What’s a coming-of-age drama without a drunken tirade episode? The best part of the dishwater-dull final season of Dawson’s Creek to that point is when Busy Philipps crashes dinner—literally, in a car she drives into the house—and then tells each of the hateful protagonists why they’re so terrible. Patrick’s rant is similar, except it all splashes back on him. One by one he passive-aggressively addresses the main characters. He makes Dom beg for cash so he can open his piddly little whatever-it-is. He praises Agustín for how much he’s grown and pokes him about how that still doesn’t cover rent. He kind of shames Richie for his goodness. He tells everyone to get their Truvada prescriptions from Brady, who is a real journalist with real accomplishments, like having an article go viral. And don’t forget Kevin! Patrick’s big finish is to discuss something that happened when he was alone with Kevin at the office a couple weeks ago, but at last Dom and Agustín carry him off-stage. What took so long?
Looking hasn’t gone for our wince lines like this since Patrick and Richie were dating, but cringe comedy is a big ingredient, because Patrick is an embarrassing person. I can’t screencap Jonathan Groff’s various squawks and screeches, but just look at him with his drunk sweat and magic marker goatee. It’s not even a funny-ugly cheat. This is deeply, yearbook-photo awkward.
Everyone but Lynn shows up for Patrick’s party. We get to know Brady, we behold Malik’s Cher impression, Owen bounces off of everyone. In other words, there are a lot of personalities and agendas at work. One of the main attractions is a conversation, which mirrors The Conversation, about PrEP, instigated by Brady’s article about why he’s on it. “If there’s a pill that can prevent HIV, everyone should take it.” Eddie says he would have been first in line. Owen—poor Owen—is made to say, “Yeah, but taking a pill just so you can fuck, I mean…” To which Doris points out, “It’s like birth control, actually.”
Last time all the characters got together, they murdered romance, but Fun Gay Halloween makes Dom’s 40th look like a night among the redwoods. With all those voices in the room, it’s disappointing that we experience the party primarily via Patrick. Doris’ night would have a much warmer feel, but we’re attached at the hip to Patrick, blithely bounding from one awkward encounter (“Maleficent!”) to the next. When couples are canoodling or people are dancing, that’s just to contrast with our poor, moody hero. We don’t even get official resolution on the Agustín story—although we get a pretty good idea—because we have to go out on Patrick contemplating his loneliness amid a dying party.
So what’s up with Patrick? The first line of the episode is him saying, “This guy messaged me on OKCupid.” Good story! You’d think that’d be a promising sign, but things are probably off to a bad start from the get-go. Patrick’s not throwing a party for the sake of the party. He’s doing it because he wants to be a “fun gay,” which as near as I can tell is some kind of exhausting wannabe. On his quest for party supplies, he finds out that Kevin, who can barely maintain his composure, is probably moving back to Seattle with Jon. Patrick plays it cool, at least for then, but by the end it looks like Kevin moving might be his main trigger. He can’t handle how all these things are happening out of his control, whether he likes it or not. At the party he’s dressed as Half-Life hero Gordon Freeman, but nobody knows who that is. He’s desperate for everyone else to have a good time, but he’s not having one himself. If he would set the example and sing a damn song, people would sign up for karaoke after him. But Patrick wants things to be great on their own, without having to do any work. Remember those party supplies he scavenged? And he’s surrounded by couples, some of them involving his exes, all of whom can’t stop touching and kissing right in front of him.
The scene of the night starts with another party shot—so many dazzling party shots on this show, because dance is social, intimate, and cinematic—but this one is far from fluid. It’s jagged, as befits the evening, zig-zagging from Richie and Brady making out to Patrick rolling his eyes and taking a drink, then over to Agustín and Eddie kissing and back to Patrick, then through the crowd to James. James is a friend of Eddie’s who Patrick tried to endure through two boring conversations before eventually leaving to check on the chips. (See? Patrick’s hilarious.) Now, as Patrick triangulates himself among the couples, the camera pulls back to follow him over to James. Patrick just tells him he’s beautiful and then plants one on him, and it’s so gross, but James has some self-respect. “What am I, your sloppy party leftovers? Happy Halloween, dick. Your playlist is garbage.” Patrick follows him out with a whiny, “This playlist is fucking awesome, okay?!” We pan back over to see James but instead we bump into Kevin, just standing there with his arms folded, saying, “I quite fancy this song.” As a viewer, I suddenly felt an overwhelming impulse to see Patrick make a bad decision and get back together with Kevin, anything to make this party fun. Patrick probably feels the same way. But it gets worse. Jon walks up behind Kevin and hugs him from behind. He starts talking about how crazy the city is on Halloween. “We saw a guy on the street…balls out,” Jon says, grabbing Kevin’s package and yanking it a little for emphasis. There’s so much to love in that one gesture: the humor of Jon’s buzz, Kevin’s reaction, and the lewd gesture; the way Jon rubs it in Patrick’s face, consciously or not, that he gets to grope Kevin; the feeling that, along with his “Beer” T-shirt and jester hat, we finally get a handle on Jon.
Despite the centerpiece self-immolation, “Looking For Gordon Freeman” is all about the unspoken, like the big confession Patrick almost announces to the entire party. Almost all of Jon’s dialogue is just small talk delivered with a partier’s enthusiasm by Joe Williamson, but his overall story in the episode is inescapably sad. Jon can’t help but notice at what point Patrick’s speech gets cut off, and when he finds Kevin sitting with Patrick, Kevin feels so guilty he gets up and moves away. “Here you two are. I thought the party was inside.” Jon doesn’t make any accusations, but it’s hard not to notice that Kevin is practically crying. As they’re leaving, Patrick says, “Good luck in Seattle. I hope everything works out the way you want.” Jon looks at Kevin and asks, “What does that mean?” They might be in for a long night, and not in the good way.
Then there are two subplots about seeming commitment-phobes not wanting to talk about their relationships. Eddie’s fronting like he might go to another party afterward, but Agustín wants him to spend the night. The episode ends too early to find out, but Eddie’s still there even as the party’s dying down. Next week he better wake up naked in Agustín’s bed. The writers have been taking this relationship slowly, possibly because Agustín needed to win us over first, but after skinny-dipping in the lake, making out (or more?) last week, and now this, it’s at the point where Eddie’s on-screen chastity feels more like the writers, not the character, evading the topic of his sexuality.
Meanwhile Doris is running as fast as she can away from coupledom. When Dom sulks about her having a couples costume with Malik instead of him this year, she says, “What is it with gay people trying to ruin straight people’s relationships with their labels?” He later does for her what she did for him with Lynn, telling her how good she is with her partner, the subtext being a loud and clear, “Don’t let fear get in the way of a good thing.” Sure, Malik drops “love” awfully early into their relationship, but things work out pretty well for them in the background, not that we really get to revel in their happiness.
Instead we get a great final scene with Patrick. He’s just thrown one last wrench into Kevin and Jon’s night, and now he wanders back into his house as Agustín and Eddie and Richie and Brady are dancing. He crawls into bed so Dom can hold him, and then he looks at Richie, and Richie looks back. Patrick smiles like it’s a question and he’s waiting for the answer. Richie can’t help but smile back. He just can’t help it. Even ignoring what happened last year, in the last three episodes Richie learned that Patrick is a home-wrecker, he found out Patrick cheated on him just before they officially broke up, and he endured that embarrassing speech. And still he can’t tear himself away. But there’s more to it than that. As he’s smiling, he slowly starts moving back toward the dance floor. He smiles over his shoulder at Patrick one last time, but then he rejoins Brady, turning his back on Patrick in the process. It’s gentle but decisive. Nobody needs to say anything to punish Patrick for his behavior. He’s done that all on his own.
Patrick being unlikable is bound to be a problem for the “Is Looking Still Boring” set. Likability isn’t irrelevant, but annoying or embarrassing characters are important, too. Patrick can be oblivious, Richie can be smug, Kevin’s weak, Eddie’s guarded, and you know Agustín’s one bad day away from making an installation piece about urinal cakes. The whole point of a coming-of-age story is for the characters to grow up, to get past their youthful selfishness or try, anyway. That’s what we’re watching for. So there are going to be days when Patrick can’t stop sabotaging himself. Mission accomplished. “Looking For Gordon Freeman” is a sweaty disappointment, exactly as it should be.
- “Looking For Gordon Freeman” is directed by Jamie Babbit and written by JC Lee. One peculiar shot is the one after Patrick sees Kevin and John. He excuses himself and goes over to the karaoke sign-up sheet, and the camera leads him, so he stays basically in the same position while the rest of the house disappears behind him. It’s a frantic, subjective moment all about Patrick’s desperation, encapsulating the episode.
- Patrick: “We’re throwing a party this year. We’re gonna be the fun gays.” Agustín: “I’m already a fun gay.” Dom: “You’re literally the least fun gay I know.”
- Dom on Agustín: “He’s doing his best. His best just isn’t that great.” Nice to see that Agustin isn’t magically perfect, but he does seem to generally have it going on this season, to the point where it still feels discontinuous with season one to me, although he was sleeping on a sidewalk recently.
- Please join me for my 12-part lecture series about why Seattle isn’t a good move for Kevin, Jon, or especially us. The main reason is Russell Tovey is stealing this season. Don’t Frank him!
- Agustín: “Are you dressing up tonight?” Eddie: “Does a bottom howl at the moon?” Agustín: “I don’t know what that means.”
- Owen: “Am I a social media guy? I have thirty-three hundred Tumblr followers.” Dom: “Isn’t that just for porn?”
- Patrick isn’t just getting misidentified. He can’t get anyone else’s costumes right either. “You’re Link from Legend Of Zelda, right?” James: “Legolas.”
- Costume Contest: Obvious winners are Doris and Malik as Sonny and Cher respectively, although Jester Jon wins the evening, and I’m going to be so sad when he and Kevin break up, not least because of all the Celine Dion we never got to hear him sing. Notable that the only two characters who didn’t dress up are Kevin and Richie, although Richie is at least wearing a Where The Wild Things Are T-shirt to match Brady’s get-up as Max.
- Patrick on Brady: “He’s got a lot of energy.” Richie: “Be nice.” I’m with Patrick on this one.
- During the PrEP conversation, when Patrick slips and mentions dying of HIV, Agustín corrects him, and Eddie gives Agustín this great little, “Down, girl,” pat. Don’t Frank Eddie, either. This ensemble is too good together.
- Eddie: “You know a party’s really awesome when everyone starts talking about AIDS.”
- Agustín: “If it’s any consolation, there was only one suicide during Clarissa Dalloway’s party.”
- Patrick: “I don’t want you to go to Seattle. I don’t want us being weird to be the reason I never see you again.” Same. Also, Kevin and Jon have clearly had problems the entire time we’ve known them. Moving to Seattle is the gay having a baby to save the marriage. It’s not going to work.