I will admit that I was dubious about watching the next episode of this series today. Horace and Pete is an intense, slow-moving experience, of which the word ‘downbeat’ is superficial and simplistic, and I am not having the best of weeks (or months, or years, come to that). I did not think that the episode was going to improve that humour.
Nor did it. Yet it held me for thirty-three minutes, my attention focused utterly upon it’s minimal movement, its increasing burden of hopeless misery, like icebergs slowly converging on unanswerable tides.
And yes, I was right about last week’s ending, that sense of dread that I felt. The show opens on the dark stage of the bar, the door opens, the cast enter in dark clothing, switch on the light, drinks are poured. Theatre to the max: it is the wake following Uncle Pete’s funeral. The gun he took from behind the bar was significant, except that it signified the one possibility that I, oddly, did not foresee. As in life, I did not imagine that he would kill himself.
Uncle Pete’s removal was clearly the catalyst for change, but what change would that be? Jessica Lange, as Marsha, told a splendidly defiant, yet regretful monologue of her life, as a drinker, before leaving the bar, having been told, and recognising, that she has no place here now, no connection.
Pete himself struck up with a defiant claim that he could survive, in the face of Sylvie’s urge that the bar be sold: $6,000,000 could be had, $3,000,000 for each of her and Horace (nothing for Pete, now he’s not a brother, biologically, which he accepts imperturbably.
And it’s growing desperate for Sylvia, jobless, broke, having to afford cancer treatment and slowly breaking under it. Daughter Brenda is almost aggressively protective, which earns her only an order to get out from her mother. Horace’s daughter Alice, a silent presence, a watcher from the sidelines, speaks her only words in leaving, a final departure. The next time one of you dies, she says, I’ll see you at the funeral.
Meanwhile, the customers are the customers. Leon sits in his corner, drawing in his tiny notebook (I have long been wondering if we’re going to see what he draws and just how sickening it’s going to be). A young woman who can’t escape from her own narrow confines calls people who enjoy orchestral music fakes and phonies. A fucking rude hipster who thinks he’s funny gets thrown out. A nihilist wants to see a Sanders/Trump co-Presidency so it can completely fuck the country up forever.
It’s Intermission, it’s a change of pace, it’s the least interesting part of the play.
In the morning, Sylvie having slept on the couch, feeling weak, Horace pitches for a solution. He’s prepared to sell the bar, irrespective of the history of which Pete is desperately protective, taking up his father’s role. Sylvie needs the money, she has cancer. Pete can be brought in, $2,000,000 each. Pete pleads for the bar to stay open: it’s his life, his only life, the only place he’s lived outside the hospital, and he cannot cope without it.
But Horace pitches a third way, that Sylvie come in with them, that they make it a three-way partnership. It’s not what she wants, by any means. Sylvie wants out from under the weight of her own history, and wants her brother out from it too, for his sake, even if he feels that selling is harder than staying. But it may be the only practical solution.
She can’t decide now. Sylvie leaves, and there’s a cute little section at the end where Horace and Pete go about their business, not talking to one another, without hostility, just dropping into the groove and avoiding conversation, and it’s beautifully composed and acted, and it’s only drawback is that it’s self-consciously clever.
And to emphasise the theatricality of all this, the closing credit is ‘End of Act 1’. We are now halfway through the series.
Despite wanting lighter, less demanding, more fun fare, I still wound up immersed in Horace and Pete, and especially wanting to know how it all works out. But I’m getting there the hard way: one a week, no spoilers. This is too intense an experience to bingewatch and get out of it all that Louis CK has put in.