In last season’s “Looking for the Future,” the episode that transformed Looking from a muddled collage of character sketches into a lovely, harmonious portrait of three men struggling to grow up in the midst of adulthood, Patrick (Jonathan Groff) and Richie (Raúl Castillo) amble through Golden Gate Park toward Land’s End, discovering the seeds of their romance in the process. The water that has passed under the bridge in the time since is the subject of “Looking for Truth,” a beautiful companion piece to “Looking for the Future”: It has the feeling of a first date, but ends with a reckoning, run through with the conviction that we can never really leave the past behind us.
Structurally speaking, at least, “Looking for Truth” is not a mirror image of the earlier episode, which focused entirely on Patrick and Richie. It’s a measure of Looking’s increased confidence that it’s willing to break the spell from time to time to check in on Kevin (Russell Tovey), gutted by the abrupt end of his affair with Patrick, or Agustín (Frankie J. Álvarez), who’s been falling for Eddie (Daniel Franzese) since the season premiere. The episode opens with an office party celebrating the success of a new game, and Patrick is refreshingly acidulous, if also self-pitying, in his interactions with Kevin. “It’s not that it’s easy for me,” he tells Kevin, shortly before leaving the office. “You chose John. That’s it. End of story.” It may be this curt acknowledgement that he’s now on the receiving end of romantic disappointment that compels Patrick to be honest with Richie in the final scene.
Meanwhile, Agustín, sweetly worried about his friend and co-worker, drops by Eddie’s apartment with matzo ball soup to find him playing hookie; though their dance party to CeCe Peniston’s suggestive “Finally” culminates in a hook-up, much of their conversation is a fascinating play on narrative expectations. Part of Agustín’s attraction, it seems, is Eddie’s ability to wrong-foot him again and again; the sharp-witted playboy from Coral Gables has, finally, met his match. “We’re not gonna, like, sit down and do the Barbara Walters interview thing,” Eddie says when Agustín asks how he became HIV positive, and the scene admirably destabilizes the presumption that HIV, like coming out, must always be accompanied by a satisfying story. First Eddie lies, claiming to have been infected while being the “courtesy bottom” at a “dungeon sex party,” before revealing that his boyfriend at the time said he was negative when he wasn’t. “Are you disappointed,” he asks, “it wasn’t, like, Bukkake Sex Pig Party: Part 666?” Despite Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s accurate, if largely uninstructive, complaint, in The New Inquiry, that Looking fails to embrace San Francisco’s “wide range of feminist and oppositional queer possibilities,” the series evinces a certain self-awareness, here and elsewhere, about the fact that no one narrative, including its own, can fairly represent the full spectrum of LGBTQ identities.
Sycamore argues that Patrick and Richie’s discussion, which alludes to the challenges both faced in coming out to their families, “obscures the reality of day-to-day life in San Francisco, where the type of gay men portrayed in Looking is mostly accepted into the mainstream.” But this critique elides the fact that both see the city as an escape from constrained childhoods and disapproving families. Patrick’s from Colorado and Richie’s from the East Bay, whose sun-splotched streets are the setting for much of the episode’s action, and for both men it’s the very “reality” that “day-to-day life in San Francisco” doesn’t require them always to be coming out or staying closeted that’s at the heart of the attraction. “I know what it’s like to feel like you can’t be yourself when you go home,” Patrick says. “And so you either stay away, or you go home and kind of pretend.” Perhaps I’m just as “mainstream” as Looking’s characters, but with due respect to Sycamore, this sentiment doesn’t feel unearned: One of several truths in “Looking for Truth” is the notion that coming out, fairly or not, is one of the few shared experiences within what’s often called the LGBTQ community, even if what “coming out”—as gay, bi, trans, genderqueer, HIV positive, etc.—looks like varies from person to person. For Patrick and Richie, whose distinct racial and socioeconomic backgrounds led to the dissolution of their relationship in season one, this is an area of common ground, and Looking admirably attempts to figure out what that might mean.
In this sense, “Looking for Truth” is about all the water under the bridge that leads to the present moment, concerned not only with Patrick and Richie’s past as a couple, but also with their pasts as individuals. The warm palette in which director Andrew Haigh paints the episode, as Patrick helps Richie pick up an ice-cream truck that plays “endlessly horrifying” music, is well-suited to their rediscovery of the easygoing rhythm that marked “Looking for the Future”; in their moments alone (as Richie wipes the sour cream from Patrick’s face during lunch) and their exchanges with members of Richie’s extended family (especially his funny, unsparing cousin), the episode conjures up the feeling that opposites really do attract. Richie, discussing loyalty in the park with Patrick in “Looking Down the Road,” or, here, dismissing hipsters selling shrimp meatballs, has become the conscience of the series, and Castillo’s unmannered performance balances Groff’s nervous tics so well you almost can’t imagine them apart.
In the course of their afternoon together, Patrick and Richie talk about BMX bikes, Richie’s cousin’s souped-up ride, familial tension, and the other men in their lives, but ultimately the subtext of their conversation is what happened between them last season. “Trust me,” Richie says of his blooming interest in Brady, “this time, I’m not going to jump the gun.” As Patrick, recently heartbroken himself, learns just how invested Richie was in their relationship, “Looking for Truth” builds to its touching conclusion, which has within its faintly hopeful tenor a vein of profound regret. “These last few months have been so fraught with grossness that I need to at least try to be honest for, like, two minutes,” Patrick says, confessing that he had sex with Kevin on the night Richie turned up on his doorstep. The reprise of “Finally” over the closing credits may suggest what we’re all thinking, which is that Richie and Patrick are once again staring love in the face, but the truth is they’re no longer looking for the future, at least not with each other. “It’s in the past,” Richie says, and he’s right.
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