cameraman is the best job in the world. Being so close to a genius and traveling to exotic locations and taking pride in your work is where I want to be.
– Louie has always made great use of music, but in this episode in particular, it stood out as being absolutely necessary and perfectly incorporated.
– Louie has been renewed for a fourth season, and I expect it to continue for as long as Louis C.K. wants to make it.
– Thanks for listening to me ramble about my weird Louie opinions all season! Barring any steamroller accidents or my participation in space program that I don't know about, I'll be back for Season 4.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom