Sunday, March 08, 2015

TV Watch: HBO's "Looking" goes into tonight's episode with a huge jolt from last week's gorgeous one


Episode 15: Inside the Episode -- a lovely one for Doris and Dom

by Ken

The early Season 2 episodes of Looking weren't easy for me. What attracted me to the show in Season 1 had a lot to do with the fact that I felt so comfortable with the characters -- not just because they're (mostly) gay but because they're people whose life struggles I can recognize and easily associate with. This season, not so much. In particular, I was on the outside looking in at this gay world that thrives on giant parties, with hideous loud music and rampant substance abuse. I'm not saying such things don't exist, or aren't an important part of some people's lives, but they aren't part of mine and at this point I don't see much hope that I can develop any more interest in them. So, ironically, instead of feeling, for once, included in a show, I feel, all too familiarly, excluded.

To make matters worse, the last of the party-riots was Patrick's Halloweed shindig, which brought out the worst in everyone, not least Patrick. Again, not in any way believable, but in this case fairly painful. As I've already said, I like Patrick (Jonathan Groff) a lot. Maybe I guess I wish I were Patrick, except maybe for the part that, with all he has going for him, he's still unhappy. And a lot of that unhappiness he brings to his own party -- the "party" of his life, I mean, although come to think of it it was totally true of the metldown he suffered by the end of his Halloween party. And the meltdown too was all too believable, one of those proverbial train wrecks you see coming and are powerless to prevent.

I suddenly found myself thinking of Ted (Josh Radnor) in How I Met Your Mother, who could seem for a while, maybe a few seasons, like a victim of cruel fate, just never able to make the romantic connection that such a fine fellow deserves. Until it gradually emerged that the biggest holdback to Ted's hopes wasn't fate but, well, Ted. I guess the giveaway in Patrick's case was when we finally met his mother (played so beautifully by Julia Duffy), and instead of the rigid, overbearing suffocator we'd been getting through Paddy's eyes, she turned out to be the smartest, sweetest, most caring and understanding and unjudgmental mother you could imagine. Of course other people's mothers are a totally separate case from one's own. For that matter, one's own mother can look incredibly different to other people.

I loved that for last week's episode the writers left Patrick in that hideous post-party situation. He didn't just humiliate himself at the party, he annihilated himself. And no, Patrick, it wasn't your friends' fault for letting you mainline the tequila. Who drank the damned stuff?

So Patrick was very much part of the episode. But otherwise it was given over to Dom (Murray Bartlett), the oldest of the cetnral group of friends, the guy who is only now, at 40, beginning to experience some blemishes in his heretofore unblemished record of sexual conquests, and his clearly close straight friend Doris (Lauren Weedman). And the two of them just lit up the screen.

It has been obvious from the start that they have some kind of history, and in this episode it was laid out for us as they traveled back to their shared roots in Modesto. It was a really beautiful episode, built around the sudden death of Doris's father -- traumatic for her not because of tension with her father, but because there wasn't, really, and his death not only is a terrible loss but takes her right smack back into the hometown she had to, and did, escape. Which, as it happens, was exactly the case for Dom as well. For both it was time traveling back to a past they haven't by any means finished processing.

And in this case the Aunt Sarah conjured for us in Doris's rememberings turned out to be all that and then some, but also a little different, in the formidable person of Mary Kay Place. The tug of war between them over Sarah's brother and Doris's father isn't ended by his death, and neither Doris nor Dom can quite get "their" Modesto in focus now that they're plunged back into it, with all the hopes and dreams they carried out of it. Then throw poor Patrick into the mix, glad for the opportunity to briefly escape his San Francisco world, which has gone so wrong, but being plunged into this other world that's freaking his friends out and confuses the heck out of him, and we had an episode that was just breath-taking.

Of course you can't do that every week. How often in life do you get a combination of circumstances like Doris's, Dom's, and Patricks's last week? If I've got the episode count right, there are three episodes left in the ten-episode Season 2 (and, I worry, three episodes left for the show), and no doubt they're going to give us something very different. Already by the end of last week's episode Patrick's life had taken a markedly different turn. I'm feeling better about the season as a whole, though.

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