The second season of HBO's “Looking” came to dramatic end tonight and before we remark on where this episode leaves Patrick, Agustin and Dom, let's take a few minutes and review the entire season, shall we?
After a bumpy, but often impressive first season, “Looking” returned in January with a strong season premiere (“Looking for the Promised Land”) which found Patrick (Jonathan Groff) and Kevin (Russell Tovey) deeply involved in a discreet affair, Dom (Murray Bartlett) wondering if he'd become closer with his new boyfriend Lynn (Scott Bakula) and Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) trying to dig himself out of a his life hole with a slightly more positive demeanor (likely more thanks to viewer complaints than anything else). The big news was that the show runners had 10 1/2 hour episodes to tell their story versus just eight the prior season. In theory, this meant they could spend more time fleshing out the main characters (another complaint about the first go around) as well as give some of the secondary ones more screen time. Remember, “in theory.”
I'd originally planned to recap all of this season, but the Sundance Film Festival forced me to miss the third episode. Considering how frustrating the second episode was and the feedback friends provided about the third chapter I decided to just revisit the entire season after the finale. I'd occasionally hear buzz that it might be getting better but, frankly, it was absolutely not the conversation starter it was a year ago so it didn”t feel like I was missing much. Ratings for the most part were lower this season and HBO didn't help by airing new episodes not only on the same night as the Golden Globes, but the Grammys and Academy Awards as well. Y'know, major events the show's core audience usually makes appointment viewing for.*
A few weeks ago, I caught up with episodes three through eight in one sitting. As HitFix's own Fienberg and Sepinwall have remarked numerous times, some shows are simply better designed for binge watching than others. “Looking” definitely falls into that category for me. Over the course of the season Dom and Lynn realized they weren't made for each other, Doris went home to attend the funeral of her father (a nice change of pace episode), we learned Patrick should stay away from he punch on Halloween, Doris (Lauren Weedman) met a guy who truly adores her in Malik (Bashir Salahuddin) Richie and Patrick made an impromptu stop in his old neighborhood (leaving the door a tiny bit open for an eventual reunion), Kevin and Patrick went to the Gaymer convention to try and generate interest in their gay gaming app and, somewhat shockingly, Kevin and Patrick seemed like they actually just might be destined for each other. What was most disappointing about the season (besides the fact Julia Duffy returned just once to play Patrick's mom) was the storyline between Agustin and Eddie (Daniel Franzese). The two characters seemed to be going in circles (happens with a lot of the characters on “Looking”) and you often forgot they were still part of the series. And that brings us to “Looking for Home” where we find Kevin and Patrick moving in together.
Ever since Patrick essentially chose the excitement of an affair with Kevin over the more down to earth Richie viewers have been wondering when the show's hero was going to come to his senses. Over the course of the season that appeared to happen when Patrick broke it off, but Kevin eventually did the unthinkable by leaving his longtime boyfriend for Patrick. In the previous episode Kevin invited Patrick to live with him in a gorgeous new downtown apartment and we appeared to have a fairy tale ending on our hands. It can”t be that easy, can it?
As “Looking for Home” begins we can immediately sense that Patrick is thinking this all might have happened too quickly. He has never seen Kevin's “stuff” before and Groff does a nice job conveying a silent cringe over his “Field of Dreams” poster (by the way, that's likely a very rare bus shelter ad). They are supposed to spend the night at the unveiling of Agustin's mural at the Trans Center Christmas party, but get sucked into attending a get together in their building after getting a personal invite from their cute yet shady downstairs neighbors.
“Looking” hasn't made many political statements as a series, per se, but this “party” was as close as it”s gotten to date (at least in the gay community). Within a few minutes of entering the packed apartment Patrick is already noting everyone is white, everyone is at a certain level of hotness and the whole party seems to be about something more sexual than just a weekend holiday celebration. Within five minutes director and co-writer Andrew Haigh, co-creator Michael Lannan and episode co-writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa have indicted this specific superficial clique in the gay community with drone-worthy precision. (On a personal note, I am not so convinced this was inspired by San Francisco gays as much as, cough, their cousins down south, but, hey, this clique is everywhere, right?).
Still, Patrick and Kevin decide to try to have a good time and perhaps enjoy their new friends from a moral high ground until they need to leave for Agustin's event. That is until one of the hosts pulls up the social networking app Grindr and, to Patrick's horror, he finds them looking at a profile that can only be of his own boyfriend, Kevin.
It doesn't matter if you're gay or straight or bi. There are universal aspects of human nature that transcends your sexuality and one of the more frustrating elements of “Looking” has been Patrick's naivety that if Kevin cheated with him, he probably would either cheat on Patrick or likely not see their relationship as completely monogamous. Of course, why Patrick's “wise” friends didn't bring this up with him more or why he and Kevin hadn't had this conversation before moving in together is sort of ridiculous. We'll give credit to the writers for having Patrick verbalize this mistake, but we're not sure we believe it. That being said, the strongest element of this episode is the argument/discussion (call it what you will) between the couple that takes place in just a single shot. Patrick has realized he's made a huge mistake jumping in this fast and his frustration is only exacerbated by his inability to find his way out of the stone, cold tower they have moved into (Oh, look kids! A metaphor!).
Unfortunately, there are also a number of lines that border on exposition as opposed to honest character reaction such as Patrick saying, “Your heart works my way and mine works another. Deep down I've always known it and I just ignored it because I wanted to be in love and prove to the entire world that I was capable of being in one.” And let's give credit to Groff for making that self-aware line work better than it reads on the page. Kevin, on the other hand, only seems to dig himself a deeper hole with justifications such as, “I'm really [expletive] happy I cheated on him. If I hadn't cheated on him we wouldn't be together. Can't we just leave it in the past and concentrate on the future?”
(Everyone out there who was on Team Kevin still on Team Kevin? Hello? Anyone?)
It's unclear whether Patrick will actually stay, but unable to sleep he wanders into his new living room and finds the necklace Richie had given him in one of the many moving boxes. The last scene is at Richie's barbershop. Kevin doesn't wanting to talk and simply asks for a haircut. He then changes his mind and asks him to cut it all off (a new look we don”t get to see). And, cue the season finale closing song.
There is no guarantee that “Looking” will return for a final season (although, it appears the producers expected one). You can, therefore, interpret this ending two different ways. By making a drastic change Patrick may either be attempting to transform himself to meet Kevin somewhere in the middle. Or, he may be evolving to face the consequences of ending the relationship. If it truly is the final episode that's quite a cliffhanger to go out on, but at least our hero is finally fully aware of what he's gotten into and, well, that”s something.
There were other events that occurred in the finale, obviously. Dom and Doris took a walk and Dom basically lets her off the hook as his 24/7 BFF so she can really enjoy new life with Malik. Agustin and Eddie had one quick scene at the mural party (they are happy!) and we discover Dom's chicken shop is ready for its debut. Sadly, those were pretty much distractions for the 35 minutes Haigh, Lannan and Aguirre-Sacasa had to find a way to bring Patrick to his senses. Frankly, the lack of screen time made the other main characters almost seem pointless in comparison.
“Looking” has been a success for providing a snapshot of modern day life for gay men in San Francisco and neighborhoods of that ilk in other cities. It's been accused of being too specific while still breaking down taboos about being gay that were previously unheard of for even pay cable shows (A young skinny guy falls in love with a “bear”! Lots of gay sex details!). It's biggest problem, however, is that it can't seem to consistently make the half-hour drama format work. That may be just a huge compliment to its network stablemate “GIRLS”** or series such as “In Treatment,” “Louie” and “Transparent,” but the rhythm of “Looking” always seems off. It was a problem in the first season and it was a problem even with a longer 10-episode frame. Maybe too many of the actors just aren”t talented enough to make their character's actions resonate more than they do, maybe its the writing staff or maybe the show should have always been an hour long. Whatever the case, “Looking” continues to frustrate.
Do we care to find out whether Patrick stays with Kevin or finally reunites with Richie? Sure, we'll check in if there is a season three. Maybe we'll binge watch it all in one sitting, but the passion and excitement from a year ago? That's long, long gone.
*Season one averaged 380,000 viewers with highs of 505,000 and 519,000 viewers. Through its first nine episodes season two has averaged just 230,000 with highs of 324,000 and 312,000.
**Many will argue that “GIRLS” is a comedy, but I've always seen it as a drama with comedic moments. “Looking” is clearly not a comedy.