A lighter, funnier season 2 kicks off with a boys' weekend (with woods and bears).

By Marc Snetiker
Updated January 12, 2015 at 03:31 AM EST
Richard Foreman

“I really think that this weekend should be about the three of us hanging out together, not us and 200 naked homos crammed in a pool.”

And so begins Looking, season 2. It’s a noticeably funnier, lighter return for the show that was once pre-hyped as “the gay Girls” before it quickly proved itself to be absolutely not that. But season 1, for its admirable truths about modern gay life, was also just a little bleak, with few shining moments of friendship offering the only bright spots in a serious narrative of breakups and self-doubt. (Does any TV character have a worse self-confidence-to-looks ratio than Patrick?)

Well, during the hiatus between seasons, it seems the writers have figured out what’s on their hands and endeavored to lighten things up all around. Season 2’s premiere immediately feels a little bit more upbeat, as evidenced by the literal sunshine of the boys’ trip up to the Russian River.

In order to get away, Dom (the hottest thing with a mustache on premium cable) has been granted usage of Lynn’s nondescript cabin in the woods, which from the outside looks like a timeless forest retreat but inside contains a time warp to an age of sepia tones and phones with gigantic antennae. There’s also a bizarre illustrated portrait of Lynn with curly hair, as if Lynn specially commissioned an artist for a late-in-life bar mitzvah. Dom is particularly alacritous to be at the house so he can dive into Lynn’s photo albums and find out more about his aloof beau; the two are now an official-yet-unofficial item, although the exact definition of their coupling seems to be TBD. Dom doesn’t know whether or not to call them boyfriends, so for now, they exist in an undefined purgatory otherwise known as “an open relationship” (where privileges include strange hook-ups and cabin access).

So the boys drive up, and the relaxing weekend immediately gets off to a tense start when Agustin wants to add vodka to their iced teas. Patrick insists on a sober weekend meant for reconnecting and relaxation, but his refusal to imbibe leads Agustin to believe that the weekend was planned as a sort of intervention for him (remember, we recently saw Agustin get completely obliterated and show up at Patrick’s apartment after breaking up with What’s-His-Name last season. No, seriously, what’s his name?). Patrick does a particularly unconvincing job of denying any intervention-like plans, so Agustin lashes out about Patrick’s own self-wallowing since his break-up with Richie. “Should I call Richie? Should I text Richie? Should I Instagram Richie?” There are clearly a number of fighting points just simmering on the tips of both Agustin and Patrick’s tongues, but Dom breaks up any continuation of the fight, because they’re in nature and the only things that should fight in nature are squirrels and people on MTV’s The Challenge.

They have a nice day of sober fun, which includes Monopoly and a woodland hike to a gigantic tree that Patrick’s researched (“This would be a great tree to get f–ked against,” says Grindr-withdrawal Agustin, because foreshadowing). In the quiet, non-hiking moments in the cabin, Agustin secretly lights up a joint while Patrick mulls calling Richie. Dom notices that something about Patrick seems off, but what Patrick doesn’t reveal is that his dalliance with his committed boss Kevin is gnawing at his morality. He’s reluctantly keeping the sinful news to himself, even though he’s obviously eager to get it off his chest. Maybe the only reason he can’t is because there’s no proper outlet for revelations during a fourth round of Parcheesi.

Kayaking the next day proves to be infinitely more interesting, as our three now-shirtless heroes row row row their boat gently past a festive beach filled with revelers and vacationers pretending to read The Goldfinch. Enter: The Bear, a convivial socialite named Eddie (played by Mean Girls’ erstwhile Damian, Daniel Franzese) who calls out to Agustin as the guys kayak past. Agustin wants to stop and Dom wouldn’t mind indulging himself, but Patrick refuses to stop the kayak because of his mission to avoid any vices whatsoever (and a big gay beach seems like the first place to find them), so Eddie yells out an invitation to the boys to return to a party that night “in the woods.” Just your average, nondescript “in the woods” party. No directions, just “in the woods.” Casual. He calls Patrick a seal pup, and the boys row off with dubious intentions about returning.

But who’s waiting back at the cabin? New series regular Doris! Who has, in fact, showed up at the house uninvited and already unlocked Lynn’s liquor cabinet, much to Agustin’s—and, let’s be honest, Dom’s—thirsty relief. Patrick, in trying to remain sex-, drug- and rock-and-roll-free, wants to sit and play more board games, but party girl Doris refuses to stay cooped up that night. They’re going OUT. But if only there was a party that they could go to?!?

NEXT: Into the woods without delay, but careful not to lose the gay

And so into the woods our heroes go, jaunting into the forest with wardrobe by Uniqlo and stage movement by Lilla Crawford. They’re barely into the foliage when a woodland sprite pops out and scares Doris. With a twinkle in his eye and a twink in his Snapchats, the fairy guides the foursome to The Promised Land, the name of this arbitrary party in the woods held by a still-arbitrary social organization.

Right before entering the forested fete, Agustin pops open an Altoids tin and offers everyone a dose/hit/serving/I-don’t-know-drug-vocabulary of molly, which Doris hilariously asks, “That’s what we used to call X, right?” Patrick reluctantly gives in and indulges, thus putting an end to his vow of being fun-celibate.

The Promised Land turns out to be quite a well-executed party, complete with a disco ball hanging from the branches and enough strobe lights to require a surgeon’s warning. It’s as if A Midsummer Night’s Dream met New Year’s Eve as directed by the Scissor Sisters. The gang hits the dance-soil, and Patrick and Agustin finally have a slight reconciliation. “I want you to know that I do appreciate everything,” Agustin confesses. “We do things differently. I deal with feeling like a shitty person by being bad; you do it by being good.” Patrick is about to confess his own big sin—that he’s been sleeping with Kevin—but suddenly the ecstasy kicks in, and there’s just one thing to do: DANCE.

Pat dances with Dom, and Dom dances with Doris, and Doris dances with an Aquafina bottle (such a nurse) and Agustin cozies up to Eddie the Bear. Within the time it takes to turn to your couchmate and say, “Jason, pay attention, it’s a montage,” Dom is suddenly shirtless and dancing with another gasp-worthy hunk; Agustin and Eddie are off skinny dipping in the river; and Patrick is slowly being approached by a handsome Latino in a backward cap. IS IT RICHIE? It sure as hell looks like him, walking slowly and pointedly toward Patrick with an ethereal sapience like Amy Brenneman appearing to Christina Ricci at the end of Casper.

Well, it turns out it’s not Richie, just a very smartly cast doppelgänger who exists solely to be a lookalike hook-up for Patrick. They get close, but suddenly Patrick’s alone in the woods on a phone call, asking someone to come to the party ASAP. Who’s he calling? Is it Richie? Is it Kevin? Is it Lea Michele? The answer is made clear just a few moments later, when headlights appear and… it’s Kevin! He’s driven up to the woods at Patrick’s booty call request, which suggests a lot considering the time it takes to drive and the fact that Kevin’s in a supposedly committed relationship. “It better be worth it,” says Kevin. “Oh, it’s going to be worth it,” says Patrick. “I speak for the trees,” says the Lorax, watching weirdly from the side. And suddenly, the winds change again and we’re even further into the woods, and Patrick is insisting that they have sex right there on a tree. (Heyyy, Agustin.) ENTER: SEX SCENE. It’s dark. It’s dramatic. It’s so the molly talking, but Patrick doesn’t know any better. He grabs the tree and becomes one with the bark. Afterward, Patrick asks, “Think we’re going to actually get to do it in a real bed sometime?” Aww. Maybe.

Meanwhile, Eddie and Agustin are totally King and I-ing in the water, getting to know each other with light banter and delicate aquatic dance. Eddie reveals he works for a homeless shelter that supports gay/transgender teens, and Agustin is enamored by both man and career. But Eddie wants to take it slow, which is new for Agustin—but he needs something new and healthy, no? They promise to get to know each other better back on land in the city. Who knows—maybe we’ll actually care about Agustin this season?

As for Dom, he has another job on hand (well, not hand) back at the cabin. Dom’s hookup du jour notices Lynn’s photo album nearby and asks Dom, “Is that your dad?” Dom responds, “He’s my boyfriend,” gleefully saying the words for the first time and relishing the way he describes their open relationship. The random man asks, “Does he mind you f–king around?” And Dom says, perhaps speciously, “Nope. He really doesn’t.” (What’s Dom’s story? Why does this relationship with Lynn seem especially undefined? Is Dom-Lynn long for this Looking world?)

And so, with sex on a tree and sex-adjacent in bed and two bearded guys skinny dipping in a river, thus ends the night. The next morning, everyone recounts their stories from the non-Parcheesi evening. Agustin reveals details about Eddie, including the fact that the bear is HIV positive. Dom reveals he popped the cherry of his open relationship. And Patrick finally admits to his friends that he’s been having sex with his boss. Suddenly, Patrick’s misery and silence finally makes sense to everyone! Especially Agustin. He presses for more details about Kevin’s relationship and whether Patrick will tell Richie, but Patrick doesn’t want to dive in just yet because the episode is almost over. “Can we just all watch the sunrise and pretend everything’s going to turn out fine?” And they do. *sunrise emoji*

With that, the season is set up nicely: Agustin is back in the dating pool with a very serious new endeavor; Dom is trying to wrap his head around the idea of an open relationship with a 59-year-old who might be on a completely different wavelength than him; and Patrick is breaking bad for the first time, which is risky behavior that might ultimately crack him in the long run. The question is who, if anyone, will be there to pick up the pieces.

Oh, also Doris went topless jet-skiing with a bunch of lesbians. See you next week!