Episode 2.01 “Acting Up”: Bianca (Mj Rodriguez) encourages the House of Evangelista to follow their dreams. Pray Tell (Billy Porter) joins an activist group to fight for the rights of HIV-positive people.
Well Terry, here we are! About a month or so ago, I proposed that we jointly tackle Pose reviews when it returned for S2 since we were both “bad gays” who had yet to finish the first season. Cut to today and the aftermath of the supersize premiere.
Spoiler alert: I’m also a cheater because I’ve actually already seen the first four episodes (I wrote a pre-air review for The Spool), but I promise to keep my awareness of what is to come to a minimum.
I don’t know about you, but I found that binging those final episodes of season one immediately before this first episode was very informative. Pose really came together in the back half of season one, but – to me – there’s a marked increase in confidence and storytelling prowess in “Acting Up.”
Now, a large part of that has to do with the series’ willingness to more fully acknowledge and confront the implications of the HIV/AIDS crisis. I praised the premiere’s extended opening sequence with Pray Tell and Blanca on Hart Island, as well as the “Die In” at Cardinal O’Connor’s service because it feels like the kind of brave, “give no fucks” stories that Pose is unabashedly unafraid of telling. I’m happy that I’m at a place where the interior, micro-level details of the lives of the characters matter deeply to me, but I also love that Pose swings for the fences when it comes to political storytelling. This is sure to age me, but I think it’s incredibly important that younger audiences who tune in for the balls and the bitchery learn a thing or two about just how deeply fucked queer, black/brown, trans, poor and vulnerable people were in the face of the AIDS crisis in the late 80s/90s.
Now, with that said, Pose is still a show designed to entertain and “Acting Up” also checks that box. I liked the use of “Vogue” as a cultural milestone and while Angel (Indya Moore)’s modelling career – and its accompanying ups and downs – happened a little too quickly for my liking, it’s still an interesting direction to explore for House Evangelista’s most passable femme member.
At this point, Terry, I’ll turn it over to you. What stood out for you in this opener? Do you have a favourite character or plot line? Are you worried about the health of either Pray Tell or Blanca, or do you think both are too integral to the series to kill off?
Well, Joe. When you first approached me to do this, I was a bit nervous. I hadn’t actually seen a single episode of Pose at that point even though I had planned to ever since it premiered. And, not to age myself either, while I’m definitely in the age group that should know about ball culture and the queer history of the 80s, it wasn’t until Drag Race that I ever even dipped my toes into it. Living in the middle of the country, in a pre-internet world and with parents that thought cable TV was a waste, my knowledge of anything outside of horror movies was very limited growing up. I think that’s one of the awesome things the internet, the great equalizer, has done for the younger generation.
But yes, binging those final episodes over the course of a weekend was very gratifying. Pose began season one a little rocky and I didn’t quite understand where it would be going. In my mind, it was a Drag version of Game of Thrones with pitched battles on the dance floor between House Abundance and House Evangelista. But that’s (thankfully) not what we ultimately got. And as the show allowed its characters to breathe and the stories to start unwinding based on character decisions, I found myself unable to stop watching.
Now, with season two, I gotta say: Category is: New Beginnings!
I appreciated the time jump to 1990 and I’m wondering if subsequent seasons will do similar time jumps. Because, to answer your question, while I don’t think Blanca and Pray Tell are going anytime soon, I’m starting to see Pose as the legacy of these houses throughout the AIDS crisis. If that is the case, and these time jumps are going to be the norm, then there will be a time post-Blanca and/or post-Pray Tell. And I don’t want to think about it, because they are probably my favorites. But the opening to Acting Up certainly establishes the grim reality in ways I don’t think the first season did. You mentioned the opening sequence at Hart Island and the fact that it’s a real place with a storied past hit hard. I don’t know about you, Joe, but this moment was heart-wrenching as it laid out the facts, stacked one on one, in trenches.
You mentioned Angel’s quick rise to modeling and I completely agree. When I was binging the first season, I started to see trends in the episode’s structure, where each episode focused on a specific theme. And if escalated storytelling helped sell that theme, then Ryan & Co were going for it. In “Acting Up,” I feel like her quick modeling ascension was mostly tied to Blanca’s goal this season of making sure her children are going to be okay when she’s gone. Another acceleration was Pray Tell’s sojourn into political action. One minute he’s mourning a lost friend, the next he’s at an ACT UP meeting, ready to lead the charge. But when viewed as a coda to last season, I think it makes more sense than Angel’s modeling career. Even though there’s a darkly humorous exchange between him and his favorite nurse about winning a toaster at 1,000 memorials, you can tell he’s had enough of feeling impotent.
As for my favorite moment, I LIVED for the image of Elektra, dressed as Marie Antoinette and subsequently being beheaded…TWICE. The lashing she received at the tongue of Pray Tell was vicious as hell, but that came from a real place of pain. Her outfit choice was a bit too on-the-nose, contrasting Antoinette’s lavish spending to the detriment of her kingdom with Elektra’s complete denial of what’s going on in her community, but I was still here for it. She’s on a new path, as well, back with the house she disbanded, but not as the mother….yet. I’m curious to see how that will play out and who her new benefactor is.
It might be a loaded question for you because you’ve seen four episodes, but how do you think she’s getting her new lavish clothes? Is she back with Christopher Meloni? And we haven’t even mentioned the lack of Evan Peters! I’m guessing that story is dead because it was certainly DOA for me last season. What about you? And speaking of new beginnings, can we talk about Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel)’s glowup this episode? Dude was looking foine.
Regarding the lack of Peters, Kate Mara and James Van Der Beek, I can’t say that I miss them AT ALL. I enjoy all three actors, but the further we got into S1, the more it became clear that that story line had run its course and Murphy & Co.’s need to sprinkle a few recognizable white faces in a (mostly unknown) POC cast was no longer necessary. Plus: I don’t need any additional reminders of Trump when I’m already under constant assault just by virtue of being on Twitter and reading the news.
As for Elektra, I’ll tackle the question of her finances first because the answer is brief: the mystery is a recurring element of the first two episodes, so unfortunately you’ll still be wondering about this after next week’s episode. I’ll say no more, though; I don’t want to spoil the surprise!
I’m curious how you feel about the character overall? I love her for the catiness and Dominique Jackson’s inspired line delivery, but I sometimes worry that Elektra is a bit of a crutch for the writers because it is so easy to move her between Houses. Arguably my least favourite element of the premiere was her abrupt decision to leave Evangelista simply because Blanca kept pressing her. Obviously it’s good to have a character who can play the foil and Elektra makes for good drama while simultaneously guaranteeing that it will never become easy for Evangelista to sweep all of the Categories at the ball. The ping ponging, however, is mildly disconcerting.
Now, regarding the men: I will 100% acknowledge that Papi benefitted from some cosmetic treatment in between seasons, but I can’t claim he’s my main source of eye candy. Since I’m a gay stereotype with body dysmorphia, my thirst trap on the show is inevitably Ricky (Dyllon Burnside) and his magnificent chest/shoulders/biceps/eyes/hair. You can only imagine how I felt when the episode ended and he didn’t even appear! (Reader, I died…)
Speaking of boys, Terry, I’ll kick it back to you: are you happy with the additional screen time given to Pray Tell (seemingly at the expense of Ryan Jamaal Swain’s Damon)? Were you excited to see noted RL lesbian Sandra Bernhard return as Pray Tell’s sparring partner, nurse Judy? And I’m curious about your thoughts on House Ferocity because I affectionately think of Lulu (Hailie Sahar) and, more specifically, Candy (Angelica Ross) fulfilling the role of hilarious dim-witted “ugly stepsisters from Cinderella” on the show. Agree or disagree?
Oh trust. Ricky is still my favorite eye candy of the boys and I was likewise bummed he didn’t show up this episode. But when Papi was photographing Angel, I was like, wait a minute who dis?
Elektra attacks her line deliveries like she’s a machine gun and I love that I’m surprised that there’s a set left after she’s done chewing the scenery each time she’s on. But yes her ping-ponging feels completely out of a character who likes to be in charge. I am also afraid that since she and Pray Tell are fan favorites their witty barbs will be leaned on too much. Likewise Bernhard, who I enjoy. Between Nurse Judy, Pray Tell and Elektra, there’s almost too much pithy cattiness. Their quips are fantastic but I don’t want to see this fall into parody like so many Murphy productions.
House Ferocity’s plunge into a joke house works for me and right now I definitely am into Candy’s constant denial that she can win every category. Cinderella’s ugly step sisters is a perfect way to describe them.
But I think that brings our discussion to an end this week. I’m hopeful this season will continue to be as excellent as the first. And I’m looking forward to our discussions!
Next week: “Worth It” introduces none other than Patti LuPone as we jump to Gayly Dreadful for episode two!