Looking Recap: Living Inertia

Dom and Lynn have a disappointing conversation. Photo: John P Johnson/HBO
Episode Title
Looking Down the Road
Editor’s Rating

After the renewal of focus and interest in last week's episode, this week's Looking felt like a drift into a slough of despondency and creative inertia, as if the creators of the show and even the performers were suddenly all too aware that Looking is generally unloved, at least on social media. There are only so many times you can read or hear that your show is “boring” before everyone involved in making it starts getting affected by that verdict. So many scenes in this episode carried an air of “What’s the use?” as if everybody needed a hug and a pep talk.

We see Patrick on the phone in a doorway of his apartment, and he seems tense. (Patrick always seems tense, of course, so he could be talking to anyone from Dom to his mother.) Jonathan Groff is quite artfully lit in the doorway so that we can see every tiny muscle in his thick, sexy legs, and I know I shouldn’t be objectifying a performer — a paid professional — like this, but his legs are an integral part of the composition, of the mise-en-scène, if you will. Kevin is wearing only an apron and a pair of black underwear as he cooks up a greasy breakfast: “You’ll have a heart attack, but you will have a proper English fry-up,” he says, in his cheerful but tense way. (It sometimes seems as if Russell Tovey is unconsciously catching and echoing Groff’s nervous acting style as Patrick.)

Groff’s legs, if I may get back to them, actually serve a narrative function here: Patrick reminds us that he used to be fat and that kids called him “Fatrick,” so he doesn’t want to eat this English breakfast. He says he still feels fat on the inside, to which Kevin responds by complimenting him pretty extravagantly; it's partly what lovers are for, of course, but Kevin goes a little too far. He even says that Patrick gave him “the fuck of my life” the night before, and it’s hard to tell if he's being honest or just being manipulative. Who is Kevin, really? Patrick doesn’t seem to know, and neither, unfortunately, does Tovey, who slides uneasily between attempts at charm and darker impulses.

We check in on Agustín and Eddie, who seem to have spent the night together, and then we see Doris pestering Dom about starting a Kickstarter for his restaurant. Dom has another idea for a Kickstarter: “Are we finally making a movie about a young rent boy’s coming of age?” he asks, a scathing comment that reflects on 90 percent of superficial gay cinema and TV, from which Looking is trying to break away. Looking knows what it doesn’t want to be — it doesn’t want to be the American version of Queer As Folk, which was an outright awful show that ran for years because it offered lots of shots of comely naked men in sexual situations and laughably crude but very watchable nighttime soap-opera plotting. Poor little Looking, by contrast, doesn’t know what to do with its plot, and when it does offer naked men, they are filmed in such a realistic, un-idealized way that most audience members are probably thinking, I could get this at home.

Patrick meets up with Richie (it turns out that he was talking to Richie on the phone in the first scene), and they get some ice cream and talk a bit. Richie says that he is seeing someone, and Patrick explains the Kevin situation. “You’re a homewrecker now, Patrick?” Richie asks, with a bit of that signature disappointment in his voice, but Patrick doesn’t really react to this question much; this whole scene feels far too casual for the complications it's supposed to portray. When Agustín goes to hang out at Eddie’s place of work, a shelter for LGBT teenagers, some transgender kids are introduced briefly but the scene cuts before we can hear them talk, instead jumping right to Agustín asking Eddie about getting a job at the shelter, which seems like a halfhearted plot scene. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to hear what some of these kids had to say and how Agustín reacts to them? Atmosphere and careful observation are this show’s strength, not plot.

Dom goes over to Lynn’s place and finds a shirtless guy named Matthew (Matthew Risch) hanging around. It turns out that Lynn financed a showcase production of Angels in America for Matthew, who is an aspiring actor. Dom looks uncomfortable but gets in a hot tub with them anyway, and he has sex with them even though he isn’t happy about Matthew calling him “Daddy.” This scene feels halfhearted, too, and the same halfheartedness affects the writing in a later scene, where Lynn and Dom seem to be breaking up. Lynn says that he has no more love to give and that he gave it all to his dead partner Brian, a potentially powerful idea that is merely sketched in here. “Even if it’s not with me, you shouldn’t be done, Lynn,” Dom says, a line that is also potentially powerful, but Murray Bartlett reads it with very little urgency. (Bartlett didn’t bother to shave for this whole episode, which doesn’t look artful as it should; it's more like, “I just didn’t feel like shaving.”)

Up on the roof of their office building, Patrick confronts Kevin again about their relationship, though confront is really too strong a word for the listless behavior going on. (At least cinematographer Xavier Grobet gets some really beautiful shots of the sun peeking out of the clouds behind them here.) Everybody winds up at Esta Noche, the club where Richie works, which is closing. We meet Richie’s new redheaded journalist boyfriend Brady, played by Chris Perfetti, who was terrific onstage in Stephen Karam’s play Sons of the Prophet a few years ago, so maybe there's some hope for the new characters. Kevin comes into the club and tells Patrick that he didn’t tell his boyfriend Jon about their affair like he was supposed to, and everybody looks like they need more than a few drinks.