“Looking” at Richie

So I’ve been saving the best for last… Richie is not only my favorite character on Looking but is probably one of my favorite television characters, period. He is the sole source of wisdom and true compassion in the Looking universe of chaos and often cruelty, and serves as a distinctive foil to the ruthless Patrick.

From their first meeting, Richie is portrayed as good-hearted though naive – relative to the cynics around him, at least. He takes Patrick’s false identity as an oncologist (remember the business card?) as true, a subtle touch of dramatic irony. Sure, he falls for it – but why shouldn’t he take others’ word for it? In a way, his good-natured ways come across as foolish, because those around him are so phony. He falls for the act.

His optimistic outlook does start to crumble, though, that fateful picnic in Dolores Park for Dom’s birthday – his first real meeting with Patrick’s friends Dom and Agustin. This is also one of his first times seeing Patrick interacting with others, whether seeing how Patrick represents himself through the humiliating “gay voice” display, or how Patrick misrepresents Richie to his friends.

This experience, though, toughens up Richie in a really strong and positive way. When Patrick tries to make up for the picnic fiasco by inviting Richie to be his plus-one at his sister’s wedding, the typically kind and easygoing Richie snaps back with an annoyed “I don’t think so,” and getting out of Patrick’s car on the way to the wedding just days later.

Richie’s thicker skin culminates in the season’s strongest, most painful moment. He meets Patrick outside his apartment building, clearly with something on his mind, and lays out everything he’s been going through since the wedding. A character who is in many ways a mystery, who we know solely through Patrick’s association with him, is brilliantly defined through his assertion: “I am this close to falling in love with you, but I’m not gonna do that to myself if you’re not ready. And I don’t think you’re ready.”

Watching this excellent conclusion to season 1, I can’t help but think back to Patrick and Richie’s first date and them dancing in the club. The song playing, Erasure’s “A Little Respect,” chants the chorus “Oh baby please, give a little respect to me,” an interesting framework to view their relationship by. When they meet in the first episode, Patrick does not respect Richie – he isn’t honest about himself, and throughout the season, continues to disrespect and humiliate Richie both to his face and behind his back. In these eight episodes, Richie comes full circle and does what he needs to in order to regain his self-respect.

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