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Looking at Looking, Week Four
Ellen Cushing | Photo: Courtesy HBO | February 11, 2014
Episode four of Looking begins almost exactly as the previous one ended, with Patrick and his boss, Kevin (Russell Tovey) at the office, playing video games. Yet again, it's the kind of storytelling trick that's clever, but so subtle it's probably lost on anyone not watching this show extremely carefully. (Hi.) Anyway: This time it's a Sunday, and Patrick and Kevin are working overtime to prepare for some kind of presentation. It's not totally clear how much time has passed since last week's torpedogate, but the tension between Patrick and Kevin is palpable—esepecially when it's revealed that this is the day of the Folsom Street Fair, and the two men take a break to look down from their window onto the action, flirting adorably all the while. (I want a GIF of Patrick implying he owns assless chaps playing on loop in my head forever). We soon learn that Kevin is in a long-distance relationship, and that it's not necessarily a happy one. Kevin is laying it all on pretty thick, but then, when the boyfriend calls, asking to be picked up at the airport, he leaves.
Patrick then goes down to Folsom Street, where, in a nice, extremely Parick-y sequence, he buys a leather vest, only to insist on wearing it on top of his polo and then tugging at it the entire episode after Agustín insists on bare-chestedness. Especially coupled with Patrick's earlier assless-chaps braggadocio, it's a telling sequence: At age 29, Patrick still can't tell if he wants to present himself as a sexually experienced flirt or as a fresh-faced kid from Colorado. Of course, he's actually soemwhere in the middle, but the show's ability to mine this tension for comic and dramatic effect appears to be pretty limitless.
After that we turn to Agustín, who has found his rent boy from the last episode, and asked him to participate in an art project. He then eats an extremely ill-advised piece of meat (not a metaphor! He is a vegetarian!) and the Folsom Street Fair scene is cut short so Agustín can make use of the bathroom at Patrick's office. I've watched the episode twice now and I can't quite tell what Agustín is hoping to get—if he really wants to do an art project, why lie to Frank about paying for it? And if he just wants to have sex, why not be honest about it? (Just kidding, this entire show—especially this episode—is about people being dishonest about when and with whom they want to have sex) At any rate, Agustín's intentions are unclear, as is what the hell is going to happen when he actually ponies up $220 he presumably doesn't have in order to get CJ to participate in this nebulous art project.
Meanwhile, Dom finds Lynn (aka bathhouse guy from the last episode, aka SCOTT BAKULA) and takes him out to lunch to talk business. Again, it's not quite clear what's going on here: When Lynn asks Dom if this is a date and Dom says no, there's an unreadable flicker of sadness on Lynn's face before he informs Dom that he's kidding. I am beginning to fall deeply in love with Lynn, even if Dom isn't.
Finally, back at Patrick's office, he, Frank, Doris and Hugo (the excellenetly named Ptolemy Slocumb, heretofore unseen on the show) are having a mildly rowdy and very leathery video-game party when Kevin returns. This is a big moment, at least insofar as it shows us that Kevin's flirtation with Patrick is more than just opportunistic. But even more significant is what happens next, when Kevin asks Patrick to stay for dinner and Patrick politely declines in order to meet his friends at the Stud. As usual, we don't know exactly what Patrick's motivations are, but if I had to guess, I'd say that it's precisely because Kevin came back—that is, this relationship (or at least sex) has suddenly gone from flirtation to actual possibility, and that scares Patrick. After all, as we well know, Patrick's much better at benign flirtation than real relationships, and in this case, the stakes are unsuually high. If this is really going to happen, it'll happen slowly.
Looking is clearly working hard to avoid narrative cliche, and this episode in particular does a good job: On a more obvious show, Patrick and his boss would've engaged in more than furtive glances and ultra-veiled conversation, Agustín's ill-advised meat would be very much a metaphor, Lynn and Dom's lunch would've imploded into comic awkwardness after Lynn asking if it's a date, and the episode itself would've ended on a much more decisive note. This ethos is less instantly gratifying for the viewer in some cases, but it's the mark of a confident show: On Looking, as in life, relationships unspool not via jump cuts but in fits and starts and furtive glances. And also like in life, we have to trust that they'll work out in the end.