Looking, Ep. 2.03: “Looking Top to Bottom” goes full frontal

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Looking, Season 2, Episode 3: “Looking Top to Bottom”
Directed by Ryan Fleck
Written by John Hoffman
Airs Sundays at 10 PM on HBO

In Looking’s first season, the show’s creators opted against showing much explicit sex or nudity on screen. While its HBO brethren Girls and Game of Thrones pull no punches in their depiction of naked (mainly female) flesh, Looking mostly opts to cut away from its characters at their most intimate moments. Some have accused the show of soft-balling its gay content in order to make comfortable a large mainstream audience that isn’t tuning in anyway. Looking Top to Bottom changes course and lets it all hang out, showing gay male nudity in both sexual and non-sexual contexts. This neither enhances nor detracts from this particular episode, but it’s a shift worth noting, and adds one more tool (pun intended) to the show’s arsenal.

Though Looking Top to Bottom again focuses on Patrick and Kevin’s clandestine relationship, that element is the least interesting part of the episode. Kevin is a cool guy and very sexy, but he’s obviously not going to break up with his boyfriend for Patrick. And Patrick started the affair in part as a rebound from Richie, but is clearly developing strong feelings for the Brit, judging by his pained look when Kevin takes John’s call as they lie in bed together. The scene preceding this moment, possibly the hottest, most explicit minute in Looking’s history, doesn’t fully make up for their stagnating relationship. This dynamic better resolve – or escalate into something more dramatically satisfying – soon, because Agustin and Dom’s arcs have been getting short shrift this season, though they’re beginning to be explored more fully.

Agustin, the least developed yet most potentially fascinating character on Looking, has some great moments this episode, but his scene with Richie at the barbershop seems a bit off. It’s hard to believe that someone as depressed and embarrassed about his own failings would have the courtesy to apologize to and thank Richie, not a close friend, face to face. People like Agustin tend to ignore their worst drug fueled moments, chalking them up to “crazy partying” and assuming that the whole night was just a blur not only to themselves but to whomever was in the unfortunate position of having to keep them safe. The whole scene is rushed and stilted, as if the writer needs to quickly squeeze Richie into the episode and then move on. More exciting is Agustin’s developing friendship with Eddie, the bearish shelter worker he met at the Russian River in the season premiere. It’s not entirely clear whether Agustin has sexual feelings towards Eddie or just wants another friend to help take care of him. Judging by Agustin’s ex, Eddie is not his ideal physical type, and his HIV+ status complicates matters, but he and Agustin do have a spark.

Dom and Lynn’s relationship continues to complicate, but it’s not Dom’s infidelity or the memory of Lynn’s dead boyfriend that drives a wedge between them. Dom wants to open his own restaurant but is having trouble finding the financing to become his own boss. Lynn recommends Dom to a friend who is looking for a manager for his restaurant, a kind gesture but one that misses the entire point. Dom takes it personally, hurt that Lynn doesn’t understand his goals. He assumes that Lynn thinks his dreams are unrealistic, and that managing someone else’s restaurant is the best he could hope for. Though their age difference – about twenty years – hasn’t inherently been a problem for Dom, the frustration with the state of his career and finances, especially in contrast with the successful, country house owning Lynn, is beginning to drive a wedge between them.

Though this episode has many lovely stretches, especially involving Agustin and Dom, it somehow is less satisfying than the two preceding it. Perhaps John Hoffman, the writer who is also credited with season one’s Looking for a Plus-One, doesn’t have as fine an ear for dialogue as Andrew Haigh. Some of his scenes seem a little theatrical, less naturalistic than the very best moments of the show. Continuity of tone is exceedingly difficult with a staff of several writers, especially on a project as dependent on nuance of character as Looking. And as the show’s audience continues to get to know these fictional people, to begin to feel ownership of them, their creators must always strive to do right by them. But overall, season two is shaping up to be a very worthy addition to the outstanding, varied stable of current American television shows.

Other thoughts:

Nudity report card: Naked rugby players = A+. Patrick douching = D-

The way that Malik was looking at Dom at brunch should set off Doris’s gaydar.

Richie can be a bit of a judgmental prick. There, I said it.

It’s true, everyone from Long Island loves Fudgie the Whale cakes. But if you’re gonna go Carvel, go Cookiepuss.

“Is this like a pub that you would normally go to in England?” Patrick, you beautiful dummy.

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