Into The Woods: “Looking For The Promised Land”

looking-woods-season-2-premiere-bearded-fairyIt’s been nearly a year since Patrick, Dom, and Augustin signed off on us, and now they’re back, taking a relaxing weekend getaway to the woods.

But watch out, boys! These woods are full of bears!

And no, I do not mean the traditional Goldilocks, Berenstein, Winnie-the-Pooh variety. Portly, hairy gay men are on the prowl — beware!

Yes, Patrick, Dom, and Augustin have ventured out into the forest, but no — they’re hardly roughing it, since they’re staying at Lynn’s cushy cabin (sans Lynn). Dom and Lynn are officially an item now, Patrick is still mooning over the loss of Richie, and Augustin is still an insufferable asshat. Patrick and Dom call Augustin out on being an insufferable asshat now, at least. But still. Patrick wants this to be a sober weekend of male bonding, even though he’s secretly chatting with his lover-boss Kevin when he thinks no one’s watching. Dom and Augustin grumble a bit but go along with Patrick’s itinerary of cherry-eating, redwood-gawking, and Monopoly-playing; that is, until Doris shows up, feeling frisky.

(Rest assured: Doris remains the highlight of this series.)looking-nude-beach-jonathan-groff-murray-bartlett-frankie-j-alvarez-shirtlessIt turns out that the boys’ retreat is not so remote. There’s a whole bevy of gays in the woods looking to party, essentially turning an ancient forest of sequoia trees into a rave scenario as only gays can do. The foursome decides to do molly, which has Patrick sucking face with a Richie lookalike (a neat little fakeout moment that makes us think it really is Richie, the one truly great moment in this episode) while Dom has his first infidelity in his open relationship with Lynn. Augustin (slightly) surprises us by running off with Damian from Mean Girls, who remains too gay to function. He’s a big ol’ hairy bear now and goes by the name Eddie, and he is also in possession of a House In Virginia (Augustin’s code for HIV). This could be an intriguing development for Augustin… or just something else for him to whine about. We’ll see.

As per usual, what little “plot” there ever is on Looking only inches forward here. I’m not sure how long has passed since last season (it would be rather odd if it were actually a year, considering that these characters are acting like it’s been a matter of weeks), but Richie is physically out of the picture while still present in spirit while Patrick has sex in the woods with Kevin, embracing the naughty side he fought against (somewhat) last season. This vacation episode is a little like Girls‘ “Beach House” episode from last season, right down to Patrick’s Marnie-like overplanning and the skinny-dipping gays, but minus all the drama (naturally — Looking doesn’t do drama).looking-daniel-franzese-frankie-j-alvarez-naked-swim-skinny-dip-shirtlessPatrick wanted this weekend to be about the three of them, and I was on board for that. As it turns out, this mandate was hypocritical, since he invites Kevin out for a secret fuck in the woods while Dom and Augustin have also run off with strangers. It’s an apt metaphor for the show, which is almost never about these guys’ relationships with each other. I still find Patrick, Dom, and Augustin a weird and unlikely trio, and the little shading of history we’ve gotten from them in past episodes has not cemented the bond. I don’t see any reason why they’d actually enjoy each other’s company — especially since all Augustin can do in this episode is complain about how he’d rather be off getting drunk and laid. (And, ironically, is the only one who does not get laid in this episode.) What happens here is just fine, I suppose, but might this premiere have been better if it really had stuck these three guys alone together in a cabin for the weekend, and seen what developed? Surely something more interesting than Patrick taking Atlantic Avenue would have transpired. (Then again, this is Looking, the anti-drama.)

Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t mind some conflict.

“Looking For The Promised” proves, at least, that it is self-aware, by making its characters self-aware. Patrick feels guilty enough about his trysts with Kevin to not tell Dom and Augustin (until he does, in the end). Augustin says that he deals with feeling like a shitty person by behaving badly. Patrick has optimistic ideas about this trip in the beginning, whereas by the end he only wants to watch the sunrise and “pretend that everything’s going to be fine.” Perhaps this setting is intentional — are Patrick, Dom, and Augustin lost in the deep, dark, metaphorical forest, so that they may emerge later this season into the light? They head into the woods to be together, isolated from the San Francisco scene, and end up separated with the same problems they face in the city. Patrick literally beckons his problems out to their retreat while Dom has pictures of his man-friend everywhere during his first sexual rendezvous and Augustin is spilling his woes to a stray bear. This is hardly an escape.

patrick-kevin-looking-sex-woods-fucking-jonathan-groff-russell-toveyBut here’s the real news. In Season Two, Looking has only gotten hairier. Augustin’s beard is fuller and we’ve now added a real-deal bear to the mix. By season’s end, I fully expect the entire cast to look like three Cousin Itts (which most of the extras already do anyway). “Looking For The Promised Land” is a perfectly acceptable season premiere, one that continues the show’s sometimes frustrating lack of narrative momentum but relocates it to a forest populated by bearded drag fairies. I don’t dispute that this is a reasonably accurate look at a particular segment of San Francisco’s gay scene, but I still wonder why it’s on television. That is not to say that it shouldn’t be on television, but Looking has yet to wholly justify its existence to me, and maybe it shouldn’t have to, and probably it doesn’t want to, but how am I supposed to feel about any of this?

Patrick is hooking up with his boss, who is in a committed relationship. Dom is in some version of a sugar daddy open relationship. Augustin is an insufferable asshat. Sure, these are things that people do. But I’m not sure that merely watching Patrick, Dom, and Augustin blindly navigate their ways through problematic relationship is much more entertaining than watching real people do it. If these were my friends… well, they probably wouldn’t be, for much longer.murray-bartlett-looking-shirtless-dom-nakedSo I’m conflicted. I’ve had a whole year to get used to the idea that Looking is not the gay series many of us expected it would be. It is shaggy, meandering, and oddly depressing, given that we are seldom given anything of substance to invest in. Girls is like that, too, in ways, but with more humor and originality.

My jury is still in deliberation on Looking, which improved throughout its first season and has begun its second season troubling me all over again. Creator Michael Lannan had all this time to respond to critical and fan reaction to the series, and his answer was: this. Maybe we should admire him for sticking to his guns. Maybe Looking is the medicine we should take while craving a spoonful of sugar instead. Maybe this is going somewhere good. Maybe Damian from Mean Girls and Doris should run away together and do a spin-off called Too Doris To Function.

I’ll give Looking a few more episodes to play its hand, but for now?

Looking, you still haven’t found me.augustin-frankie-j-alvarez-smoking-pot-looking*


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