For Looking fans, and even for those who were impatient with the show at first, the fifth episode of season one, where Jonathan Groff’s Patrick and Raúl Castillo’s Richie have sex and spend the day together getting to know each other, was a watershed for the series, showing off the same gritty intimacy that defined Looking co-creator Andrew Haigh’s 2011 feature film Weekend. In that episode, Patrick and Richie swap memories and some pop-culture references and get just a little bit closer to each other, sweetly, realistically, and touchingly.
So there’s something sad about the opening of this second episode of season two, where Patrick is in bed with his boss Kevin (Russell Tovey) after they’ve had a nooner in a hotel room. Patrick is babbling and trying to get the same “sharing our memories” chemistry going with Kevin that he had with Richie, and it doesn’t really seem to be working very well. Groff is extremely tense in this scene, even more so than he usually is as Patrick; this might be a choice on his part, or it might just be nerves and lack of chemistry with Tovey as a scene partner. This episode of Looking is the first to show a general lack of focus, as if everyone had to write and shoot it too fast. And this first scene feels depressing, partly because the creators don’t seem to think it is.
Kevin gets up and shakes his naked ass at Patrick, who says, “Booty dance, thank you,” in response. This ass-shaking move from Kevin seems more contemptuous than sexy. Let’s put it this way: It’s not something that it’s easy to imagine Richie doing. They discuss an idea for a gay game app. “Keep it on the sly,” says Kevin. “I know you can keep a secret.” His semi-nasty comment makes Patrick splutteringly confess that he has told his friends Dom and Agustín about their hookups, which does not please Kevin, of course.
Dom and Agustín grill Patrick about the nooner and make fun of the hotel, which Dom says has been a “24-hour meth party since 1997.” Agustín compares Patrick to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, but Patrick insists, “Secrets are friggin’ sexy!” in a voice that sounds less insecure than it might have on a similar first-season line. On the way to go see Dom’s new location for his chicken restaurant (for which he says he needs $80,000), Agustín “playfully” tells Patrick’s secret Kevin information to a loud vagrant on the street. “You can’t do that, homeless people have Twitter accounts,” says Patrick, in one of those occasional moments when he sounds more like one of Lena Dunham’s Girls than like himself.
While they’re all downing drinks at a bar with Doris, Patrick asks Dom to come to the restroom and look at a little rash on his torso. He freaks out about STDs, which is his wont, and the rapid-fire dialogue between Patrick and Dom includes the tidbit that Patrick once freaked out similarly after blowing a “gay Channing Tatum” type. (Let’s see that episode!) Out on the street with Agustín, Patrick admits that he is having “an affair” with the partnered Kevin after trying to wriggle his way out of calling it that, at which point Agustín abandons Patrick. “I can’t go into one of your spirals right now,” he says, callously running off to dance and do some drugs, a dismissal that really seems like a missed opportunity for the show. Surely sometime in their past Agustín did listen to Patrick as a friend and talked him through a difficult situation, and if we could have seen just a little of that here, maybe a different side of Agustín could have emerged. It must be exhausting being such a jerk 24/7, and it also must be exhausting as an actor for Frankie J. Alvarez to have to play that jerkiness over and over.
Dom has some wine at Lynn’s place, and when Lynn asks about the state of his cabin in the woods, he sounds more like Dom’s father than his lover. (“Did you turn off the hot water heater? Set the alarm?”) Lynn then asks if Dom had sex at the place, which lets Dom know that Lynn wants the kind of open relationship where sexual encounters with others are discussed, or at least mentioned, as a matter of course. Lynn makes this exchange of information seem sexy, or like it could be part of their sexual life together.
Meanwhile, Agustín is stoned out of his mind sitting on the street (like some homeless person with a Twitter account) when Richie just happens to show up to take him home to Patrick. Agustín says something in Spanish to Richie, and when Patrick asks about it, Richie says, “Drunk talk.” As ever, Agustín views Richie as merely a sexual object. Richie and Patrick talk a little, during which Richie wriggles out of having lunch with Patrick. Looking is in a curious place now: Groff is pushing Patrick’s nervousness so exasperatingly in this episode that at this point you don’t even want Richie to get back together with him.
After getting tested for STDs, Patrick confronts Kevin in his office about their affair. To stall for time, Kevin gets up and does a dance routine from his childhood, in full view of the office. This is supposed to be charming, I suppose, but it falls flat. Kevin still has almost no redeeming features right now, and if the show is foregrounding a love triangle between him, Patrick, and Richie, that’s a problem.
In this episode, Looking is starting to seem like a scatterbrained quasi-soap opera that can’t get simple things like structure, build, payoff, and protagonist identification right. It’s as though the creators only want to please the audience right now, but they don’t really have the skill to pull it off. This show’s strength is its quiet realism, not “Should Patrick be with Richie or with Kevin?! Tune in next week and click the like button to vote on it!”