Why do people in the movies look forlornly at themselves in the mirror? The last thing I’d want to look at when I’m feeling unsure of myself is myself. Is it the certainty of the image? The ability to step outside of yourself and look in? Moving from misery to company? Anyway, it’s a catch-22 of self-pity. If you can muster the courage to look yourself in the eyes, how lost are you, really?
Patrick’s bare-ass crossroads moment comes as the final cringe in a parade. Last week I wanted to conquer the world. This week I just want a Maalox. From the rocky camera to the messy editing, “Looking In The Mirror” is a bull in a china shop. The indoor lighting is precise and unforgiving. The camera keeps scalping all the characters, and they aren’t even clean cuts at that. And look at what happens. In the opening scene Patrick’s reminding Richie of all the people he’s going to meet at Dom’s 40th, because they can be a handful, particularly Agustín. “But it’s not his birthday, right?” Richie asks. That “right” is crucial. Richie is saying something he believes to be the truth, and pivoting for confirmation. Maybe he’s trying to show off that he has been listening and that he does have Patrick’s friends straight. Maybe he’s genuinely unsure, but if so he still chooses correctly when framing the question. Patrick whines, and I mean whines, “No, I told you, it’s Dom’s.” It’s gonna be a long episode.
Everywhere you look is another reason to cringe. Dom’s first line, an insult to his potential investors, is so misjudged the subplot’s over before it starts. Later Lynn tries to salvage it. So Dom hasn’t won over any investors, but what if Lynn sponsored a one-night pop-up where Dom could show off what his restaurant would be to every gay investor in the city? Dom thanks him with a kiss. Cringe number two. So many bad decisions. Don’t misunderstand, though. There’s a method to the badness.
By now the deal with Agustín is clear. He’s reacting to his new stability with Frank by acting out in every arena. He gets himself fired, he hates his own art, he’s keeping financial secrets from Frank, and now he’s working as hard as he can to alienate his friends. Frank tries to assuage his artistic self-doubt with some kissing, but it doesn’t work. That’s important. Later Agustín says, “I don’t want to be one of those annoying people who just keeps talking ad nauseam about what they do.” Which is what one might say if one were feeling bad about one’s work. When Agustín gets called on being a dick to Richie and Patrick all day, he immediately crumbles. That’s how much of a pose it is. And then he retires between Frank and CJ, saying, “I’m a fuckin’ asshole. I don’t want to talk about it.” That’s Agustín in a nutshell right now. He feels bad about himself, and he doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s depressed, and it’s a drag, but I refuse to take the bait. There’s meaning here.
Mostly, though, the collision of all the recurring characters at Dom’s 40th (except Lynn, who sends his proxy, flowers) is an opportunity wasted on Patrick suddenly being embarrassed of Richie. He doesn’t even introduce Richie to Kevin and John at first. Then he tries to paint Richie’s ambitions as much grander than they are. He does have an answer for everything Agustín says about his relationship, except that he’s slumming it. And that’s worrisome for the characters, but more so for the writers.
Patrick has always had an ulterior motive when discussing Richie’s low social status. At first he’s trying to talk himself out of a connection that he knows he feels. That’s not because Richie’s just a hairdresser, but because Patrick has this fantasy in mind. That is, it’s not that Richie comes up short so much as he’s not even under consideration. Once Patrick actually puts Richie on the field, he uses the only information he has about the guy—that he’s working the door for Esta Noche that night—and tracks him down before he loses the chance. It isn’t just a rom-com scenario. The way director Andrew Haigh shoots it—Patrick and Richie lining up in the mirror, underscored by the black-lit piping on Richie’s track jacket, cutting to credits as they burst with excitement—it’s electric. In the next episode, Patrick undermines his fuck-buddy comment by going on a date with Richie, where they connect on the dance floor in an even more exciting shot. After Patrick’s logorrhea scares off Richie, Patrick apparently inundates him with texts. And when he spots him at a club, he apologizes and dances with him some more. A few dates later comes “Looking For The Future.”
The problem with having eight episodes to tell this much story is that one week Patrick and Richie are showing every other romantic hero on television how it’s done and the next Patrick’s falling in their footsteps. After the disastrous picnic, Patrick tries to prove to Richie that he isn’t embarrassed of him. So this is what he says: “What are you doing two weeks from now?” He’s trying to invite Richie to his sister’s wedding, but Richie understandably isn’t having it. So he keeps kissing him. Notice the pattern yet? “Looking In The Mirror” is about people using sex to solve non-sexual problems. But they aren’t solving them. They’re distracting from them. When Dom kisses Lynn, it’s because that’s the kind of relationship he’s used to. Frank just wants to make Agustín feel better, but Agustín needs a different kind of support. Now Patrick is so desperate to keep Richie that he makes a big leap without considering if that’s what he wants, if that’s fair to Richie, and if that really addresses the issue at hand.
That’s why this aggressive, alienating mess follows “Looking For The Future.” Until then, Patrick had been trying to grow out of a self-sabotaging romantic fantasy. Then he fell into a new fantasy. So, is Patrick really growing (for instance, by falling for someone outside his type, by denying Kevin, by genuinely exchanging ideas with Richie, etc.) or just trying to convince himself he is? There isn’t an answer, because it’s a little more complicated than that. Patrick once again argues that there’s a difference between “gay” and “normal,” and his, um, impenetrability is a point of masculine pride. He also clearly connects with Richie, though, which at least has him embracing the possibility of bottoming. What “Looking In The Mirror” asks is sharper. Clearly Patrick isn’t slumming it. But if he can’t reconcile Richie with the rest of his life, how serious can he be?
- “Looking In The Mirror” is directed by Joe Swanberg and written by Tanya Saracho and J.C. Lee.
- Best delivery of the night goes to Jonathan Groff. “And Doris will be there as well, which, you know, she’s… a lot.” Honorable mention goes to Groff for the look he gives for nobody (the camera) about how he met Dom.
- Richie messing with Patrick is still hilarious. “Boyfriend? Who said I was your boyfriend?” He takes a swig of beer as he awaits an answer.
- As usual the best shot in the episode is a scene of romance. First Richie does Patrick’s hair, which Patrick then admires in Chekov’s mirror, and then Richie gives Patrick an escapulario as a token of his affection, saying those two words every man longs to hear, “I’m in.” The camera swings from head to head and then unites them. Aww! But unlike his hairdo, Patrick doesn’t check out his escapulario in the mirror. He kisses Richie instead, which plays as romantic at the time, but by the end starts to look like another example of avoiding an real discussion.
- Which brings us to Agustín and Frank: “You’re gonna be the black guy who brings Cheetohs?” “Okay, Cheetohs are fucking delicious. Fact.” First of all, that’s a thing? Every episode has at least one stereotype joke at which I politely, uncomfortably laugh and change the subject. Some of these include: “I love ex-fatties. I always feel like they’re nicer people,” and “A winking smiley face? What are you, a Japanese teenager?” You could throw in Patrick’s cringeworthy impression of the queen, er, a queen, but that’s a bit different from these one-liners. Now that it’s clear Patrick WASPish refusal to address culture and class is deliberate, the least I can do is bring them up for discussion.
- Patrick is a different person with Kevin. A more self-loathing person. “It’s gay, hipster, drunk girl Paradise on a Saturday, which kind of makes it not sound like a Paradise at all.”
- Some guy in arms and a tank top recognizes Dom from his Grindr profile. “You should text me later. My roommates are gonna be gone.” Lynn was right. Maybe life doesn’t end at 40 after all.