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Saturday, 2 November 2019

REVIEW: 'Pose' delivers heartbreak as the second season delivers powerful double bill.

In episodes 3 and 4 of its second season, Pose delves further into the grim realities of life, past and present, for trans women of colour.


Being set at the height of the AIDS epidemic, death has been a constant presence throughout Ryan Murphy's masterpiece, Pose. In season 2, members of the community are dying at an even more alarming rate than before – to an extent that we see the ball organisers decide to have one moment of silence at each ball for all those lost since the last one, because having an individual moment for each person is starting to take up too much time – and attending funerals has become an almost everyday occurrence.

Amongst all of this death and suffering, the feuds of the ballroom scene are still going strong. However, the events of episodes 3 and 4 emphasise that when it comes to desperate situations, this community of outsiders really have each other’s backs. As Elektra (Dominique Jackson) tells Blanca (Mj Rodriguez): “We may cut each other up like a pack of alley cats, but when the outside world tries to tear us down, this army closes ranks.”

In both of these episodes, rival houses are brought together by an unexpected death.


Butterfly/Cocoon’ sees Elektra’s enjoyment of her job as a dominatrix cut short, when one of her regular clients accidentally overdoses and dies while unattended. After initially turning to Blanca, who tells her she needs to call the police, Elektra goes to Candy (Angelica Ross) for more practical advice and hears from a black trans sex worker (played by guest star Peppermint of RuPaul’s Drag Race) about how she ended up doing time in Rikers Island prison when a client assaulted her and got off scot-free thanks to it being her word against his.

Rather than risk taking her chances with the justice system, Elektra decides to cover up the death, enlisting the help of eccentric Miss Orlando (Cecilia Gentili) and dismissing Blanca – whose problem, Candy says, is that she naively thinks “doing the right thing is always the right thing to do” – so that she isn’t implicated in their plans to hide the body. They ultimately wrap up the body in a cocoon-like fashion and stash it in Elektra’s wardrobe, in a move that is surely a reference to Dorian Corey, who featured in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning about the New York ballroom scene and was found, after her death, to have had a mummified body hidden in her apartment.

A very different kind of death occurs in ‘Never Knew Love Like This Before’ – one that hits hard for both the characters and the viewers. There has been much talk this season of Madonna bringing the ballroom community’s voguing to the mainstream, and this episode begins pretty lightheartedly, with Candy taking to the floor dressed as Madonna and Pray Tell (Billy Porter) mocking her for it. But soon we’re at the next ball, learning that Candy has been missing for two days and that she had recently been turning tricks to pay the bills…

Candy is found, murdered, at the motel where she was meeting with clients. Putting us in the same position as her friends, we don’t see the tragic murder take place but have to face the aftermath. They have initial problems getting her body from the morgue, since none of them are legally her family, and only succeed by appealing to a gay morgue employee. Then at the funeral, they are unimpressed with the conservative way in which she has been styled, so give her one last makeover.

Of course Candy has to have the last word, and she appears to various characters as a vision at her funeral to have final conversations with them. This includes warning Angel (Indya Moore) against returning to sex work, and making peace with Pray Tell, who was never particularly kind to her in the ballroom, and with her parents, who show up at the last minute and regret the fact that they didn’t accept her while she was still alive. Her death also inspires Pray Tell to make the most of his life and start taking his AZT medication, after rejecting it due to worries about the side effects.


We get to say a final goodbye to Candy with a poignant fantasy sequence, in which she steps out of her coffin into the ballroom and lip-syncs to Stephanie Mills’ Never Knew Love Like This Before, and the episode ends with a harrowing on-screen stat, ‘More than 1,000 transgender and gender-conforming people have been murdered globally since 2016’, highlighting just how little the world has progressed in this area over the past two decades.

Contributed by Sophie Davies.

Pose Continues on Saturday at 9.00pm on BBC Two. 
The Full series is now streaming on BBC iPlayer.

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