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Looking Recap: Available Light

“Fuck, look at this thing, it’s huge!” is the first line we hear in this third episode of Looking, but get your mind out of the gutter: Patrick is marveling at the largeness of a ship that has been rented by his employers to celebrate finishing a new game called Naval Destroyer. Determined, yes, determined to have a good time in his clenched-jaw, throat-clearing way, Patrick proceeds to get his drink on and observes that the ad for the game makes it look like it’s actually called Anal Destroyer. He complains that Naval Destroyer has no female character and admits that he usually likes to play the female: “Women are the outsiders in games and I relate to that; gay people get it,” he rationalizes.

When Kevin (Russell Tovey) presses him further about this, Patrick mocks his British accent. After Kevin skulks away, Patrick bets his co-worker Owen (Andrew Law) a thousand dollars that Kevin is gay. Moving to the rear of the ship, ha-ha, Patrick discovers Kevin sitting on a torpedo and playing Anal, sorry, Naval Destroyer. Patrick tiptoes over and drops down on a torpedo himself. “Oh, it’s cold!” he says, like he does when the guy tried to give him a hand job in the first episode. While they play, Patrick ascertains that Kevin is indeed gay and has a boyfriend. He also finds out, to his mortification, that Kevin is most likely going to be his new boss. When he tells Owen about this, Owen nervously insists that Patrick should apologize.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you this perky since you dragged me to see Miss Congeniality,” Doris says to a very cheerful Dom, who does some aerobics with her and thinks over his idea of opening a Portuguese chicken restaurant of his own. Meanwhile, Agustín makes some breakfast for his boyfriend Frank and they discuss his stalled art career. Looking is shot mainly using natural light, and this is clearly an aesthetic choice, but sometimes it backfires. There doesn’t seem to be much reason why a breakfast conversation between Agustín and Frank needs to be shot in such a way that they are silhouetted against a window so that we can’t see much of the expressions on their faces; they both practically look like the aliens at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There’s no need to over-light Looking so that it is more in line with prevailing standards of cinematography, but the creators need to be more careful about how they shoot people. For most of the ship scene before he sits on the torpedo, only part of Jonathan Groff’s forehead and one of his eyes are clearly visible as he talks. Shooting with natural light can make for a refreshing visual change, but it sometimes reduces people in this episode into talking shadows.

Patrick apologizes profusely to Kevin, who deflects the apology. “You do realize we log all of your Internet activity here?” Kevin asks, as kindly as possible. Patrick’s face freezes once again into an exclamation mark of mortification. Kevin says that there has been excessive usage of OkCupid, which is expected, but then he also mentions another site he is not familiar with: “What is it? Is it Mancunt?” he asks. “I was just showing Owen. It was educational,” Patrick sputters. And then his embarrassingly loud phone goes off. Patrick’s various embarrassments could be played much more broadly than they have been so far for laughs, but Looking insists on a low-level anxiety instead. This tone has proved alienating to some viewers. But there is a calm intelligence at work in the sensibility of the writing and the playing, and this is enough to get me over any cosmetic or tonal hurdles.

So Patrick is revealed as someone reckless enough to look at Manhunt while at work. And then Agustín is revealed as someone who is frustrated and blunt enough to trash the artwork of his employer Stina (Ann Magnuson, ever hip) four days before she’s going to have a show. In his defense, she asks for his opinion and he tells her that there is no point in critiquing finished work. But when she presses him, he really lets her have it, and so she fires him.

Dom has a lunch date with Patrick, who still can’t get over the Internet browsing search at work: “Hasn’t that been banned?” he asks. “I know I signed some Facebook thing that had something to do with privacy.” Groff places no hipster quotation marks around this dialogue, which makes Patrick sound a little dimmer than we might have previously suspected. Dom complains that they aren’t talking about him, and in this moment, Looking does move perilously close to those walking-down-the-street scenes between Carrie and Miranda on Sex and the City where Carrie would whine about her life and Miranda would try to get her attention in vain.

A now-jobless Agustín meets a sex worker in a coffee shop. When Patrick gets home, he finds Agustín stretched out on a couch (apparently he still has a key), and they fall right back into their roommate-hood. “Your feet stink,” Patrick says, and Agustín raises a foot to his face, like a little brother might (a gesture like this suggests that maybe they never actually did have sex). Patrick shows Agustín photos of Kevin and they discuss his large ears, a sweet nod to one of Tovey’s defining features. “It seems like all I do lately is give people the wrong impression,” Patrick says, which sounds self-deceiving. But as they continue to hang out, Patrick makes a somewhat large move toward self-awareness: “I don’t think either of us are very good at being who we think we are,” he tells Agustín, a scary thought and a true thought, based on what we’ve observed of them.

Hanging out in a steam bath, Dom swaggers around looking studly and makes the acquaintance of an even-studlier florist (Scott Bakula, aged to perfection) who pines for the days when, according to him, gay guys actually talked to each other at bathhouses between sex bouts. (I confirmed with an older gay friend that there was indeed some lively conversation at the baths “maybe 30 percent of the time.”) Patrick creates a version of Naval Destroyer with a female character for Kevin, and as the episode ends they’re about to sit down to play it, employee to boss and gay fanboy to gay fanboy. Hopefully there will be enough light in the room so that they can see each other clearly enough to shoot some longing glances.

Photo: HBO