It was just chance, and a request from someone I’d like to think could yet be something of a friend, that got me into watching and blogging about Horace and Pete on Thursday mornings. I wish I’d happened upon a better time of day as the episodes are demanding and far from being invigorating when I have a full day’s work watching me from a few hours ahead.
Yet this is an extraordinary programme, doing things that are light-years away from the arts that I usually pursue. It’s not a series I would normally ever have thought of watching, and it’s intensity leads me to feel that I will almost certainly never watch it a second time. But I don’t regret giving it this time and these weeks, and anyway, I can’t think of a ‘better’ day or time at which I could watch it and not feel this way, or not be affected by it quite as I am.
I’m spinning my wheels a little because I’m not sure how to approach this penultimate episode. It was about Pete, though Steve Buscemi didn’t appear until the last few minutes, engaging in a bout with his Dad, Uncle Pete, Alan Alda. Yes, his dead Dad, who killed himself after episode 4.
The status of that scene is indeterminate. Ostensibly, it took place in Horace’s imagination, an attempt to give some form of, what? Closure? A gift of peace? A minor yet palpable triumph? It gave at least one member of the audience a terrible sense of chill.
But if I’m to make sense of this ending, I need to work my way towards it from the beginning. The actual beginning was Sylvie interviewing for a barman, interviewing the hulking, head-shaven, tough looking Gerald, all nervy smiles and a voice pitched so low it was difficult to hear all his responses. Gerald wanted, needed a job, was honest about his credentials, even to when, working backwards, he admitted to being in prison. For manslaughter.
That was the end of it. For all Gerald’s reassurances about being on life parole – one mistake and he’s back – Sylvie couldn’t get past that, though she tried to be nice about it. You felt sorry for the guy, it had happened so long ago, he wasn’t the same man, but…
Save as a way to introduce the notion that the Wachtels already had drama going on, this was completely irrelevant. So were all the other things going on, in and around the bar, including the appearance of New York’s real-life Mayor, Bill de Blazio, making the goodwill visit Pete had asked his cop friend to engineer, in the hope of securing Landmark status. His Honour ran the gauntlet of motormouth asshole Kurt (boy, is he an annoying shitbag!) and the wierd but surprisingly simple and gentle Leon, but Pete wasn’t there. Merely asking after him drove Horace out of the bar in pain.
Because Pete’s been missing for a week, ever since he left with Tricia at the end of the last episode. Neither Horace nor Sylvie know where he is or what he”s doing and, being Sylvie – who doesn’t really care – and Horace – who is completely ineffectual, they have done the glorified square root of fuck all about it. They haven’t even been to the cop. If it weren’t for Pete’s friend calling in, they probably never would.
I have to admire Louis CK, for the part he has written for himself. At first, he looked like being the nearest thing to a good guy that the series would have: the normal one, the one who’s fundamentally sane. But no. In his own way, Horace Wachtel VIII is a monster. He’s not just a completely ineffectual person, he’s a 100% failure, a man who will never rise, not an inch, above what happens to him and to people around him. He cannot contribute to anyone else’s pains, he won’t go the first step towards assisting them, his concern is shallow because all it produces is a vague, uncomfortable desire to get out of hearing about it.
It’s there in the bar, when Horace is feeling the pressure of Leon’s simple insistent that he should be looking for Pete, the condemnation of his not even trying, his giving in to the excuse that he doesn’t know where to start (so convenient).
But I actually had that thought in the next scene, in a hospital room. The Police have phoned Horace, he’s gone there. Tricia, the Tourettes lady, is lying in bed, head bandaged, left thigh heavily strapped. Pete had been with her. They’d decided to use up the remaining time his pills gave him by being happy. There was a heart-breaking aside about Pete being so happy, because nobody had ever loved him before, it was all so new to him, that was both tragic and very familiar.
In her naivete, Tricia had tried to prolong things, had succumbed to the delusion that love was enough, that simply by being together, by loving, by presenting a unified front, they could beat off what would happen to Pete’s mind. You and I knew that it wouldn’t, it couldn’t, but the vision of it, the possibility, was like the purest of drugs and addictive beyond anything else there is.
Pete had stopped taking his probatol. Later, he flushed the last of them down the toilet. Inevitably, it had taken the expected course on his mind. Tricia had tried to support him, to love him, in the end to simply hug him but his disorder had him tearing up the flat , knocking her unconscious and, ultimately, inflicting the wounds we could see. Love failed, love wasn’t enough.
Horace sat, and listened, took it in, was unable to think of anything to do, could not think of anything to say that was remotely beyond banal. We’ve seen Louis CK listening, many times, in this series and it’s always the same, the empathy, the quiet expressions of pain being taken on board, the utter uselessness of him.
So Horace returns to the bar and the turmoil of everybody else’s life. There’s a horrible disintegration going on here, Horace is finding it unbearable, but everyone’s got their own concerns and the world is staggering about like it always does, and it’s a sideshow to Pete as he is a sideshow to each and all of them. Only Leon notices, fixes his eye on Horace, until he bursts out, shouting his ineffectuality to the bar, confessing to Leon that he does not where Pete is, he has no idea where to start, he isn’t going to start even now (this part is not voiced).
Of course Kurt, the complete twat, has to try to joke. And Horace attacks him with his paper, with Kurt protesting his utter innocence. That’s when His Honour walks in. It’s the bar’s great moment, but Horace can’t handle it, can’t handle anything right now. He leaves, goes to Pete’s room, silent, immaculate. He sits on the bed, back to us. And he starts to cry, slumping onto the bed. He will be crying fora very long time, I know, I understand those tears, and part of them is helplessness, that there is nothing that you can do that will alleviate this, that will change it in any way, that nothing will be better, and something is over with a finality as great as death.
But we don’t see those tears. Instead, we cut downstairs to the bar. It’s cleaner, lighter, brighter, the customers are sitting drinking silently. Behind the bar, Horace is wiping glasses. Pete is sweeping the floor, bent on his broom. Uncle Pete enters from the back.
Any thought that this might be a flashback is swiftly dispelled. Uncle Pete asks Pete what he’s doing here, Pete says his Dad shouldn’t be there, he’s dead. Uncle Pete knows it too. The implication is that this is a dream scene from Horace’s helpless imagination, but only the two Pete’s are truly here: everoneelse is back-cloth.
Uncle Pete’s a ghost, conjured up to berate his son, but also to call him son one time. To praise him for what he was, how brave and determined he was, what he could have done, if he’d pulled himself together. Pete isn’t a ghost, he isn’t dead. Pete’s just here. Because here is where Pete is, where he belongs, where he felt safe. He has no good choices, no happy endings. This isn’t something you just put a brave face up to, it’s too powerful to be beaten. Pete’s here. He always will be here.
These words chill me. I can’t see this as only Horace’s dream tribute to his brother, who he reclaims as his brother, his brother emotionally, historically, not his cousin. There’s something entirely too real to this. I am convinced that Pete is dead, that we won’t see him again, that his body is already somewhere in, or under, the bar.
The scene ends with Uncle Pete departing, respecting his son at last. Pete wants peace, just to be here. This reminds me so much of the final scene of the Homicide: Life on the Street movie, Giardello and the dead Crosetti and Felton, ghosts in the coffee room of the squadroom, present but invisible to all. A moment’s reconciliation, a moments peace, a flashcard of Garry Shandling to close out.
Next week is my one-in-four Thursday off. I know nothing of what the final episode will contain, but I think it’s going to be a very good thing that I shalln’t be going in to work after that one.