HBO’s Looking has never gotten the media attention of Girls, or the Emmy love of Veep, or the exploding fanbase numbers of Silicon Valley, but it deserves all three. Maybe the issue is that new viewers don’t know quite what to make of it. It’s a half-hour show, but it’s not a comedy. It’s about three gay men in San Francisco, but it’s not necessarily about the gay scene (although Season 2 was much more so than Season 1). It’s quiet, thoughtful, emotional, and gorgeously filmed with a minimalistic soundtrack. But when it hits the closing credits, each perfectly chosen track caps off the weekly experience of being immersed in this world.
The show is exceptional, but the viewing numbers are not. Still, while it’s not the main thing that HBO cares about, Looking‘s numbers are really dire. I feel like I should know all of my fellow fans by name at this point. Though there’s a chance the show could return — and there are so many reasons why it needs to, detailed beautifully by the A.V. Club — if this really is the end, was it satisfying?
From this point forward I’m going to talk about the season as a whole, so if you are not caught up then you have been warned!
This season, Dom (Murray Bartlett), Patrick (Jonathan Groff) and Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) were each challenged in their notions of relationships, with some taking a longer road than others. A weekend getaway at the start of the season found Dom’s relationship with Lynn (Scott Bakula) already on shaky ground, while Agustin met up with HIV-positive Eddie (Daniel Franzese), and began a slow relationship with him that was full of hesitation from both sides.
But unlike Dom and Lynn, Eddie made the volatile and caustic Agustin a better person. He became softer, challenged, and willing to take steps into the unknown, both in their relationship and with his career. Late in the season, when the two see Agustin’s ex, Frank (O.T. Fagbenie), he can hardly recognize the person Agustin has become. Though the finale didn’t spend almost any time with Eddie and Agustin, it seems like a testament to the fact that they’re ok. At least, for now.
For Dom, the real relationship that needed to be closely examined was not with Lynn, but with Doris (Lauren Weedman). In the exceptional “Looking for a Plot,” we got the full story of Dom and Doris’ relationship, growing up together in Modesto, being in love (at least, for awhile), and being inseparable ever since. Their falling out in “Looking for Sanctuary” was gut-wrenching, mainly because of the hard truths that needed to be faced. And in “Looking for a Home,” they were. Dom tells Doris he needs to go it alone with his chicken joint (a point illustrated by his pride at his neon sign above the homely real estate, “dom’s chicken”), and that they need to break-up. She has Malik (Bashir Salahuddin), he’s fantastic for her, and she needs to put him first in her life.
As for Patrick, the love of my life on Looking … the story of Patrick and Kevin (Russell Tovey) had a few fits and starts, but for the most part, it went along exactly how Patrick hoped it would (until that ending, at least). Patrick, usually always the good guy, enjoyed the thrill of acting on his illicit attraction to Kevin, who was — as was pointed out by some bitchy neighbors at GaymerX — in many ways Patrick’s twin. He was the safe choice when compared to Ritchie (Raúl Castillo), who always took Patrick out of his comfort zone. Kevin understood Patrick’s job, his background, his financial freedom and aspirations. Those were things that Patrick thought mattered the most, until he realized he didn’t actually know Kevin in a real way.
When it first began, Looking was compared to Girls, which it is nothing like. A better comparison is actually Sex and the City (which Girls is also nothing like), because the best 1:1 comparison with Patrick’s love life is Carrie Bradshaw. Aidan was a great guy who loved Carrie, but didn’t quite fit in with her lifestyle (so she thought, and maybe for her, she was right). Instead, she was always pulled in by the illicit, unavailable allure of Mr. Big, which caused her repeated heartache throughout the years.
Patrick’s final arguments with Kevin in “Looking for a Home” were breathtaking in both their honesty and in their hypocrisy, both of which were examined in the fight. Patrick got together with Kevin because Kevin was cheating on his boyfriend. That’s who Kevin is. It was naive, yet totally relatable, that Patrick would think Kevin would change to be with him. Maybe he’ll try. But all Patrick really wanted was emotional honesty and monogamy — something Ritchie (whose returns throughout the season were heartbreaking) always offered him.
There was never any tension in Kevin and Patrick’s relationship (the “will they won’t they” aspect) like the way there was with Ritchie every time he was onscreen. One of the most beautiful moments of the season wasn’t Kevin professing his feelings to Patrick, or the “triumph” of them moving in together (which of course was a disaster), but it was that ride in the ice cream truck that Patrick and Ritchie took in “Looking for Results.”
If this Season 2 finale really is the end of the series, we’re left with Dom and Doris each making their way on their own, or trying to, while still staying in each other’s lives, while Augustin confronts his fears about Eddie’s poz status, though remaining committed to him (and to his work at the shelter). Patrick’s fate is less certain, with him going to the barber shop and doing exactly the opposite of what he normally would do: he sits silently as Ritchie gives him a buzz cut, embracing both the emotional calm and the challenge of doing something so against who he normally is. But, he’s still with Kevin.
Looking has ended, at least for now, on a hopeful note. Whether the show continues or not, the truths learned (and the languid pace in which they were worked out) have defined the series as one in which honesty and self-examination are paramount. Though there was humor in a denial of that (like Patrick’s Halloween meltdown), ultimately, Looking is a meditation on self-acceptance. Patrick, Agustin, and Dom may still be looking, but they are each doing so with a new understanding of themselves. And whether that’s all we get of their stories moving forward or not, it’s a beautiful thing.