The first time I watched “Looking Glass,” it felt unfinished. Agustín and Frank break up some more, Dom kisses Lynn at the end, Patrick has sex with Kevin and a heart-breaking conversation with Richie. Well, now what? The final music cue doesn’t help. It’s a rush when The Golden Girls theme takes us into hiatus, but what in the world are we to make of it? Patrick’s friends haven’t exactly been there for him through the past eight episodes (and vice versa), but the ending isn’t purely ironic, either. Episodes always end in the middle of some burst of emotion, but the editing in the finale is particularly withholding. When the rooftop door shuts on Kevin, Patrick starts to think about how weird that conversation was, but his face doesn’t give much away before we cut. The only reaction Lynn gives to Dom’s kiss is a little more kissing, but what a huge ball to throw into the air at the last second. And Richie basically breaks up with Patrick on the grounds that he’s not ready for a serious relationship, but we don’t get to see exactly how they leave things. Watching it again with the knowledge of what happens, “Looking Glass” is a pretty heavy bookend after all. It’s supposed to feel unfinished to the extent that it does. This is just one chapter in Patrick’s coming of age.
The bookend begins with the structure, the way “Looking Glass” opens like the premiere with the three characters passing the baton on their work day: Patrick’s late for a meeting, Agustín’s late for pills, Dom’s late for Lynn. Practically every conversation is abruptly cancelled by someone sweeping it under the rug. Lynn won’t even pick up the phone for Dom. When Patrick shows up at Richie’s work, Richie can barely look at him and tells Patrick he needs some space, and now Patrick can barely look at Richie. In a great touch, Richie says he’ll call when he’s ready, and when he leaves, his position on-screen is taken by a beat-up pay-phone. Agustín tells Frank, “I don’t think the two of us have talked about this properly,” and I agree. Just because Frank, Richie, and Lynn walk away doesn’t make them absolutely morally superior to the slow learners who are nevertheless our heroes. Kevin tries to talk about What Happened At The Wedding, but Patrick says, “Let’s just not talk about it,” somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 times a minute. At Dom’s restaurant, Agustín doesn’t want to talk about Frank and Patrick doesn’t want to talk about Kevin. Lynn won’t talk to Dom, even at Doris’ urging. Nobody ever wants to talk about anything. How Patrick of everyone.
That’s not just a joke. “Looking Glass” is painting a portrait of repression, which is already in the process of killing Patrick’s great relationship. Now, repression is the least of Dom or Agustín’s problems. Dom was hung up on a traumatic experience, and Frank sizes up Agustín as a “bored rich kid.” But right now everyone’s following in Patrick’s footsteps, and as the past few episodes have uncovered, Patrick is a product of repression. This season starts with the symptom of Patrick barely having any relationships, and it gradually adds on all these hints that he’s not totally comfortable with being gay. Eventually the series all but diagnoses him with the conversation about bottom-shame. Then it shows how he got this way, how the shame of homosexuality is filtered from society through his parents down into him. And now it’s assigning him the responsibility of liberating himself.
Eventually Kevin and Richie force Patrick to listen to them, and it’s quite a ride. First up, Kevin, with an assist from a shit-stirring Agustín, calls Patrick into work, and when Patrick gets there, it’s dark and there’s music playing and Kevin offers Patrick a beer. “Do you know how much effort it takes to be around you every day? It takes all of my will-power not to lunge and kiss the fucking shit out of you, and I can’t seem to stop thinking about you, and it’s becoming a real fucking problem.” It’s shot like the Erasure scene, an electric moment where we notice every little gesture. The camera gets closer and closer to these two guys in the dark with the music playing, one into it and the other not sure, until they’re just two heads within kissing distance. I’m captivated by the way “Looking Glass” reframes the series’ visual history. This time, the Erasure shot is no turning point. Patrick still tries to leave, but Kevin grabs his arm and Patrick turns around just in time for a kiss. Even after all that build-up, the episode still finds surprise in that moment. Actually Kevin kisses him twice before Patrick pushes his chest back. Not only is it a reenactment of the bathroom scene at the wedding, it looks like it, too, with Patrick on the left, Kevin on the right, and the square of light in Kevin’s office behind them like the mirror. Only this time Patrick gives in.
This isn’t one of the aforementioned scenes where the camera cuts away too soon. We see enough to get the gist, then a little more, and then the camera leaves these two with some privacy on the floor of their office. None of this is purely romantic, but as with the ending, the complications—Kevin is Patrick’s boss and both currently have boyfriends no matter what guilty Patrick wants to pretend—only enrich the scene. It’s sexy in the moment, it’s disappointing that it’s not with Richie, it’s exciting nonetheless. For Patrick this is a good decision wrapped inside one so bad that he winds up spending the night with Agustín. That good decision is that Patrick finally bottoms. And it’s not a good decision for the prurience, although this season has been a delicate and rewarding titration of the actors’ physiques. It’s a good decision because it’s the most liberating act on Looking since Patrick played hookie from work.
The entire episode to this point has been sitting by itself feeling sad on the subway. That’s one reason the final Richie scene is so notable. Patrick’s on his way back from Kevin, and there’s Richie on his stoop. “Now it’s my turn to be the creepy stalker guy.” I’m already cringing with the knowledge that Patrick has just bottomed for Kevin while Richie’s acting playful. Patrick tries to cut him off a few times, because he thinks he knows where this is going. And he’s right. But he needs to hear exactly how he’s right. It isn’t just that things didn’t work out. And it’s not that things can’t still work out. Richie lays it all on the table. He feels disrespected, he’s working on his pride, he calls out Patrick’s issues with his culture, he worries that they moved too fast and takes the blame for his part in that. “Pato, I am this close to falling in love with you. But I’m not gonna do that to myself if you’re not ready. And I don’t think you’re ready.” Honking cars and street noise fill the silence. Patrick can’t even say anything. He’s crying and touching Richie’s shoulder. But he knows what he’s done, and he knows Richie’s right.
So what now? We don’t know exactly what happens after that moment, and we don’t know what happens after Patrick gets dressed with Kevin. How did Patrick like it? Did they kiss goodbye? What will tomorrow be like? Not just for them. Do we just go back to another 10 months of supporting characters on mopey sitcoms or younger shows like Please Like Me? What’s great about Looking isn’t that it fills a void but that it does it so well. The patient writing plants seeds early. The performances range from the sometimes opaque naturalism of Raúl Castillo and Jonathan Groff to the mark-hitting theatricality of Scott Bakula, whose character came of age in a different time for gay men. And the way the camerawork builds on itself as it goes along would put the lie to all the snobs tweeting about television’s lack of visual narrative if they would actually deign to pay attention. I’ll be blown away if any show this year matches the power of “Looking For The Future.” Not just because it’s gay, but because it’s great.
- “Looking Glass” is directed by Andrew Haigh and written by Tanya Saracho and creator Michael Lannan.
- Misdirection: The first thing Agustín pulls out of his nightstand drawer is lube.
- Frank tells Agustín, “You don’t know what you’ve been, because you don’t know who the fuck you are.” The way O-T Fagbenle plays it, he’s not mad. He’s over it. He’s putting that into words for the first time and realizing it fits. For a character with such limited screen-time, Fagbenle gives such a lived-in performance that I hope this isn’t the last of him on Looking. Oh, and when Frank leaves, the lighting and composition immediately transfer the focus of the scene to the unicorn painting. These people are really good at filming things.
- No matter how physical Agustín gets with Patrick or Dom while chemically impaired, I never get the sense that something might happen between them, but I’ve heard from at least one person who did suspect something might happen. What about you?
- Everything about Lynn showing up at the pop-up is fantastic. It must take years of training to interpret his relationship to the guy he’s with—the guy being more physical and flirty, Lynn making a point of plural pronouns and talking about what a busy day they’ve had—which is just the way he wants it.
- Doris: “Did you see that slab of hotness who’s with him?” Dom: “He’s not that hot. He’s kinda smarmy.”
- Patrick: “I should be suing him for harassment anyway. He’s my frickin’ boss.” Thank you! Not that they couldn’t be good together, but this is not irrelevant information.
- The Golden Girls! Blanche is having a dry spell. “Dorothy how do you go through this for years at a stretch?” Bea Arthur in peak form: “I have compassionate friends around me.”