The article below -- part of a series of recaps for the new HBO series "Looking" -- contains spoilers for "Looking In The Mirror" -- the February 23rd episode.
By spending last week's episode intimately focused on just Patrick and Richie (in what felt like an exceptional mini-film in the vein of "Before Sunrise" or Andrew Haigh's own "Weekend), "Looking" achieved new levels of creative development that seemed to win over even its bitchiest detractors (I've always generally been a fan, but I'll definitely agree it was the series' best episode). The series clearly had to bring the rest of the characters back into the fold this time around (yes, even Agustín), and what better way to do that without losing newfound momentum than a boozy, bitchy birthday party in the park. For the occasion of Dom's big 4-0, "Looking" brought almost every character into one setting for the first time, and the result was by far its funniest and most energetic episode.
The episodes starts off with each of the "Looking" boys separately anticipating the party with their varying degrees of love interest. Patrick is rightfully freaking out a bit about Richie formally meeting his friends for the first time, warning him that Agustín can be a "little intense" (which is putting it rather kindly). This leads into a verbal slip in which Patrick says he's just "nervous about everyone meeting his boyfriend," even though that word has yet to be officially declared between them. Richie handles it adorably, pretending to be offput before making it clear the designation is fine by him. He even goes so far as to run out and buy Patrick a traditional Mexican necklace for good luck that matches his. Which is a biiit much (or maybe I'm just cynical), though Patrick seems to accept the gift wholeheartedly (or at least does a good job pretending to). Either way, though, Patrick and Richie: It's official.
Agustín, meanwhile, continues to make his being a spoiled drama queen official as he rips down the photos from the latest "art project" he's working on in his apartment. When his boyfriend Frank tries to offer some comfort, Agustín rips him apart too and storms off to cry or something. He offers the same pathetic behavior later on when him and Frank are shopping for snacks for Dom's party, even going so far as to say: "I don't want to be one of those people who keeps talking ad nauseam." Hey, Agustín, you already are. And you're also an asshole for waiting until now to tell your boyfriend you've invited your new sex worker BFF/art project to Dom's birthday, and even more of one for then shutting down Frank's suggestion to buy Cheetos with "you're really going to be the black guy who brings Cheetos to the party."
And then there's the almost birthday boy, who is having drinks with Lynn (not yet Dom's actual love interest, but clearly should be) and two rich old upper class gays that they hope might invest in Dom's chicken restaurant dream. Dom clearly is not used to this social world, and fails miserably trying to pass. When the potential investors go on about the late, great San Francisco drag queen and activist Mama José, Dom has no idea what they're talking about and tries to make up for it with a joke about "Mama José" sounding like "a cheap taco joint" that does not go over well. Which doesn't help things for the already on-edge Dom, who is hours away from turning 40. Dom whines to Lynn about how "at 40, Grindr e-mails you a death certificate" and he plans on spending his birthday party "drinking modestly and sulking." And then after offering that Debbie Downer advertisement, invites Lynn to come along. Lynn, himself probably 10 years older than Dom, politely turns down the offer before giving the best advice offered by a "Looking" character so far: "On my 40th birthday, we did mushrooms on a canoe in the Russian river. Maybe you're issuing your own death certificate a little prematurely." If things don't work out with Dom, I'll marry you tomorrow, Lynn.
Finally, they all (sans Lynn) meet at Dolores Park thanks to a Facebook event created from our beloved Doris. Worlds collide as a result -- many of these characters have barely if at all met -- and the episode becomes an exceptionally fun ride through the social complexities of the various relationships on display. Here's a few highlights:
- Agustín is immediately as horrible to Patrick and Richie as he was to Frank at the grocery store, responding to the news that the two are now officially an item with a hardly supportive sounding "wow, when did this happen?" before putting down Patrick's necklace (Agustín, have you looked at what you're wearing?). Patrick handles this very well by cuddling up to Richie and re-affirming he loves the necklace, but this is only the first test...
- Everyone teases Patrick for his voicemail being "so gay," a conversation that says a lot about Patrick's -- and everyone else's -- stigma toward effeminacy and own internalized homophobia. "It's not gay. It sounds completely normal," Patrick says. Eeeee...
- Teased out of the voicemail conversation, Agustín claims Patrick spends all his time pretending to be a power top (a throwback to last episode's "bottom shame" conversation). This leads Richie -- clearly and reasonably annoyed by Agustín and perhaps the only gay man at the picnic with a secure sense of sexual identity -- to feel the need to stand up for his belittled boyfriend. "Who says he's pretending," Richie says. "And I think your gay voice is sexy, Poppo." What Patrick takes from that, however, is that everybody thinks he has a gay voice, so he decides to get up and exaggerate it through a camped up monologue that though very fun to watch is a sad display of how so many gay men feel about their feminine qualities.
- Patrick's little display of his inner, shamed queen is interrupted by Kevin, the sexy British boss we know he wants to fuck ("you're so gay fired," Doris throws out in one of her many awesome lines in this episode). Kevin just so happened to be at the park with his boyfriend, a hulky sports doctor named John (who we immediately discover is also a hulky loser when he spoon-feeds Kevin ice cream via the line "it's the one from the Food Network with the olive oil"). Richie decides to walk over, and in the face of the masculine, successful and white power couple he deep down dreams of being a part of one day, Patrick tellingly does not introduce Richie as his boyfriend before displaying a clear sense of embarrassment when Richie proudly notes he cuts hair for a living. This is Patrick's first major fail as Richie's boyfriend, and our first confirmation that their whole thing is pretty much doomed.
- Agustín's art project/BFF CJ shows up and meets Frank. I frankly don't really care. But notable is that CJ likes Cheetos, and I'll take anything that puts Agustín even remotely in his place. Oh, and it also seems like Agustín has set up some sort of paid three-way between them.
- A characteristically entertaining conversation between Dom and Doris is interrupted by the delivery of some flowers. My reaction is personified through Doris's: "They're from Lynn. Oh my god. Oh, motherfucker. What is happening?" She's clearly overjoyed, and unlike most people at the picnic, knows how to be a good person to someone else.
- The opposite of Doris, Agustín takes things a big step further toward sociopathy by offering a condescending and cruel speech to Patrick out about Richie (though I'll admit there's probably a little truth to it): "What are you doing, Patrick? What are you doing letting this guy walk around thinking he's your boyfriend? Isn't it a little cruel? Leading him on and wearing those hideous matching charm necklaces?"
- Things get ugly when Richie overhears a particularly horrible part of Agustín's ramblings -- "you're slumming, and it ain't cute" -- and admirably has the nerve to walk over and call him out on it. Agustín is a total coward in response, and while Patrick breaks things up, he does so without properly standing up for Richie, another boyfriend fail (though still, fuck, it is a lot for Patrick to face at once).
- A hot, ripped, twentysomething approaches Dom and asks if its him he sees on Grindr and tells him to message him later. Apparently that death certificate got lost in the mail. Also, best thing of the whole episode: During this scene you Doris making out with a random in the background. Girl isn't just sitting around being Dom's second banana!
The party ends with a lot of repercussions that will take us in to the season's final two episodes. Though the three couplings we met at the episode's beginning each get a final scene alone to push that all a bit more forward (or backward).
For Agustín and Frank, its that inevitable three way with CJ (which Agustín seems to be filming for "his art"). Whatever.
For Dom and Lynn, its a very grown up decision on the former's part to choose the older man who gave him flowers over the younger man who found him on Grindr on the night of his 40th birthday. They smoke pot and have a beer, and Lynn tells him the disappointing news that the rich old gays aren't going to help him the restaurant. Lynn, however, says they should do a pop up restaurant together instead, and that he can afford to fund something on that scale. It's an incredibly kind offer, and one that Dom decides to follow-up by kissing Lynn. But Lynn -- the only character on this show besides Doris who seems to know how to behave -- has the self-respect to turn him down (even know we know he wants him). To be continued...
And for the already troubled new boyfriends Patrick and Richie, Richie rightfully calls out Patrick on all of the day's bullshit. "Are you slumming it? Is that what this is?" Richie makes it clear he takes "this boyfriend thing very seriously" and Patrick retaliates by inviting him to his sister's wedding, instead of facing the truth exposed by the day's events. He is not ready for Richie, and perhaps never will be. Richie seems too see this too, but doesn't want to. And when Patrick pushes it and pushes it, he reluctantly agrees to be his wedding date, setting up another likely disaster for the couple (though one I'm excited to watch).
The episode -- titled "Looking In The Mirror" -- ends with Patrick doing just that, staring at the necklace Richie gave him as it hangs on his neck. Agustín had claimed in the park that Patrick is using Richie to prove something to his friends, though what's likely closer to the truth is that Patrick's doing so to prove something to himself. And through that, a lot of viewers (including -- I'll admit -- this one) are probably getting an uneasy glance in the mirror themselves, and that's a huge compliment to "Looking."