The email announcing episode three said, “This week’s episode features the great Laurie Metcalfe[sic].” I thought that meant she would be a co-star in the ensemble. Instead, we got to see her put on an acting clinic for the entirety of the episode.
I knew Laurie Metcalf as Aunt Jackie from Roseanne. When you know an actor from a sitcom, you can’t always tell how good they are. But Metcalf was part of the Steppenwolf theater company and is currently on Broadway. She’s the real deal and it seems that Louis is enjoying the opportunity to work with great actors. Here’s the thing: Louis CK is a masterful stand up comedian but a novice actor. He’s surrounded himself with several brilliant actors in this series but here he’s going toe to toe with one. Watching these two in this extended scene put me in mind of someone who’s been playing guitar for a year or two and asks Eddie Van Halen to sit in for his first battle of the bands.
The opening scene is just Laurie Metcalf sitting at a table in the bar telling a story to someone off camera. When the camera cuts away from her to reveal that she’s been telling her story to Horace and she’s his estranged wife, Sarah, nine minutes have passed in the episode. It was mesmerizing.
The worst part about telling a lie is when someone that you love just accepts it.
I have to be honest, I’ve been watching this show to figure it out. I’ve been picking apart plot points and I’ve been cross checking details. But with this episode, I was so drawn in by the story that was unfolding that I let go and just watched. I loved that it was a two person episode. Part of the interest in a completely independent show like Horace and Pete is that it has the freedom to define and redefine itself as it progresses. I hope future episodes continue to take this liberty.
We find out that Sarah is coming to Horace because she is cheating on her new husband with her new husband’s father. She has come to Horace because she needs advice from someone who has cheated. And thus we find out why Horace’s family life is so strained. Not only did he cheat but he cheated on his wife with his wife’s sister. All things considered, though, given the drama of this show, Horace’s failed marriage and his estrangement from his kids being caused by infidelity is downright mundane.
The relationship between these two is what makes this episode shine. They get on like old war buddies, which they kind of are, having been through some shit a long time ago. There’s a tense tentativeness to Sarah’s telling of the story but it intermittently breaks into shared laughter and commiseration. At one point, Sarah says,”The worst part about telling a lie is when someone that you love just accepts it,” and Horace immediately understands. He’s been there, done that. Later in the conversation, Horace says, “You don’t seem mad anymore.” Sarah responds that she was, for so long but time just passed and it went away. The long dormant connection between these two and their blend of familiarity and distance felt honest and it was so compelling.
Horace’s first suggested solution is for her to just leave. He tells her to leave her new husband Glen and her step children to which Sarah replies,”You really have a skill at justifying horrible things.” Is he unable to make decisions or is he a coward?
When Sarah says she can’t do that, he says, okay, then keep on doing both things. Keep being a wife and keep cheating. But he doesn’t judge or condemn her, which is probably why she knew to come to him in the first place. He tells her, “You could field an army with how many people have been in your situation. Literally. You could gather the cheaters of the world and wage war on the honest and win.”
There’s a particularly touching moment when Horace cries hearing about his son and how well he’s doing. (I was moved enough to forget that in the last episode his sister Alice described her brother as miserable.)
While Sarah describes her son’s life with such affection, she’s frustrated with her daughter. According to Sarah, Alice, who is still uneasy around Horace, needs to just grow up. “She’s being a big fat brat.”
Okay, real quick, can we stop calling Alice fat? We get it. She could perhaps lose a few but, well, who couldn’t? It was an interesting stark touch in the first two episodes but let’s let that detail breathe for a few episodes, okay? I keep picturing Aidy Bryant getting a call from her agent. “Aidy! Great news! Are you sitting down? Louis CK wants you for his new secret project! I know! Yeah… So, uh, there’s one wrinkle… They call your character fat… No, in every episode, uh huh… no, even the ones you’re not in… yeah… Aidy, are you still there…?”
It was also a little jarring when they talked about 9/11 and Instagram in this episode because you have to be reminded that this show is present day. The set feels like it’s straight out of the seventies, like Archie Bunker and Fish from Barney Miller could be sitting just down the bar.
The episode leaves Horace spent. So, it was a fitting button to the episode to have Uncle Pete put a fresh beer in front of him and say, “I can’t believe you married that cunt.”
This episode shows that the melodrama of Horace and Pete can work, provided that we take it one strained relationship at a time. This show keeps getting better. I hope it continues to do so.