“Looking For Truth” is an episode about opening up. Physical spaces, I mean. Look at all the visual metaphors. Rooms are explicit symbols of privacy: Patrick jacks off to some weirdly censored porn (where was standards and practices when he was Googling STI?) and hopes to no avail Agustín doesn’t hear him; Kevin reminisces about his dirty little secret in his office in the middle of a party; Richie’s in the car so he doesn’t hear his cousin Ceci have a quick heart-to-heart with Patrick in the foreground. Similarly they all have secrets, except Agustín, because Agustín’s in character rehab right now, and they’ve gone through his luggage to make sure he isn’t smuggling in anything bad. Patrick cheated on Richie, Kevin cheated on John, Richie’s home life is more complicated than he let on, Eddie’s playing hookie. The question is, when their friends come into their spaces, will they open up?
The series is full of people opening up of their own volition, but the confessions in “Looking For Truth” aren’t the usual childhood repressions and sexual adventures, although those are also on display. The big subjects here tend to be more difficult, things the characters would do well to confront but don’t want to because it’s too painful. So instead, we have other characters pushing them. Start with the visual. The episode is full of people going from one space to another deeper in the frame. They’re probing, exploring, testing boundaries. The most dramatic instance is Agustín opening the doors to Patrick’s room like he’s pulling back a curtain, but consider Richie disappearing into the restaurant or John violating the hermetic seal of Kevin’s office. Even the focus racking from Kevin giving his speech to Patrick rolling his eyes illustrates that they’re in two very separate spaces.
When Kevin catches up to Patrick, he’s desperate to talk. “This is unbearable.” But Patrick refuses, putting up a “Hey, at least no one got hurt” wall and fleeing the party. Which is probably for the best, because that’s probably not the best time for honesty, but it leaves Kevin with a terrible guilt, and it’s clear Patrick has a whole lecture in him that he’s bottling up. Next thing you know we’re standing in between two employees mingling, and deep in the background, in his glass cube, Kevin’s sitting alone in his office flipping through his Top Trumps deck. He flings the deck into the office and makes a little “shoo” gesture, and then he calls John to come make him feel better. When John gets there, from the inside we can see him approach Kevin’s office, and as soon as he gets inside he sets about teasing (probing). John starts to give Kevin a shoulder rub, making Kevin tense up a little like his neck is ticklish, while talking about how Kevin’s been keeping him out of that space for months. Way to zero in. It seems like Kevin wants to tell him something, and I have a pretty good idea what, but instead he keeps a lid on it. He wants to have a fun day with John, and it’s the saddest happy couple in the episode. That’s the last we see of them, too. It’s like Kevin had his chance and failed, and all the extra space in the episode will be taken by the people who are willing to open up and fill it.
Agustín successfully invades Eddie’s place using quintessential Agustín tactics: annoying him until he opens the door. When Eddie cleans up after lunch, he’s just being fastidious, but there is something funny about the sight of Agustín the inquisitor camped out in Eddie’s inner sanctum while Eddie avoids him. Eddie later fends off personal questions, but after making Agustín jump through the appropriate hoops, he acquiesces. How did he contract HIV? “I was doing a lot of meth, and I was at this, uh, dungeon sex party in a sling as the courtesy bottom, so really it could have been any number of guys who took their turn.” He takes a drag, and we pan over to Agustín with a far-off look. “Wow.”
Eddie again: “I’m kidding. Jesus, Mary. I got it from a guy who said he was negative when he wasn’t, a boyfriend at the time.” Hilarious prank, hard truth, for the audience if not for Eddie. This is the same episode where Patrick tells Richie and Kevin doesn’t tell John that Kevin fucked Patrick bareback while both of them were in relationships, an incident that had Patrick at least freaking out about his status. It’s hard to tell if the subject is difficult for Eddie to talk about or if he just likes making people work for him, but at the very least he hasn’t told his family, which in this episode constitutes a warning sign. It rhymes with Richie’s story. Patrick might push Eddie about telling his family, but Agustín relents on the interrogation. Which means they only get one more scene before Patrick and Richie fill up the rest of the episode. Luckily that one scene is a blast, a single take of Agustín and Eddie dancing and lip-syncing to Cece Peniston’s “Finally” as Agustín slowly moves in for a kiss. Eddie maintains his distance (“This isn’t anything official”), but he still really wants to make out. The takeaway: There’s definitely more to investigate with Eddie.
Once they get off BART, Patrick and Richie move toward us in a longish take like the one in the park last week, the camera relatively stationary (gradually planting itself, actually) as the two bodies move toward us. Only this time, they’re coming directly at us, the episode being about both depth and directness. But the overall effect is the same. They’re trading childhood stories somewhat like the ones in “Looking For The Future”: Patrick grew up riding his sister’s bike, and when his parents got him a boy’s bike, he missed the sparkly one he used to have, while Richie used to have a skateboard. But instead of buzzing with them, hanging on their facial expressions, moving to their rhythm, this wide shot is standoffish. It minimizes the energy. It’s telling us not to mistake it for a romantic scene, or even a rekindling one. This is just two friends walking down the street. “Looking For Truth” is necessary for a few reasons, but the first is credibly downshifting Patrick and Richie into being just friends.
Like John invading Kevin’s space and Agustín invading Eddie’s, this is a story about Patrick visiting Richie’s old neighborhood, Chino from The O.C. Just kidding. It’s San Leandro if I read the signs correctly. It’s also a very welcome reversal: Patrick’s the honest confronter, and Richie’s the uptight avoider. When Patrick says, “We can talk about these things,” these things meaning relationships, Richie’s like, “Wow, these menus sure are interesting.” Finally their relationship has some serious balance. In the words of Agustín, I’m glad to see St. Richie’s not perfect after all.
And how! He’s so on edge he can barely appreciate the hammy visit from his cousin Ceci. You get the feeling he’d prefer to keep a wall up between his romantic life and his family life, even when his family life comes in such lively terms as Ceci. She ribs Patrick for the way he treated Richie, and she mocks Richie’s thing for white guys of a certain stripe, adding Patrick and Brady to “the gringo with the vespa” and inadvertently qualifying Richie’s romantic history for a trend piece. What is it about Richie’s type? They definitely don’t remind him of home? He knows he’ll be left in tears? He knows he’ll have the moral high ground? Not that they’re all so predictable or that Brady is necessarily anything like Patrick, but Dr. Melfi would say Richie picks these guys for a deeper reason than lust at first sight. On the other hand, he isn’t just repeating a pattern. Ceci tells Patrick, “I know I’ve been giving you a hard time, but I was just really rooting for you. I’ve never seen him be so into anyone. Well, not in a long time. And when he came to borrow 200 bucks for some suit for some wedding you were taking him to, that’s when I knew.” Suddenly “Looking For A Plus-One” is even more disappointing. But it was clearly a step forward from Vespa Gringo, and now Richie says he’s taking things slower with Brady. According to Richie, anyway, he’s learning from his past relationships.
Another cousin, Hector, leaves Richie even more uptight. He just comes over to get in some passive-aggressive digs about Richie’s family life. At the start of their day together, Patrick asked Richie if things were better with his dad, but after Hector’s visit, Patrick starts to probe deeper. “So this thing with your dad is, like, legit bad, huh?” Richie says it’s complicated, which isn’t a yes, so Patrick keeps pushing. Has Richie tried talking to him? Is Richie sure that the problem isn’t just that stubbornness runs in the family? Is Richie maybe taking the easy way out, at least in the short term, by avoiding the situation altogether? “I confronted my mom and things are better. I mean they’re not completely but definitely improving.” Another reference to the wedding, and to the facts that the parent-child relationship is a two-way street and they’re adults now. Patrick continues with some actual wisdom. When you feel like you can’t be yourself at home, and the “feel like” is as important as the rest, you can either avoid or pretend. Richie’s tired of pretending, so he’s avoiding. But, Patrick says, “if you’re anything like me, you kinda want to go home, ‘cause it’s your family, right? So, I don’t know, you’re kinda forced to confront it.” Richie looks away and offers another excuse. Patrick’s not sure how much of what Richie’s saying is exaggeration, but he’s seriously on his game: “Well, listen, if your dad is a raging homophobe, then I say fuck him. Okay? Never speak to him again. But if he’s not, then…I don’t know.” He’s leading Richie to the answer instead of just telling him. Boy, Patrick should end affairs more often.
It’s already a successful visit. Richie pushed Patrick about Kevin, Patrick pushes Richie about his family, both are turning out to be platonic friends who are actually good at being friends. But there is one big lie of omission in the way of Patrick and Richie’s fresh start, so Patrick pulls the ice cream truck over and says the words that threaten to put a pit in your stomach: “I need to apologize for what happened with us.” Still Richie’s trying to avoid. Boy’s had enough hard truths for the day. “It was a complicated night,” Patrick says of the time he slept with Kevin and broke up with Richie. “I was at work right before I saw you, and Kevin and me, we—” “Hooked up?” This isn’t like the park when Patrick told Richie he was dating Kevin, or rather Richie pried all that information out of Patrick. Notice Patrick’s the one who brings up Kevin, and he was just trying to find the right euphemism when Richie jumped in. (Then again “hooked up” is vague enough for damage control; Richie doesn’t know the details that Patrick agreed to bottom for Kevin but not him.) “And I’m not trying to make an excuse or say that it didn’t mean anything because obviously. But I just wanted to say that I’m sorry. I never apologized.” The whole time we’re behind them in the ice cream truck, going back and forth between them, not in fluid connecting pans but in isolating cuts. Richie’s reaction is not promising.
Then when some kids try to order ice cream, we cross the 180-degree line and view Patrick and Richie from the front. So we’re ahead of Richie when he tells Patrick that his confession doesn’t feel good but it’s all in the past. The camerawork represents the scene: They had to dwell on the past in order to put it behind them. Physical space is emotional in “Looking For Truth.”
Richie forgives Patrick, or tries to, saying, “I would be very sad if you weren’t in my life anymore.” Whereas Kevin and John are going to have a fun day together, trying to cover as much dishonesty as possible with happy memories, and Eddie and Agustín are going to have some guarded romantic fun, Patrick and Richie are going to try to be friends. The more honest a pair is, the less immediately happy they are. But as the ice cream truck drives off, the tenuous feeling about Patrick and Richie gives way to tremendous relief. They’re moving forward.
- “Looking For Truth” is written by Tanya Saracho and directed by Andrew Haigh.
- When Agustín opens the doors, I wish instead of putting on a sweatshirt, Patrick were putting on new socks.
- Still chuckling about Agustín’s sudden, playful reaction to Patrick going to help Richie. The Angie Jordan Code tells me not to do impressions of other races, but basically he affects a thick Cuban accent to say, “Excuse me?” in mock shock. I could stand to see some more continuity from depressive Agustín, but I can’t act like he isn’t a delight this season.
- Richie: “You’re sure you can drive stick?” Patrick: “Can I ever.”
- Richie on Brady: “I wouldn’t say that we’re dating…This time I’m not going to jump the gun.”
- Patrick: “It just took me a little while to figure out what everybody else already knew.” No, it didn’t. Patrick knew all along what he was doing was bad for him and for Kevin and for John and for Richie. He explicitly told his friends not to shame him about it, which implies that there might be reason to shame him about it.
- While eating a monster burrito, Patrick gets some sour cream on his face. Two things. First of all, look, I appreciate Looking’s sometimes cheesy, almost Samantha-esque sense of ribaldry, but it’s getting a little out of hand. And second, Richie takes the opportunity to wipe it off. Do people do that in real life?
- That said, Patrick and Richie share a number of genuinely cute moments, like when Ceci makes them stay for a beer, and the camera pushes in until she’s out of view and the shot is just Patrick and Richie laughing together.
- Eddie: “I’ve been known to play the poz card now and again. The one positive thing about being positive.” Agustín: “HIV humor. Jeez.”
- It was halfway through until I noticed Dom wasn’t in the episode. What about you?
- For all his sudden clarity, Patrick remains Patrick. As Ceci shows off her car’s paintjob, he says, sounding like my parents, “Did you do this all yourself, Ceci?” “Mmhmm.” “It’s a masterpiece!” And that’s the one thing she doesn’t bust his balls over!
- At first Eddie rejects Agustín’s kiss. Well after having adequately sampled the goods, that is. “I’m sorry if guys take off their panties every time you say so. But no.” The best part is Agustín looks genuinely crushed and then flushed with embarrassment. Eddie:“You should be embarrassed. You give up way too easily.” So why is Eddie so adamant that hooking up (again, that vague term) with Agustín isn’t “official?” Has he seen season one?
- Patrick babbles about the ice cream truck. “God, that music. It’s so creepy. It’s like if The Addams Family had an ice cream truck. And were pedophiles. Although, Uncle Fester was definitely a pedophile, right?”
- At the car wash, Patrick tries to get Richie to loosen up. Richie: “Quit it. I’m not doing your whole cheerleaders at a car wash fantasy.” Patrick has two responses. The first is that the fantasy is frat boys at a car wash, which I get in theory but has he gone to college? The second is to pantomime jacking off the hose. Don’t grow up too fast, there, Patrick.