By Michael Gold
The Baltimore Sun
12:31 PM EST, February 2, 2014
Did it seem like Patrick (Jonathan Groff) could experience anything more uncomfortable than last episode's failed hook-up with Richie? No? Well...
"Looking At Your Browser History" gets off to a cringe-worthy start, with Patrick and work buddy Owen far more drunk at a work party than anyone should be. It's a shindig to commemorate the celebration of the video game Patrick has been designing, and it's held aboard an aircraft carrier. Which means tired material about seamen that probably would have been better left to that fleet week episode of "Sex and the City."
Really, there's little subtlety to be found on the U.S.S. Hornet. The nature of Patrick's confrontation with British bloke Kevin (Russell Tovey), even before their awkward exchange on a torpedo, signals to viewers that the character is more than just some random guy at a party. When Patrick mimics Kevin's accent, it's an early sign things aren't heading a great direction.
As an aside, Patrick's answer to Kevin's question about playing female characters might be the first real example of a "Looking" character acknowledging the world outside the show's limited scope. "Women are outsiders in games," he tells Kevin, "and I relate to that."
Within the world of "Looking," though, he doesn't. The San Francisco which "Looking" inhabits is very gay, and very white. That Patrick feels like an outsider might be more of a reflection of his general diffidence, but it also seems to point to the position of gay men in society in a way the show hasn't done so overtly. Maybe in his Colorado hometown or in the world of game design at large, I'm willing to buy Patrick as an outsider. But in the moment of his conversation with Kevin, he's clearly not.
It doesn't seem like Kevin's really buying the answer at the time, although Patrick is, which is why he brings it up during their especially awkward flirtation. Patrick's small talk has all the overtness of a Craigslist hookup, especially once he straddles the torpedo in an obvious effort to let body language mirror what he's after. Given how terribly their dialogue goes - mirrored perfectly by the virtual arm-wrestling contest Kevin wins as soon as Patrick realizes he just came on to his new, taken boss - it's no surprise Patrick's panicked about his job prospects.
That fear rises when Patrick learns Kevin has taken a look at his employee's online history, which includes a lot of visits to OKCupid and Manhunt. Russell Tovey sells the joke about the latter dating website, even if I'm not buying the idea that Kevin doesn't know what the site in question is. In general, Tovey shines in his role as a no-nonsense British boss, even toward the end when it becomes clear he's pulling Patrick's leg just to see what will happen.
Still, the fear of unemployment might be what Groff's character (and "Looking") needs at this point. As he has stumbled with awkward setbacks, Patrick has seemed increasingly misguided, or even directionless. His romantic and personal life were in flux in large part due to his own cluelessness. "Looking At Your Browser History" wisely points out his career, which the show largely ignored thus far, needs some re-direction too.
It's clear Patrick doesn't want to be a level designer all his life, just as Dom (Murray Bartlett) doesn't want to be a career waiter and Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) would rather be an artist than an assistant to a woman with some clear furniture issues. All three men grapple with the desire to create more in some way, whether that means opening a Portuguese chicken hut or overcoming an artistic block.
Surprisingly, it's Patrick who takes the largest step in the right direction by shutting down his OkCupid profile -- which, considering what we've seen of Patrick so far, is a big deal -- and getting down to business. When he says he doesn't think either or he or Agustin "are very good at being who we think we are," it's his most self-aware moment yet. And it signals a welcome, if obvious, turning point for the guy. Although the realization Kevin has been flirty-teasing him through the whole process ("Commitment looks good on you," Tovey says in the worst possible way) threatens to throw a wrench in the system.
It's Agustin's response to unemployment which is the most potentially destructive in "Looking At Your Browser History." A conversation with beau Frank (O-T Fagbenle) reminds Agustin that he's a self-styled artist who hasn't been creating any art. The frustration boils over later, leading him to tell his boss her tormented furniture whirlwind is basically nonsense. So she decides she has had enough and lets him go.
Agustin heads to a coffee shop, orders some cake and milk and gets a very business-like male escort's card. Agustin's doesn't entirely seem like he is buying the guy's "being fired is an opportunity" line, but he is intrigued by the man giving him that advice. The sex worker is content and knows what he's doing with himself. Agustin, both in his romance with Frank and in his artistic endeavors, is a mess.
In the wake of last week's failed encounter with his ex, Dom has far more purpose and is focused on the dream he once had of being a restaurateur. He gets the support of roomie Doris (Lauren Weedman, whose performance as a knowing, supportive longtime friend I'm liking more and more each week) and the encouragement of Patrick, and it looks like he's on track.
But converting ambition to reality, let alone financially viable reality, is a struggle. Despite his resolve, Dom lacks a business plan, a space or a concrete menu. Where Agustin lacks the inspiration to create but might have all the tools, Dom's problem is the reverse.
And if Dom ever wants to move past being "somewhat of an institution," as florist Lynn (Scott Bakula) puts it in the sauna, he'll need to commit to his plan. It's nice to talk about grand plans, but at some point, he'll have to overcome the hurdles and sit down and do it. For now, he finds distraction from casual sex at a bathhouse. But he also makes potential lunch plans with a naked Bakula, a successful gay man from whom he might have a lot to learn.
Bringing an older character into the mix is a nice touch on the part of writer Michael Lannan and director Andrew Haigh. But it's Lynn's oblique reference to San Francisco's AIDS crisis that most dovetails with the episode's theme of commitment. "It must have been cool back then," Dom says. "It was, it really was," Lynn eventually replies "And then it wasn't."
Lynn's talking about something far more grand and important (there's a lot contained in those lines, which are another example of "Looking" reaching outside its characters' bubble), but he could be talking about the crossroads at which Dom suddenly finds himself. For the past decade, he's been having fun. Now he's seeking something more.
Patrick looks to be headed the same way, at least professionally. But then his boss tosses a controller at him and says "Let's play." Two wonderfully flirtatious words which suggest his newfound tenacity might get tested.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun