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Looking at Looking, Week Two
Ellen Cushing | Photo: Courtesy HBO | January 27, 2014
This week: real non-conversations about race, adorable humans, and mac and cheese that's better than sex.
Towards the end of the last episode of Looking, Dom (Murray Bartlett) gives Patrick (Jonathan Groff) a piece of advice: "Stop giving a fuck what your mom thinks. Stop giving a fuck what anyone thinks." Like many things about Looking, this moment has a sort of deceptive breeziness to it: On a less clever show, this line, which, as of last night's episode we now know makes for a central theme, would've been delivered with swelling music and a meaningful close-up—the TV shorthand for italics, anything to emphasize its importance. But on Looking, it's almost tossed off, barely audible over the background chatter at El Rio, and it isn't until the end of the next episode that you realize that each of the show's characters is learning how to contend with what other people think. This is the struggle that will inform many of this season's main arcs.
As the episode opens, Patrick and Dom are helping Agustín move out of the apartment he and Patrick share, and the boys are debriefing Patrick's new romance with Richie, the guy from Muni. Agustín chastises Patrick for failing to "blow him," to which Patrick yelps, "It's not like I was gonna do it in the toilets of Esta Noche!" As with the last episode's cruising-in-the-park scene, this is commentary—not just about Patrick's fundamental prudishness, which, in this episode begins to really curdle, but about gay hookup culture, circa 2014. In another time, he almost certainly would have blown him in the toilets of Esta Noche (which, are, for the record, horrifying). It's only recently that he has the luxury of disgusted incredulity.
They then discuss Richie's race (Mexican), which sounds a lot more offensive than it is: Though this show differs more strongly from Girls than the advertising campaign might lead you to believe, as Emily Nussbaum noted in the New Yorker, it's clear that Looking has learned from Girls' mistakes, especially with regard to race. Not only is Looking much more ethnically diverse, it addresses race relatively realistically—meaning it addresses it at all. It's neither a glibly "postracial" fantasy land in which every social group is perfectly diverse and there are never any awkward moments, nor does it exist in a universe where non-white people are only bussers and baristas. And so, in this scene, when Agustín makes reference to Patrick's "cholo boyfriend," it feels both like a real thing a 21st-century liberal with a well developed sense of irony would say and a winking meta-commentary on the concept of the tokenized minority boyfriend (remember Donald Glover's stint on Girls?). It's well-done.
"You know he'll probably be uncut, if he's a real Mexican," Agustin says, head cocked. "You prepared for that?"
"You make it sound like I should take an evening course," Patrick says, not entirely masking that he wishes an evening course of this kind existed. You can tell Patrick wants to impress Agustín with his nonchalance, and also that there's no way Agustín's buying it. Once in Agustín's new place in Oakland—a massive basement apartment—they continue the conversation, with Patrick talking about intimacy and monogamy, and Agustín essentially laying out a theory that everyone cheats. It's a neat trick of exposition, a believable means of allowing the characters to lay out their relationship principles, but it also tells you a lot about Agustín and Patrick's relationship. We find out that they've lived together for eight years and see just how much they define themselves in opposition to each other—Patrick as the uptight and prudish little brother (Agustín even calls him that earlier in the episode) and Agustín as the more adventurous, more independent one.
Dom is mysteriously silent throughout this exchange, presumably because he's preoccupied about meeting his ex later that day. We later find out that this ex: a) used to be a meth head, and b) took or borrowed a bunch of money from Dom at some point during their relationship. But you wouldn't know it from their exchange, during which Dom acts remarkably courteous considering he's sitting about a foot away from someone who by all accounts fucked up his life massively in the past and is insufferable in the present. But for all Dom's power-top posturing, we're starting to see that really, he's a fundamentally passive person—which is underscored when, at the end of the scene, it's revealed that Dom, in the impressively sunglassed Ethan's words, has been "wanting to put a bomb in the basement" at Zuni for several years and still works there. It's only later—after some Grindr sex with an adorable little sprite of a human, an apartment-lust exchange that probably made sense only to people who live in San Francisco, and some A+ realtalk from Sassy Female Friend—that Dom starts to heed his own advice from the previous episode and stop caring about this guy's feelings long enough to ask for his money back. It's a remarkably affecting moment in its too-little-too-lateness.
Over in Oakland, Frank and Agustín, whose plot is given kind of short shrift in this episode, are watching Drag Race and eating pizza. Despite it sounding like an ideal evening to anyone with a brain, eyes, and a stomach, Agustín wants to go out, to which Frank responds "Or we could just check in somewhere cool on Facebook so your city friends know you're not dead," which both establishes Frank as this relationship's keeper of realness and more or less sums up Bay Area geopolitics perfectly.
Meanwhile, Patrick meets up with Richie for a date at Mission bar Doc's Clock (take a shot). Patrick asks Richie about his family and the show manages another disarming non-conversation about race: Patrick is too polite to ask Richie about the specifics of his family structure and immigration status, instead managing a watered-down "are they all, like, from here?" Richie has had that conversation too many times to take the bait. Patrick then proceeds to comment on Richie's "religious-y" crucifix necklace, his eager awkwardness quickly calcifying into the same kind of judgmental behavior he experienced from last week's Dr. Ben (though you want to believe that in Patrick's case it's temporary and curable, simply a case of trying way too hard, rather native douchebaggery.) Patrick then gets drunk and slurringly tells Richie about his willingness to "do it right now in the toilet," presumably in some ill-fated attempt to impress Richie and/or the specter of Agustín. For some reason, Richie decides to go home with Patrick despite the fact that he's basically being horrible. Ever eager, Patrick offers to make Richie mac and cheese (?), which Richie intelligently turns down in favor of sex, except this sex appears to be pretty terrible, finally imploding in on itself when Patrick tells Richie that he "thought he'd be uncut," which he apparently is not, and then covers his tracks by saying his friends made him Google "uncut Latin cock," which, for the record, is a lie. Richie, understandably weirded out by the fact that this dude can't stop talking about what his dick doesn't look like, splits, and Patrick is left to eat mac and cheese by himself and recount the night to Agustin over the phone. In the final line of the show, Patrick lies again, this time to Agustín, about what he's eating. Again, it's played for laughs, but it tells you something fundamental about Patrick that he cares so much about what other people—particularly Agustín—thinks that he can't even be honest about his choice of drunchies. The mac and cheese looks great, BTW.