Looking, Season 2, Episodes 6-7, “Looking for Gordon Freeman” and “Looking for a Plot”
February 22 and March 1, 10:00 PM (EST), HBO
Due to the hectic nature of Oscar season, I took a partial break from my weekly reviews of Looking. This double review will try to condense everything that occurred over the last two episodes, each of which is rife with dramatic character arcs and personal tension. These last two episodes dug deeper into their characters by having them confess their anxieties and reveal their undisclosed histories. The episodes are united through their ability to explore the clash between personal and private identities in a singular setting (“Looking for Gordon Freeman” juxtaposes Patrick’s tragic love life with a lively party setting, while “Looking for a Plot” has Dom and Doris return to their stifling hometown of Modesto for a funeral).
“Looking for Gordon Freeman” is the more cringe worthy episode of the two, not because it is poorly written but because it is embarrassingly true to life (I know I identified with drunk Patrick’s speech). Patrick decides to host a Halloween party (ignore the February airdate) in order to be considered a “fun gay,” but the festivities bring out strange reactions from its guests: Doris (dressed as Sonny to Malik’s Cher) fears the long-term commitment implications of her couple’s costume; Agustin does his best to seduce Eddie; Brady gets into an argument with Patrick over preventative measures against HIV; drunk Kevin (who earlier admitted he was moving back to Seattle) brings Jon to the party; and Patrick (prompted by the lack of karaoke enthusiasts) makes a drunk speech that embarrasses all of his friends and nearly reveals his indiscretion with Kevin. I watched this episode with my hand strategically placed on the remote, lowering the volume every time Patrick’s embarrassment became overwhelming. These tensions and anxieties bubble throughout the episode because of the clash between the characters’ lack of inhibitions (characterized by their over-the-top costumes and alcohol intake) with their convoluted relationships (Dom to Doris, Doris to Malik, Agustin to Eddie, Patrick to Richie and Kevin, Kevin to Jon, Richie to Brady, etc). Its cataclysmic climax was a volcano of emotions, finally giving relief to all the things Patrick (and viewers) had been experiencing throughout this season.
“Looking for a Plot” was a refreshing road trip, primarily because it gave Doris the spotlight. The day after the Halloween party, the gang’s breakfast is interrupted by a text from Doris’ aunt (played by Mary Kay Place). The titular “plot” suddenly takes on a dual meaning as Dom and Doris (with Patrick in tow) not only attend a funeral, but try to gauge their own (hi)stories (where they are, where they are going, and where they have been). It is an emotional road trip back to Modesto, marked by a donut shop (formerly Dom’s father’s Portuguese restaurant), a rundown gay bar headlined by a drag queen named Kitty Leukemia, a fancy hotel pool, and Patrick’s loud crying. The characters are frequently comparing battle scars as Doris reveals her mother’s alcoholism and Dom reveals his inability to come out to his father. When the characters finally do accept their paths in life, they celebrate it by driving through a cemetery and having Dom come out to his father’s tombstone. This joyous moment is short lived as their car is side-swiped by a truck - a visual metaphor for the narrative arc (a jolting moment sends the characters into a tailspin) – but it strangely brings the characters individual happiness. Doris not only accepts her relationship with Malik, but also gives all of her inheritance (enough for a “chicken window”) to Dom. Meanwhile, Patrick finds Kevin on his doorstep, waiting to tell him that he broke up with Jon. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was clutching an invisible string of pearls during the last scene of this week’s episode.
On their own, “Gordon Freeman” and “Plot” are minefields that force their central characters (Patrick and Doris, specifically) into strange and stifling predicaments. They both have touching moments as well as embarrassing moments (especially from Patrick). They are minimalist plots that focus on a few characters rather than having various subplots. But they are testaments to the writers, who normalize a broad spectrum of sexualities in order to give the show more options for stories to tell and characters to introduce. Like Haigh’s Weekend, Looking manages to construct a San Francisco where we are not constantly reminded that these characters are gay, but that they are people who endure the same emotional anxieties as everyone else.
(The score is the average of both episodes) On their own, “Gordon Freeman” and “Plot” are minefields that force their central characters (Patrick and Doris, specifically) into strange and stifling predicaments. They are testaments to the strength of Looking’s writers.