"Louie's" masturbating lady

Chloe Sevigny guest stars — and gets off

Published August 24, 2012 12:48PM (EDT)

When Parker Posey wrapped up her double episode arc on “Louie," as the deeply, if secretly, damaged bookstore clerk Liz, I immediately hoped she would return. In just an episode and a half, Liz became a fully, vibrantly, disturbingly realized character, an energetic, screwed up alcoholic who was at once way too much for Louie, but also understandably appealing to him. Though Liz did not appear in last night’s episode, she hovered over it— and only made me miss her more.

In bed, Louie dreams of Liz expressing her love for him, a dream that sends him back to the bookstore to find her. (After their last, epic date, he apparently didn’t take her number.) But Liz no longer works there, and in her place is another intense, sparkly-eyed nutjob, Jeanie, played by Chloe Sevigny. Jeanie, for reasons that became both clearer and much less clear as the episode progresses, immediately takes too much interest in helping Louie track Liz down, prodding, goading and nagging him to proceed on his romantic quest to locate Liz, and quickly seeming to care more than Louie about finding her. (This — people who have a clearer sense of their wants and desires than Louie — has been a characteristic of every one of this season’s love interests, including the characters played by Gabby Hoffman, Melissa Leo, Posey, Maria Bamford,  and Louie’s man crush Ramon.)

Why does Jeanie care so much if Louie finds Liz? Well, turns out it’s a turn-on. Right after yelling at Louie, “You could totally find her!!” Jeanie masturbates, publicly, in a coffee shop, while Louie and the barista stare. Upon completion, Jeanie fixes her hair and calmly tells Louie, “Just so you know, I’m married, so please don’t come by the store.”

This public masturbation incident put me in mind of Melissa Leo’s arc, in which a woman was so keen to get hers, she smashed a guy’s head into a window and then jumped on it to get him to perform cunnilingus. Jeanie, another bossy lady, is a woman so keen to get hers, she will masturbate while a barista whips up someone else’s café au lait. But unlike Leo’s character, who explains her entire thought process to Louie, Jeanie’s psychology remains mysterious: What exactly is she getting off on? The naughtiness of hanging out with another man while she’s married? Is she turned on by control, her ability to manipulate the romance of others? Her ability to manipulate Louie, who is so easy to boss around? Does she have a fetish about yelling at people she barely knows? Was the way Louie sucked down that last drop of iced coffee too much for her to bear?

A key element of Louie’s relationship with Liz — and part of what made that episode so poignant— was the extent to which Louie did not really see Liz. All romantic encounters, especially at the beginning, are predicated on some make-believe. To him, Liz was an adorable, cool bookstore chick who was out of his league, and he held onto that image of her long after signs of the troubled, unstable alcoholic she really was began to emerge. Similarly, Jeanie doesn’t really see Louie. He walks into the store and she projects onto him a romantic identity, and then uses him to fulfill some unnamed fantasy. She’s using him for an orgasm, but, unlike with Leo, it’s not even a trading of sexual favor: He gets nothing, he just sits there.  Jeanie projects what she wants on him, runs over him personality-wise, gets off, and leaves, so self-involved she imagines that he might want to come looking for her.

I found the unknowability of Jeanie (who is this weirdo?) to be an intellectually effective bookend to the Liz story line, a not overly neat reversal of some of that arc’s major themes, and yet not at all an affecting one. Louie doesn’t know Jeanie, and neither do we: it’s hard to be moved by a cipher. Masturbating in a coffee shop is exactly one of those gonzo, surreal moments “Louie” is so beloved for, but this one was such a cold, opaque act. Jeanie got off, but she never even turned anyone else on.

By Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

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Chloe Sevigny Louie Louis C.k. Television Tv