'Looking' recap, 'Looking for Uncut'

  • Raul Castillo on "Looking."
Raul Castillo on "Looking." (John P. Johnson / HBO )
January 27, 2014|By Michael Gold | The Baltimore Sun

The discomfort on Patrick's face as he utters a more, uh, colloquial term for "friend with benefits" is pretty good foreshadowing for how the second episode of "Looking" eventually ends.

In a candid conversation about sex that is all but guaranteed to spark a few more thinkpieces, Patrick (Jonathan Groff) gets the chance to use the phrase in question three times. And each time, he gets progressively more uncomfortable saying it.

Tonight's episode, titled "Looking for Uncut," focuses pretty explicitly on defining relationships, whether they're emerging, developing — although I suspect Frankie J. Alvarez's Agustin might, in a moment of self-doubt, prefer the term stagnating — or fracturing.

That feels like heavy territory for a half-hour framed by a discussion about circumcision, which is what the early minutes of "Looking for Uncut" presents. Based on the dialogue at the beginning of this episode, it would seem the most central relationship' here is Patrick's new dalliance with cosmetologist and bouncer Richie (Raul Castillo). By the time the credits roll, the pair seems to have gone through the relationship life cycle before our eyes.

But the relationship given the most weight in "Looking for Uncut" — the one that notably bookends the episode and lends tonight's half-hour solid structure — is the one between the show's three leads.

The first episode of "Looking" didn't provide much detail about the connections Patrick, Agustin and Dom (Murray Bartlett) have formed. In a masterfully filmed initial sequence (that half-minute opening shot lingers beautifully, even by recent television-as-art standards), "Looking for Uncut" addresses that. Patrick's innocence plays wonderfully off Agustin's performative nonchalance and Dom's relative worldliness, and the understated way the camera moves suggests what we're getting here is the guys' given dynamic.

But it's small touches are what establish just how familiar, or even intimate, the three men of "Looking" are. The unremarkable way Patrick grabs a half-nibbled cupcake out of Agustin's hand then later passes it to Dom reveals a kind of closeness which Patrick's romantic relationships clearly don't have. So does Dom's inability to even feign surprise at Agustin's disclosure of a threesome, as does the matter of fact way Patrick and Dom place bets on how long Agustin will be able to shack up with his boyfriend Frank (O-T Fagbenle).

Really, Agustin's move across the bridge to Oakland provides the perfect opportunity to reveal the bonds between these three men. Helping someone relocate and hauling their junk are inherently caring acts, and they provide a great backdrop for the casual discussion of sex and intimacy that episode director-writer Andrew Haigh offers.

The gulf between those two things is something "Looking" explores throughout its first four episodes, a point Haigh belabors slightly when he has Agustin rattle off a list of sex acts than suggest there's nothing remotely intimate about them. In general, subtleties are where "Looking" excels. The reason Agustin's scenes during "Looking for Uncut" are so powerful, for example, is because of how small and quiet they are. Now that he has shacked up with Frank, his life looks fairly mundane in comparison, as he seems to have feared. But as the two discuss hanging a painting or hang back and watch TV — decidedly small debates — you can see Augustin still trying to sort out just how he feels about settling down in Oakland. Alvarez makes Agustin fairly aloof and distracted toward the end of the episode, and his quiet hanging of a painting is a nice balance after the louder material both Patrick and Dom are given in "Looking for Uncut."

Agustin's most energetic expression is his disbelief that former roommate Patrick is capable of being cross-cultural sex friends with cosmetologist-cum-bouncer Richie. (That's how I'm euphemizing what Patrick says when he awkwardly and embarrassedly lowers his voice mid-conversation. Groff handles that phrasing extremely well.)

Both the cross-cultural nature of Patrick and Richie's relationship and the sexual factor are likely to get the most attention at the proverbial water cooler, especially in light of criticism that "Looking" was either too white or not sexy enough. And both make for subtly hilarious moments, like when Patrick awkwardly tries to feel out Richie's heritage ("And all your family's from... here?" "San Francisco?" "...Sure.") and Patrick's transgressive Google Image search for uncut Latin men.

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