The defining image of “The Limo” is a billboard Stuart stares up at as he passes through Los Angeles, a glamorous shot of a beautiful blonde woman looking down at the streets below. Early on in this episode he sees this image anticipatorily, a possibility in his own future every time he goes out but especially this night, when he’s in a limo, which to him signifies the sort of glamour and achievement he never personally feels. At the end of the episode, when he’s headed back home, he looks up at it wistfully, wondering where he went wrong. The image defines the episode because it’s this image, and so many others like it, that screwed Stuart up in the first place, that gave him the sort of entitlement and self-justification that makes him act like such a jerk to friends and people of the opposite sex. The image is not just an advertisement; it’s an addiction.
All that in just a few glancing shots, but they’re really the heart of “The Limo,” an episode about aspirational living. Still, the most heart-rending moments come in the first scene, setting up why Wade hired a limo in the first place. He wanted to take his wife out on a reconciliatory date, and instead she doesn’t want to see him for 30 days. Before the end of the episode, Wade, who spends much of his time in the limo reassuring himself that he’s having a great time, has broken down in tears. Wade’s wife wants to have her own identity, to understand who she is apart from Wade, and he doesn’t understand why. I would hazard it’s her way of going against that billboard, after learning that the images she’s been sold are hollow and that she’s unhappy, but we only see her for a few moments, despite the shadow she casts on everything that comes afterward. From this moment, it would seem that the episode could only get easier to watch, but that’s certainly not the case.
In “The Limo,” almost everyone is trying to force their lives into a shape that they think will make them happy, and this happens just as much away from the titular vehicle as from within it. Jessica is having an evening with her friends, and she wishes to have sophisticated conversations about politics and art while listening to jazz and watching Battleship Potemkin. Almost needless to say, this doesn’t work out, both because that’s not who her friends are and because she’s been sold a lie that this is something that is easily obtainable. Jessica is recreating an ideal and hoping that her friends adjust to it rather than being themselves. They’re bored out of their minds, and it isn’t long before they want to have fun with Stuart and his friends in the limo, going out into the nightlife of L.A.
Elsewhere in the limo, Stuart, Wade and Kives soon meet a group of female tourists and invite them in. They have a good time together, despite Stuart being able to get them into a fancy club, up until Jessica calls and says that her beautiful actress friends want in. Once the groups reunite, Stuart proceeds to treat the tourists like crap, thinking that he will somehow be able to get with one of the actresses. It all falls apart in a very painful and public way just a few short minutes later.
The difficulty Stuart, Jessica, and Wade all face here is the inability to essentially buy or fake their way into the life they desire. Stuart is very wealthy, but he will never be able to get into the clubs he wants or to be part of the scene he desires in the same way that Jessica’s friends will always want to talk about things that are more fun than North Korea. Likewise, there’s a certain simplicity to Wade’s attempt with the limo that pulls both ends into focus. He paid for it, shouldn’t that be enough? But of course it’s not, and that would be where the episode’s sadness comes from. Even Stuart is empathetic when you understand that he’s defined personal happiness by that billboard, but has no way to attain it. I tend to view his behavior in Hello Ladies as the result of trying more reasonable behavior for the past 20 years of his life and getting nowhere. Now he’s approaching 40 and as his desperation increases, so does his nastiness. What’s worse is that when he and Jessica are sadly eating expensive limo food on the way home, he knows that he’s been terrible to everyone tonight, but that self-awareness doesn’t mean he will change.