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'Looking' recap, 'Looking in the Mirror'

Consider "Looking in the Mirror" a sharp (and often heavy-handed) reminder relationships don't exist in a vacuum.

The bubble in which Patrick and Richie's new romance was sequestered last week was always bound to collapse. But Patrick looked like he'd be ready to face the world, or at least his judgmental friends, when it finally did. Gallivanting around San Francisco with Richie appeared to lift Patrick of his self-doubt, at least to the point where he would be more resistant to the opinions of others.

At first, Patrick's commitment to the new outlook seems firm. Yes, as Richie makes dinner, Patrick's neurotic about introducing his friends (particularly Agustin) to his boyfriend. Yes, "boyfriend." That's the word Patrick casually rattles off while explaining why he's so anxious about bringing Richie to Dom's 40th birthday bash.

Richie teases Patrick about the word ("Boyfriend?" He asks in feigned disbelief. "Who said I was your boyfriend?"), and Patrick looks uncomfortable. And horrified. And perhaps a little shell-shocked. Given Patrick's past commitment issues, I'd venture he's more worried about how nonchalantly he just cemented his relationship than about Richie's reaction. To somebody who overthinks everything, suddenly tossing out such a weighty word must come as a major shock.

To Richie's credit, he rises to the label. The next morning, he's fiddling with Patrick's hair in preparation for Dom's party. Patrick turns to the mirror, looks from his coiffure to Richie and smiles. He likes what he sees, and so does Richie. "I'm in," he tells Patrick, who goes from apologetic to quietly pleased. And then in a 21st-century gay equivalent of getting pinned, Richie presents Patrick with an "escapulario" similar to the one he wears. It's a loving gesture, and Patrick couldn't be more touched. After verbalizing the parameters of their relationship, Patrick and Richie now have a physical token to share as well. The natural next step is the kind of public coming out required of couples in the Facebook age, and Patrick and Richie get that at Dom's fete.

That's when things start to falter.

Oddly enough, in its depiction of a group gathering, the first to bring most of the characters of "Looking" together, "Looking in the Mirror" remains remarkably focused on duos. Friends arrive in San Francisco's Dolores Park in twos. There's Patrick and Richie, then Frank and Agustin. Patrick's work buddy Owen and his girlfriend enter. Dom later shows up with Doris. Eventually, Patrick's boss Kevin pops up with his boyfriend. It's as if, now that Patrick's paired off, he views the world in pairs too. But it also sets up some frustratingly obvious comparisons between these couples driven home by clunky cuts.

As these couples coalesce, Owen's girlfriend awkwardly asks if Richie is Patrick's boyfriend. Richie confirms he is, and Agustin reacts with patronizing amusement. Although that might have less to do with Richie and more to do with Agustin's current self-loathing. He's unemployed, he hates his art, and he's cranky to his boyfriend - to whom he apparently still hasn't told about a pretty major financial burden.

And so, confronted with a newly self-assured Patrick, Agustin lashes out. "You know exactly what you're doing," he accuses. "Slumming. And it ain't cute." Richie hears him and jumps into the conversation. Agustin shrinks down before Patrick can fire back an answer - though it's not clear he has a response at the ready. Instead, he steers Richie away from a fight and lets a visibly chastened Agustin return to Frank and CJ.

Unhappy with Patrick's failure to really defend him, Richie finally asks whether his boyfriend is embarrassed of him. And while Patrick may not be embarrassed, exactly, by Richie's lower-class status, it's clear it's on his mind. Patrick is nothing but self-conscious. He proves as much by shooting down accusations that he has a gay voicemail message, and then that he has a gay voice. That the world thinks he's a power top remains important. When Kevin shows up at Dolores Park, Patrick's so concerned with his boss' image of him that he neglects to introduce Richie. And then he tries to characterize Richie with an entrepreneurial spirit we have yet to see.

Still, Patrick's not ready to admit he's worried about what other people will think about his dating a cosmetologist/bouncer instead of, say, the doctor from the pilot episode. So instead of answering the question, he invites Richie to his sister's wedding. And when Richie calls Patrick out for using the invitation to deflect from the bigger issues and move to the next step, Patrick tries to placate him with kisses. In light of Agustin's suggestion that Patrick might be using Richie to prove something to himself, the gesture feels hollow.

From Patrick's problematic kisses, we cut to Frank and Agustin's. Frank seems inexplicably distant at first, until the camera pulls back to reveal CJ filming the couple's intimacy with a handicam. He passes the camera off to Agustin, who then watches dispassionately as CJ and Frank have intense sex. As he watches his boyfriend and his art subject go at it, Agustin looks like he's hit a creative and emotional nadir. It's hard to imagine how Frank hasn't caught on.

One more troubling smooch to go: Dom's with Lynn. Early in the episode, Dom attends a dinner with two potential investors hosted at the older man's house. It doesn't go well: Dom inadvertently insults his could-be benefactors, and the running "have you heard of peri-peri chicken?" is again met with silence. After Dom's party ends, he returns to Lynn's doorstep, and the florist volunteers to pay for a one-night pop-up dinner where Dom can flex his Portuguese chicken skills. Dom misinterprets the move and kisses him in thanks. But Lynn, ever mature, isn't having it. It turns out that just because Dom has hit 40 doesn't mean his view of relationships has evolved.

But has Patrick's? That's the question "Looking in the Mirror" keeps asking, but it doesn't have an answer. Neither does Patrick, apparently. Watching him last week, strolling above the Cliff House hand-in-hand with Richie, it looked like he'd started to mature. But as he stands in front of the mirror, fixated on how he looks wearing the escapulario, he doesn't seem too thrilled with what he sees.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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