The second season of Looking begins just like the first, with our three principles—Patrick, Agustin, and Dom—on the road in a Volvo station wagon. This time around, though, they are on their way to a relaxing weekend at a cabin in the woods owned by Dom’s boyfriend-cum-business associate Lynn. And being the first segment of a new season, with the hopes of drawing in a new audience who may have missed out on last year’s first eight episodes, we get an introduction to the personalities of these men: Patrick, the naive and hopeful romantic (he gets called a “seal pup” at one point); Dom, the gruff, slightly embittered, and completely world-weary elder of the trio; and Agustin, the devil-may-care misfit.
Being a second season, though, we also get a continuation of the previous year’s storylines. Patrick’s concerns for Agustin’s safety (he insists that they don’t turn the weekend into a drug-and-drink-fueled mess) are overshadowed by his confusion over his ongoing relationship with his boss, Kevin. It takes him until the very end of the episode to finally tell his friends that the two have been sleeping together on the regular. We also get some insight into Dom and Lynn’s relationship, as the former finds himself drawn to a photo album filled with pictures of the latter’s long-term partner who passed away some years back.
As far as I can recall, the cause of death for Lynn’s ex is never directly addressed, but the implication is that it was due to HIV/AIDS-related illness. This helps set up one of the key themes for this new series of Looking: an unblinking look at HIV’s continued presence in the gay community of San Francisco. This is brought out more in later episodes this season, but for now, they fold in a new regular character, Eddie, an HIV-positive bear that takes an instant shine to Agustin (he’s the one that dubs Patrick a “seal pup”), brought to life with the same air of sass and brass that actor Daniel Franzese brought to his work in the films Mean Girls and The Party Monster.
What I admired most about this first episode was how the writers set up the season’s biggest themes and story arcs while also giving the characters ample time to cut loose. One of the longest sequences of the half-hour finds the three—joined by Dom’s roommate Doris—happening upon a dance party in the woods, fueling themselves for the night with some molly provided by Agustin. It culminates in one of the best directed sequences of the series to date: a bacchanal of colors and bodies moving around each other in slow motion with each character given a small spotlight as the camera pans through the crowd. It’s truly lovely work from director Andrew Haigh.
What I’m less convinced about is a reaffirmation of Patrick’s naivete when it comes to his interpersonal relationships and his ability to relate to the world around him. Cute as it might have been to watch him at the dance party when the molly finally kicked in (and it made sense that, in his drugged up state, he frantically called Kevin for a quick tryst in the forest), it’s all painted a little too caricaturesque. Then again, we’ve likely all had those affairs or relationships that we know aren’t doing us any good, and made those decisions that were above our emotional paygrade. And these moments with Patrick do offer up some opportunity for him to gain some hard-won maturity later on in the season. We’ll have to wait to see if that comes to pass. For now, we’ll just keep on dancing alongside him and his friends.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.