The second season of Pose on FX wrapped last night with an installment that may be the best representation of the show at the top of its game. Stylish and packed with pathos, the super-sized episode justified the extended running time with moments of humor, unforgettable ballroom performances and a satisfying tie at the end of nearly every narrative thread.
It’s easy to imagine this was written as a series finale, but, thankfully, the show has been renewed for another season. The one plot point folks may be disappointed to see left unaddressed is Elektra’s body in the closet. Chekhov’s checked luggage may seem like a tell-tale heart pounding away in Elektra’s closet, but if you consider the real-life inspiration for the story, it’s entirely possible the writers never intended for it to resurface later.
So what was addressed? Let’s rehash some of the highlights in our recap below.
The episode opens with a time jump to about nine months in the future. Blanca, now doing nails in her otherwise empty apartment, is clearly not in good health. Pray arrives, the first time interacting since their falling out at Damon’s graduation party. There’s not much more the audience would have gained from seeing more of Blanca being lonely and sad that wasn’t already beautifully conveyed in that final tracking shot last week, so it was a smart move to skip to the reunion.
Pray gets Blanca to the hospital to recover, and it’s heartwarming to see Angel, Elektra, Lulu and Pray all rally to her side. It’s not long before Blanca is spreading her magic across the ward, sort of like the Mother of the House of the Infectious Disease Ward. She also learns Frederica was arrested for arson and insurance fraud.
In a quick flash to the prison, we also learn Frederica was denied bail since she has so many resources. Frederica is enraged and feels like she’s being punished for being a successful woman. Her one regret? Ruining another woman’s business. That’s justice, baby, and it so rarely plays out as satisfyingly in real life.
Before Blanca is released, she’s visited by Damon, back temporarily from Paris. The tour was great, and now they want him to choreograph. He’s thriving. He also started his own extension of the House of Evangelista with his own children.
It is easily the best Damon scene from the series. This maturity and confidence suits him well, and Ryan Jamaal Swain seems liberated from the caricature of naïveté Damon sometimes fell into over the last two seasons.
Most importantly, Damon reminds Blanca of all the other children out there that need her to raise them. From the beginning, Blanca’s journey of motherhood has been the beating heart of the series, and the notion of Evangelista: The Next Generation is an exciting opportunity for Blanca (and viewers, as well.)
As Blanca leans into life as a grandmother, her own mother, Elektra is shaking up the ball scene. All these new categories have displaced the trans girls at the balls. The emcees are all men, as are the judges.
Pray brings her concern to the council, and they come up with the idea to host a “Butch Queen First Time Up in Drags at a Ball” category. It seems counterintuitive to address Elektra’s concern with ANOTHER category aimed at cis men, but it’s more of a loving homage than anything else.
To help learn to walk in heels, Elektra hosts the boys and gives them some tough love. It’s all too much for the struggling Pray, who leaves the training session in a huff. Ricky follows him outside, and Pray confesses he struggles to embrace his femininity due to his father’s discomfort. In a refreshing change of pace, it’s Ricky imparting the wisdom to the older Pray, explaining how it’s possible to balance masculine and feminine energies, sometimes at the same time.
It’s one hell of a scene. The walking-in-heels lesson is mostly played for comedy, as Elektra read each guy for filth. Then we got this beautiful exchange between Pray and Ricky that addressed internalized homophobia and misogyny in the gay community, attitudes toward homosexuality and femininity in the black community and intergenerational differences between gay men, plus it further developed the relationship between Ricky and Pray.
I mean, what other show can pull all that off over the course of a SERIES, let alone an episode, LET ALONE ONE SCENE?
Meanwhile, Angel’s modeling gigs have dried up. Ms. Ford calls her in and breaks the news. The word is out about Angel’s identity, and most companies have pulled their contracts. Ms. Ford is almost overwhelmingly supportive, though realistic, about her prospects. (I imagine part of the deal to use Eileen Ford’s likeness/name had something to do with portraying her relatively positively.)
This is terrible news for Angel, and she resigns herself to a life on the couch. Papi will not let this stand, so he devises a plan. He’s going to open a business managing trans talent. It sounds optimistic in 2019; in 1991, it sounds insane.
Still, this is Pose, where, no matter what, there is always hope. Papi wisely goes to Ms. Ford and pitches her on this idea of an agency-within-an agency focused on trans/queer talent. She’s skeptical, but he and Angel make a passionate pitch.
“The world doesn’t change,” Angel pleads with a skeptical Ford. “People change it.”
Although not totally sold, Ford agrees to give Papi a desk, a phone and her watchful eye. If he can land a deal within two weeks, she’ll take him up on it.
Wisely, Papi asks Ford for a list of clients deemed not good enough for Ford. These clients tend to be more open-minded, and it’s not long before Papi books Angel a commercial for a new soda in Germany.
The episode and season ends with an extended ball scene, and it’s one of Pose‘s best (which is saying a lot). A member of the House of Ferocity wins the vogueing category and dedicates the trophy to her former House Mother, Candy. Elektra wins mother of the year.
Then it’s time for Candy’s Sweet Refrain, and, you guys are not ready. I wasn’t. (I’m still not?) Angel pushes Blanca out in her wheelchair pretty fresh from the hospital. She starts lip syncing Whitney Houston’s famous rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and it’s … everything. As someone who regularly writes thousands of words about this show every week, I’m at a loss, but I will do my best.
At one point she leaps to her feet and tears away her clothes to reveal a gorgeous red jumpsuit. It finishes with Papi waving a Pride flag and Damon waving a House of Evangelista flag behind her. “Triumphant” doesn’t even begin to describe it. If they could turn the feeling this gave me into a pill, I would take it each day with my Truvada and feel amazing.
The ball ends with the Butch Queens walking, and it’s fun. Elektra takes over the role of emcee, which truly she was born to play. I hope they explore this next season, because it’s a natural fit for her critical eye and acid tongue. Pray gets to have his big Diana Ross moment, and it’s a wonderfully light (though still powerful) note to end on. He doesn’t win, but it doesn’t matter. This wasn’t about a trophy; it was about being comfortable in your own skin, which is infinitely more valuable.
Finally, outside, Blanca waits for Pray when she notices two youths loitering about. They’re homeless and stealing, probably worse, and she invites them to dinner, her treat. It certainly looks like the House of Evangelista will live on.
And thankfully, so will Pose. I know I breathlessly champion the series week after week, but it can’t be underscored enough just how absolutely vital this series is. Even as someone who watches television professionally, I have rarely encountered a series as emotionally evocative. It’s expanded and challenged my own understanding of our greater community. It’s taken enormous pieces of LGBTQ history and distilled them down to the human parts in a way too few films and television shows have even attempted. It’s introduced us to a collection of incredible actresses we would likely never have been exposed to otherwise. It put people on television that most folks would never think they would see on this scale, and it empowered a generation to dare to dream bigger than their current circumstances. While, of course, it’s not flawless, it does exactly what great art should.
Indeed, the world doesn’t change on its own, but we should all be grateful Pose continues to try.