The opening of “Looking For Sanctuary” is so entertaining that you could completely miss it setting up the episode’s three major ideas. First, it’s a comedy of narrow perspective, both ours and Patrick’s. It starts with an image that’s tough to parse. You could call it opaque, but it’s two panes of glass. We know what we’re looking at—windows and vertical blinds—but we don’t have enough context to understand the arrangement. Then two things happen to let us into the scene: The blinds start open, revealing the view, and we glide to the right, revealing Patrick. Is he apartment hunting? Kevin’s hands appear on his shoulders, and they start talking about, what else, fucking against the window. “And those windows can take it,” says someone. “They’re double-paned.” Suddenly the camera swings over to the realtor (Christine Estabrook, Joan’s mom on Mad Men). That’s the moment that shocks them into self-consciousness. The guys turn around embarrassed, each holding his hands over his crotch. Did they think they were alone? Estabrook needs to interrupt Patrick more often. It’s startling being reminded there’s a world around you. That goes for us, too. New pieces of visual and narrative information keep changing our understanding of the scene until we finally get the scoop: Kevin is buying the place alone, although even that isn’t the full context, is it?
The other two ideas are related, one narrative and one visual. As the triangle spins its way around the apartment, Estabrook tells Kevin and Patrick that she’s moved several other gay couples into the building, and they’re all very happy. Oh, and there are other buyers. That’s enough for Kevin. He’ll take it! The episode is full of people comparing other relationships to their own and triangles (Agustín-Eddie-Frank, Patrick-Megan-Dana) spinning so that the distances between characters keep expanding or contracting. Over the course of “Looking For Sanctuary,” two couples commit, and two couples crack.
“You will be very happy here,“ Estabrook says. Cut to Patrick literally running out of the building (or doing his version of running, anyway). I feel that. That’s an ominous line coming at the end of the first scene in the second to last episode of the season. There’s just too much time left for everything to go wrong. Besides, season two is following in season one’s footsteps way too closely to expect a happy ending next week. The evidence: Patrick’s big season romance got off to a rocky start, fell apart, and then dramatically resumed. The fifth episode was a duet with Richie, and the sixth was a cringefest everyone was invited to. And once again the penultimate episode, as indicated by all the formal neutrals, is reserved for the Murray family reunion.
But Megan isn’t the only drama queen. “Looking For Sanctuary” is full of them. Dom and Doris’ fight plays like an obviously thrown boxing match, rigged entirely for the end result of the break-up. Agustín’s refusal to coordinate the shelter mural because he doesn’t do art anymore is the kind of nonsense logic that belongs on The Bachelor. Patrick’s mother, Dana, leaves the episode like she’s in a teen drama. What is she gonna do about her love triangle? She practically bursts into tears. “I have no fucking idea.” At the end Patrick walks into Kevin’s apartment looking like he’s ready to break up, not move in. Everyone keeps opting to do the dramatic thing. Sometimes, that’s because they’re dramatic people. Sometimes, that’s because the situation is contrived.
Or both in the case of Dom and Doris. It’s about time Looking asked the tough questions about these 40-year-old roommates. As Doris says, “We’re both damaged. We don’t know how to be adults. I prioritize you over Malik, and when I don’t do that, I feel guilty about it.” The problem is they don’t earn that fight, and not in that real-life way where suddenly you don’t even know why you’re fighting or what you’re fighting about. No, this is a case where you see the producers pulling the strings. It starts with Doris saying “crotchety old molester man” Uncle Bunny is contesting the will. Which naturally stresses out Dom, who says, “I just don’t understand why you would offer me money that wasn’t actually yours to offer.” It’s one big emotional non sequitur. Why is she not breaking that news more gently? Why is he acting all entitled to her money? Why is nobody pointing out that Dom should have been responsible and waited until the money came through in the first place? Remember Dom’s money troubles in season one? Immediately they’re at each other’s throats. You’d think they’d never had a fight before, but Dom’s fussy enough and Doris is sarcastic enough that there’s no way they haven’t gone at it. Later Dom explains, “When people try to help I turn into a crazy person.” Fair enough, but that’s not what happened. Doris wasn’t all up in his grill. In fact, she was about as hands-off as possible. It’s all for the best in the long run—they really might be codependent—and Lauren Weedman’s all-cried-out performance almost singlehandedly sells the emotional truth, but the writing still cheats to get there.
The worst offender in the Agustín story is his ludicrous refusal to do the mural. You’d think Eddie were asking him to break into his old place of work and steal a file. The rest is a little soapy, especially when Eddie finds Agustín perched on a railing all alone in a dark room, but it plays. Who wouldn’t be frayed after weeks of this pull-push? It starts with a surprise visit from Frank. He has a gift for the bitchy look, but Agustín handily wins the ex-off. Not only does he have weeks of selfless shelter work under his belt, but Eddie’s there to confirm and embellish his bona fides. Frank might get Agustín thinking about what it was like to be in a committed relationship, but he definitely gets Eddie comparing relationships, because Agustín introduces Eddie as his friend. Frank walks off, Agustín sits down, and the camera pans back across the table to Eddie trying to keep it cool.
Now, if “Looking For Sanctuary” were really opting for the dramatic thing, that might be it for Agustín and Eddie. Instead it forces them to deal with their shit. Again, the balance of power keeps shifting. Eddie’s the one who brings it up, because he’s the aggrieved party. But Agustín tells him he can’t have it both ways. Agustín says, “I’m getting really tired of having to persuade you that I’m into you, okay? I’ve liked you since the moment that I met you.” Eddie makes a joke, because he’s Eddie, but Agustín’s still serious. “I need to hear you say it.” Eddie compromises, a joke with sincerity: “Agustín Javier Cristober Lanuez, will you please be my boyfriend.” He’s been hurt, but he’s finally ready to let someone back in. He does what Lynn couldn’t. “Javier and Cristober are not my middle names.”
Patrick’s family reunion is full of silliness, like Megan, the concern troll incarnate, finally speaking up just to lob a bomb and walk away from the explosion, which, don’t get me wrong, is hilarious. I don’t understand what Dana means when she says it’s different when it’s two guys. What is? The affair? Since when? That sets Megan off on a tirade about Patrick’s special treatment, which is an angle I don’t think I’ve seen dramatized before, but fits right in with Looking’s two-way treatment of Patrick’s family life. His parents both failed him big-time and were guilty enough to give him extra leeway. But back to Dana, I assume she was just using Patrick and Kevin as cover for her own life. She’s ready to leave her husband for a widower she’s been having an emotional affair with, and if it’s okay for Kevin to leave Jone, then she has cover. “What about the truth of your marriage,” Megan says, because she’s still talking about the Patrick-Kevin situation and siding with her husband’s best friend over her brother. Dana says, “If someone makes me happy, and he wants to be with me, and I want to be with him, I shouldn’t do anything?” Well, when you put it like that.
Even a little more context would change the response to that question, and the episode keeps reinforcing that to take things at face value is to miss what’s really going on. But it’s awfully convenient for Patrick, who gets a Christmas truce with his sister and a free pass on the affair from the Mommy and Daddy in his head, so he says, “We support you.” It’s left ambiguous whether Dana’s going to act on her feelings. Instead the momentum transfers to Patrick, who rushes right to Kevin. They’re facing each other in balanced profile, angles ever so slightly favoring Patrick as the active party, and we’re back to the cold neutrals of the opening. “I wanna do this. I wanna be with you, and move in with you, and spend Christmas with you here, just the two of us.” Jonathan Groff and Russell Tovey spark, but everything else, from the colors to the context, works to mute our excitement. Where’s Christine Estabrook when you need her?
- “Looking For Sanctuary” is written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Tanya Saracho and directed by Craig Johnson (True Adolescents, The Skeleton Twins, neither of which I’m familiar with).
- Patrick: “Hi, Mom. Sorry we’re late. The Uber driver was a nightmare.”
- Patrick’s mom isn’t big on One Up Him. “So that’s a leather daddy? And the hope is this will make money?”
- Another triangle comes at dinner with Patrick’s mom. She sits in the middle, so when Kevin says he’s lucky to be with Patrick and she replies “That’s always a bumpy ride,” Patrick’s in the background making this hilarious WTF face.
- “Megan has a very strict moral code. You know that.” “Come on. She cheated on her SATs!” I don’t think cheating on the SATs is credible, but I’ll allow it for the sake of hypocrisy humor.
- While mattress shopping, the salesman tells Patrick and Kevin about a Sleep Number mattress that can be soft or hard. Kevin, of course, says, “This one likes it nice and hard.” Patrick giggles at him and then looks up at the salesman, who’s just trying to get through his workday. “Okay…”
- “I wanna get Mommy a hot chocolate,” whines Megan. Patrick says something passive-aggressive about Megan not asking him if he wants one. Megan replies, “Aren’t you guys always watching your weight with your juice cleansing and your CrossFit?” Dana slowly walks into frame behind Patrick. “Did you want a Xanax, honey? Cuz I got some.”
- “Mom, I don’t think you should be feeding the animals.” “Honey, these are quinoa chips. From Whole Foods.”
- So now we’ve heard Jon’s side of the story, filtered through the hostile witness of Megan: Kevin just broke up with Jon, and they pretty much didn’t even talk about why. Come on, Jon. You know why.
- Dana: “I’m not unhappy, but…yearning for something else. Something more.” This is probably not the kind of show to say the title in dialogue but we were so close!
- Imagine how differently the final scene would play with, like, a strand of Christmas lights or a single piece of comfortable furniture or even something on the wall. Instead it’s cold and hard.
- Megan: “What about the truth of your marriage? What about honoring that?” Dana: “You’ve been married how many months now? Three?”