This episode of Looking, which is airing in late February, is a Halloween episode. Why? So that there can be a big party scene with a big public meltdown for Patrick. Because of course this wouldn’t play as colorfully during a Valentine’s Day party or a February 16 Presidents Day party or what have you. There are a lot of things about this episode that don’t work. It feels rushed and contrived at crucial moments, but it also feels like a key episode, and its final effect is upsetting in ways that are difficult to explain.
“Didn’t this used to be a Blockbuster?” asks Dom, as he and Patrick and Agustín go shopping for their Halloween costumes. Patrick and Agustín are giving a Halloween blowout at their place, and Patrick is determined to be a “fun gay.” This sounds like a response to the pervasive complaints about Looking on social media. (How many times have you read, “These guys are so drab! My gay friends and I are so much more fun!”?) Agustín insists, “I’m already a fun gay,” but Dom shoots that down instantly with, “You’re literally the least fun gay I know.” The tone in this scene is one of friendly teasing of the kind that close friends feel like they can indulge in periodically. The disturbing thing about this episode is that the mild mockery we see in this first scene eventually takes a free-form plunge into aimless hostility from Patrick.
Patrick and Dom both feel that it’s fine to insult the “new Agustín” because they had to put up with his wall-to-wall nastiness during the time covered in the first season. When Agustín runs off to work at his shelter on the Saturday that they are giving their party, Patrick wonders, “How is it that the new, thoughtful Agustín still leaves me with everything to do?” Tolerant Dom replies, “He’s trying his best; it just … isn’t … that great.” Murray Bartlett reads this line in exactly the right pragmatic and slightly sour fashion. All of the Agustín problems from season one have been miraculously solved by giving him Eddie as a boyfriend and giving him a new way of relating to his friends. It’s as if Agustín has filled his quota of bad behavior and now he has to make nice and take some bad behavior from Patrick for a while in return. That’s a depressing way of looking at it, but this show can be bleak like that.
When Patrick comes to work to pilfer some Kit Kat bars, he discovers Kevin gloomily sitting alone in his office. Kevin tells Patrick that he is thinking of going back to Seattle with his boyfriend, Jon, and Jonathan Groff is a little inexact in his reactions as Patrick here. Patrick is maybe still a little unclear about his feelings for Kevin, but Groff seems unclear about the nature of Patrick’s unclear feelings, and this is a problem of imprecision for him that will carry through the rest of this episode.
No such confusion ever afflicts Lauren Weedman’s Doris. When Dom brings in his computer to ask for online help with his Kickstarter campaign, Doris jokes, “If this involves curating your naked selfies, I already told you it’s weird if you show your butt hole.” Weedman has crack comic timing. She always talks very, very fast on this show, but she still manages to land every one of her jokes; this is a technical skill, really. On Girls, so many of the performers talk too fast and don’t land all of their jokes because they skim right past them. Weedman talks just as fast as, say, Zosia Mamet’s exhausting Shoshanna on Girls, but she gets her laughs by shaping certain words in her rapid-fire delivery, which is a matter of emphasis more than anything else. This is all a professional way of describing just how important Weedman is to this show.
There’s some very charming and naturalistic interplay between Patrick and Agustín as they prepare for their party. Patrick is dressed as a video-game character named Gordon Freeman, and he keeps insisting that everyone will know who Gordon Freeman is, and the joke is that barely anyone knows this character except for Richie’s boyfriend, Brady (Chris Perfetti), which annoys Patrick very much, of course. It also annoys Patrick that Brady is so attractive and charismatic and a successful journalist, to boot.
In the outside yard area during the party, practically all of the characters on the show get into a debate about taking PREP, the HIV-prevention pill. This is a disappointing scene, because an extended discussion of PREP, which is very controversial in the gay community, would be far more interesting and informative than the very short, character-focused rundown it gets here, which barely begins before Patrick is made to feel uncomfortable for not knowing enough about it. (Similarly, the way that Patrick rejects James, a dull suitor at the party, feels too abrupt to make the impact that it should.) Then Kevin and his boyfriend, Jon, arrive unexpectedly; Dom has also forgotten to set up the $200 karaoke machine Patrick bought, which worsens his mood further.
Very frustrated, a drunken Patrick gets up to address the crowd and makes an excruciating fool of himself, ramblingly calling out Agustín for not paying the rent, randomly making fun of Dom’s chicken restaurant Kickstarter, and then almost spilling the beans about his affair with Kevin before being pulled from the microphone. This meltdown feels somewhat forced and theatrical, as if it hasn’t been properly prepared for — not because it hasn’t been deliberately set up beforehand, but because the setup has been sketched in too quickly, to unconvincing effect. Maybe the problem is partly that the Kevin-Patrick situation feels very played out at this point; it also seems clear that Patrick should just be friends with poor, emotionally battered Richie, if even that. What this show needs, and maybe what Patrick needs, is a new love interest. Until then, he’ll just have to rest on Dom’s shoulder, as he does in the last scene here, and stare miserably at all of the other couples around him.