In what amounts to something of a departure for Looking, “Looking Down the Road” picks up where “Looking Top to Bottom” left off, on the morning after Patrick (Jonathan Groff) and Kevin (Russell Tovey) spend the night at the former’s apartment. The episodes, both directed by Ryan Fleck, fit together as snugly as adjoining pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. “Looking Down the Road” offers fitful glimpses of the previous episode’s eroticism (like Kevin in his skivvies and a kitschy apron serving “a proper English fry-up”), but it lingers on a sense of romantic disenchantment at which “Looking Top to Bottom” only nodded. “What the heart wants is never quite so flexible,” I said then, but even I was unprepared for just how brittle the heart would turn out to be.
A self-deprecating jab at his past body issues notwithstanding, “Fatrick” launches into a discussion of “the boyfriend”—Kevin’s partner, John—almost immediately. Even here, before the episode gathers momentum, “Looking Down the Road” signals a keen understanding of the disequilibrium in Paddy’s relationship with Kevin, not unlike that which severs the connection between Dom (Murray Bartlett) and Lynn (Scott Bakula). Other men, past and present, shadow the proceedings throughout, and even though Kevin promises to sort out the situation, it’s clear that his sincere affection for Paddy is only one factor in his emotional calculus. “The way we are with each other, the way we were together last night, I don’t have that with John,” he says sweetly, but no assurance can erase the sound of his whispered call to John the night before, or the image of Kevin’s smile when Paddy spies him with John at the farmer’s market the next day. “Looking Down the Road” suggests an eye toward the future, but more than this it alludes to forks in the path. Its melancholic vein is that of the chance not taken, the choice regretted, all the lives we imagine we might lead, or might have led, if only we’d known in advance where the road would take us.
Not that Paddy’s the injured party, much less the innocent one—though, unsurprisingly, he tries to convince himself that he’s both. No sooner does Kevin leave than Paddy’s walking through Dolores Park with Richie (Raúl Castillo), vowing to ditch his fancy salon for the barber shop. The subtext of Richie’s response (“You have a stylist, you need to stay loyal to him”) lays bare the truth that Paddy, at his worst, is little more than a selfish child, never satisfied with what he has; his rationalizations and justifications, when Richie calls him out as a “homewrecker,” are enough to make you want to slap him upside the head. Worse still, he spills the details of his (ostensibly) secret affair primarily to compete with Richie, who reveals that he’s been seeing a hot ginger named Brady (Chris Perfetti). Their conversation is compelling because it’s hard not to identify with Patrick (who hasn’t attempted to one-up an ex, or explain away a poor decision?), and yet the episode, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, doesn’t shy away from the knowledge that every coming catastrophe is of his own making. “It’s none of my business, but you don’t want to be in deeper than the person you’re with,” Richie says, with the wisdom of experience. “It’s never good.”
The dilemma comes to a head on the roof of Patrick and Kevin’s office building, in a gorgeous scene that Fleck directs with the same unassuming force as last week’s exchange between Richie and Agustín (Frankie J. Álvarez) in the barber shop. It’s nearing the golden hour, the sun gently breaking through the clouds as cranes and hilltop telephone poles cut into the endless horizon, when Patrick admits that their current arrangement is bound to break more than one heart. “I mean, your life is with John,” he says:
“You wake up with him, you go to bed with him, you talk to him on the phone every night. And we can steal lunches, and we can steal weekends, but at the end of the day we’re stealing from your life with John. And I want to be the kind of person that can handle that, but I just, I can’t. I can’t do it anymore… Every day, more and more, I’m building this life for us, this future in my head, us together, and it’s impossible. This is going to end with John hurt, or you and I hating each other, so let’s just stop…”
As he tries to ride this wave of emotion safely back to solid ground, the camerawork strikes a lovely balance between the delicate subject matter and the forthrightness, the honesty, of Patrick’s confession. Rather than splice the conversation into a series of actions and reactions, Fleck frames it within a single take, heightening the sense of two lovers at loose ends by tracing a crescent from behind Kevin to behind Patrick and then back again. The style is insistent without ever jarring our focus, and by the time Kevin, voice raised to interrupt Patrick’s rambling, concludes his response, the camera is where it started; the characters seem to have moved their relationship forward, though by the end of “Looking Down the Road” we’ll learn that they have not. “I will talk to John, okay?” Kevin says. “Today. I will talk to him today. I will make this right, and it will take time to make him understand in a way that doesn’t wreck him, that will take time, but I will do it…You don’t need to, Patrick, you don’t need to ask me, because that life you are building for us—I am too.”
Against this rather brilliant interlude, the rest of the episode begins to appear unremarkable, though, as always, each narrative thread comes to echo the central theme. Despite the surfeit of funny details, like an “I Heart Anal” mug or the sight of Eddie (Daniel Franzese) in a leopard-print shawl, Agustín’s subplot is admittedly more setup than payoff; even here, though, the ease with which he asks to spend a few hours alone in Eddie’s apartment, or for a gig at the shelter for trans youth where Eddie works, suggests an unearned comfort in the friendship that Eddie doesn’t yet share. Their relationship isn’t sexual, but he may be in too deep himself.
Dom’s passive-aggressive encounters with Lynn dredge up issues similar to those Patrick and Kevin face at breakfast and on the roof, albeit with a more downcast tone. The way he mentions Lynn’s friend, Matthew (Matthew Risch), is classic Dom: He wants to appear unruffled, open to anything, and yet he stops just short of curling his upper lip in disdain. “Everything we do is a negotiation, Lynn,” he says. “Everything’s so careful and measured, it’s like you’re withholding. It’s like you’re not sure how much to invest in me, or us… It makes me wonder what I am to you?” He’s not Matthew, Lynn counters, but it’s clear that he’s not Brian, the love of Lynn’s life, either. Dom, usually the Looking protagonist who appears least damaged, finally seems bereft. “I need this,” he tells Doris (Lauren Weedman) later that night, agreeing to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund his piri-piri chicken joint. ” Fuck, I don’t have anything else.”
Indeed, by the time the gang heads to Esta Noche to mark its impending demise, the die is long since cast: “Looking Down the Road” may refer to what’s on the horizon, but it’s an episode defined by the ends of things, and not yet new beginnings. As Doris braces against the tacit insult in Dom’s almost tearful remark, repeating “You have me” three times, or as Patrick pushes away Kevin’s kiss after learning that he failed to tell John about the affair, the second half of Fleck’s beautiful diptych falls into place. The melancholic grace note of “Looking Top to Bottom” becomes the keystone of “Looking Down the Road,” and following what the heart wants seems, by the time the credits roll, a treacherous path indeed.
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