This season of FX’s Pose is a shining example of what being able to balance grit, heart and style can get you. In the narrative it is now 1990, but not a lot has changed. Blanca (MJ Rodriguez, pictured below right) is still the mother of all mothers, forever putting her children first. Elektra (Dominique Jackson) is still her usual pain-in-the-ass self. Angel (Indya Moore, below left) is still working as a model (though no longer as a sex worker). And Pray Tell (Billy Porter) is still more witty and stylish than you’ll ever be. However, the AIDS epidemic is only getting worse, and even though Madonna’s new single “Vogue” may be helping shine a positive light on the LGBTQ community, the road to acceptance and equality is a long one, and much of it is left.
Obviously not an afterthought, Pose coming back during Pride Month could not have been more appropriate. The topics that are being dealt with -- discrimination, inequality, sexuality and health -- are, unfortunately, things we as a society still haven’t quite gotten a handle on, to say the least, and while any month would’ve been a great time to give the world this much amazing, Pride Month just adds an extra level of resonance to the information and lessons learned. Just as it did last season, Pose dives headfirst into these issues using the characters and relationships us posers (yes, I’m calling us that) have come to know and care about as a way to relate to each one’s emotional truth. It’s one thing to read about how devastating a disease is, and another to watch someone reeling from the loss of a loved one, or find out they’ve got the disease themselves.
It’s not all sobering trips to the mass graves of fallen AIDS victims, though. Attitudes abound, divas will be divas, and drama still runs the yard. After the events of last season, Elektra ended up being a guest of Blanca’s at House Evangelista -- at least until she flipped the dinner table and walked out (which I guess is her thing, now). Either way, as awesome as the ballroom battles always are, House Ferocity isn’t much comp for House Evangelista, meaning that narratively a foil has got to come from somewhere, right? And who’s a better baddie than Elektra Abundance? Exactly. She’s messy AF, and that’s always entertaining.
Blanca’s journey is essentially the same one she’s been on, because a mother’s work is never done. Everything she does is for her chosen family. She educates, nourishes, shelters and protects her own, even while dealing with the heavy burden of having HIV, which has now turned into straight up AIDS. This, coupled with ever-rising number of AIDS-related deaths in the ballroom community, serves as a constant reminder that death and adversity are constantly around the corner for not only her, but everyone she loves. Yet she never breaks. Her resilience, her resolve, her love … if she was any better of a person, she’d have wings.
Speaking of godsends, Pray Tell is everything. Still the wittiest and most stylish host of the ballroom events, his journey’s been quite difficult as well, but like Blanca, his refuge is action. While Blanca fights for her family, Pray Tell fights for everyone. His allegiances are with Blanca and the gang, obviously (though he’s always impartial during the balls), but he still cares about educating his community. When he takes a trip with Blanca to a mass grave site to visit the final resting place of a past lover – a place filled with those lost to AIDS -- the cold reality of how little was known about this disease at the time, and how isolating not only being oneself, but being oneself while sick could be, is made painfully clear.
Through Pray Tell’s pain we learn these hard truths, while for him it’s a path that leads to activism. Spreading awareness and educating his people are hella important to him now, which is great, because he is a born leader. Like today, he knows that standing up to injustice and fighting for each other is all we’ve really got, because, as the show posits, “silence = death.” It’s time to act up.
Judy (Sandra Bernhard) is a nurse at the HIV ward where Pray Tell’s boyfriend was, and she has been nothing but an ally and advocate. She’s snarky as the rest of the bunch, genuinely cares, goes out of her way to educate and protect, and is the one who gave Pray the activism bug, so to speak. These battles that they’re fighting may be getting fought in the late Eighties but cut to the present day and that war still hasn’t ended. Our current Vice President banned the flying of Pride Flags at U.S. embassies. That was like a week ago. Supporters of hate speech and divisive rhetoric have never been more emboldened, and in times like these a show so very full of love, information, history and, of course, mountains of flare, is exactly what we all need.
Pose is a beacon of light in a sea of darkness, and a reminder that there’s still work to be done. How it manages to do all that and still be as fun as its cast is fabulous is beyond me.
Pose is telecast Tuesday at 10 p.m. on FX.
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