Looking Recap: Funeral Roots

Doris and Dom go in to see her father’s body in the funeral home. Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO
Episode Title
Looking for a Plot
Editor’s Rating

Detractors of this show might see the title for this episode and laugh that Looking is always looking for a plot in the narrative sense, but the title refers to a scene where Patrick, Dom, and Doris are looking for the funeral plot of Dom’s father. And so this is a funeral episode, though it doesn’t begin that way. “Oh God,” says a miserably hung-over Patrick in the first scene; he is wearing a baseball cap, as if he doesn’t want to be seen or recognized by anyone. “Why did you guys let me drink tequila last night?” he asks his loyal friends, who are sitting with him after his disastrous Halloween party meltdown. “You know it makes me mean and scary.”

Patrick is trying to blame his very bad behavior in the previous episode on tequila, but his guilty face shows that he knows better. Doris is happily talking about how she has had 17 orgasms in five days with her boyfriend Malik, and Dom chimes in that he has heard 15 of them, and Patrick says that he might have to leave the country, and the talk comes fast and furious as usual until Doris reads a text on her phone from her Aunt Sarah, who has written to tell her that her father has died. Doris announces that her dad just died to the group, and it takes a few seconds for that information to sink in for everyone.

We head out to Modesto, California, for the funeral with Dom and Doris and Patrick, who has been allowed to tag along even though he never met Doris’s father. Patrick asks Doris about her childhood, and we learn some fairly grim things. Doris says that her mother was an alcoholic who used to come into her room at night and act menacing and say charming things like “Up yours with a meat hook!” As she is relating this story to Patrick, there are a lot of other things going on in Doris’s face, as if she is being assaulted by various other memories but trying to keep a stoic and amused demeanor. “It gave me a sense of humor, encouraged me to go into nursing,” she says, her voice kind of trailing off. This scene suggests that this is going to be a Doris episode, and this is surely something that everyone who watches this show wants, but of course Looking isn’t going to give you any simple pleasures with her. Instead, the show makes you look at Doris in a slightly new way here, and it takes a lot of tonal risks in doing that.

Maybe the finest single scene this show has ever done is when Doris and Dom go in to see her father’s body in the funeral home, and it’s worth pointing out all of the chances that it takes. Doris has a panicked moment where she doesn’t know if she wants to see the body, but Dom steels her for it. They go in and Doris looks so tense, she might snap at any moment. “I hate that fucking suit,” she says. “Aunt Sarah is too fucking cheap to buy him a new one?” She remembers her father making tuna fish sandwiches for her and Dom when they were teenagers and how he always made a thumbs-up gesture. “He loved thumbs-up,” Doris says, and she seems just about at the point of breaking down, but then she recovers, as she always does, by taking refuge in humor. She points out the makeup they’ve put on her father’s face. “He kind of looks like a drag queen,” Dom says, and Doris takes a second where she tries not to laugh and then she does, a little hysterically, so much so that she spits, and then she apologizes to her father’s corpse for spitting. There is genuine danger in this scene, not just for the characters, but for Lauren Weedman and Murray Bartlett as well, and they get through it all intact somehow.

They visit the site of Dom’s father’s failed restaurant, which is now a doughnut shop, and Patrick keeps trying to compete for attention with sad stories of his own youth. They then try to frolic in the pool at the very bleak hotel they’re staying at, the Clarion Inn, which Doris thought was a super-cool place when she was a kid. Patrick asks about the sex Dom and Doris used to have when they first knew each other: Dom says it was good; Doris says it wasn’t. They get out of the pool and have some KFC chicken in their white bathrobes — one of the most depressing images this show has ever served up.

Who plays Doris’s Aunt Sarah? Mary Kay Place, of course, who is automatic casting for parts like this. Aunt Sarah talks about how much Doris’s father loved Doris at the funeral, and then she reads a Walt Whitman poem. As she does this, Patrick starts to cry very hard, so hard that he has to break away slightly from the group, who can still hear him. This scene feels like a crucial failure because it emphasizes Patrick’s selfishness and attention-seeking without giving his reaction enough emotional backup and dimension. If Patrick’s reaction had been framed as inappropriate, but also genuine and unavoidable, it could have worked, but it was not staged that way. Patrick seems like such a graceless attention hog here that Doris is heroically kind when she gives him a pass on it later at the reception.

They try and fail to find the grave of Dom’s father, and Dom says he’s sad that his father never got to know about his adult life and his gayness. So they get back in their car and Patrick drives past the cemetery so that Dom can shout that he is gay to all of the graves at once. This dramatic moment of closure gets instantly ruined when Patrick collides with another car. In the hospital waiting room, Doris tells Dom that her father left her some money and she wants to give it to him for his chicken restaurant. Good-hearted Doris!

Unfortunately, aside from the scene with her father’s corpse, Doris actually gets sidelined a lot in what initially felt like her own episode, and this mistake is compounded when the episode ends with Patrick going home and finding Kevin (ugh!) outside his door (apparently he’s just been waiting outside the whole time or something). Alas, Kevin says he has left his boyfriend and wants to be with Patrick now. “I’m completely fucking in love with you,” he says, which sounds uncomfortably close to what he said to him in that skeevy scene when they first hooked up at the office. Even if they were going to go this very unfortunate route, the creators of Looking might have had the grace to not tack this wholly unwelcome development on to the end of an episode where it really has no place.