“Looking For A Plot” opens as it should, with Patrick’s head in his hands the morning after his Halloween audition for the local Real Housewives franchise. Agustín, Dom, and Doris are giving him a hard time, but everyone’s taking his speech as an embarrassing night and nothing more, so he gets off pretty easy if you ask me. And then Doris gets a text. “Oh fuck. My dad’s dead.” With that Doris and Dom—and in a funny surprise, Patrick in the backseat—drive to Modesto for the funeral, taking us from the sweaty, orange-lit oven of Patrick’s Halloween party to the cool blue skies and wide open spaces of central California.

It’s a change in other ways, too, with well-known guest stars, some dramatic gestures, and a contrivance or two. “Looking For A Plot” can’t help but hit the expected scenes in a story like this, but only the body viewing sticks out in a bad way. Doris’ and Dom’s stab at profane-sacred humor is so rote it recycles a Happy Endings gag (they both used to think about George Michael when they would make out). And still “Looking For A Plot” is breathtaking. It’s a blast just to watch Lauren Weedman take center stage. She has such a knack for unusual deliveries and clumsy dialogue. Think of all the vocal shifts in the line where she talks about seeing her cousins before leaving town, “Probably won’t see them until somebody else dies, so…get in there while they’re alive and kicking!” As the opening scene hints, the episode is full of tonal shifts. Wistfulness gives way to action, which gives way to shock, all leading us to a place of peace. A bunch of little things fill up the plot for a while, and right when we realize those things make a satisfying meal, two huge events happen, and the episode goes out on a high. Modesto only pretends to live up to its name.

Essentially this is the usual Looking story about making peace with your childhood, but finally Doris and Dom get a turn. That means recounting formative experiences, like how Doris’ dad would take her to Tastee Freez and then just drive around waiting for her alcoholic mom to pass out. It means getting to do things they never got to do as kids, like swimming in the Clarion Inn pool for Doris. And it means getting something like closure in order to move on and not be defined exclusively by the past. Doris seems to have a better head on her shoulders than the guys in general, and she takes her dad’s death in stride. She reminisces, she cries, she wonders why she isn’t reacting the way she’s supposed to, nothing too out of the ordinary. But by the end, after she’s swum in her dream pool and mourned her father, her hometown visit has freed her up in a way.

Doris responds to the trip with two revealing scenes. After a car accident, she tells Dom that she inherited some money from her father, and she wants him to open his chicken window with it. So that’s two major events on a show in general and episode in particular that tend to luxuriate in the everyday. They’re ruptures in the intimate scale of Looking. The episode covers the first by playing it deadpan. We witness the crash from far away to minimize the intensity, and then we cut to the waiting room where Doris and Dom sit next to each other, she bandaged, both of them bruised. If there were any concerns about fatality, the fact that Patrick’s the one we’re waiting on puts them to rest. But the second rupture, the contrivance of inherited money, is played for pathos. Dom has the usual “I don’t know what to say” line, but he can barely speak. They’re both on the verge of tears. Now that both her parents are gone, Doris is committing to Dom as her family.

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The second revealing scene has to do with the surprise—to us, not the characters—appearance of Malik. Doris told Malik he couldn’t come with her to Modesto with the excuse that she doesn’t know what to do with him there. Really she just doesn’t want to face her feelings for him. After Patrick rejoins Doris and Dom in the waiting room, someone else shows up off-screen and says, “Doris?” The camera holds on the trio even as Doris gets up and walks off-screen. (That’s part of a motif of surprise appearances this week. First we get a whole conversation in the car between Dom and Doris before Patrick pipes up from the backseat, and now this, all preparing us for the big one at the end.) But notice what Doris does. As soon as she hears her name, she walks over to Malik and cries in his arms. That feeling of being surprised by the intensity of your reaction is what was missing from the body viewing, but it’s powerful at the end. Doris doesn’t want to be defined by the things that jaded her. She’s finally opening up to getting serious with Malik.

Dom has some shit with his own father to get over. It’s Doris’ story, but Dom keeps taking detours. “Can we go to Dad’s old Portuguese restaurant? Can we hit up the gay bar? Can we stop by his grave?” The failed Portuguese restaurant is now a popular donut place, and Dom can’t find his father’s gravestone at the cemetery. That’s one elusive spirit. At the cemetery, Dom tells them he never got to come out to his father, voice cracking at the end. Doris has a solution. “You could tell it to Dave Walker,” she says gesturing to the nearest gravestone. “They all talked to each other.” After a beat, she puts her hand on his arm and says, “I am sure that he would have been okay with it.” But Dom never got that experience of coming out to his dad, so he never got to feel like his dad would be okay with it, never got to internalize that parental acceptance. Patrick comes up with the real solution, and it’s another scene that stretches our idea of Looking. As Patrick drives by the cemetery, Dom shouts out the window to all the buried that he’s gay. Not a bad idea, but not knowing for sure that his words reached his dad’s grave might bother Dom long-term. That said, while it’s a little Garden State for us, it’s exhilarating for him. And that’s the feeling we have when a car flies out of nowhere and T-bones them to teach them a lesson about living in the past.

Dom also gets to participate in another reunion ritual, getting asked by an old friend, in this case Barry Foster, if he’s married yet. His response is a little nervous. “Uh, no, we, uh…Actually, I’m gay.” It’s probably been a long time since Dom has had to come out to anyone, but more to the point, this is Dom correcting his past. He’s getting to be who he is with someone who knew him when he couldn’t. That scene is what gives Dom the idea to come out to his father, to put Modesto behind him.

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Patrick’s also avoiding his regular life, but he can’t help but steal focus. He gets the first and last scenes. He competes with Doris over who has the worst childhood. He whimpers loud enough through the funeral that Aunt Sarah says, “Oh, sweetie, are you okay? Everybody was so worried about you. They kept asking me, ‘Who’s the weird guy crying?’” Patrick is generally in the backseat for the episode, but there’s a lot going on with him beyond just being a supportive friend. He’s avoiding What Happened On Halloween, he’s dodging Kevin’s calls, and he’s dealing with his own childhood issues. At the donut shop he says, “In high school I came to a place like this every afternoon and sat in a booth alone with a box of glazed reading an Out magazine tucked inside a Sports Illustrated.” That is Patrick’s entire childhood in a single image. At the gay bar he projects onto Mr. Lonely at the end of the bar. “Getting drunk, probably snuck out of his parents’ house, wearing his sister’s jeans, thinking about killing himself, obsessively listening to Evanescence…God, I was so fucking lonely back then.” In another surprise appearance, it turns out Mr. Lonely has a boyfriend, which makes Patrick feel even more alone. Patrick’s childhood never seemed especially bad, but killing himself? Maybe there’s more we don’t know about. After all, he only starts crying uncontrollably at the funeral when he hears how loving and supportive Doris’ dad was. It isn’t just hard for a gay kid to have an unaccepting family. It causes lasting damage.

This isn’t Patrick’s story, though, and his little moments don’t cohere into a subplot. In terms of the episode’s spectrum, Doris resolves some childhood issues, Dom sort of does, and Patrick doesn’t at all. As “Soul On Fire” plays, Malik drops Patrick off outside his place. Patrick, now with his arm in a sling, gets out and kisses Doris goodbye. The camera moves with him on his walk up the sidewalk. It takes just long enough that you know someone’s on his doorstep even before you see it, but Kevin is even closer than you expect. It’s a reversal of Richie in the season one finale, with Kevin on the opposite side of Patrick. “I’ve left Jon.” “What?” “Soul On Fire” picks back up as Kevin says, “I’m completely fucking in love with you, and I wanna know, do you wanna give this a shot, just the two of us together?” The fact that he has to say, “Just the two of us,” might give you pause, but Patrick doesn’t hesitate. “Yes,” he says, going in for the kiss. It’s electric. Last time Patrick let Richie go. He admitted he wasn’t ready. He may not be ready now, but he’s not gonna let opportunity slip away again. For his part, Kevin simply being single this time counts as a step in the right direction. It also helps to have some proof that Kevin is into Patrick, not just using him for sex. And look at the tenderness here. When Patrick pulls away because Kevin accidentally hurt his arm, Kevin apologizes and then gently puts his finger under Patrick’s chin and pulls him in. It’s a reenactment of their relationship so far, a false start and then a second chance that’s gentler, more caring. They’re kissing as Spiritualized takes us into the credits on a high: “And I said, ‘Baby, set my soul on fire.’” Maybe it’ll be a terrible decision in the morning, but Looking will get there. For now it’s all romance, and this time Patrick and Kevin might actually have a shot.

Stray observations:

  • “Looking For A Plot” is written by Jhoni Marchinko and directed by Andrew Haigh. We also get another dance shot, if I’m not mistaken, the first one without a hint of romance. It’s just Doris, Dom, and Patrick, alone on the dance floor at a gay bar in Modesto, rocking out to “Walking On Sunshine.” Smash cut to the funeral.
  • Doris: “I’ve had 17 orgasms in the last five days.” Dom: “And I’ve had the pleasure of hearing like 15 of them.”
  • Charlyne Yi takes their order at the donut shop, Hayes Macarthur plays Barry Foster, and Mary Kay Place plays Doris’ Aunt Sarah. Good job, casting department!
  • Patrick: “I once slightly fingered a girl in high school.” It’s the “slightly” that does it.
  • Doris: “Well, it’s official. I’m an orphan.” Dom: “We both are.” “Your mom’s alive.” “Oh, yeah.”
  • Dom: “How’s your arm?” Patrick: “It hurts like hell. I’m not gonna be able to masturbate for, like, two weeks.”

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