The article below — part of a series of recaps for the new HBO series “Looking” — contains spoilers for “Looking At The Future” — the February 16th episode.
For many folks waiting for that episode that often happens mid-way through the first season of a series where promise turns into greatness, that episode came last night for “Looking.” The entire episode — entitled suggestively “Looking At The Future” — is devoted to protagonist Patrick and his love interest Richie over the course of one day they spend together. Patrick had met Richie on a bus in the pilot before going on to offend him with his racist assumption that he’s uncut (because he’s Latino) when they get into bed. But Patrick pseudo-apologized to Richie at the end of the last episode, which seemingly worked as they are now a few sleepovers into a budding relationship.
People will be quick to note that it feels temporally and thematically a lot like “Weekend,” the film written and directed by Andrew Haigh — the producer of “Looking” and the man who just so happened to write and direct this episode. But Haigh was very clever to inject this structure at this point in the series, and it works in an entirely effective way that feels unique to Haigh’s breakout film. Unlike any film, this episode takes place 4 half-hours into a season of television series. We’ve gotten a chance to know these characters, and it feels for the viewer very much like how Patrick and Richie are questioning each other in the episode. We’ve gone a few dates with “Looking,” and we weren’t quite sure whether this was a long-term thing. But by allowing us to get so intimate with Patrick in particular, Haigh is giving folks that stayed invested in the first 4 episodes a serious pay off.
Patrick — played perfectly by Jonathan Groff in this episode — is after all the central character of “Looking.” He’s their Hannah Horvath or their Carrie Bradsaw, if you will. But up until now, we’ve just not felt like we’ve known him very well, which reduces our investment in “Looking.” Which is what happens four episodes into a half hour series, especially one that occasionally feels like it should be a full hour. But “Looking For The Future” fleshes out Patrick so strongly through his interactions with Richie that the series seems to have achieved a considerable new level of development.
Here’s a few things in particular we learned about Patrick last night:
His first time with a guy was on the bus home from computer camp. Or at least, his first sexual experience with a guy. When he was 15 years old on the way back from, yes, a computer camp in Salt Lake City, Patrick sat next to a “real stud” on the bus who takes Patrick’s hand and gets him to jerk off his hard (and “enormous”) cock. The stud cums in Patrick’s hand, but that was suggestively the end of the affair. Patrick is unaware of whether his bus buddy ended up gay or straight, and was just happy that it happened in Utah and not his “home state of Denver,” because it made him feel less ashamed for some reason. Though he tells Richie the story with a comic bent, it seems reasonable to imagine the experience was a bit more traumatizing than Patrick likes to remember.
He’s sincerely (and rather adorably) a nerd. We kind of already knew this given he’s, well, a video game developer, but this episode took it further. When Patrick finds out the diner he and Richie have breakfast at have cards from “The Goonies,” he freaks right out and gives various impressions of “Goonies” characters, quite publicly, even though Richie clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. It’s a very unaffected state for Patrick, and one that is also his most endearing.
He was a fat kid. As I totally called in the last recap of “Looking,” Patrick’s body issues (he was ashamed to showoff his… incredible body at the Folsom Street Fair) had to be derived from him being fat at some point in his adolescence. Or “seriously chunky,” as he calls it when he tells Richie about his first experience on the bus. Explains a lot.
He’s paranoid of AIDS. Patrick offered us his relationship with HIV/AIDS, one that surely mirrors too many people of his real life generation. After somehow judging Richie for swallowing his cum (despite totally enabling him to do it), Patrick bring up the risks of HIV, noting he gets “tested all the time” and thinks he has AIDS when he sneezes. Here we find that Patrick — while clearly highly aware of HIV/AIDS — has both an irrational fear of the disease and isn’t quite as educated on it as he would like to believe. This is exemplified further when Richie tells Patrick he once dated a guy with HIV, an acknowledgement which Patrick is at first visibly frightened by and then quickly shifts to a state of adoration for what seems to be viewing as a “noble act.” An act Patrick clearly wouldn’t be capable of given his own fear — and questionable understanding — of HIV.
He’s a mild narcissist. Mild narcissism is fairly standard for any 29 year old in 2014, but “Looking” makes it all the more clear with regard to Patrick through the consistent way he only seems interested in conversations when they are about him (maybe he really is like Carrie Bradshaw and Hannah Horvath after all). Richie starts to explain him a Mexican tradition where a woman will rub eggs on your body and crack them into a bowl, reading the yolks to see if there’s trouble ahead. Patrick doesn’t take it seriously, condescendingly cracking rich white person jokes (“is she making a frittata?” “do the eggs have to be organic?”), until, of course, it becomes about what whether Richie has found out anything about their relationship via the eggs (he hasn’t). Richie decides to take Patrick to experience it for himself, and all of a sudden its something he takes it very seriously. “What if she says something terrible like I’m a bad person,” he says, freaking out. That this is Patrick’s apparent worst fear makes it known he’s aware of the various things — perhaps the significant racist tendencies on display in his interaction with Richie? — that might make him a bad person.
He has bottom shame. “Bottom shame” is not often discussed in the pop culture lexicon (and maybe us honest bottoms secretly prefer to keep it that way — more for us!), but “Looking” attempted to change that via a dialogue between Richie and Patrick that presents a telling issue facing Patrick’s sexuality. Using weird/cute Ross and Rachel metaphors to enter the conversation, they discuss why Patrick hesitated earlier in the episode when Richie asked if he could fuck him (oh, did I also mention this episode absolutely delivers when it comes to sex we’ve all been asking for?). Patrick claims he’s definitely a Rachel, which they’ve rightfully decided refers to the top of that relationship. We don’t buy it for a second, and his lame excuses for not bottoming — “I’m not sure I like it” and “It feels kind of weird” — don’t help. Richie doesn’t buy it either, calling him out by asking if he’d be embarrassed if his parents thought he was a bottom. Patrick hesitates but then basically acknowledges this is true, and it’s clear he’s not so much an honest top as he is someone with a bit too much shame when it comes to sex.
He’s selfish in bed. As often goes hand in hand with sex shame (and mild narcissism), Patrick appears to be quite selfish in the bedroom. We see Richie giving him a blow job and a rim job but no (onscreen, at least) reciprocations on Patrick’s part. Then at the end of the episode when the idea of bottoming comes up again, Patrick says he would actually be into the idea… “but not today.” But he’ll gladly fuck Richie after he suggests the alternative! Which obviously requires a bit more of an active role than getting those aforementioned jobs, but it still implies Patrick is lazily unwilling to make any compromises to fulfill Richie’s sexual needs.
He has mommy issues. It all starts to make a lot more sense when he learn a little about Patrick’s mother. Who he told he was gay at Thanksgiving on the way to the airport, after which she “managed to make it all about her” and what various people — Keith and Marie next door! — might think. She came around shortly after via a phone call, though Patrick says they’ve never really talked about it since. He never introduced her to his one boyfriend, which annoyed said boyfriend who as Patrick notes — with obvious resentment — is “one of those kids with PFLAG parents.” Patrick was and is unfortunately not one of those kids, but hasn’t seemed to take any active role to change that. His excuse for not introducing his boyfriend to his parents is that if he doesn’t want to know about their sex life, why should they want to know about his. Which Richie — consistently the voice of reason and self-confidence throughout the episode — rightly points out is absolutely not the same thing as introducing them to his boyfriend.
He says he wants to get married. “Yeah i think so,” Patrick answers to the question of whether he’s into the idea of marrying a guy. But then he’s quick to go on to talk about the pressure his sister felt to get married and how having same sex marriage puts that pressure on the gays. He also points out that him getting married would probably please his mother, but not for the right reasons: “She likes everything to be normal. Even if I were getting married to a guy, it would still make me just like everybody else.” Whoa, Patrick. Questioning heteronormativity? Even though a huge part of Patrick’s WASP-programmed mind also clearly wants to “be like everybody else,” there’s a non-traditionalist fighting his way out. Which is a promising development. Though one does also wonder if his relationship with Richie is just part of this. By dating a Latino hair dresser that his mother surely would not approve of (despite the fact that Richie is a thoughtful, sweet and self-assured guy that could probably teach Patrick a lot about how to be a better person), is Patrick simply battling the person he very much is but doesn’t want to be? Or does he really like Richie?
He, as a result of this episode, is the most interesting gay character on television right now. Patrick becomes an extraordinarily imperfect antihero by the end of this episode. He shows various signs of some major internalized homophobia, and is also fighting both narcissistic and racist tendencies — neither malicious but not forgivable either — that he seems only somewhat self-aware of. He’s by no means a role model. But he is layered and interesting and contemporary and real in a way that no other gay character on television is right now (at least male — “Orange is the New Black” definitely has some female rivals). Which helps take “Looking” to a whole new level in the dialogue it’s creating about people that exist in contemporary America.