Looking, Season 2, Episode 3, “Looking Top to Bottom”
January 25, 2015, 10:00 PM (EST), HBO
“Transitory” is the best adjective to describe last night’s episode of Looking, entitled “Looking Top to Bottom.” It is about the transitions – in gendered norms, sexual preferences, careers, actions, and mindsets – that dominate, and in some ways threaten, the stability of our personal and romantic relationships. The episode is study of these characters, who are constantly looking to define themselves outside of socially-driven dichotomies (feminine vs. masculine, top vs. bottom, dominant vs. subservient, sinner vs. saint).
Directed by Ryan Fleck and written by John Hoffman, “Looking Top to Bottom” opens during an office birthday party for Meredith, a butch woman who shares a love of Fudgie the Whale cakes with her husband. Kevin is astonished to learn that Meredith is not a lesbian (he tells Patrick that she is “more man than [Patrick] and [Kevin] combined”). Patrick and Kevin’s conversation about coworkers’ sexualities transitions to a discussion about their weekend plans: Kevin’s plans got canceled when Jon had to leave town and he wants Patrick to cancel his own plans. Patrick rebuffs that he can’t just be at Kevin’s beck and call, so Kevin suggests that they do Patrick’s plans together. It is an important transitory moment for them because they are coming out of their hermetically sealed bubble to be more open about their relationship (even if they won’t admit to bystanders that they are sleeping together).
Meanwhile Agustin – who is trying to transition from a prick to a somewhat decent human being – uses tamales and Juicy Fruit to make amends with Richie. Richie is on the offense, but makes a partial peace treaty by offering to trim Agustin’s beard, which is a visual marker of Agustin’s own self worth (Patrick later says it is a sign of him “slowly returning to the world of the living”). Agustin returns home to find a frantic Patrick quarantining the apartment from its “cum-stained” sheets. Patrick’s OCD is becoming more palpable as weeks pass, leading him and Agustin to a local pharmacy where they buy douches for Patrick’s weekend rendezvous. It is obvious that Patrick is uncomfortable with his transition from a top to a bottom (Agustin claims Patrick feels it effeminizes him). Patrick’s insecurity with his submissive role is further highlighted by his attempt to explain his purchases to the cashier.
At Dom and Doris’ apartment, the two roommates are in the afterglow of sex – Dom invites Lynn to talk about Dom’s crappy mattress while Doris experiences rimming (“Not just for the gays anymore”). Their sexualities, relationships, and careers are constantly in flux, and they are basking in their ability to explore their boundaries and try new roles.
Patrick and Kevin get some liquid courage at a local bar. They ruminate over Kevin’s past (his hometown and his abandonment by his mother) and Patrick’s childhood past time (he invented board games) before heading over to Dom’s gay rugby game. While at the game, Kevin (still playing the role of “Patrick’s boss”) impresses everyone by being able to explain each player’s role by his own sexual roles/types. As the crowd rallies and cheers on Dom, Patrick takes Kevin aside and they make out.
After the game, Dom, surrounded by a sea of naked showering men, discovers from one of his teammates that Lynn is promoting Dom as more of a manager than an entrepreneur. Dom confronts Lynn about it, to which Lynn counters that this is a good position to take. The underlying message of this interchange is that, in spite of their openness, Lynn feels comfortable in the roles that they are allotted. He is comfortable in viewing Dom having subservient career goals, while he (Lynn) is comfortable being the nurturer and breadwinner.
At Patrick’s apartment, he and Kevin take it slow (enjoying the 28 hours that they have together). They cuddle, laugh, watch cartoons, and at some point, Kevin ignores a call from Jon. The intimate foreplay soon leads to the bedroom where Patrick tops Kevin for the first time. Their romance is bittersweet as Kevin calls Jon back while Patrick is sleeping. Kevin returns back to his role as the faithful boyfriend, while Patrick just continues to play ignorant of his role as the “other man.”
Like it or not, the episode highlights the intimidating nature of transitions and changes. Even though the characters make strides to change for the better, there is still comfort in regressing back to their former selves: Kevin still keeps his relationship a secret while Lynn still sees his boyfriend as a manager rather than an owner. The only characters who seem more open and willing to explore themselves are ancillary (Agustin and Doris), while Patrick and Dom have to endure the slings and arrows of their significant others’ stubborn mindsets.
In an episode about the changes and transitions we experience in relationships, Looking is unsurprisingly frank about our comfort in remaining the same person.