“Looking For The Future” makes me want to move to San Francisco the day I turn 29. I want to run a marathon and propose to the next guy I see. I want to stay up late chatting about every single detail from the way Patrick covers up to the way Richie doesn’t. Notice how Patrick starts the day by looking through the window somewhere deep inside this movie at something we can’t see? He has a secret. The episode is so vivid and evocative that I’ll even lay down arms just this once for The Goonies and admit that Patrick’s Sloth impression is dead-on and hilarious. It’s even better in light of Richie’s joke. “That’s the face you made this morning.” This episode reminds me of the first time I made out with a guy in the back of my car on some Texas night and the trip my straight friends and I took home from college on a school night to cast our pointless votes against banning same-sex marriage. By indulging in the rituals of gay dating, the episode is a rare celebration for pop culture: It makes me happy to be gay. This is going to sound like overstatement, and I don’t care: The world is a better place because of “Looking For The Future.”
“Looking For The Future” is essentially a gay Before Sunrise, as Patrick and Richie spend the day getting to know each other all over San Francisco. Patrick’s playing hooky from both work and the usual three-part grind of this show. This isn’t the day after “Looking For $220/Hour,” but the effect is the same. Patrick spends Sunday with Kevin at work and Monday with Richie out and about. When they finally get out of bed (“You have a really nice penis,” Patrick explains/repents), they go to a diner for breakfast, and then they start walking around the city without cramming too much into a single day. Basically, they make an L from the Morrison Planetarium through Golden Gate Park and up to an overlook past Cliff House at the Sutro Baths. Their last stop before home is a fortune teller. Richie tells Patrick, “You can ask about the future; you can ask about the past; you can ask her about us, if we’re good together.” Every scene is like that, a swirl of past, present, and future. At breakfast, they discuss what just happened (Richie swallowing) as a segue into their fears about the future (HIV). Conversation is filled with callbacks and omens. I repeat: They stare out into the great beyond above a landmark ruin. Step back, and this might not be one of the most important days in either of their lives. But Andrew Haigh’s unshowy long takes keep you in the moment where Patrick and Richie are high on each other, energized by their exchange. It’s overcast up ahead on the hike to the overlook, but when they get there, it’s transformed into a luminous Whistler sky courtesy of D.P. Reed Morano and/or their world-altering romance. As pineapple juice demonstrates, every sensation is heightened. Every story takes on extra significance. Everything matters.
With barely any breaks between scenes, the dialogue has an especially tough task, but the closest this comes to stumbling is Patrick’s fortune teller freak-out. The flow is extraordinary. Even though the episode covers a full day, conversation bridges the gaps in time. One moment, Richie’s by a fountain explaining how he was caught by his mom with another boy and the next Patrick’s telling his coming-out story on a trail. Everything in their path gets absorbed by their conversation, enriching their relationship. For instance, a pack of The Goonies trading cards brings up Patrick’s attraction to the hero (of course) and Richie’s history with braces. Look how Patrick and Richie take turns being the Rachel as they inspire each other: Richie asks Patrick about his first sexual experience with a guy, so Patrick tells him about a bus trip back from computer camp wherein a boy put Patrick’s hand on his penis. Patrick thinks he’s done telling the story, waspishly suggesting the naughty bits without naming them, but from Richie’s perspective, he hasn’t actually told him the story yet. So Richie asks specific “And then?” questions, and Patrick answers with a parade of pointed mmhmms. But then Richie’s question makes Patrick think of another detail, and he lights up, launching back into story mode. Laying it out like this, it sounds obvious, but Jonathan Groff and Raúl Castillo are so natural about it that you could not even notice. And the detail is exactly the kind of thing Patrick would gloss over if he were telling the story but would also leave an impression on him: Patrick jerked the kid off before they crossed the state border, which is important to someone so repressed. You know what they say. What happens in Utah.
How this Colorado boy wound up in San Francisco is not lost on Richie. “I like that San Francisco is a place where, like, gay sailors used to come after they got discharged from the navy.” That’s true. The blue discharge began in 1916 and gained popularity as a way to cleanse the military of its queers, and many of them stayed in port. As much as anything else, “Looking For The Future” is a celebration of San Francisco, the city and the symbol. I spent my childhood in the Bay Area, but on top, in Zodiac country (thanks, Mom). “Looking For The Future” taps into such nostalgia and longing that I’m overcome with memories. I’ve taken class field trips to the Morrison Planetarium. I’ve taken Boy Scout trips to Fort Point and all over. I’ve eaten at that Cliff House. Years later, I can feel the cool and smell the sea. Even without a personal history, San Francisco occupies this unique place in the American imagination as a gay haven. As Lynn says in the bathhouse, “I heard the siren, and west I came.” Same for Dom the Modesto redneck, Agustín the Florida Cuban, and Patrick the Colorado wasp. The romance suggests it’s a place where being gay doesn’t come with so much baggage. That’s what we’re seeing in Looking, not the city of Silicon Scrooges and rampant poverty but a land of opportunity for gay people. Richie notes the progress for those sailors: “Imagine if they knew that one day they’d be able to get married right here on the beach.” From getting fired to getting married, and all it took was a century.
That’s part of the power of “Looking For The Future.” Imagine if every straight romance was met with a yawn and a “Haven’t we seen this already?” That’s the burden placed on gay TV, as if there have been so many such stories. There are gay characters everywhere, or so say the cultural gatekeepers. Meanwhile, lonely urban heteros are sinking the comedy line-ups of every broadcast network with their emo decadence, and just next door, sister-in-arms Girls is talked to death by mass media. Whatever your experience with gay pop culture, there is activism in this story of two guys falling for each other, and it works by simply selling the reality. Hence fly-on-location long takes and funny, naturalistic performances. The conversation is specific to the characters, as in Richie’s story about being sent to Mexico, but there’s a lot of universality here—for gay men. Patrick can’t bring himself to come out on the first try, the camera drools over Richie’s armpit and body hair, Patrick worries he has HIV every time he sneezes. Hell, Patrick refusing to bottom is a key to the season. How’s that for not gay enough?
In the end, he promises to let Richie top him, not now but someday. Richie throws a condom in his face, and we cut to credits just as Patrick breaks into a huge laugh. Don’t let that fool you, though. “Looking For The Future” doesn’t shy from sex. That morning, Richie tells Patrick he can’t leave yet, and when Patrick asks why, he just stares at his off-screen erection. Patrick eventually tears himself away, but he turns around and Richie buzzes him back in. Cut from an establishing shot of the block, which is about as clinical as Looking gets, to Richie’s head bobbing between Patrick’s legs. It gets better. Without showing anything south of a stomach or north of bare thighs, Richie lifts Patrick’s legs a bit and Patrick’s suddenly flailing with his eyes. Guess who’s getting rimmed! You don’t see that every day. And here it’s sexy and romantic and totally harmless to a viewing audience. That’s one of the most compelling reasons to show it. Parity’s nice, and the erotic thrill is even better. But showing America what it looks like when two guys have sex with each other has a normalizing power, even if the audience right now is just me and my gay friends. Turns out there’s nothing to be afraid of. Can we have our rights now?
There’s a multiplying array of tensions prodding “Looking For The Future” forward. The episode’ll plant an idea in your head and then subvert it, like when Patrick collects his things as if he’s leaving. The way Patrick cleans downstairs suggests he may have bottomed the night before, but really it’s set-up for the rimming scene—“Relax, you just showered”—and Patrick not bottoming is kind of a big deal actually. The camera pans down Richie’s body, and you wonder how far it’s going to go. There’s tension in how long the episode can avoid Dom and Agustín. For a good third, Patrick keeps threatening to go to work, and maybe that’s where this is headed. Maybe this is an episode about going from Richie to Kevin. Once Patrick finally commits to this interlude out of time with Richie, there’s a new kind of tension. The day is so breathtaking that it’s too bad the whole series can’t be like this. Then the grave thrum of the planetarium, the lucky scapular, and Richie’s Señora lend a mystical vibe that threatens the everyday scenario. Race and class and culture come up but are methodically swept under the rug. When they start talking about whether they want to get married, I suddenly got nervous that we were headed for a proposal or a break-up. All of that suspense gives the day a heightened energy for the audience, too, constantly anticipating what’s to come.
But there’s a particular tension so huge that it short-circuits the story: Patrick’s self-loathing. That seems like a strong word for it, but we’re talking about someone who’s constantly defending himself against accusations that he doesn’t like things that are too gay. The episode paints a picture of repression, which can’t be blamed on a child born into an oppressive culture (i.e. one where an entire industry insists its superstitions about Michael Sam’s sexuality outweigh the available evidence or where Ellen Page can come out to a protest chorus of so whats). Nevertheless, Richie’s very good at gently waking Patrick up. When Richie tells him his mother is obsessed with sex, Patrick seems to laugh it off without realizing Richie’s just laid him bare. It’s Patrick who can’t fully accept himself. The episode builds to Patrick’s fortune, but he’s so sure that he has bad news in store that he can’t face it. There’s a pattern here. Richie tells him to relax and enjoy the rim-job, that you have to be adaptable or you miss out, that he worries too much about everything. But Patrick can’t relax. The episode builds to this huge climax and just walks away, which might be all the sign about the future we need. Then again, enjoying the present is a good start. In that regard, Patrick takes a step toward defeating his bottom shame, Richie tosses him a condom, and Morrissey takes us into credits. Come, Armageddon, come!
- TEMPORARY: I gave it an A, by the way. Still working on adding that grade up top.
- “Looking For Now” is written and directed by Andrew Haigh, shot by Reed Morano, edited by Jonathan Alberts, and starring Jonathan Groff and Raúl Castillo in a series created by Michael Lannan and executive produced by Sarah Condon. Take a bow, y’all.
- The planetarium scene probably boasts some excellent, nuanced cinematography, but it turns out the screeners are really dark. I screencapped one and compared it to a broadcast if you’re wondering why I’ve overstated the darkness of certain scenes in the past. I wish I could record some of the garbled audio for you, too.
- “Don’t front. You know it’s a dump.” This is the magic line. Richie knows who he is, where he lives, what he wants. He is himself. Patrick is trying to be someone, misrepresenting, embellishing. Remember when they first met, Patrick let Richie believe he’s a doctor.
- Close your mouth when you eat, Patrick! You’d think he’d have had that one drilled into his head at an early age.
- “I sneeze, and I think I’ve got HIV.” Right? Every time someone shares something embarrassing we’re all a little less alone.
- “What is it about my ass that screams, ‘I want to be fucked?’” Cue 500 appropriate comments.
- “Do you think you’d be embarrassed if your parents thought you were a bottom?” Patrick’s first reaction is kneejerk, but alone in the dark, he and Richie both know that Richie’s right. “You have bottom shame.” “Oh my god, I think you’re right.”
- Richie’s dad took his coming out badly. Patrick asks, “Is he okay now?” “Not really. But what are you gonna do?” Indeed. Is Richie perfect? He might be. Sure, Patrick hit on a couple topics that he’s maybe a little closed off about, but on the whole, he’s basically Prince Charming. Gay kids need fairy tales too.
- Meanwhile Patrick’s coming out story is surprisingly painless. His mom called him the day after: “I’ve talked about it with your father, and we’re fine.” Richie says, “That’s good, right?” “Yeah, I guess so. But I mean we’ve never really talked about it since then. I mean, we talk about it a little bit but not really, and we definitely never talk about relationships.”
- “What if she says I’m a bad person?” “Are you?” Cue Interruption Of Doom.
- “Maybe you’re afraid she’ll see the real you in there.” The fact that Richie knows there’s a real Patrick who is other than the one he’s with does not bode well, either.
- “I think it might be cool with me if you uh…” He can’t even say it but expects to be comfortable doing it. Bottoming, that is.