'Looking' recap, 'Looking for a Plus-One'

  • O-T Fagbenle.
O-T Fagbenle. (HBO )
March 03, 2014|By Michael Gold | The Baltimore Sun

"Looking for a Plus-One" is brimming with restless energy. Shots are packed with background action and extras. The camera moves almost constantly. And when it’s static, the episode’s characters certainly aren’t. As Patrick prepares for his sister’s wedding, Dom organizes his peri-peri pop-up and Agustin readies for his long-foreshadowed reckoning, their anxiety spills into the screen.

After a deliberately slow first half, "Looking" has been on a kind of free-fall to next Sunday’s season finale — which , thankfully, will not be the end of the series. Tensions between characters keeps building as the show’s rhythm picks up, but resolution has yet to come. Larger gestures keep things in check, Patrick’s "be my plus one" invite being the most obvious example. But frustrations keep piling on top of each other, making every interaction between the men of "Looking" loaded. With friendships and romances already so strained and outside pressures suddenly coming to a head, it’s no wonder everyone's on edge.

Nobody more overtly than Patrick. Patrick's mother has been referenced in a handful of episodes, and it's clear she is exerting an influence on Patrick's life, even from Colorado. So at first it's nice to see her in the flesh — or at least over a MacBook screen, since the two are talking over Skype as they finish getting dressed. That's a little creepy, but it's also a little validating: Yes, Patrick is neurotic, but so his is mother, to the point that she needs to harangue him about showing up to the church on time minutes before the wedding.

The two proceed to stress each other out: Patrick bats down his mom's worries about traffic. His mom expresses concern that Richie's placecard says "Richard" instead of "Richie." (The two are eerily similar, a point only driven home by a shot that shows Patrick struggling with his bow tie as his mother fiddles with her earrings. Their motions are almost unison.)

Throughout their conversation, there's really only one gender-specific moment. "We're very excited to meet your... friend," she says, apparently unable to bring herself to say the word "boyfriend." Otherwise, Patrick's panic over Richie meeting his family is perfectly mundane. It's not that he's bringing a boy to a family function for the first time ever that seems to worry him, but what his mother will think of a guy who is just "Richie" and not "Richard." Who is a cosmetologist with no higher education rather than a doctor, lawyer or video-game software exec. One of the major coups of "Looking" was how quickly Patrick and Richie's relationship strengthened in the hermetic "Looking for the Future," only for their connection to fray as elements were re-introduced to their world. First, it was friends. This week, family.

Still, if Richie wasn't sweating meeting Patrick's friends last week, it's clear the prospect of his boyfriend's family has him stressing to the max. Clue one: He shaves, an act clearly meant to transform him into the kind of clean-cut man sure to meet parental approval. (It also makes him look disturbingly more like Patrick, as if he's re-working himself in the other man's image.) Clue two: How frantic he is about the coffee stain on his shirt, the first in a series of farcical setbacks as Patrick tries to get to his sister's wedding across the Golden Gate Bridge. Clue three: The pot he brought with him to calm his nerves.

It's the pot that pushes Patrick over the edge. He's a nice WASP-y boy going to meet his nice WASP-y family at a nice WASP-y wedding. That Richie would bring pot with him is unthinkable, and that he'd suggest Patrick take a (well-needed) toke even more so. When Patrick says as much, Richie walks off, leaving a frantic Patrick to face his family alone.

Well, not quite alone, because it turns out Kevin's at the wedding too (his boyfriend is, in an act of TV magic, college buddies with Patrick's-brother-in-law-to-be). It's Kevin who puts Patrick at ease and reassures him. And it's Kevin who, unlike Richie, knows how to tie a bow tie. Essentially, he's the kind of man Patrick would proudly present to his parents, were Kevin not taken.

But Kevin is taken, a fact driven home to Patrick when his sister jokes about getting Kevin's boyfriend to propose. Seeing the two together, and how happy they are, leads him to call Richie and apologize. It almost seems like he's learned something.

Still, Patrick's not totally willing to admit fault. He tells Kevin he's erred, but he later blames his mother for Richie's absence. "You're the real reason he's not here tonight," he tells her in a fairly hackneyed conversation. "Richie's not sick. I was a jerk to him today because I was so nervous about introducing him to you because he's not the kind of person you want me to be with."

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