“I brought it up, but we don’t need to get into this right now.”
“Well, I think we should.”
“Yeah, me, too.”
“Looking Down The Road” is an episode about facing up to hard truths, like how embarrassing it is when Kevin says, “You gave me the fuck of my life.” Don’t say that unless you’re a guest actor in a show that is at least six degrees cheesier than Looking, but definitely don’t say that to your mistress. It’s a segue into the real issue Patrick and Kevin want but don’t want to face, though: the affair. As Richie says, “You don’t want to be in deeper than the guy you’re with,” and remember, the writers have never written a single line for Richie that isn’t Gospel. Dom’s in a similar boat with Lynn, although Dom’s more the John in their relationship, and he wisely steers them into the skid so they have to actually talk. The episode ends with Esta Noche closing and Dom and Patrick walking home separately, both of them newly single. Oh, and Richie’s seeing someone now too. For the first time in the series, Agustín, Dom, and Patrick are all single. Time for a Golden Girls marathon.
“Thank You For Being A Friend” would have made a fitting credits song. Having solid, nonsexual friendships is more spotlighted than usual in “Looking Down The Road,” although I suspect Patrick reconnecting with Richie might not be as nonsexual, at least in intention, as he says. But the point is Doris will start a Kickstarter for Dom’s chicken window, Lynn’s phantom investors be damned, and she will drop everything to take Dom home to lick his wounds. Eddie will tease Agustín mercilessly but give him a bed for a night and get him a job. Richie will tell Patrick what he doesn’t want to hear. “You a home-wrecker now, Patrick?” The scene is excruciating, and it’s all the better for it. Richie’s the one who points out the boss and boyfriend angles, and Patrick’s the one having a panic attack. We even get a few scenes of Patrick, Agustín, and Dom hanging out with each other one-on-one, which sounds like I’m describing the premise of Looking but you’d be surprised. Agustín and Patrick give each other moral support with a generous portion of teasing and deflection, Patrick gets Dom to examine the weirdness among him and Lynn and that guy from the pop-up (known among Dom’s friends as “Hot Matthew From Rugby”), and Dom provides Patrick a physical shield and more importantly the good advice to remove himself from the situation, the situation being a Kevin-and-John sighting in the wild. Patrick, Dom, and Agustín were all getting closer to confronting their sore spots on their own, especially Agustín who has needed no reminding that his art phase was literally worse than the Reign Of Terror, but they also have some bedrock counsel so they don’t chicken out.
The big moment comes immediately after Patrick sees Kevin with John. At work he demands a rooftop meeting with Kevin, which is unfortunately not code. Patrick is ready to call it quits, which forces Kevin to make a choice, and he chooses Patrick. At first it’s a surprise and a relief, but there are plenty of clues there. “It will take some time,” he says. Patrick’s face is the image of being afraid to get your hopes up. And the most obvious part, which has been defining Kevin’s relationships this whole time, is that of course he chooses Patrick when he’s with Patrick. The problem is he chooses John when he’s with John. (Well, a problem is that. The problem is Kevin doesn’t have a very strong spine.) The scene plays out in one shot, and it’s a little less natural than the usual show-off moments—the general movement is a pendulum swinging around Patrick and Kevin, but the speed and distance varies, and the movement is generally more like a gnat than anything else—but it’s captivating. The sun’s low in the background, so the lighting keeps changing to pointed effect. For instance, Kevin’s hard to see because of the diffuse light, but he snaps into focus (i.e. the camera moves so that the light source is eclipsed) when he stops Patrick and says, “I will talk to John, okay?” It’s a revealing reversal. For once Patrick is the one putting his foot down, and Kevin falls into line. When he sees how ready Patrick is to cut losses, Kevin of all people is on the verge of tears. And Patrick for his part is the strong one. He even tells Kevin he’s not holding his breath for Kevin to break up with John, only not in so many words. You could almost believe this is the start of a brand new day for these two.
Dom and Lynn are a lot more awkward at first, because everything goes unspoken. Dom shows up to Lynn’s unannounced, and Hot Matthew From Rugby open the door shirtless. He’s wearing shorts, but the camera denies us that information for the longest time to stoke our suspicions: Is he naked? In underwear? What exactly is going on here? Anyway, they all climb into the hot tub for a passive-aggressive-off that Lynn wins. (Dom is disqualified by going aggressive-aggressive.) The next night, Dom shows up at the flower shop, and after his chat with Patrick, he’s ready to talk about what’s going on with them. Lynn just goes on about his business, barely taking the time to look at Dom, much less engage in the conversation. He’s right. He sure doesn’t seem to have much to give.
“Everything we do is a negotiation, Lynn. Everything’s so careful and measured. It’s like you’re withholding. It’s like you’re not sure how much to invest in me or us.” Lynn says he has his limits now. “I won’t have what I had with Brian again.” That’s the crux. Lynn has already gone through an entire relationship, and now he’s afraid to do it again. “What we’re doing right now is all I got, and I’ve never lied to you. And if that’s enough, then that’s great. If it’s not—” “No, it’s not,” Dom interrupts, “and it shouldn’t be for you. Even if it’s not with me, you shouldn’t be…done, Lynn.” It’s not about being right, and it’s easy for me to say, but Dom’s totally right. Lynn doesn’t lack for energy or ideas or generosity. He’s not drained. He’s just afraid. He’s been through heaven and hell, but maybe he’s romanticized his time with Brian. Maybe it’s time to get back on the bicycle. Or tricycle as the case may be.
Fear of the past is a running theme of “Looking Down The Road.” Patrick’s on guard against the resurgence of Fatrick. Agustín’s afraid he’s a Coral Gables princess. Lynn’s afraid another relationship will subject him to another miserable ending. As usual, you can plot the three on a spectrum. Agustín goes hard in the opposite direction of his old ways, while Lynn stays deeply rooted in his fears. Patrick’s in the middle, vigilant but not to excess. And for his part, Kevin’s sharing more of his past with the proper English fry-up, the most beautiful sight in an episode full of eye candy. It’s mostly in the background, because we rarely see Kevin apart from Patrick, but we keep getting reminders that Kevin’s making peace with his past, which is clearly a major part of Looking, because it’s a major part of gay acceptance.
Dom shows up at Esta Noche but leaves with Doris immediately. Which leaves us with Patrick playing fifth wheel to Agustín, Eddie, Richie, and Richie’s boyfriend, Brady. There’s a great shot of the group from behind Brady’s head, because he’s the object. It’s all about how everyone else is reacting. Eddie warms to him once he proves he can dish it. Richie mouths, “You okay?” at Patrick, and Patrick nods. But if you have to ask, right? Then we flip angles, only Brady’s blurry, because the focus is in the background where Kevin pops up between Brady and Richie’s heads. Patrick rushes over to him, and Kevin kisses him a bunch, not for relief but for absolution. He tried to tell John, but he couldn’t. He goes in for more, but Patrick’s not having it. “You know what this means.” And somehow that’s actually that. They don’t even talk more about it. Patrick just walks off into the night, a happy couple behind him, leaving both his unavailable exes at a bar that’s permanently closing. It’s a sad ending in the moment, especially for crestfallen Dom, but what a symbol. Time for a new start.
- “Looking Down The Road” is written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, whom you might know from the Carrie remake or the Glee where Kurt and Blaine finally Do It.
- It’s directed by Ryan Fleck, like “Looking Top To Bottom.” Notice the scene where Patrick and Richie stroll through the park eating honey-lavender ice cream they waited 45 minutes for. It’s shot wide and about as stationary as the Looking camera ever gets, so Patrick and Richie get closer to us as the scene goes on. Contrast that with the usual approach, as in “Looking For The Future,” directed by Andrew Haigh, where we’re with Patrick and Richie leading or following them, and when we do get a wide shot like this, it absolutely dwarfs them with its grandeur. The difference is we don’t get to see Patrick and Richie’s facial expressions very well for part of their walk here, but that might not be as important as the tradeoff, which is to take that enormous romance and transform it into the more manageable sight of two guys slowly getting closer. There’s a difference between an Andrew Haigh episode and a Ryan Fleck episode and a Joe Swanberg episode. Fleck’s visuals are often sensational whether scripted or not, like the bleachers kiss and the Brady silhouette, but take a drink every time a scene in “Looking Down The Road” opens with a shot of some object and then pans over to the action. You’ll be just the right amount of buzzed to deal with the break-ups.
- Speaking of wanting but not wanting to face hard truths, Agustín gets embarrassed after he sees Eddie take a handful of pills and asks, “Is that your cocktail?” “Uh, this pill is my cocktail. This is my fish oil, this is my B-12 and zinc, and that’s my one-a-day.”
- Doris wants some Kickstarter info from Dom. He says, “Oh my god, are we finally making our movie about a young rentboy’s sexual coming of age?” That’s not quite how I’d describe Andrew Haigh’s Greek Pete, but it’s close enough. If you want a rentboy doc with all the low-key comedy, melancholy, and naturalism of Looking, only markedly less polished, that’s your answer.
- “Doris, I’m not doing Kickstarter. It’s desperate.” “Is that you or Lynn talking?” I’m ready for the episode where Doris chews out Lynn now.
- Patrick suddenly tells Richie he will only get a haircut from him from now on, because Patrick is so weird! Dude is hella guilty. Richie, of course, turns it back on him, but it’s just as myopic. “Um, you have a stylist. You need to stay loyal to him.” Maybe Patrick hates his stylist. Maybe Patrick’s stylist has another client and he only sees Patrick when his steady goes on business trips. Did you ever think of that?
- Richie tells Patrick his boyfriend’s name is Brady. “Very Anglo-Saxon.” He’s also a “ginge.” A hot ginge and a writer for an alt weekly. And Eddie likes him, so I guess he’s in.
- At the trans shelter, Agustín turns around to find a gaggle of kids staring at him. “You trans?” “Do I look trans?” “But you’re queer right?” “No, I’m gay.” I love how precise that last bit is. Queer seems to be the preferred nomenclature nowadays, but I pretty much just use “gay” and “LGBT,” which is mostly an age thing. I’m Patrick’s age, and when I came out, I think “gay” was more prevalent. It gets the job done. Never had any reason to change. The princess of Coral Gables (hat tip to Eddie) is in the same boat.
- When Dom opens Lynn’s fridge, there’s a subtle rack of focus from his face to the door with its picture of Lynn and Brian and then back to Dom, planting the seed for the later fight.
- Agustín gets the job at the shelter, but on a probationary basis at first. “I guess they’re waiting to see if I fuck up.” Eddie comforts him. “Oh, they are. So maybe don’t?” he says with a sarcastic “Just a suggestion” face.
- HBO has now renewed both Girls and Togetherness and not Looking. Tell your friends, On Demand it, send HBO enemas!