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Looking Recap: A Little Respect

The spine of this episode is the relationship between Agustín and Patrick, though this is not immediately apparent. Agustín is moving out of the apartment he has been sharing with Patrick for eight years. They went to college together, and presumably they roomed with each other then, too, so Agustín moving out is a big deal for both of them emotionally. They choose to deflect their emotion onto Patrick and his dates with Richie, which haven’t progressed to sex yet because they’ve only met at the place where Richie is working as a doorman.

“I don’t want to overthink this, you know how I get!” Patrick says as he moves Agustín’s belongings into Dom’s car. Agustín all but orders Patrick to at least blow Richie the next time they meet. “I wasn’t going to do it in the toilet at Esta Noche!” Patrick says. When Agustín asks why not, Patrick says the toilets there are disgusting and not sexy. Once again, as in the first episode, Patrick is confronted with a queer staple of the past — restroom cruising and hookups — and he reacts with mild disgust with some mild titillation underneath.

Agustín jokes about Patrick acquiring a “cholo boyfriend,” and when Patrick nervously calls him a racist, Agustín all but crows, “I can’t be racist, I’m Latino.” And so Agustín uses his racial bona fides to excuse objectifying Richie, which allows (or forces?) Patrick to anxiously grab this objectifying attitude for himself. “I’m going to get myself a Mexican fuck buddy whether you like it or not!” he tells Agustín and Dom, who are both still laughing at their old idea of uptight Patrick without ever quite seeing how he has changed or wants to change.

So Patrick and Agustín put quotation marks around Richie. They label him and they assume because he is Mexican that he has an uncut cock, which keeps everything safe and nonthreatening. Agustín is cock-blocking Patrick not physically here but emotionally. We don’t find out in this episode if Agustín and Patrick have ever had sex, but considering their long history and the way they relate to each other, they must have done it at some point. And it must have been somewhat momentous for Patrick, because Agustín has a strong hold on him still.

On his way out to Oakland, Agustín defensively criticizes San Francisco: “This whole city is overrun with overrated cupcakes and kimchi tacos,” he sputters, and he claims that the city was keeping him from working on his art (later on, in a neat joke, the three friends will all uncomplainingly eat some of those so-called overrated cupcakes). “This entire city is to blame for your laziness?” asks Dom, who is in a very pissy mood and not up for taking any nonsense. Agustín brags about the three-way he had with his boyfriend Frank and the Dolly-Parton-signature-tattoo twink from the first episode. Surely Agustín enjoyed that sex, but it looks like he enjoys telling Patrick about it even more.

As they move Agustín into his new house, he and Patrick have a debate about sexual monogamy. Patrick wants to be correct, but he also wants to be as naughty as Agustín, and so he wants to be correct about being naughty, which is of course impossible (and which is a rich comic vein to explore for this character). “Sex is getting your cock sucked or getting your ass licked,” says Agustín bluntly, “but intimacy is something else.” He sounds shrill when he talks like this, as uncertain as Patrick underneath his blatant certainty. “I don’t know, getting your ass licked sounds pretty intimate to me,” Patrick says quietly, almost sheepishly. He must know how attractive he sounds when he says something like that in that tone of voice, and he seems to be playing up to his friends for their approval and for embers of their initial physical desire for him. Agustín and Patrick are always defining themselves through their differences to each other.

Saying a final good-bye, Patrick recites the theme song to The Golden Girls in a deadpan, sincere tone of voice, which is a moment of 2014 hipster gayness bound in a nutshell. So, yes, let’s play this game: Patrick is Rose, of course (Dom even calls him Rose after he recites the song). Agustín is Blanche and/or Sophia, and Dom is Blanche and/or Dorothy. Forget Girls and Sex and the City. The real establishing texts for this show are the British version of Queer As Folk (not the so-bad-it-hurts soft-core American version) and The Golden Girls. Don’t laugh. No less an artistic authority than master playwright and godhead Edward Albee recently called The Golden Girls “fucking skillful.”

Dom meets up with his ex-boyfriend Ethan (Derek Ray), a former meth-head nightmare who ruined Dom’s life and took his money and clearly only thinks about himself. Dom (who is the sub in this dynamic, alas) listens to Ethan justify himself and even buys him something to eat. Feeling lousy, Dom hooks up via Grindr with an eager 28-year-old, screwing him quickly and satisfyingly while standing up in front of a mirror. The boy starts singing a show tune in the shower after their stand-up screw, which allows Dom’s roommate Doris the best zinger in this episode: “Oh my God, did you fuck the pain away with the cast of Wicked?”

Patrick takes Richie out and tries to get him drunk and they dance to Erasure’s very lush and camp-emotional eighties hit “A Little Respect” at a club. Meanwhile, Dom confronts Ethan and embarrasses him in front of potential clients: “He’ll screw you over, you know? Once a meth-head motherfucker, always a meth-head motherfucker.” This very upsetting, even harrowing little scene is where the naturalism of Looking fully pays off. It gets under your skin precisely because it’s so choked-up and awkward and realistically incomplete, borderline pointless and harsh and so wretchedly unsatisfying. On most other TV shows, Dom would have many articulate and well-formed words to say against Ethan right away. Life isn’t like that, and neither is Looking, and that is clearly a strength of this show.

When Patrick brings Richie home, alcohol has removed all of his politeness filters. He is verbally disappointed to find that Richie isn’t uncut (earlier in the episode he had done some Google research on foreskin, etc.), and once again, as in the first episode, a prospective boyfriend firmly cuts the cord on Patrick and leaves. And you feel bad for Richie having to put up with Patrick’s jerkiness, but you also feel bad for Patrick because you know that he is only behaving like this to impress Agustín, who is no longer there to be impressed in that apartment they shared.

This episode of Looking takes up and enlarges questions from the first episode and raises all sorts of new questions, and it is faultlessly written and played, so well, in fact, that “writing” and “playing” don’t even seem to be entering into it. Like the Erasure song goes, these are guys who need to discover a little something to make them sweeter, and I want to watch more of them trying to find that something. 

Photo: John P Johnson/HBO