There’s only one episode left in Looking‘s first season, and unless they really fuck it up (which is entirely possible), it will go down as a lop-sided debut, with the first four episodes getting off to a wobbly and largely disappointing start, while the final four gave us something that was much more promising.
“Looking For A Plus One” continues last week’s trend of our three leads behaving like jerks to love interests who deserve better, but the stakes are even greater this time around. More “happens” in “Looking For A Plus One” than all of the other episodes combined, really, in terms of conflict between characters.
Yeah — conflict! Who knew Looking had such a thing in store?
The show opens with another scene of the core trio drinking beer and smoking bud in hoodies, firmly reminding us that this is San Francisco (though it could also be Portland or Seattle). Things are less harmonious this time, as Augustin bitches about his latest “art” project while Patrick takes the opportunity to gently suggest that taking sex pictures of your boyfriend being effed by a near-stranger is not inherently artistic. “How dare you, sir!” Augustin says (but not in those words), miffed at being called out in such fashion (the truth). Dom goes to get another beer, and so does most of the audience, because it seems like we’re in for plenty more of Augustin’s self-righteous whining.
The next day is a big one — Richie is to meet Patrick’s family at a grand Murray wedding. The early scenes expertly capture the high drama of getting ready for a major life event, during which you will inevitably spill a dark liquid all over yourself (Richie) and/or get a parking ticket (Patrick) for such a minor infraction as not turning your wheels. (There are two other moments in this episode during which Patrick is also in danger of getting a parking ticket, another reminder that the show is set in San Francisco. Ironically, I have never identified with Patrick more or had deeper sympathy for him than when he despaired at that ticket.)
Patrick is a little manic in anticipation of the wedding, which is perfectly understandable. Richie tries to fix his bow tie while they’re driving over the Golden Gate Bridge (reminder: this is San Francisco!), and Patrick freaks out, and Richie makes him pull over on the bridge, and Patrick does pull over, but not on the bridge, and Richie tells him to smoke some weed, and Patrick yells at him for bringing marijuana to his sister’s wedding, and Richie storms off all handsome and smooth-faced — because homeboy shaved for the big event! (And Looking becomes about 25% less hairy! At this rate, they’ll all be fully body-waxed and hairless by the series finale. Hooray!)
And, okay, I have to say I’m on Team Patrick on this one (for, like, the first time ever). First of all, it is annoying when people distract you while driving, as Hannah and her cousin discovered in Sunday night’s Girls, and if someone is asking you to stop tying their bow tie while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, well, you should stop it! Second of all, it is completely fair to ask your boyfriend to not be high as a kite while meeting your entire family at what seems like a reasonably conservative wedding, or really, any occasion. Patrick might have handled this better, but it’s a big day for him! This is one moment when Richie could have been the bigger man, sucked it up, not smoked it up, and just gotten back in the car to meet the Murrays. Patrick was legitimately a jerk last week when not introducing Richie as his boyfriend, and is kind of legitimately a jerk to Richie behind his back later in this episode, but it’s not totally one-sided. C’mon, Richie! Did you shave off all your good boyfriend potential along with that scruff?
Before we get back to Patrick being a jerk, though, we need to check in on Augustin being a jerk and Dom being a jerk. In this episode’s slightest subplot, Dom is stressed out about his big chicken shack debut, which is happening in a rundown Indian-Chinese fusion restaurant in about 28 hours. Dom snaps at Lynn (and everyone) because his entire future depends on this chicken being fucking delicious, which causes Lynn to abandon ship when Dom doesn’t care about his flowers. (Dear Dom: never dismiss Lynn’s flowers again.) Dom and Lynn’s interactions have always been one of Looking‘s strongest suits — until this week, because I still think it’s way too easy for Dom to suddenly start his own chicken business, even if it’s a one-night-only chicken extravaganza rather than a full-fledged restaurant.
Didn’t they just have this idea last week? Don’t they need more time to market it, and find people to actually cook this fabulous chicken? And if Dom doesn’t make the chicken himself, what exactly is he doing? So far, Dom has done nothing to convince me that he can or should open his own chicken place. Once again, the show is redeemed only with Doris speaking the truth in one succinct line of dialogue or sometimes even just a look. I propose a spin-off called Doris in which Lauren Weedman wanders onto the set of other TV shows and tells the characters all the bad things the audience is thinking about them. In summary: Doris continues to be awesome.
Meanwhile, Augustin is being the biggest jerk of all when he decides to bail on his art show because Patrick was right about how taking sex pics of your boyfriend getting it on with a prostitute isn’t really the kind of “work” that needs a home at a gallery, and is probably better suited for something like Snapchat. (Though I’m sure plenty of websites would display it happily.) Augustin confesses to Frank that he bailed on the gig — and that he paid CJ $220 an hour to seduce and destroy his boyfriend, which has Frank justifiably pissed that his man paid a hooker to have sex with him and neglected to mention it. Especially considering that said man isn’t even paying rent in their sweet Oakland pad! (Blowing all your money on secret hooker threesomes? Not the greatest plan, Augustin.)
Frank and Augustin have a reckoning during which Frank decides Augustin needs to move out, as well he should. Augustin has displayed a grand total of zero redeeming qualities as a boyfriend (and a human being, for that matter). But let’s not leave Frank totally blameless here — he knew that CJ was a hooker, he just didn’t know CJ was a hooker currently being paid for his services — and really, isn’t any situation that brings a hooker into your relationship pretty volatile and fraught with complication? Isn’t that basically always a harbinger of doom? Neither Augustin nor Frank should be surprised at this outcome, and neither should we. At this point, I’m all for storylines about Augustin’s suffering, especially since Dom and Patrick have it pretty easy these days. Moral of the story: don’t pay a whore to have sex with your boyfriend — or, if you do, tell him about it.
Now, back to the wedding. We meet Patrick’s mother Dana (Julia Duffy), who we’ve heard plenty about, and a twist of fate has Kevin and John, of all people, attending the ceremony! (Patrick and Kevin sure do randomly run into each other a lot, don’t they?) Kevin gets drunk and tries to kiss Patrick in the bathroom (naughty Kevin!), which Patrick ends maybe a little sooner than we’d expect him to (good Patrick!). The kiss is all kinds of complicated, because we don’t know precisely what flashes through Patrick’s mind at that moment. That he shouldn’t kiss Kevin because of John? That he shouldn’t kiss Kevin because of Richie? That he shouldn’t kiss Kevin because he’s his boss? Probably all of these — but in which order? It seems Richie’s absence has Patrick longing for him enough that a cheap affair with his boss is not so appealing, which we know because Patrick uses the word “totally” in his apologetic voicemail to Richie, which is what he does when he’s nervous.
The episode ends with Patrick having two distinct interactions with his parents. First up: that awful moment when “Love Shack” comes on and you don’t have a boyfriend to dance with you, so you end up chatting with your mom. Patrick tells Dana that she wouldn’t like Richie because he’s an unambitious Mexican hairdresser, and with an introduction like that, how could she? Patrick has failed to list any of Richie’s good qualities — he’s leading with the negative, turning his mother against Richie before she has a chance to do it herself. Dana isn’t having it — she tells Patrick that Richie’s absence at the wedding is not her fault. And she’s right. It’s time for Patrick to stop blaming mom for his relationship failings and take some ownership of his own choices. But also: Dana is munching a pot-infused Rice Krispie treat, which means she and Richie might get along just fine after all.
The episode ends on a different note, as Patrick has a brief conversation with his father, who bemoans the $40,000 dropped on this joyous occasion and asks Patrick, “You’re not going to want one of these, are ya?” It’s not the question Patrick wants to hear after his first major fight with his brand-new boyfriend, and it’s especially ironic coming at the end of an episode in which three gay partnerships of varying types are jeopardized. Patrick and Richie, Dom and Lynn, and Augustin and Frank are all at a crossroads that could very well lead the better halves out of our trio’s lives for good, because gay relationships often do come with added complications that heterosexual ones don’t. (Even Kevin and John could face a rocky future if John ever finds out about that kiss.) “Looking For A Plus One” has Patrick, Augustin, and Dom all “minus one” instead.
There’s no more hetero institution than a big ol’ wedding, after all, and “Looking For A Plus One” subtly explores how awkward that can be for men and women who only recently obtained the right to have a wedding themselves (in some places), in a world that isn’t quite used to them having that right yet. The inner workings of gay relationships are still a mystery to many straight people, while straight relationships are the norm, the institution, the standard to live up to (or fail trying) — we all know how that story is supposed to go.
Patrick’s father isn’t being mean-spirited in suggesting that Patrick might spare him several grand by neglecting to follow his sister’s matrimonial footsteps, but in the end, it seems the question only causes Patrick to realize: Yes, I do want this. Which might mean wanting Richie. However, the question might as well have been posed to the gay faction of Looking‘s audience: do we want this? A true partnership? Love and commitment and stability? Tuxedos and cake and “Love Shack”? (Well, of course we want “Love Shack.”) Or do we want to be the sole proprietors of our own enterprises, perpetual bachelors pursuing, um, chicken? Do we want to pepper our monogamy with the occasional hooker, risking all we’ve built together in the process?
Are Patrick and Richie done? Not likely, but it’s the third twosome that ends on an iffy note this week. One hetero union comes together while multiple gay ones fall apart. Gays haven’t had hundreds of years to get used to such partnerships and establish their own marital traditions, so perhaps Patrick and Dom and even Augustin can be forgiven for this week’s sins. Or perhaps not. But Looking is finally generating some suspense, at least, its plot actually moving forward — since Augustin and Frank actually do seem done.
Can we keep Frank instead of Augustin? I doubt it. But we’ll see what happens in Looking‘s Season One finale next week.