“Looking For A Plus-One” spends half its time grinding its teeth and the other half repeating its calming mantra: Everything eventually sucks. It plops us right back in the thick of it, and “Looking In The Mirror” was no picnic to begin with (except, well, never mind). Agustín’s worried about his upcoming show, Dom’s worried about his pop-up peri-peri, and Patrick’s worried about introducing Richie to his family at his sister’s wedding. So far, so good. They’re each taking steps to improve their lives. It isn’t easy to risk.
The guys’ jangly hang is just the beginning. The episode is so jammed with aggravation effects it stresses me out, too. Patrick’s parents Skype in to burden him with a favor and then tell him he’s late. It’s such a relief when Richie shows up at his door, but a second later, there’s a new problem. Then Patrick has a ticket waiting for him on his car. Later, we cut to Patrick arguing with someone just off-camera in traffic, the soundtrack crowded with honking and shouting. Everyone is out to get Patrick right now. Part of his pitch to assuage the guy is “I normally hate people like me,” which sure comes up a lot. When Looking finally shows us the Golden Gate Bridge, Patrick gets in a tiff with Richie. Add the disappointing plot points and offhand comments from the parents, and it’s no wonder Patrick can’t calm down.
Agustín’s issues are less frantic but no less frustrating. His state of mind is summed up in a call he makes to drop out of Pauline’s show. When he says, “Sorry, I hope you have enough time to find somebody,” his face becomes the photographic definition of self-loathing. When he tells Frank, they each offer two understandable interpretations of how Pauline’s show came to be. Frank looks at it as her giving him an inch and him running with it. Agustín sees it as Frank begging for his loser boyfriend to get a pity pulpit. But Agustín’s upset about a lot—his self-worth, domesticity, CJ. Frank’s hurt to find out that Agustín paid CJ for their time together, but what tears it is that Agustín’s been lying to him. Using one moment from their life together as a metaphor for their relationship, which strikes me as quite a Frank thing to do, he tells Agustín that he’s stuck, and it’s true. He’s overwhelmed by the direction of his life. He’s so depressed that when Frank breaks up with him, he can’t even muster a protest. He sits there on the extreme left of an album cover overlooking the beach, and he pulls his jacket tight as Frank retreats behind him. Ahead of Agustín is just negative space.
Dom’s pop-up prep parallels Patrick’s pre-wedding panic. Except Dom and Lynn have some years on their counterparts, and Dom’s confidante isn’t trying to sleep with him. So even though Dom is terrified of the opening and taking it out on everyone—mostly Lynn—everyone’s a bit more understanding. Still hectic, but manageable. Which is a best-case scenario on Looking. Agustín barely tried to face his fears and lost everything. Patrick tried, even made some baby steps, and he’s currently in this undefined space where he may or may not have lost Richie and Kevin in different ways. And Dom is on top, as it were. In his final scene, the restaurant is prepared, Doris is at his side, and his relationship with Lynn is salvageable. Just what that relationship is is a question for another day.
Because today is all about Megan and Gus! Another glorious rite of being gay is going to a bunch of straight weddings, and “Looking For A Plus-One” captures both the party atmosphere and the post-traumatic stress of the situation. Marriage is an option for gay couples in California now, too, but there’s still a political component to Patrick sitting on the sidelines as his peers settle down (or dance to “Love Shack” as the case may be). Look how Patrick’s mom defends her pot cookie by saying marijuana’s legal now in Colorado. The law has decided the matter for her. There’s a reason the episode’s parting shot is Patrick’s dad saying, “You’re not gonna want one of these, are you?” It’s such a goddamn hulk-making presumption, summoning exactly the kind of sudden build of emotion Looking typically ends on. Why even want marriage equality? It’s just a waste of money. Well, for starters, so that future Patricks can grow up no more repressed than everyone else. That’s a job for your parents, not the government.
And meeting Patrick’s parents is everything I hoped it would be. They give good WASP joke, they bleed when you prick them, they inspire both sympathy and tough love toward Patrick. We actually meet Mom piping in over Skype, invisible to us but commanding the room. She assures him, “We’re really excited to meet your… friend.” Patrick turns away from them and sighs as discreetly as possible. This is gonna be a blast.
It is for a while. Patrick escorts his mother from the street to the church. She complains about the grass. “Apparently, the church gardener is being treated for prostate cancer. It’s just going to look terrible in the pictures.” It reads like caricature, but it plays exactly right. Patrick doesn’t even see his father until he’s called in for photos. Patrick hugs him hello, not overly awkward but a little unsure. They know how to go through the motions. Dad’s so distant he only has a couple more appearances, one of which is the final scene where he sits down next to Patrick, laughs off the idea of Patrick getting married, and doesn’t even look at him as he does it. The other scene is his toast. He admires how little his daughter, Megan, has changed over the years in a story with a reference to Patrick. One thinks of how decisively Patrick, or Dad’s vision of Patrick, has changed since childhood. He finishes with a joke, sort of, about Megan’s new husband, Gus. “And the really nice thing about it is he has his own money, so thank you, Silicon Valley!”
If that were it, it’d be quite the pity-party for Patrick. But even before Mom tells Patrick he could stand to call once in a while, it’s clear that her overwhelming power in his life is an exaggeration. She owns those formative years, but Patrick’s an adult now.
“Patrick, I know I don’t say everything you’d like me to say all the time, and I know I had problems when you first told us. But I’ve come a long way. We can’t help wanting what’s best for you. And I don’t think you can blame me for Richie. If he’s not here, that’s on you, sweetie.”
Bringing Richie to meet his parents isn’t about getting their approval. It’s about him living openly and honestly, or as Dom says way back when, not caring what everyone else thinks.
Which brings us finally to Richie and Kevin. At first, Richie’s a sight for sore eyes, even if he has shaved, but that doesn’t last long. Patrick’s barking orders at him and passing on his stress. So Richie makes him pull over and gets out. It looks like Richie’s leaving, but he’s really just trying to help Patrick relax. Crisis averted. And then Patrick gets upset and wants to know why Richie brought pot to his sister’s wedding. Richie gives him the greatest duh face in history, but Patrick’s too uptight. And then Richie really does leave. The episode gives us hope before smashing it completely. Like Frank, he disappears into the background. As the wedding wears on, I kept hoping for Richie to show up. Written by John Hoffman and directed by Jamie Babbitt, “Looking For A Plus-One” is all about distance, space, and denial. You really feel the power of absence.
Just as it was a relief to see Richie at the door in the middle of all the drama, Kevin is a port in a storm. Try as I might to resist, Kevin is damn charming, particularly in the bow-tie scene. “Wait can you do this?” Patrick is such a babe. (Like in the woods, I mean.) Kevin echoes Richie’s duh face. While he’s tying Patrick’s bow-tie, Kevin tells him a story to distract him like a doctor, moving into the voila phase without taking a breath. “Slick as fuck!” Because the episode is so focused on Patrick’s relationship with his parents, Kevin’s presence is mostly about calming Patrick down. That and making him uncomfortable when Megan demands John propose, both because Patrick has feelings for Kevin and because of the implication that John and Kevin are her route to a gay wedding, not Patrick. All of which means it doesn’t really feel like Kevin is a threat to Richie until the end, when Kevin kisses Patrick twice. The moment doesn’t inspire any of the butterflies I would have felt back before “Looking For The Future.” “Looking For A Plus-One” knows what it’s doing with context. There’s no romance to kissing your drunk boss in the bathroom during the bad-decisions phase of a disappointing evening. Even Patrick can see that.
- Dom’s pop-up is taking place at Punjab Chinese. “Bombay meets Shaghai,” says Doris. “I like it.”
- The hotel wouldn’t give Richie Patrick’s mom’s charger. “Or at least she wouldn’t give it to me because I don’t look like a Murray.”
- Patrick asks Kevin how John knows the groom. “Gus and John?” “Used to be lovers.” “What?” “Yeah, it’s a big secret.”
- Doris will be the hostess for the pop-up, because she has experience. “In high school. Marie Callender’s. I was fired.”