Pose 2×07: “The House of Evangelista plan a large prank to antagonize Frederica. Meanwhile, Angel is introduced to the unsavory side of modeling.”
Ok, Terry, this is a bit more like it. After a few weeks of duds, “Blow” surprisingly manages to NOT blow it…for the most part (we’ll get to a certain storyline in a moment).
Let’s focus on the positives first. This episode marked the return of the Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) & Pray Tell (Billy Porter) doing what they do best: putting their heads together to scheme and control the lives of their children. It’s facetious to suggest that this is when the show is at their best, but Rodriguez and Porter have a delightful chemistry that really does evoke parents, so when the characters see that House Evangelista is slipping into ennui, they spring into action with…a caper?
Like numerous plot points on the series this season, time seems to be passing randomly so the idea that the “lookie loos” have all abandoned the Balls and Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain)’s classes at the Y feels exceedingly abrupt. As “Blow” opens, we’re told that the days of ‘Vogue’ are over; now the dark days of MC Hammer are upon us and the time for action is here.
I love the idea of a heist, so the plot to wrap Frederica (Patti LuPone)’s upstate house in a giant condom is an inspired bit, as well as a great source of comedy. Where, Pray Tell, can I procure a giant inflatable phallus for all of my wacky children’s birthday party needs? (For real, though, I really do wonder how many gays were Googling if a slightly smaller version exists in anticipation of their next birthday party).
Jokes aside, the caper reintroduces ACT UP to Pose after a lengthy absence, which is most welcome. Like a fair amount on the series, the Condom Wrap (as I refer to it in my notes) is based on a real historical event, which occurred in 1991 when ACT UP activist Peter Baley wrapped Senator Jesse Helms’ house up to protest his contributions to the stigmatization of HIV. As a plot point, it’s a great one because the caper reminds viewers of the political nature of the disease (something that has been absent among the personal storylines this season), but also because it is a galvanizing event that allows nearly all of the show’s main characters to get involved in.
That means we get Lulu (Hailie Sahar) confessing during planning that she used to be an accounting major (!). That means we get some sexual tension between Damon and Ricky (Dyllón Burnside) as they try to resist the allure of starting their relationship back up again. That means we get Elektra (Dominique Jackson) holding a fucking parasol and martini and barking Wizard of Oz insults at Frederica’s neighbours. It’s glorious!
But Terry I’ve hogged the mic long enough. How did you feel about the Condom Wrap? Do you want more scenes of Blanca and Pray Tell acting like parents (but not “Daddy” in the latter’s case)? And dare we broach the awful storyline about Angel (Indya Moore) and a frequently shirtless Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel)?
We seem to be on the same page again, Joe. Blanca and Pray Tell assuming the role of the Found Family parental unit is something season two has toyed with, but never fully dug into or embraced. The season began with Blanca’s desire to ensure her house was in order in case she passed away suddenly but like so many storylines this season, it got sidelined. This season has also mentioned the importance of keeping your history and remembering where you came from and now we have that represented in two characters and tied directly to the story. It’s what this very bumpy season has needed.
I’ll be honest, though, when Pray Tell first said that the children needed a caper, I rolled my eyes. “Oh great,” I thought, “Here we go again.” Luckily, it brought all of the characters together in such a fun and funny way. I’m also glad you brought up the real inspiration for the “caper” because it’s become a trend this season and I immediately went to Janet Mock’s Twitter feed to find out if it was based on something real. This one worked a whole lot better than the body in the closet. And yassss, Elektra with that parasol had me gag-ging. This sequence was, for me, the most delightful thing Pose has done this season.
What wasn’t delightful is the storyline you alluded to. I do not for a moment believe that Angel and Papi would take that cocaine. We’ve established that these characters are hustlers and street smart and that they know how to survive in this world. Yes, they are out of their element in the high-end club, but there’s no way they didn’t know that that white substance would be bad for them. The comment “pharmaceuticals being like what a doctor would prescribe so how could it be bad” just rang so completely false. It was too convenient to add drama to a storyline that…already had drama (which we’ll get to).
The fact that the crack leads to a night of bumpin’ and grindin’ and a Papi ass shot made me extremely happy. You know that I dig Papi (excuse me, Esteban Lil Papi Evangelista Martinez) and – this is my kink showing – but that armpit hair was really sexy. I haven’t really bought into their relationship from the very beginning, but if it’s going to happen, I’m here for the fruits of their loins.
Whatever, gimme that sex. Gimme that dancin’. Gimme that bushy armpit hair. Papi’s had such a glow up this season; I am here for it.
On a more serious note, though. I haven’t enjoyed being so negative about a show that’s fully about queer POCs at a time when being both was quite literally a death sentence in a lot of very real ways. The one thing I have loved about this season as I look back is how it presents the challenge that queer POC and WOC deal with. It’s been a thematic uphill battle and the season has continually shown how simultaneously easy and merciless it can be. By using real life events for inspiration, Pose has done a great job of fictionalizing important events, from the church die-in to the queen with the body in the closet to this episode’s phallic revenge. All pulled from real life events and tragedies that illustrate how desperate life can be.
Which brings me to the photographer. Angel has been zooming along so smoothly as a model that I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. So has Angel, apparently; she’s been fearful of someone discovering that she’s a transwoman. Enter the photographer who forced her to take nude photos (and who wound up having his face rearranged by sweet Lil Papi) in the season two premiere .
The photographer is the one person with the ability, the means and the motive to fuck Angel’s life up. His entrance is a mic drop moment…that took me a moment to realize just how much of a mic drop it is. Mostly because he hasn’t been seen since we first started recapping the show and so much has happened that, like Patti, I completely forgot about him.
I’m talking too much so what about you, Joe? How did you feel about the Angel/Papi storyline? Were you surprised with the photographer’s return? And we haven’t even broached the subject of Ricky’s traumatic revelation or Pray Tell’s daddy status.
LEAN INTO THOSE KINKS, TERRY! Who the hell am I to yuck your yum?
Alright, confession time: I think that I’m so dense that I didn’t even realize who the photographer was until I read your response! That’s how infrequently these story lines seem to connect this season.
Yes, that “mic drop” moment could be a significant turning point for this subplot, which is a nice bait-and-switch development considering only seconds earlier it seems like Angel’s career is going to get derailed because she can’t control her impulses.
The whole Angel/Papi subplot didn’t work for me, either. Just as you suggest, Terry, this didn’t feel earned. Sure we’ve seen characters on Pose make rash, impulsive decisions, but Angel and Papi have never been *stupid* and that’s what the scene in the bar is (BTW: is it just me, or was the club the same repurposed set from the Ball scenes? I get saving money and all, but…maybe the set decorator can do a little more?). Sorry – back on track! This really irked me because it’s such a cheap ploy to stir the pot and it doesn’t for a second feel like a believable character moment; perhaps if we had seen more of Angel’s career feeling pressured or excluded by other models or important folks it might have landed differently. What we have instead is two characters who normally make “ok” decisions become confoundingly stupid.
Now, before I kick it back to you, let’s tackle Ricky’s subplot. While I liked the fun stuff around the Condom Wrap caper, this was the meatiest, most meaningful part of the episode. This was Pray Tell walking the talk and stepping up to truly act as the Elder he proclaimed himself to be. I particularly appreciated his refusal to “bottom” shame when Ricky confessed his dalliance with ex-BF Chris in the hotel room (something a lot of gay men could stand to hear more often) and their moment in the hospital – both before and after the results of Ricky’s test – provided that extra oomph of emotional weight that Pose is so good at delivering.
Now, as a lady who doesn’t work, I’m off to brunch, so I’ll leave it to you to take us home, Terry. How did you respond to Ricky’s diagnosis? Do you think Blanca should be more worried about Frederica’s violent threat now that she <sigh> magically got her salon back? And what’s the over/under on Papi beating up the photographer again?
Joe, you’re definitely not being dense. It took more digging and reading through recaps than I care to admit before I realized who the photographer was and why Angel was making such a face. And yes, I think there’s a good possibility the photographer’s face is going to meet Papi’s fist again.
As for the Ballroom/Club situation, I didn’t think about it but I’m pretty sure you’re right that it’s the same set. See? Not dense; just understandably expecting more from Pose than we’ve been getting. That was probably too catty towards Pose, especially when I’m trying to turn a new leaf, but unlike those other alcoholic bitches, I haven’t been able to get brunch this week and I’m growly.
Turning our attention to Blanca, she definitely seems incredibly blasé about Frederica’s threats. And not even like fake bravado blasé; actually naïvely blasé. That’s definitely going to bite back this season. The less we talk about how quickly Blanca got her nail salon back, the better. It basically reappeared as magically as Frederica appeared in the customer chair, like the homophobic racist witch she is.
Onto a more successful narrative: Ricky’s diagnosis hit me hard. Even though the entire episode telegraphs that he is going to be positive, the reaction is what broke my heart.
“I’m gonna die,” Ricky says.
“No you’re not,” Pray replies. Then Ricky breaks down and Pray holds him.
Billy Porter and Dyllón Burnside sell this moment SO WELL. It actually made me teary-eyed. The way the episode leads to this moment ias also incredibly well conceived. It begins with Pray saying that they are just an endangered species (the implication is that they’re all dying so there’s no one to look up to). This is followed by Pray telling Ricky, “This is our life now. Remember this feeling. It’ll keep you responsible.” And then the very casual diagnosis from the doctor. It all comes together perfectly to sell this incredibly traumatic interaction. Even when Pose has flailed about this season, it still knows how to structure an intensely personal moment and Janet Mock really brought it home.
And speaking of home, we’re now in the home stretch of season two. The are three more episodes left and, judging from the promo for next week, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Until then, it’s time to inflate some condoms and eat some Wonder Bread.