Last week’s “Looking For The Future” was the first time in Looking‘s still-brief run that the show actually took a narrative and creative risk, allowing a single date between Patrick and Richie to sustain an entire episode. Some found it the epitome of the show’s nothingness, its willingness to let the mundane create drama.
Others, like myself, proclaimed that it was by far the best Looking yet, because it’s not that it matters so much what happens on a show, but how we feel about it. Looking‘s first four episodes similarly didn’t have a lot going on plot-wise, but they also kept the characters a bit of a mystery. Are we supposed to feel sorry for Augustin amidst all his self-entitled whining? Can I really sympathize with Dom’s moping about the Big 4-0 when he’s still gallivanting around like a fresh-sprung twink? (Answer: no, and not really.)
Now, with “Looking For The Future,” Looking has less to prove. We know it can be heartfelt and insightful, but will it be, ever again, from here on out? With “Looking In The Mirror,” we (kinda sorta) have an answer.
“Looking In The Mirror” opens up with Patrick and Richie, appropriately, since that’s where we left off. Patrick’s about to introduce Richie to his friends (already!), so Richie asks the questions we’ve wanted to know all along about how these guys know each other. (Still not sure these friendships makes sense, but oh well, I’m over it.) Patrick (accidentally) drops the B-word — “boyfriend” — which causes Richie to ask, “Who said I was your boyfriend?” (Ouch!)
Of course, Richie is only giving Patrick a hard time, because of course he wants to be Patrick’s boyfriend. All gay men can safely assume that the guy they’ve been on, like, three dates with is completely ready for a steady relationship! Right? It totally works that way.
Okay, so, no — I don’t believe that someone as self-conscious and relationship-averse as Patrick would so casually drop the B-word, even if the last date was a whole day long and took place partially in a planetarium. (Note to self: plan more dates in planetariums. Addendum to note to self: plan more dates.) And no, I’m not on board with it being quite so easy for Patrick and Richie to get this important talk out of the way so early in their courtship. In real life, it takes weeks and months of agonizing and hand-wringing and self-doubt before the B-word is broached, following many, many more dates (seldom in planetariums) and then an awkward phase where you realize all you do is eat Thai food and watch sitcoms with this person and you still don’t know if they’re sleeping with other people. (They are.)
Yes, okay, sometimes you find someone who’s super special and you just click and know that they’re as into you as you are into them, and then you barely even have to ask that question — because you’re soul mates! But that’s always shortly before said “soul mate” applies for a restraining order. (I mean, I can only speak from my own personal experience, but I’m pretty sure I’m right about this.)
So initially, from this opening scene, I was already fired up about how the show had gone downhill again so fast. How dare Looking allow Patrick and Richie to be happy? I only watch shows where the main characters are significantly worse off than I am, which is why I watch Game Of Thrones and True Detective and American Horror Story instead of, like, Nashville. Only miserable people allowed on my TV screen, thank you! (This is also the reason most of my paired-off friends are dead to me.) Luckily for me, Patrick and Richie’s newfound boyfriendship takes a nosedive later in the episode. But we’ll get to that.
Meanwhile, Dom is spending more time with Lynn and his snooty, well-to-do friends, hoping said snoots will invest in his chicken shack or whatever (perhaps because one of them is black). Lynn ends up being a lot more impressed by Dom than his friends are; Dom dreads the stroke of midnight because it means he’s officially entering his fifth decade of life (and swiftly exiting his relevance as a sexual creature in the eyes of the young men he goes after). What Dom doesn’t realize is that he’s decrying his old age to a man who is roughly twenty years his senior, which results in a delightful verbal bitch-slap from Lynn, who says he spent his own 40th birthday doing mushrooms in a canoe. Dom is suitably put in his place. (Go Lynn!)Elsewhere in the city (Oakland, to be exact), Augustin is having a snit fit because the scantily-clad photos he took of a sexy hooker are somehow not “artistic” (who would have guessed?). Augustin defends CJ’s profession yet again as Frank displays a saintlike level of patience and understanding about his boyfriend spending all of his spare time with a narcissistic prostitute, sometimes in a state of undress. And this is before Augustin bags on Frank for being the black guy who wants to bring Cheetohs to the party, which is just rude. Moral of the story: Augustin is a whiny child, a terrible boyfriend, and an outright bitch. Are we seriously supposed to like this character? (More on that later.)
Doris and Dom talk about Lynn on the way to Dom’s birthday bash in the park. Doris is insightful enough to see that Dom’s feelings about Lynn run deeper than he’s letting on, which is confirmed later when a youngish Grindr guy goes untexted while Dom jaunts off to Lynn’s house unannounced.
But first: Richie is introduced as Patrick’s boyfriend, which has Augustin all miffed for some reason. Patrick does a prolonged and surprisingly offensive imitation of an effeminate gay man that really makes him seem like an asshole, just when some of us were kinda-sorta starting to like him. It’s odd that no one calls him out on this, given that nearly all gay characters on this show are reasonably masculine — are the writers unaware that gay viewers may see this as further evidence that Looking is, if not exactly homophobic, a little leery of coming off as too gay, just as many gay men are? (It goes hand-in-hand with the beards.) I’d wager that this moment didn’t play well with some of Looking‘s harsher critics, and seems like a fairly egregious misstep as written. (Looking could certainly shed some light on the masculine-versus-feminine debate, but this wasn’t the way to do it.)
Patrick’s uncomfortable sissy-boy imitation is interrupted by his boss Kevin, who has arrived with his studly Caucasian sports medicine-practicing partner Jon (Joseph Williamson), who is the counterpoint to scruffy Latino hairdresser Richie, who Patrick pointedly does not introduce as his boyfriend. (Danger, danger!) At this point, I was back on board with “Looking In The Mirror,” because if it isn’t going to explore the extreme awkwardness of the Boyfriend Conversation in a naturalistic fashion, at least it can explore the Boyfriend Omission in a realistic way. And aren’t there moments, early in a relationship, when you’re not sure how someone you know will react to your significant other, so you kind of don’t feel like getting into it? Patrick makes something up about Richie wanting to open his own salon (he doesn’t), which is ascribing his own upper-class ambitions onto a boyfriend who’s pretty happy to be who he is.
CJ shows up to the party (seriously, did Augustin have to pay for his attendance?) and is all over Augustin in front of Frank, who again doesn’t really mind because CJ is kinda all over him too. Lynn has flowers delivered to Dom. (Aww!) Then “Looking In The Mirror” cuts right into the meat of it when Augustin flatly accuses Patrick of slumming it in his relationship with Richie. Richie, unfortunately, overhears. Fortunately Richie has the cojones to stand up to Augustin, who backs down immediately, though Patrick doesn’t put up much of a fight. Richie’s just scoring all kinds of points lately, isn’t he?
The scene suggests that there’s a widening rift between these old college buddies, which makes sense because they don’t have much in common, and sometimes friendships go that way. Someone who used to be great can eventually become a sniveling little bitch like Augustin, who takes his own frustrations out on well-intentioned people like Richie to avoid looking in the mirror. (Ohhh, heyyy there, title of the episode!) Usually, said friend should be dropped immediately, but that’s unlikely given that Augustin is a series regular. Patrick calls Augustin out on his hooker bullshit, while Augustin at least does have a point about Patrick slumming it since Patrick couldn’t introduce Richie as his boyfriend to his boss. (Then again, that’s also because Patrick is attracted to Kevin, which doesn’t bode well.)
And suddenly it hit me — maybe we aren’t supposed to like Augustin? I mean, like, at all. That’s a strange choice for one of the three leads of a drama (at least one in which no one is a serial killer or meth dealer), but it’s much easier to accept Augustin’s whining and moaning and childish behavior if I don’t feel that the show’s writers are asking me to sympathize with him at the same time. Because I don’t. At all. Yes, he does remind me of guys I’ve met, just not guys I’ve liked, and in a way his arrested development is even more striking than Dom’s, and is perhaps an insightful look at 30-year-old men who still act like 15-year-old girls. (But at this point, only perhaps.) So there you have it: I am giving up on Augustin. I don’t like him. I won’t like him. And in that way, I may actually get some enjoyment out of hating his character.
But shouldn’t it be the other way around? Aren’t the supporting characters supposed to be the ones we love to hate? Aren’t we meant to side with our protagonists more often than not? That’s the super fucking strange thing about Looking — so far, the three leads’ love interests (Frank, Lynn, and Richie) are so much more likable than Augustin, Dom, and Patrick are. When was the last time a TV show did that? (If the answer is never, there’s probably a good reason.)
Now, for the first time, all of the Looking lads are finding themselves in or at least close to a significant partnership. Yes, Lynn rebuffs Dom’s rather desperate birthday lip-lock advance, as well he should — because Dom is not as ready as he thinks he is for a stable, mature guy like Lynn. (Though it was Lynn who said just a few episodes ago that he mourns “friendly” casual sex.) I highly doubt we’re seeing the end of Dom and Lynn’s flirtations, though. Lynn makes a proposition for a “pop up” of a different kind, offering to finance a one-night only chicken shack extravaganza, which we all kind of knew he’d end up paying for. I call bullshit on Lynn truly caring about this business partnership — does he really think Dom’s chicken restaurant is that solid an investment? No. He wants to be Dom-inated, he’s just being smart about not rushing into it.
At the same time, Augustin’s relationship is veering toward collapse as he invites CJ over for a (paid?) threeway, which they decide to film. This being 2014, naturally they film it on an iPhone — or perhaps a webcam, right? Oh, wait, no — I forgot that Looking takes place in a bizarro version of 1985, which is why Augustin films it on some sort of old-fashioned movie camera. (Is this “art,” too?) Augustin doesn’t look pleased that Frank and CJ are getting so intimate, which is a good reason not to bring a charismatic, chiseled hooker into your relationship. The episode ends with Patrick and Richie somewhat in a state of limbo after Richie legitimately wonders if Patrick can handle his rough-around-the-edginess. Patrick stands in front of a mirror naked (as you do), soul-searching while wearing only the necklace Richie gave him (that Augustin bitchily mocked).
Symbolically, I imagine the writers intended viewers to think, “Oh, look, Patrick has shed everything but this new identity as Richie’s boyfriend, and is ready to move into a new chapter in his life, away from his old pitfalls and values.” Most probably thought: “Hey, look! It’s Jonathan Groff’s ass!”
All in all, Lynn is fantastic, Frank is a saint, Richie is pretty awesome, and… the show isn’t really about them, is it? Is it time for a spin-off already? “Looking In The Mirror” had legitimate conflict, pushed the dynamic between two lead characters, and (I think) advanced the overall story, in an episode that’s all about how none of our three lead characters deserve the men who are into them. That’s enough to rank it as probably the second-best Looking episode, which means in the latter half of its inaugural season, things are Looking up…