Looking at “Looking”: A wedding, a breakup, and a Sugerbaker


Chad Kaydo: In the second-to-last episode of the first season of “Looking,” things start coming to a head for our San Franciscan gentlemen. 

An anxious Patrick upsets Richie and goes to his sister’s wedding solo. Dom upsets Lynne as they prepare their one-night pop-up restaurant. Agustin pulls out of his art show and probably his relationship with Frank. And we meet the source of all of Patrick’s mommy issues: “Designing Women” alum Julia Duffy.

(Also this week HBO announced it will renew “Looking” for a second season.)

Gentlemen, let’s start with Patrick. I’m going to put aside how inappropriate (and arguably unrealistic) it is to introduce a new boyfriend to your family at your sister’s wedding. (I mean, was there no rehearsal dinner? They couldn’t have lunch a couple days earlier?) What did you think of how Patty treated Richie? How about when he grunted “Richie, stay” while he went into the hotel to fetch his mother’s phone?

Sam Wineman: As much as I don’t like how Patrick treated Richie, I’m not a fan of a guy who takes off every time he doesn’t like how something is going. It happened on their first date and it happened again before the wedding. Patrick was annoying but so was Richie’s inability to work things out.

They really don’t seem like a fit, and not even for the reasons Patrick is concerned with. Richie can be wrong for Patrick without proving Agustin and his inner-mother right…right?

Matthew Phillp: I agree, Richie does seem to take off at a moment’s notice and they can make a bad couple for reasons other than neurosis. Still, I guess the point here is conflict that is designed to have Patrick grow up somewhat and this episode felt more and more like class and race were the reason Patrick was involved with Richie. This week was the first time I have felt like I might have a fundamental problem with Patrick as a person if I met him in real life. 

Jesse Oxfeld: We’ve established that I don’t really care for Patrick, that I think he’s an annoying person and not a particularly successful series protagonist. But in the early parts of this episode, I was with him. I have control-freakish tendencies, and the morning of your sister’s wedding, when you’re introducing your new boyfriend to your family and are running late in the first place and need to pick up mom’s cell phone from her hotel—what, you couldn’t have also had an asteroid aiming for Marin, writers?—is a perfectly reasonable time for we planny folks to get a bit stressed out. (On the other hand, if Patrick were legitimately control-freaky, he’d know how to tie a bow tie, and he’d have had it done before he got into the car. And would have consulted seriously on Richie’s outfit.) And so it seems to me that Patty was entitled to feel a little overwhelmed, and to be slightly less than entirely considerate, and, really, who wants someone pawing at your neck while you’re trying to drive? One wants a boyfriend to be able to put up with a bad mood for a bit without packing up and marching off toward Sausalito. 

(Of course, one also wants Patrick not to lash out on his perfectly nice mother, who turns his shit back on him with delightful and deserved ease. That’s when I remembered why I don’t like him.)

And all of that does, I believe, speak to the larger problems with them as a couple. Richie was legitimately stressed out, too, and not wrongfully. And it was a mistake to make this already tense day the meet-the-family day, too. (As Chad points out, one presumes the Murrays lunch. Perhaps at the club?) But his constant inferiority complex is going to become incredibly trying for their relationship. It’s nice to have a boyfriend, and it’s nice to have a boyfriend who really seems to like you, and so I can understand why Patrick is falling into this. But it’s also hard to have a boyfriend who is totally unlike you. It is not impossible that I am simply a pretentious snob, but, really, could any of you date someone who didn’t go/isn’t going to college? Who has no ambition or goals beyond working in a barbershop? So far we’ve seen that Richie can’t really hang out with Patrick’s friends, can’t come spend a day with Patrick’s family, can’t really interact in Patrick’s outside-the-bedroom (or bar) life. This seems not a recipe for success to me—but then again, I’m sitting here, alone, looking for someone who has the interest and income to accompany me to Europe for ten days in May. So what do I know?

Sam: Richie’s line of work is different than Patrick’s. His goals probably have more to do with his profession: build a regular clientele, learn the cuts that are trending, maybe get mentioned in a Yelp review. The point is, success is going to look different for him than it is for Patrick. To answer your question, I’ve definitely dated someone who didn’t want anything more than to cut hair and that wasn’t a problem for me. If the compatibility is there and we work, why get hung up on whether or not we have the same checklist?

Matthew: Not that it can’t work but I guess it just depends what’s prompting you to stick around if all the familiar signifiers aren’t there. The more I think about it, the more I dislike that Patrick IS essentially using Ritchie’s otherness as a means of breaking himself out of some rigid structure he, as a result of his increasingly apparent martyrdom, feels he’s been forced into by other people.

Jesse: That’s a really good point. Despite his denials, what he likes about Richie is exactly his otherness, because it allows him to feel better about himself because he’s not being himself (or, perhaps, feel bad about himself because he is himself). Here’s the thing: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with leaning back and just living in the rigid structure you/your family/the world/whatever has set for you. I am what I am, and so on. But just embrace it already, man.

Chad: Yes, Richie is an escape. From Patrick’s family, his friends, his work. Good or bad, that kind of relationship is tough to sustain, without support from the people around you (which is part of why same-sex marriage legislation and societal acceptance of gay relationships is such a big deal, obvi).

Speaking of familial support: Patrick’s interactions with his parents were some of the most interesting moments in the episode. First: What did you think of his dad’s speech, when he remembers Patrick’s sister dressing him as the Little Mermaid and taking him to the mall? Did this feel like a slam on Patrick as the girly gay son, or does it show that his dad is comfortable enough with Patrick’s sexuality to mention this so casually at a big family wedding? And did the line about the new son-in-law’s love of golf—“I’ve got someone I can take to the invitational with me”—sound at all like “Now I finally have another man in the family!”?

Sam: I don’t feel like it was a slam or an embrace but I think you’re onto something. It seems like that anecdote is there to contrast the son Patrick’s father thinks he had versus the one he is now inheriting via this marriage.

I’m sorry, this FORTY THOUSAND DOLLAR marriage.

Matthew: I think these were absolutely the kinds of things that entitled, emotionally stunted men of Patrick’s father’s generation say without thinking about how it comes across. It’s like he was as annoyed with the cost as he is with his own son not being what he expects or necessarily wants. I kept thinking of Brad Pitt’s amazing father character in “Tree of Life” for some reason—I think the comparison is a little extreme—but still, there was something remarkable about how much the dimension gave the father despite how little time he had on screen. When they finally sat down to talk, his father didn’t face him and just went straight to a gripe about future cost. Yeah, the father was basically a bully. 

I felt like his mother was in danger of being a clichéd racist grand dame type and I was afraid she’d been written in that lazy way where it’s just for catty idiots who are watching could say how “fabulous” she was despite being awful but she was actually really quite reasonable and cool. I loved that she was eating pot cookies instead of the obvious Xanax and a vodka stinger.    

Jesse: Mom equals star of the episode, sort of. Bitchy enough to be fun, stoned enough to be more fun. And, as only a mom can, did that masterful job of putting Patrick in his self-absorbed place. 

Dad’s another story. I don’t think he was awful, and I didn’t get the feeling that he’s disappointed or unhappy with Patrick. In fact, something about sitting next to each other, surveying the end-of-night scene, felt very familial and companionable. (On the other hand, I don’t really understand anything about WASP relationships. Why did God create feelings if you’re not going to yell them at each other, often while eating?) 

The story about Patrick’s sister dressing him up as a child was, yes, absolutely, sort of humiliating for Patrick, though to his credit it didn’t look like he took it that way. I thought it reflected obliviousness rather than offensiveness on dad’s part; there’s a thing within families where an old story can become a fond, nostalgic signifier of some youthful something while to outsiders the story is just weird and horrifying. (My parents love to tell the story about how I was so miserable and scared in Little League that when my turn at bat was coming I’d get sick to my stomach and have to run off to the bathroom. Ha ha, hilarious, you think maybe that was a sign you didn’t need to force me to play Little League?)

More interesting was that final, $40,000 question: “You’re not going to want one of these, too, are you?” There’s so much in that one sentence. First, that is-a-wedding-what-we’re-looking-for thing that seemingly all the gays wonder about now. Second, whether, if we want a gay wedding, we want it to be something smaller and more informal and less traditional/heteronormative/big to-do? (My guess is that Patrick ultimately wants a wedding and wants a big one; all he needs now is the girl.) But also, somewhat beautifully, embedded in cheap dad’s grumbling question is the simple fact that he realizes there’s a good chance that is what Patrick wants. And that he’ll pay for it, even through his grumbles. #itgetsbetter, as they say.

And now for my inner snob to come out again: Isn’t $40,000 actually kind of cheap for a big, fancy wedding in one of the priciest parts of the county? (I wish one of us knew something about event planning.) No wonder the church grass looked so shabby, Mrs. Murray.

Chad: OK, Jesse, taking your cue: Yes, as someone who has covered the event industry for years, I’ll say that $40,000 is probably on the low end of the range for a wedding hosted by these people in this location. 

Also, that wedding planner who was so worked up about Richie coming at the last minute? When this person learned he wasn’t coming, his place card and chair would be removed and a plate of food would not be served (at the table of the people paying for it!), but then Patrick wouldn’t be able to stare at it with his dreamy, puppy-dog eyes.

I, too, felt the familiar, companionable aspect of the end-of-the-night talk with dad (and was forced to finish a season of Little League, standing bored in right field for much of it, because I was “not a quitter”). And his question—and the look of panic that flashed across Patrick’s face—cut to the central question of the show: At this moment, when suddenly (supposedly!) these guys (us guys!) have so many options available to them—parent-approved weddings, Grindr twinks, bearded prostitutes, peri-peri chicken restaurants—what do they want?

Maybe that’s the point of the Little Mermaid/golf moments—they set up Dad as the average middle-class straight-dude dad, kind but slightly oblivious, who still understands that his son probably wants a husband and a $40,000 party too.

But back to Patrick and his mom. I thought their big talk outside was interesting in that it showed how much Patrick is manufacturing his anxiety about his mother’s imagined reaction to Richie. He’s not giving her a chance to be accepting, and he has internalized her pickiness and prickliness so thoroughly that he can only see Richie as a demographic profile, not a person.

What I really appreciated about this exchange was also how timely it felt. This moment in the evolution of the characters’ relationship mimics the relationships of a lot of gay people and their families right now. The parents have moved past whatever negative feelings they may have had earlier, and they’re comfortable with their kids’ gayness, whether or not they have an ease with the language to describe it. Patrick’s mother saying “And I know I had problems, when you first…told us, but I’ve come a long way, and I can’t help wanting what’s best for you” felt like a perfect bit of writing. She can’t quite say “when you came out,” but I don’t think that means she’s not comfortable with Patrick being gay.

Sam: His mom was right to put the blame back on Patrick—he’s the reason Richie wasn’t there, not her. But I also think we got enough from her character to see that she wouldn’t have been all that excited about him had he shown up. Unless, of course, he offered her some of his weed.

This is only semi-related, but did Patrick’s parent-Skyping moment feel contrived to anyone else? It was written as if for speakerphone–why not just use speakerphone? Also, there was no little box showing Patrick in the corner. Tiny details, I know, but for me it’s another technology-for-the-sake-of-authenticity fail like last week’s Grindr dialogue.

Matthew: Yeah, she was right to throw it back to him. Like I said, I think she’s this smarter version of the grand dame character gay men crave. She wasn’t necessarily maternal to the core and she was obviously dolled up in her jewels with her probably lifted face and her socially conscious hardness—on purpose—but she was surprisingly grounded and self aware and real about her concern for Patrick. 

Jesse: I’ve been clear about my fondness for Allison Sugarbaker—I mean, Mrs. Murray—who I thought was nearly note-perfect. She doesn’t need to be Sharon Gless on “Queer As Folk,” a PFLAG den mother. Instead she’s a perfectly credible middle-aged, middle-class woman, OK with her son’s homosexuality even if not necessarily initially thrilled by the news, looking approvingly at the nice yuppie-gay couple slow dancing at her daughter’s wedding and hoping her son will end up happy like them. (If they are in fact happy, which is another story. For this moment, we’ll avoid what a dude in a bar Saturday night dubbed my “partner rage,” except to note that I’d rage less if partnered dudes stopped making out with the smitten unpartnered.)

And, yes, the Skype conversation made no sense. She forgot her cell phone but remembered to bring her Macbook to the wedding venue? And then had nothing better to do than make smalltalk while he’s trying (and failing) to tie his tie? That’s absolutely tech for the sake of tech; in real life it’s a 20-second call from dad: “Your mother forget her cell phone at the hotel and is a little stressed about everything right now. Pick it up on your way here, and for God’s sake get a move on.”

Chad: After Patrick’s Big Talk With Mom, he sees Kevin (whose boyfriend—a friend of the groom—is drunk somewhere else) in the bathroom, and Kevin kisses him. So, what is it with partnered guys and the kissing? And why do you think Patrick stopped him?

Sam: I’m just glad it happened. Kevin may be a bad idea, but he’s a hot bad idea.

Matthew: I can’t say I have a whole lot of personal experience with guys with boyfriends who kiss other people a lot but I do think that Russell Tovey’s character is beginning to grate. He seems to have this air of generic confidence that is almost entirely reliant on Patrick’s nervousness and he did that thing with his arms AGAIN when they were standing in the bathroom. It’s like he’d be the kind of guy who’d absolutely have that deeply flawed logic that would prompt him to say “masc only” on his Grindr profile because he’d earned the right to consider himself an alpha male by working hard to overcome his shame. This season has been leading to this moment between Patrick and Kevin since the beginning, Kevin seems to only exist for this purpose—and it’s good that they used it as a moment in which Kevin is knocked down off his pedestal a bit and that after Patrick enjoyed it for a split second, he was the one who stopped it. The whole night might have been horrendous for Patrick but he wasn’t completely dehumanized. He did save a bit of self worth by rejecting Kevin.

Jesse: Yes, agreed, everything. Except. Let’s stop to acknowledge that as awkward as things always are between Patrick and Richie, Patrick and Kevin seem to have some natural chemistry. They understand each other, banter with each other, live in the same world and enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes you can meet a partnered guy and still get a feeling of a real connection between you. And that, too, can be a little intoxicating, probably more so than being with a guy who’s wrong for you just because you both like each and want a boyfriend. That kiss was inevitable, and I’m glad it happened. Good on Patrick for not giving in to that, though, for ending the kiss. (That Kevin is his boss makes things much more complicated.) And fuck you to Kevin, another one of those partnered guys who play with the single dude’s emotions and then, playing done, goes home to domestic bliss. This is why I have partner rage.

Sam: If I were Patrick, I would have at least given Kevin the opportunity to lie to me so we could keep going guilt-free. “Your boyfriend is cool with this, right?”

But in all seriousness, the fact that Patrick could pump those brakes speaks volumes to his character. We’re used to him screwing things up—that’s kind of Patrick’s thing—but this is one place where he draws the line without hesitation. Impressed.

Jesse: Also, not for nothing, and I should have said this up top, see how much better this show is when THINGS HAPPEN??

Matthew: I still liked Episode 5 and I’m sticking to my story on it.

Chad: Moving on to Dom: He looks terrified about what’s going to happen at his pop-up, and not quite able to hear Lynn’s advice. Is he planning to hide in the kitchen because he doesn’t want to continue being just another cute waiter? And how is this going to go?

And we can all agree that Doris’s reaction to seeing the venue (“We’re gonna need some Swiffers”) was the line of the week, right?

Sam: This doesn’t quite add up for me. I’m not convinced that after all of his years in the restaurant industry, Dom would think it wise to hide behind the scenes on pop-up night. His temper tantrum seemed more about being told what to do then wanting to shed his waiter past, but he has to know his chicken isn’t going to sell itself.

My favorite Doris line: “Yeah, I was a hostess. In high school, Marie Callender’s. I was fired.”

Matthew: I’m with Sam—my favorite was absolutely the Marie Callender’s line. Then they just cut away from her. Total genius.  

I’m actually amazed at how zen Lynn is with Dom. I think the basis of the conflict between Dom and Lynn is that this is finally something that has weight in Dom’s life and he has to work for it and isn’t sure how to make it succeed but HAS to because he’s 40. I suspect the point they were making is that Lynn knows that because he’s older and the whole thing will potentially bring them together romantically. I mean, maybe romantically.

Jesse: Team Swiffer.

I love Dom, I love Doris, I love Lynn, I love this story line. Everyone is stressed, and no one is performing particularly well under the stress. Hence Patrick picking on Richie, hence Richie storming off, hence Dom yelling at Lynn, hence Lynn walking away. (Hence Agustin and Frank, too, but that one’s been coming for weeks.) I liked the difference between Lynn’s departure and Richie’s, maturity versus immaturity. Richie sulked away like a kid in a temper tantrum: If he can’t have things the way he wants them then he’ll take his vape and go home. Lynn walked away as an adult: This is your show, you don’t want me here, and that’s fine. 

My big question is: Is pop-up night a big success or a big failure? (It can’t be someplace in between, can it?) And does Dom and Lynn’s eventual celebration/commiseration put them in bed together? That Scott Bakula apparently isn’t back for Season Two suggests failure and not in bed, but we can hold out hope.

Matthew: If Scott Bakula isn’t back for the next season I can’t see anything good in Dom’s future at all. Even if the pop-up works and Lynn isn’t back in the picture after that, it speaks ill of Dom’s capacity for gratitude. What will he become? A megalomaniac psychopath restaurant owner? That might be more interesting than the obvious spiral downwards into a chasm of endless emotionless sex and drug use with 22-year-old twinks but it’s still not very nice.

Chad: I don’t think we know that Bakula isn’t back. We just know that Lauren Weedman (Doris), Raul Castillo (Richie) and Russell Tovey (Kevin) have been promoted from recurring players to series regulars. Bakula is signed to a CBS show next season, but he could continue as a guest star. 

As you guys predicted, Agustin got busted for paying C.J., his prostitute friend/muse, for the threesome with Frank in last week’s episode. Agustin has been a jerk for the past few episodes, so I’m wondering: Did you enjoy seeing him get dumped?

Sam: Agustin came clean and got dumped rather predictably. I didn’t really enjoy the breakup because it wasn’t all that interesting. Its lack of impact was most likely due to Frank being underdeveloped.

Matthew: I was annoyed actually. I was annoyed because I was driven to have some kind of sympathy/empathy moment when Agustin was dumped and I think he was cowardly in backing out of the art show but they made him do it in a way that showed his fear as reasonable. I also agree with Sam, it’s like this is the first time Frank has made a real decision or taken up space so the dominant perspective in the break up scene was sort of out of nowhere. I wondered what it would be like to be the kind of person who broke up with people in such a matter-of-fact way. I just can’t imagine being so able to say it in minutes, which is essentially what happened. Maybe it’s not unrealistic but it was certainly foreign to me. 

The whole Agustin take-down was fundamentally disappointing because I would have much rather seen the art show go up and the breakdown happen in front of people. That way Agustin would be publicly humiliated as both his art and his heart were torn apart at the same time. Sadly, we only got the latter and, even then, only slightly.

Jesse: Agreed, on all fronts. Agustin’s a needy chickenshit. (At least display the fucking art, man.) He deserved to have his heart broken, and I wish it had been more excruciating. But Frank is my new role model: That is the way to end a relationship. Angst, tears, yelling, halfhearted attempts at reconciliation, ill-advised post-break-up sex—good-bye to all that. When I go, I’m going like Frankie.

Chad: Life is a peri-peri chicken restaurant, old chum, come for some peri-periiiii. 

And we’ll all come back next week for the season finale. 

Chad Kaydo is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. He edits the “Back 9” section of FourTwoNine magazine and tweets at @ChadKaydo.

Jesse Oxfeld is the publisher of Tabletmag.com and the theater reviewer for The New York Observer, in which capacity he has twice seen Jonathan Groff’s bare tush. He lives in Greenwich Village and tweets at @joxfeld.

Matthew Phillp is a writer and journalist who lives in Brooklyn. He is minutes away from completing the final draft of his first novel and has banned himself from all all forms of social media until it’s done.  

Sam Wineman is an Orange County-based writer and dating veteran. Watch his web series “Date Trip” at thedatetrip.com.

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