L-R: Frankie Alvare, Jonathan Groff and Murray Bartlett on the Season 2 premiere of "Looking."
L-R: Frankie Alvare, Jonathan Groff and Murray Bartlett on the Season 2 premiere of "Looking." (Richard Forman / HBO)

It's a good thing uninvited but down-to-party gal pal Doris showed up and there happened to be a rave scheduled in the woods nearby, or the road trip of "peace and tranquility" that Patrick originally had in mind might have made for a boring season two premiere of "Looking."

Instead, HBO's 30-minute Sunday night season opener plopped him and his two best friends Agustin and Dom into an atmosphere with ample opportunity for both personal conversations and drug-fueled revelry, where their own questionable decisions and buddy-to-buddy moments of introspection were able to drive the plot forward -- freeing it from the sort of one-dimensional gay culture storyline too commonly relied on when gay characters take center stage on the small screen.


In that way, "Looking for the Promised Land" reminded returning viewers of the show's greatest strength, which is that it deals in personality and self doubt, youthful inhibitions and their expected and unexpected repercussions. It's main characters are gay, but its focus lies in the universal human dramas of confusion, regret and excitement common to us all.

This isn't a coming out story or an exploration of the isolated world of gay archetypes or a snapshot of gay domestic bliss in a post-DOMA landscape. This is a show about young and middle-aged gay men learning how to deal with their own human nature in a broader world where millenials and 30-somethings are unapologetically reimagining domesticity, friendship and love.

Last season ended with a teary break-up scene between Patrick and Richie, his barber ex-boyfriend, and the start of an affair with his otherwise-committed boss, Kevin. We last saw Dom kiss his business partner Lynn, begging the question of what would happen next, and Agustin leaning once more on Patrick -- and chemically-altered wandering -- in an attempt to smooth over the fallout of his breakup with boyfriend Frank.

A few months have passed in "Promised Land," and we're filled in on where each of the men now stands as they discuss their lives as all friends do on trips where significant others and love interests are left at home.

They arrive at a cabin in the woods, owned by Lynn, for a retreat of sorts. Patrick sees it as a chance to reconnect with nature, hug trees and talk to Agustin about his use of drugs and booze, even if his mind keeps getting pulled back to San Francisco and Kevin, who he has continued hooking up with despite the fact that Kevin still has a boyfriend. Dom, who is now in an "open" relationship with Lynn, sees the trip as a chance to snoop into Lynn's old photo albums. Agustin just brings some pot -- and, as it turns out, some Molly.

The men go hiking and canoeing, and pass a beach party where a bearded bear yells out an invite for them to join a party in the woods that night. A fairie on the path will point them in the right direction, he says.

Doris, who is Dom's roommate back in San Francisco, arrives unexpectedly and ready to party. Agustin throws his hands in the air, clearly happy to have a new partner in crime at the cabin. The quiet weekend of sober board games quickly goes out the window.

Instead of facilitating some sort of intervention for Agustin, all four of them take Molly and go to the party in the woods. Patrick doesn't need much convincing to take part, as we see him once again failing to follow through on all his talk about the person he wants to be.

Agustin reconnects with the bear from the beach. Dom picks up a new friend and takes him back to Lynn's house. Doris disappears, apparently topless on the back of a jet ski.

Patrick, of course, reaches out to Kevin, who drives to the cabin in the middle of the night for a hook up in the great outdoors.

The next morning, Patrick admits to Dom and Agustin that he's sleeping with his boss, but the episode concludes without a full discussion on the topic after Patrick says he'd prefer to leave that for another day.

At one point in the episode, Patrick asks Dom if he ever feels surprised by his own actions, implying he feels that way himself, probably in how he's dealing with Kevin. Agustin in another conversation makes fun of Patrick for still pining for Richie.

How will Richie, who remains a series regular, reenter the picture? Is Kevin only into a physical relationship with Patrick? If so, what about his willingness to drive all the way to the cabin in the middle of the night?

"It better be worth it," Kevin says when he arrives. Worth what, exactly?


What is clear is that the men of "Looking" are still making decisions that are sure to complicate their love lives, not simplify them, and renew all those doubts about who they are and where they're going in life. And that's a good thing for the show's development. When exposed and explored on screen, those doubts are what make the show a character study with more depth than we have seen in past explorations of young gay men on TV.

Putting Patrick, Agustin and Dom in the middle of the woods was a reminder that their constant looking for satisfaction, gratification and love is a function of their humanness, not of their situation or surroundings.

It's likely that their decisions at the cabin will follow them back to San Francisco, where they are sure to keep searching for the promised land.