Looking: Hell is other people’s weddings
by Michael Lyons
I was struck watching this week’s excellent episode of Looking how many queer people, especially those I’m close with, experience complete consonance going about their wildly differing day-to-day activities.
Imagine that, a TV show where people do different things every episode… really groundbreaking stuff. But what I mean is our protagonist Patrick goes from awkward date, to video game developer, to leather-clad partier, to resentful son. I think as a queer person I just find this all the more poignant, since I often feel like a different part of my wonderfully weird personality is in play every other hour.
Journalist… boyfriend… gay drag queen nun… skeptic… angry queer… gamer… writer… student… resentful son…
I could go on.
I was relieved to hear that Looking was renewed for a second season, which will likely air in 2015. One of the most amazing and frustrating things about the show is how it fluctuates depending on the episode’s main writer and the plot. This week I found the script by screenwriter John Hoffman to be superb. This episode, after all, was the tipping point for each of the characters, and while it could have easily gone in for cliché melodrama, I thought the writing preserved the show’s consistency. It’s comforting to know the show is going to get another chance after I feel like it’s taken its time to settle into what it can be.
Anyone who has the (mis)fortune to be in regular contact with their family has had a day like dear Patrick’s. After a confrontation with Agustín over his dubious artwork, it’s the day of Patrick’s sister’s wedding. He has to deal with his uptight, judgemental mother, his own anxieties, his boyfriend (who’s just trying to deal with Patrick), his boss who turns out to be the boyfriend of a friend of the groom…
Agustín, on the other hand, is dealing with the work that was supposed to get him out of his rut, but instead gets him into a deeper emotional turmoil. His is the storyline I find the most challenging and unsympathetic, so I was somewhat gladdened with this episode, where everything falls apart for him. I’m not sure if it’s because there was some change in dynamic with the character because of that, if it’s just the handling of the character by the writer, or if it’s maybe just cathartic to see such a volatile character get his comeuppance, and then deal with the fallout.
Dom, on the other hand, is working on his pop-up Portuguese chicken restaurant, with a little help from his friends. I think his storyline, my favourite of the three, shows the success of Looking, and what the show can be. Dom started the season as a server, a job he’d done for more than a decade, and now he’s coping with what it takes to build his dream. It’s a slow boil with a tremendous amount of buildup, not a series of very dramatic things happening, culminating in some explosive, maudlin incident. I’m really looking forward to next week’s season finale to see the result.
One thing I especially love about this episode is the theatrical quality of the episode’s structure, the comings and goings of characters. Although the episode felt totally organic, it fits into a 24-hour timeframe, and most of the interactions move from a pair of characters. Agustín and Frank, Dom and Lynn (or darling Doris, who will always be my favourite), Patrick and Richie, or else the fantastic scene between Patrick and his mother, Dana (Julia Duffy).
Dana: I know I don’t say everything you’d like me to say all the time. And I know I had problems when you first told us, but I’ve come along way, and I can’t help wanting what’s best for you. And I don’t think you can blame me for Richie. If he’s not here, that’s on you sweetie.
Which is kind of, when you think about, a stand-in conversation for every anxious, middle class white gay man with varying degrees of mommy issues (myself included). Our parents are with us in our formative years, but after that we call the shots. Again, this could have been melodramatic, but the excellent writing and even better acting made the scene work so well, and feel so perfect. A character foreshadowed as a monster, and depicted as overbearing and somewhat hateful turns out to be nothing more than a parent.
Another perfect moment was the penultimate moment with Patrick’s dad, looking out over the emptied reception hall.
Dad: 40 grand for this…
[Patrick smiles and nods.]
Dad: You’re uh… you’re not gonna want one of these are you?