Looking Season 1 Finale Recap: Shady Pines

Photo: HBO
Episode Title
Looking Glass
Editor’s Rating

In this last episode of the season, work and love and sex get all mixed up, and the results can get very uncomfortable. Patrick nervously goes to the shop where Richie cuts hair because Richie hasn’t returned his calls. When they go outside, Richie says, “Can I help you?” Which isn’t good for Patrick; it sounds like Richie is dealing with an obnoxious customer rather than a quasi-boyfriend. He tells Patrick he needs some space. “I don’t want to say something I’m going to regret,” he says. Which is the last line you want to hear when you’re in trouble in a relationship.

After putting some pills in his pants for later, Agustín tries to get on Frank’s good side again, but Frank isn’t having it. Frank, in fact, is about to serve some of what Agustín has dished out in previous episodes. “Let’s be honest,” he says. “You’re never going to be an artist, and if you ever do follow through with something it’s going to be mediocre at best.” Richie didn’t want to say something he’d regret, but Frank is well past caring about that, and his cold put-down is necessary for the show because it finally humanizes Agustín. Frank orders Agustín out of that gloomy, shadowy house they live in, which is fine by me. Let there be light!

Patrick is late to work. Up on the roof of his office, while he chomps on a sandwich during lunch, Patrick reacts grumpily to Kevin’s attempt to explain the kiss at the wedding. Kevin says he is “totally, utterly” embarrassed, and then he tries to excuse himself by saying that weddings make him crazy and that he was wasted. Patrick curtly tells him that they don’t need to talk about it and basically brushes him off.

Agustín takes the pills and get all wide-eyed on public transportation, but he is coming down from his high when Patrick finds him on the sidewalk outside Dom’s restaurant space. Patrick relates to Agustín very lovingly here, and the old-friend warmth between them is palpable again. Agustín refuses to talk about Frank: “I’m mute,” he says. “Okay, Holly Hunter, I can tell you about my woes instead,” Patrick says, and as they walk away together Agustín gets all touchy-feely, which seems to cheer Patrick up a little.

“Where is everyone?” Agustín asks as they enter Dom’s restaurant. “Nobody good goes to eat until 10:30 at night,” says Doris hopefully. Patrick plays mother hen to Agustín and makes him drink some water, and they talk about Richie. Agustín admits that Richie is hot. “I just want to lick his armpits all day long,” Patrick says, and he also says what a sweet person Richie is.

When they go outside, Patrick tells Agustín about Kevin and the kiss at the wedding. “You want to have a thing with Kevin!” Agustín says. He is seriously out of touch with this situation now, but he doesn’t have the full information he needs. When Patrick says that Kevin is his boss and half-heartedly says he should sue him for sexual harassment, Agustín cries, “Class action suit, go all Norma Rae on his ass!” Sally Field’s Norma Rae formed a union, so Agustín’s movie reference is a little mixed-up, but charmingly so. He gets out his heaviest ammunition when he wants to move back in with Patrick: “Don’t you miss Golden Girls marathons on Saturdays?” Agustín asks. Patrick has to admit that yes, he does miss them. But there is a time for Golden Girls marathons on Saturdays, and Agustín and Patrick should be past that gay dorm-room life together by now.

Lynn shows up with another guy, and Dom disparages this guy to Doris. “I wouldn’t mind if he sat on my face … I mean, I want to sit on his face is what I mean,” Doris says, correcting herself; she has been around gay guys for so long that her sex talk has gotten a little confused. There is a big heart under all of Doris’s sass, which is proved when she talks to Lynn about her friend. “Dom’s worth it,” she says, finally, her face open and filled with emotion and love. As if we didn’t already love Doris to bits! In the final episode of its first season, Looking reveals itself as a show about friendship and the pure love that can be found in friendship, and no love is purer or more heartfelt than the love that Doris expresses for Dom here.

Agustín forces Patrick to take a call from Kevin, who asks Patrick to come in to work. What follows is the most disturbing scene on this show so far. Patrick walks in to their office, and most of the lights are off and Kevin is drunk. He offers Patrick a beer, or rather forces a beer on Patrick. “Do you know how much effort it takes to be around you every day?” Kevin asks. “It takes all of my willpower not to lunge and kiss the fucking shit out of you.” Which doesn’t sound very sexy, somehow. On a simpler show, Kevin would be a nicer guy and Patrick would be genuinely torn between Kevin and Richie. But Kevin is unhappy, and he is not playing fair here. He is Patrick’s boss, and though Patrick was attracted to Kevin initially, that attraction has clearly ebbed. Yet when Kevin kisses Patrick for a second time, Patrick can’t find it in him to reject the advances again.

And so they have sex in the office, and Kevin fucks Patrick. We know that Patrick has never been comfortable getting fucked and has put that off with Richie. He almost loves Richie, but he does this for Kevin, a guy he doesn’t even really like anymore. We don’t see Patrick’s face at all as he’s getting fucked, and at first I thought that this was a failure of nerve on the part of the creators. It is possible to imagine a more graphic version of this scene where we could see how Patrick hates this and hates himself for doing it, and it would be very ugly. But maybe it’s enough that we see the sour aftermath, with Kevin putting on his clothes and basically treating Patrick like a 1950s secretary who has finally put out for him.

Lynn says that he wants to stop working with Dom, and so Dom kisses him, pressing an unfair advantage, and this correlation with the Kevin-Patrick sex scene is very striking and not at all neat. Sex between people who work together only underlines the power struggles inherent in sex itself, and that underlining can be ruinous for everyone involved.

Richie opens up to Patrick about his misgivings about their relationship. He tells Patrick he is close to being in love, but he doesn’t want to get hurt. Ashamed of the sex he just had with Kevin, Patrick looks like he feels the full pain of what Richie is saying. And then he goes home and watches a Golden Girls episode on his computer. Some days are so bad that the only recourse at the end of them is a Golden Girls episode, a show about older women and old friends where sex is posited as one of the biggest jokes of all.

Taken as a whole, this first season of Looking is so impressive because it did not worry about being impressive. The first episodes were not flashy or dramatic or attention getting. They were patient, realistic, and sensitive. The creators of the show didn’t worry about getting laughs or even holding our attention. They trusted that we would find these people worth watching, and that trust paid off by the fifth episode, where Richie and Patrick fell a little bit in love with each other, and subsequent episodes that were slightly more obviously “dramatic” while also staying true to the characters. Looking is not a show that lends itself easily to general think pieces about gayness and gay representation because it is basically unconcerned with that unless it reveals something about one of the characters. In its quiet way, it is a step forward for gay representation precisely because it isn’t interested in gay representation. It is about these people in this milieu in this point in time. It is sincere and believable. It is sometimes uncomfortably realistic, particularly when it dramatizes Patrick’s passivity in this last episode. And it is a show that grows on you with time. Sometimes patience is rewarded.