By Kevin OKeeffe
Originally published on Advocate.com March 10 2014 1:14 PM ET
We've arrived at our final destination on the Looking train, everyone! Through the accusations of the show being boring to episodes we loved to episodes we hated (but you loved), we've managed to live and learn through eight episodes of really solid TV. No, Looking didn't redefine the dramedy medium, but it managed to put together a compelling world with genuine, fleshed-out characters. It even managed to give the plot an extra push toward true drama near the end of its first season.
In no episode was the drama more prevalent than in this finale. A lot of threads from last week's episode were resolved in ways we didn't expect, while others were left hanging as we head into season 2. We're optimistic about where creators Andrew Haigh and Michael Lannan and his team are taking us, but as we look back on this first season, there are some aspects of Looking that leave us a bit anxious. So let's briefly abandon our usual "5 Moments" format and instead check in on where things stand for our characters — and break down what we're both excited and concerned about moving forward.
Good: The Breakup
After last week's revelation that Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) had been lying to Frank (O.T. Fagbenle) about paying for their hooker friend's company, everyone's least favorite "artist" tries to push some of the blame for the fallout onto his boyfriend. But Frank absolutely isn't having it. He's determined to kick Agustín to the curb, reading him for filth on the way out. "You're never going to be an artist," he says, sniffing in Agustín's direction. "And if you ever do follow through with something, it's going to be mediocre at best." Harsh, absolutely, but considering what a rat he's been all season, Agustín totally deserves it. But more on him later — more importantly, since this is likely Fagbenle's last scene, we should take a moment to appreciate the really fantastic work he's done all season. In a show that often feels like there's no one worth rooting for, Fagbenle has made Frank a consistently sympathetic, genuine presence — one sorely needed in Agustín's plot.
Great: Where Dom and Lynn Ended Up
Speaking of fantastic work done in otherwise lame plots, Scott Bakula continued to knock it out of the park as Lynn in this episode. Dom (Murray Bartlett) is about to open his pop-up peri peri restaurant, but Lynn is nowhere to be found after Dom treated him like crap last week. He invents reasons to call Lynn, pleading that he be there — and he does show up! Unfortunately, it's with another man. Dom is clearly heartbroken but manages to stay the course and complete the service. Because there's not much tangible reward in this plot — the pop-up was successful, which means, uh, something good, probably — we're thrilled to see some action when Lynn breaks off their business relationship. Dom takes it well, kissing him quite passionately. Unlike last time, Lynn doesn't pull away. Bakula has a pilot with CBS next season, which means he won't be back on a regular basis, but we hope he can come back to resolve this dangling plot thread.
Iffy: Our New Regular Cast Members
We will, however, be getting a few new regular cast members next season — the most exciting of which is easily Lauren Weedman's Doris. Dom's best friend gets a great moment in tonight's episode when she talks to Lynn at the opening. She gently chides him for disappearing all day, which he tries to brush off, but she's insistent. "Dom's worth it," she says, tears in her voice. It's a gorgeously underplayed moment and proves that Doris is more than a one-liner machine. Her return is great news, but we're iffier on her fellow new regular cast members, Kevin (Russell Tovey) and Richie (Raúl Castillo). Both men have been turning in fantastic work all season, and tonight was no different. The plot they're in, however, is significantly more disappointing.
Bad: The Patrick-Richie-Kevin Triangle
Yes, the big plot twist this episode is a bit of melodrama even Douglas Sirk might roll his eyes at: Kevin and Patrick (Jonathan Groff) have sex. It's a bit hard to swallow — Groff's performance this episode is kind of all over the place, partially because Patrick is at such different energy levels depending on the moment. But while the moment of truth is hot — Tovey's ass is a beautiful sight – the scene feels really strange. As Patrick's boss, Kevin's stepping over all sorts of lines, even calling him to the office late at night and not letting Patrick go when he says he wants to. Patrick's reaction to all this is strangely muted — we don't know where he is by the end of it. Making things worse is when Richie shows up at Patrick's door. He'd been ignoring his calls and refusing to talk to him, but when they're finally face-to-face, Richie confesses his concerns about how fast their relationship was progressing. "I am this close to falling in love with you," Richie says. "But I'm not gonna do that to myself if you're not ready. And I don't think you're ready." Patrick cries at this, but the scene ends abruptly — we don't quite know where they are, either.
Life isn't easily solved at the end of a 30-minute episode, so it's fine for things to be left in a vague place. That fits the realism of the show. But we have higher hopes for Looking than to devolve into a brawl between Team Kevin and Team Richie. This isn't Twilight, and frankly, Richie deserves better than Patrick, while Kevin's violating all sorts of HR codes. The correct answer here would seem to be neither, but with both actors coming back full time next year, we're not sure the show will let that happen. Still, this plot has a chance to come together. Agustín's, on the other hand ...
Potentially Irreparable: The Agustín Problem
It's become a running joke in these recaps that Agustín is The Worst, no ifs, ands or buts about it. But despite Alvarez's strong work making Agustín sympathetic, the show has done nothing to help him. He's a terrible character — we've not seen one positive quality of his since the beginning of the season. He's a borderline sociopath whose only friends are Dom, a guy with plenty of his own problems, and Patrick. The central relationship between those two is alarming at best and destructive at worst. In this episode alone, Agustín goes on a drugged-out bender, is inapproprate with Patrick both verbally (he eggs Patrick on to have sex with Kevin) and physically (his intoxicated kiss on the street). How does the show treat this? By ending on the image of Patrick smiling as he snuggles with a passed-out Agustín and watches Golden Girls.
The show doesn't leave a whole lot of room for ambiguity. Richie and Kevin are the sources of drama in Patrick's life, but he can come home and be with his good friend Agustín — unconscious because of his drug use — to make it all OK. The episode even rolls the credits as "Thank You For Being a Friend" plays. All this adds up to the feeling that the writers don't get what an issue Agustín is. His and Patrick's friendship makes no sense, because we've not been given a hint at any point this season as to why Patrick would keep Agustín around. We have no context of their past — did they have sex at some point, to which the show keeps alluding? The fact that Dom has been so stranded in his own plot only makes this more frustrating; Patrick and Agustín is the closest thing to a center that Looking has, and it's poisonous. Alvarez is returning full-time next season, which is good — again, the fact that the character is in any way tolerable is entirely to his credit — but as they prepare for season 2, Haigh and Lannan need to figure out how you solve a problem like Agustín. Because in a show that's managed to resolve a lot of its issues so far, this one stands out.
Bonus: Some of the Best Shots on TV
Through its good parts and bad, Looking is still doing some amazing visual work. We'll close out the season by showing how Haigh used a far shot in three really interesting ways this episode. See you all in season 2!
Follow Kevin O'Keeffe on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.