How Louie's Male Rape Scene Broke New Ground

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
Last night's episode of Louie depicted a type of sexual assault almost never seen on-screen — one that many believe does not exist: male rape. But, the scene in which Louis is forced into unwanted sexual intercourse by his female friend leaves little room for doubt. He was reluctant at first, then he was coerced, and finally forced. It was not consensual. Louie rarely delivers such unambiguous plot points, but this scene ends with an emphatic, terrified shout: "No!"

It's not the first time Louie has pressed the issue of sexual assault in this way. In a 2012 episode, Louie's blind date offers him a blow job, then becomes angry and forceful when he declines to reciprocate. Then last year, a controversial scene featured Louie's own attempted assault on Pamela. Like last night's scene, it doesn't appear as cut-and-dried as many assaults we usually see on television. It begins as an intimate conversation between friends, Louie pleading his love to Pamela as she rebuffs him. The scene then escalates from Louie begging her, to trying to kiss her, and finally to him chasing her around his apartment insisting that she wants it. 

Many saw that scene as a watershed moment for television. But, what's interesting is that neither Louis C.K. nor actress Pamela Adlon saw the implications of that scene while shooting it. "To me, it was like a tussle," C.K. said on a TCA panel discussion in January. "I’m pulling her and she’s pulling me away. We even thought it was funny when we tried it." However, he did admit to reading many of the reaction articles stating otherwise. Whether he knew it or not, C.K. illustrated just how messy and confusing sexual assault can be for the victims, the perpetrators, and the bystanders — in this case, his TV audience.

The rape last night came at the apex of a very sad episode about gender and power dynamics. In an earlier scene, Louie intervenes on a couple fighting in the street, and the woman turns on him. Again, the scene begins with only threatening words, but quickly escalates into physical violence. As a man, Louie is clearly reluctant to hit a woman back and winds up getting beaten up. He returns home to find his daughters alarmed by his bloodied face, but their fear turns to laughter when he tells them his assailant was a woman. It's a crushing moment for a father who has so desperately strived to raise daughters free from the burdens of gender stereotypes. 

Louie is not a show that tries to "send a message" — at least not a clear one. If the series says anything, it's that life is unimaginably sorrowful and far too complicated for us to fully understand, even while we're in it. And, that's precisely what makes it the only show on television to explore sexual assault in a sincere, powerful way. It highlights the uncomfortable facts: Consent is not a reluctant "yes." Assailants aren't always aware of their actions. Rape doesn't always look the way you imagine it does — nor do its victims.
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