Looking Recap: A New Leaf

Episode Title
Looking Top to Bottom
Editor’s Rating

After what seemed like a step in the wrong direction last week, this episode of Looking felt like a retrenching, playing to the show’s realistic strengths and also adding some welcome new textures to the characters. This is mainly a Patrick-and-Kevin episode, carefully charting the ebb and flow of their secret relationship, acknowledging some of their difficulties, and rekindling the kind of chemistry between Jonathan Groff and Russell Tovey that really hasn’t been seen since the Folsom Street Fair episode from season one. Looking has settled back into its own distinctive groove: taking its time, quietly observing things, letting what happens happen naturally without any tangible manipulation in the writing.

As a cake is brought in for a birthday party at their office, Patrick boldly grabs Kevin’s ass as they all sing “Happy Birthday,” a very sexy move, both because it’s a risk and because Patrick doesn’t seem to care. Neither, it seems, does Kevin, who glances back almost submissively at his secret lover. This hint of submission will pay off in the last scene of the episode, and this is a good example of how tiny shifts of behavior on this show can signal changes in relationships. Just like life, not like most TV series.

Up on the roof of their office building, Kevin says that he can see Patrick for “28 whole hours” on the weekend. But Patrick is torn. “I have plans,” he says, explaining that he wants to go to a rugby game that Dom is playing in. Kevin immediately becomes bosslike and jerky: “Patrick, cancel them,” he says in a very lordly tone. This is Kevin at his least likable, and we learn from Patrick's reaction that Kevin has done this before, leaving him alone at the last minute. This time, Kevin feels bad and says he will come to Dom’s rugby game instead, as Patrick’s friend. Drama is set up here, but since Looking is more like life than like a TV show, the drama will not play out quite as you expect it to.

This is a gold-star Looking episode because Agustín finally, finally takes some responsibility for his consistently bad behavior, going to see Richie in his shop and thanking him for his knightly behavior in last week’s episode and then apologizing for being so mean to him when he was seeing Patrick. This apology doesn’t feel like it has any ulterior motive: Agustín just seems to have realized that he likes Richie, and that Richie and Patrick had something together.

The skeptical Richie asks Agustín if he is in love with Patrick, and Agustín shrugs that off in a fairly convincing way. “So you were just being an asshole for no reason? Great,” Richie replies. But Agustín has lots of issues with self-loathing, which is partially why he attacked Richie, who must sense that on some level. Agustín is trying to be better now, and that’s all we can ask of anyone. As a way of burying the hatchet between them, Richie even gives Agustín’s beard a trim — and is it just me, or did Frankie J. Alvarez look particularly cute after Agustín’s apology and the beard trimming? It must have been a relief and a load off his shoulders as an actor to get something new to play.

Agustín even accompanies Patrick to a store so that Patrick can find an enema product to clean himself out for Kevin’s visit, which seems very Golden Girls, and that’s all for the better, right down to the sassy blonde behind the counter at the store, who soothes Patrick’s usual nerves by saying, “Oh honey, do you know where you live?” Agustín tells Patrick about meeting up with Richie, and when he gently suggests that Patrick should maybe call Richie, there’s nothing overbearing or typical-Agustín-y about the way he does this. He just realizes that Patrick and Richie were good together, and he wants to see if they might still be. He also wants to make amends, and again, what a relief this is for Looking. Agustín is showing, at last, why Patrick was friends with him in the first place.

Next, we spy on the grizzled hotness of Dom and Lynn in bed together, and then Doris in bed with her new sex partner Malik (Bashir Salahuddin) in the next bedroom over. “Two grown-ass 40-year-olds still doing the roommate thing?” Malik asks, but Doris says it’s the ever-increasing rent in town that keeps her living with Dom. This reflects on Patrick and Agustín, too, who are ten years younger and might very well still be living together at 40 if nothing pans out for them romantically. Looking suggests that lots of people these days might be leading these college-y lives well into middle age, a kind of perpetual arrested development. Then again, the Golden Girls themselves lived together, ostensibly to save on money, and that show proved — as this one might — that such a situation might be good for people as well as bad for them.

We see a comically woebegone Patrick bending over on the tile of his bathroom to clean himself out, and he says, “So, so sexy,” in a deadpan tone of voice; this is an archetypal Looking moment, acknowledging the reality of ugly bodily functions and issues without reveling in them as some gross-out comedies do. Patrick has drinks with Kevin, who says that he was “a horrible little bastard as a teenager,” to which Patrick replies, “Well, that’s very hard to believe, you’re very charming now,” in a very fast, sarcastic voice. Ouch! This little acknowledgment of Kevin’s jerkiness helps us to see that he, like Agustín, is human and flawed, and there is maybe something more to him aside from Tovey’s rugged charm as an actor.

Patrick and Kevin go to Dom’s rugby game, where Agustín has brought his bear beau Eddie (Daniel Franzese). If Agustín were still being Agustín, this would seem like a setup for him to do his usual demolition job on Kevin, but Agustín is trying to be a nice guy at the moment, so it falls to flirty Eddie to make everyone uncomfortable by asking if Kevin has a boyfriend. After the encouragement of a very English and very embarrassing-for-Dom rugby chant, Patrick and Kevin retreat quickly and go up to the bleachers to kiss, Groff and Tovey working up a whole lot of relaxed chemistry up there.

We see Dom naked in the showers (a nice, sexy shot that doesn’t feel gratuitous because of the matter-of-fact way that it is filmed) as he finds out that Lynn has been setting him up with his contacts for a restaurant manager job. Dom confronts Lynn about it and then walks off, and Scott Bakula has a perfect little moment here where Lynn closes his eyes and looks up in a “Why me?” gesture that feels both specific and general at once. All the actors are at their best in this episode, particularly Lauren Weedman, who gains in both beauty and confidence after Doris’s good sex with Malik. 

Kevin teases Patrick about owning Brad Gooch’s 2002 self-help book Finding the Boyfriend Within, which they condemn in a thorough and very funny way (to be fair, Gooch’s fiction is good and his biographies of Frank O’Hara and Flannery O’Connor are stellar, so I think we can forgive him for the self-help book). Kevin wants to get right to sex like they usually do, but Patrick slows them down. They don’t need to rush now. And so they cuddle and watch some TV, and then when they do have sex, Patrick tops Kevin, which was not what he had been expecting, of course. This switch seems to bring them closer together until the morning after when Kevin picks up his phone to talk to his boyfriend Jon, which ends this expansive episode on an ominous, downward note.