The title of this unusually sharp, focused, and potent episode of Looking is a key to the patient virtues of this show and its search for realistic human behavior. This episode relies heavily on Jonathan Groff and Raúl Castillo as actors, and they fully deliver on everything that is asked of them. Both Groff and Castillo know the characters they are playing very well, and so do we at this point, and so there’s no more shilly-shallying around as there was last week. This is Looking at its most crisply to the point and on point.
In the first shot here, Patrick looks very unhappy in the midst of another party at work, but his sad exterior masks a steady anger and an inner resolve. Patrick’s co-workers dismissively refer to Kevin as “David Beckham.” (This is maybe the one off-note in this episode, because these co-workers are American, not British, and I’ve never heard any American mention or talk about David Beckham, who is a very British obsession.) The co-workers say that Kevin is taking credit for a successful game that he barely worked on, which does sound like typical manipulative Kevin behavior.
Patrick asks Kevin if he can leave the party, and Kevin looks all wounded. “I haven’t been able to sleep,” Kevin says pitifully, to which Patrick responds, “Maybe you should take something for that,” in a very over-it, fuck-you tone. What a relief it is to hear Patrick finally throw some much-deserved passive-aggressiveness at Kevin, and what a relief it is to see sweety-sweet Groff unleash a new side of Patrick, who doesn’t seem nervous at all in this episode. Patrick has changed a little here, in a very believable way. “No one got hurt,” Patrick says, as he heads toward the elevator, twisting the knife into Kevin, who is clearly hurt, and paying him back at last for the very coercive, unsexy, and inappropriate way they hooked up in the office at the end of the first season.
Patrick goes home and jerks off to porn and then looks at Richie’s Facebook page, which is the most spot-on emotional trajectory he would take after telling off Kevin. He finds out that Richie needs someone to help him drive a truck, so Patrick immediately volunteers. When Agustín tries to tell Patrick not to hurt Richie again, Patrick isn’t having it; he even tells Agustín that he needs to clean the bathroom. “Your fur balls are making me dry-heave every time I take a shower,” he snaps, flinging that catty remark into Agustín’s face before leaving to meet up with Richie.
Patrick’s “I’m over it” sass here is all in good fun, because he has never been quite this bitchy and world-weary before. People are multidimensional, but you have to be careful when you’re writing or playing a fictional character, because a “new side” to them can often manifest as implausible or outright wrong. The strains of his life have pressed on Patrick so much that it is entirely plausible that he would sink into dismissive/protective mode. Because Looking always plays things so subtle and so close to the vest, there are satisfactions to be had from seemingly minor shifts in character behavior that probably wouldn’t register on a more impatient show.
The secondary story line here about Agustín and Eddie, who talk and hook up at Eddie’s place, fills in some detail about Eddie for us. Eddie tells Agustín that he contracted HIV from a boyfriend that he trusted (and I’ve heard this story far too many times already in life, so I’m going to be preachy here and say use condoms always no matter what and do not trust anyone, no matter how much you love them, with your health and well-being). Eddie is wary about starting another relationship. He keeps putting Agustín off and making him jump through little hoops as they talk, and it is clear that there’s a sadness in Eddie’s flip manner that he refuses to let anyone see. This is conveyed in as subtle a manner as everything else in this episode.
“You sure you can drive stick?” Richie asks, to which Patrick says, “Can I ever.” This is a classic Looking moment, because it’s a joke that fails. Patrick’s “Can I ever” lacks confidence, energy, and proper timing, and so it just drifts away, and he admits that failure right after it happens. Like in life! I mean, think back to Sex and the City. Was there ever a moment on that show when a joke line wasn’t heavily underlined and hammered remorselessly home, sometimes with old-time borscht-belt delivery, by its four lead actresses? There are superficial pleasures to be had from that non-realistic style, of course, but the overdose of falsity on a fantasy show like Sex and the City ultimately leaves you unsatisfied, even sometimes sick to your stomach. Looking will never give you easy pleasures, but the pleasures it does offer are deeply satisfying.
We learn a lot about Richie and how heartbroken he was over breaking up with Patrick, and we meet some of his family members and friends, who keep mentioning Richie’s disapproving father. Patrick just takes all of this information in, and Groff highlights the fact that Patrick is flattered that Richie was so upset about their breakup. This isn’t an attractive reaction, but Groff shows it honestly without ever overplaying it, so he keeps our sympathy, even when Patrick tells Richie about the first hookup he had with Kevin while they were still dating, which feels very selfish but also like a mistake that a basically good person might wander into. Luckily, Richie is just a genuinely good guy, in so many ways, and he swallows this new insult without flinching. He even says, “I’d be very sad if you weren’t in my life,” to Patrick, a moment that feels as touching as this show has ever been.