Looking Recap: Sands Through the Hourglass

Julia Duffy (right) steals the show. Photo: John P Johnson/HBO
Episode Title
Looking for Sanctuary
Editor’s Rating

This is a complex and surprising episode of Looking that plays with expectations until all of the characters rush forward into life-changing decisions because it seems like time is running out for them. There’s a swift kind of desperation here, a dark but giddy sort of movement into the unknown, underscored by wondering and misgivings.

Kevin is looking for a new apartment. “Wow,” says Patrick as he stands near an elaborate set of windows. He sighs for a moment and then tells Kevin that he looks forward to fucking him against these windows, and the San Francisco real-estate lady broker chimes in with “And those windows can take it, they’re double-paned!” Kevin makes a quick decision to take the apartment. He hasn’t asked Patrick to move in with him because they both feel, without saying anything, that it might be too soon for that.

They talk to each other outside of the apartment house in very beautiful soft and receding sunlight, which is more evocative of endings than beginnings. Kevin is about to meet Patrick’s mother, and Patrick is embarrassed to tell Kevin she has never met one of his boyfriends before. “I am so fucking good with mums,” Kevin says reassuringly. He is sporting fashionable, barely-there facial scruff, a visual marker of the need to make a firmer decision.

Doris tells Dom that her uncle is contesting her father’s will, which means they won’t know if he’ll get the money for his restaurant for three or four months. Dom panics about this, and Doris reacts in a very hard and self-protective way. They quickly descend into an ugly little spat that is obviously animated by a whole lot more than this money issue, as if all kinds of past resentments, both with each other and with life, could no longer be ignored.

Patrick’s mom, Dana, played by Newhart’s Julia Duffy, is enjoying her “second Pineapple Royale” when she meets up with Kevin and Patrick, and Duffy gives some 1980s Yuppie tang to her line readings at first, but she moves far past any pleasurable Newhart nostalgia here; in fact, this is an episode that comes to hinge on Dana in unexpected and upsetting ways. Kevin shows her their game app, and she sniffs, “By the way, Patrick, there’s nothing wrong with making money, especially if it’s doing something you love.” At the bar, she offers to “broker a rapprochement” with Patrick’s uptight sister Megan, who is morally offended by the way Patrick broke up Kevin’s relationship with Jon.

As Kevin and Patrick shop for a mattress, Kevin looks at Patrick and shamelessly says, “This one likes it nice and hard,” to the male sales rep, who has an unreadable though not particularly pleased reaction, which makes Kevin’s face fall a bit (as always on this show, little jokes often don’t work out very well for people). Kevin bashfully asks if Patrick would like to move in with him, and he leaves it for Patrick to consider. Meanwhile Agustín is asked by Eddie to paint a mural for the homeless shelter, and Agustín asks Eddie if he should go on the HIV-prevention medication PrEP. “It’s the socially responsible San Francisco gay man thing to do,” says Agustín, which sounds a little too much like a commercial. Later Agustín will run into his old boyfriend, Frank, and introduce Eddie as his friend, which clearly doesn’t sit well with Eddie.

During an outing at the zoo, Patrick’s sister Megan makes a mean comment about watching his weight, and mother Dana offers her son a Xanax. Dana feeds the animals, and when Patrick chastises her she says, “Honey, these are quinoa chips  …  from Whole Foods!” But these little jokes give way to a loaded scene where Megan attacks Patrick for breaking up Kevin’s relationship with Jon and then attacks gay male promiscuity in a way that sounds more than a little jealous underneath. “Isn’t it different for two men?” Dana asks, trying to help, and this comment exists in a murky area between offensive categorization and likable tolerance. But this “shot in the dark” remark takes on a very different tone when Dana confesses to her children that she has developed romantic feelings for a friend of hers and is thinking of leaving their father. “I have to try to honor my truth,” she tells her children, in a very chilly fashion that seems to mark her as an egoistic baby boomer blithely insisting on her right to personal pleasure.

Dom tries to apologize to Doris, but he doesn’t realize that she is finally going to cash in her chips on their stultifying relationship. She doesn’t want to be 70 years old, she tells Dom, and still in the same “co-dependent mess” with him. This is the side of Doris that needs to look out for herself, and when she leaves, Dom looks totally bereft. He has no  backup plan. Right now, his entire life just walked out the door, and the look of loneliness on his face explains the intense rush for coupling and sanctuary in this episode.

Agustín patches up his relationship with Eddie finally, very sweetly, having broken through all of Eddie’s own self-protective barriers. And then Patrick has a final scene with his mother that is really killer in terms of dramatic impact. Even the way the scene is shot has a sense of urgency, as if they were running out of light and needed all of Julia Duffy’s soul as a performer as quickly as possible. Actors have to be ready for moments like this, and to her credit, Duffy is definitely ready to expose a lifetime of worry and doubt on her face as Patrick asks her if she is making the right decision. He asks if she feels her whole life has been bullshit, and this question destroys the boomer confidence we saw in her earlier at the zoo. Duffy’s eyes dart around frantically as Dana wonders if she has wasted her life, unearthing all of her personal turmoil, and then trying very hard to sweep it back under the rug as she takes her leave of Patrick. (Note to Looking creators: Please do send Emmy voters this episode for Duffy.)

Very understandably, Patrick rushes to Kevin and says that he will move in with him, not because he’s sure of himself but because he has caught his mother’s “time is running out” panic. The different strands of plot here run against each other fluidly and touchingly, and the air of “last chance!” or last call reflects on the underdog status of Looking itself, which hasn’t been renewed for another season yet. Hopefully HBO will offer it some sanctuary.