Over the television year, not only do specific shows and …
All relationships involve compromises. No one is 100 percent compatible with his or her partner, and so there must be some give and take when building a life together. Typically, the big discussions – about having children, what city to live in, and, yes, whether to be completely monogamous – occur before a couple moves in together, but not so with Looking’s Patrick and Kevin. By this time, the show’s season (and probable series) finale, these two have accelerated the pace of their relationship for different reasons. Kevin needs an excuse to break up with John, and he would never have done so if there were the possibility of him being alone. Patrick wants to prove to himself (also his friends, family, and maybe most importantly, Richie) that he can be in a relationship that doesn’t end disastrously. So they both need each other at this point in their lives, but give not a moment of thought to what the relationship will look like a year, let alone ten or twenty years, down the road.
By now it’s clear that Looking isn’t too interested in exploring the friendship between its main characters. Far more episodes of the show’s first two seasons, including last night’s “Looking for Sanctuary” have Patrick, Dom, and Agustin going off on their own romantic or personal adventures, each character in his own storyline. Occasionally the three of them will go out to lunch and update each other about what’s going on in their lives, or they’ll see each other at a party and introduce one another to a current boyfriend, but ultimately they lead separate lives. While this actually pretty realistic – thirty-something men with careers and relationships usually don’t spend every waking hour with their friends – it’s almost unprecedented in the world of episodic television.
As they explain multiple times in “Looking for Glory,” Patrick and Kevin are now “a thing.” They’re living together at Patrick and Agustin’s place, they’re wearing each other’s clothes, and they’re debuting their new app at the GaymerX convention. It’s unclear how much time has passed since Doris’s father’s funeral, but Patrick no longer has a cast on his arm, so it’s been a few weeks at least since the two reunited. No one seems particularly thrilled by this coupling. Patrick and Kevin’s coworkers seem miffed and bring up completely valid points about the ethicacy of a boss having a relationship with his employee. Richie, condescending as ever, warns Patrick that he’s moving too fast. Agustin simply doesn’t want a second roommate. Even Brent, the snarky developer of a glory hole review app called Glorified, played by the delightful Gabe Leidman, doesn’t approve.
At this point, how are Patrick Murray’s friends not completely fed up with him? After he drunkenly insults everyone in his life at his own terrible party, he tags along to Doris’s father’s funeral in Modesto and makes the weekend all about him. He mawkishly sobs at the service, continually tries to one up Doris in the “I had an unhappy childhood” department, and ends up totaling Dom’s car and sending all three of them to the hospital. Doris, bless her heart, is nothing but kind and patient in response to Patrick’s appalling behavior. Dom mostly ignores him, instead focusing his energy on trying be there for Doris while dealing with his ambivalence towards Modesto and his own father. Patrick goes through the motions of being a good friend, listening when appropriate and offering back rubs, but he has neither the emotional maturity nor the capacity for empathy to think about anyone other than himself.
In Looking for Gordon Freeman, Agustin continually compares Patrick to Clarissa Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s seminal neurotic hostess. This is not an obscure reference for anyone with a cursory knowledge of American literature. Even if someone’s never read the book, they’ve probably heard the name before and know it has something to do with parties and flowers and tragedy. But, the reference is completely lost on Patrick. For Agustin – and perhaps for the liberal arts educated Looking viewership – this gap in knowledge is a bit surprising, but it says more about Patrick’s interests than his intelligence. So he’s not a reader. He knows a ton about obscure video game characters, and is shocked when no one recognizes his Gordon Freeman Halloween costume. Maybe Gordon Freeman is as basic a reference to programmers as Clarissa Dalloway is to English majors.
Patrick really does seem to have ended it with Kevin. This is the one rational decision he has made since Looking began and could be interpreted as evidence that he has matured, able to see himself in a toxic relationship and get himself out of it. They encounter each other at the office and Patrick holds his ground, rejecting Kevin unequivocally. Kevin still wants to have it both ways, sleeping with Patrick but living with John, ostensibly to not hurt John’s feelings. But watching that scene with John, the first real introduction to a character viewers have heard a lot about and seen in the distance but never spent any time with, makes it clear that Kevin is being cruel to his boyfriend by not ending it. Here he is, visiting Kevin for the first time at his office, and Kevin can barely look at him, let alone convincingly fake affection. John either has to be unobservant bordering on autistic, or in total denial about the barely concealed loathing his boyfriend has for him. If Patrick had been privy to that scene he would have ran away from Kevin even more quickly, making sure he never ends up like John, clinging to a relationship both parties know is dead.
Looking has often loved its secondary characters more than its leads. Patrick, Dom, and Agustin have continually paired off with people, in both romance and friendship, who are smarter, nicer, and more together than they are. Richie, Lynn, Doris, and Kevin have been the voices or reason, of patience, and of exasperation throughout the show’s run. They’ve shared their advice, which has usually fallen on deaf ears, and have tried to form meaningful bonds with the central trio of characters, with varying degrees of success. This intelligence gap, or empathy gap, has been detrimental to the success of the show. Why follow the lives of a group of emotionally stunted, unambitious babies when this rich tapestry of noble humanity is one degree away? Why can’t the show spend more time with Richie in his salon, or Lynn at the flower shop, and follow characters who are worth following? Perhaps just like in real life, the more time one spends with somebody, the more he sees them for who they really are, warts and all. Because if Looking Down the Road teaches its viewers anything, it’s that Richie, Kevin, and Lynn can be just as clueless, stunted, frightened and petty as anyone else on the show.
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 tonal shift worth noting, and adds one more tool (pun intended) to the show’s arsenal.