Early on in “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” Pose suffers a death in the family. Lulu reports that Candy is missing after working down at a motel with a dangerous reputation, and it becomes instantly clear that bad news is looming. Blanca gets the call. Candy was murdered.
It’s a devastating loss for the characters of Pose, made even more devastating by the fact that it’s an epidemic that persists. Angel is distraught throughout the episode and notes right away that it’s only May and already eleven girls have been killed. Decades later, and already at least eleven Black trans women have been killed in 2019. Pose is fiercely committed to portraying the lived experiences of queer and trans people of color, and that includes the reality of violence, loss, and grief.
But also true to the show’s core, this episode tries to inject some levity and camp into its serious moments in order to strike a balance between darkness and celebration. Some of those attempts work, and some fall flat. As a result, the episode feels too much like it’s using Candy’s death to prove a point rather than letting it strike authentic emotional chords for the characters and add to the story in a meaningful and lasting way.
The more over-the-top storytelling and direction choices made in “Never Knew Love Like This Before” undercut the episode’s emotional potency and resonance by trying too hard to provide closure. Much of the episode unfolds as an extended fantasy sequence with Candy’s ghost popping into scenes to essentially have therapy sessions with the other characters as they process her death. Pose does often play around with stylization and camp in the way it tells its stories, but this time it doesn’t always work.
The episode uses Candy to teach the other characters overt lessons about their own lives in a way that makes her death less about her and more about them. She posthumously warns Angels about the dangers of sex work and threatens to haunt her if she gives up on her modeling career. Candy also forgives Pray Tell for giving her such a hard time, which doesn’t at all feel true to the character and rather just comes off as some sort of wish fulfillment for Pray Tell, who explains rather heady-handedly that all the bold aspects of Candy’s behavior reminded him of the things he hides about himself.
The episode indeed leaves little room for nuance. Grief and death are bound to bring out extremes, and people can process in messy, inconsistent ways, but the way these characters work through their feelings here is weirdly packaged, contained, formulaic. It appears messy at first, and then Candy’s ghost—or, more accurately, people’s projection of Candy—shows up and makes everything better. She even tells Pray Tell she’s happy to have died beautiful. There are strange moments like that throughout that seem to undercut the severity of this situation. The thing I most often praise Pose for is the way it lifts characters—and by proxy its viewers—up and allows space for hope, healing, and genuine fun. But this episode almost does too much to give all the characters resolution.
This is most egregiously seen in the hasty introduction and under-development of Candy’s parents. They decide last minute to attend the funeral after initially telling Angel they wouldn’t. They show up and immediately misgender Candy (which Blanca handles beautifully by just continuing to use her correct name and pronouns to their faces). Minutes later, they have done a full 180 on the way they see their daughter. It’s a touching moment, but one that feels so forced that it’s hard to really live in it.
And what’s the real takeaway here? That Candy had to die for them to finally see her? It’s a huge character beat for characters we’ve never met before, and the arc is so truncated that it lacks significance. Of course, this is more touching to watch than if her parents had rolled in and just been one-note transphobes the whole time, but their presence in the story at all doesn’t add much in the end. Sometimes, Pose gets too comfortable with its ability to run over an hour and can often use a tighter edit.
Angelica Ross is fantastic throughout, and there are undeniably some powerful character moments. The lip sync at the end of the episode works much better as a fantasy sequence than all the imagined conversations do, because it feels like a special celebration of Candy but also more connected to the way Pose tells alive, glistening stories. Pose’s beating heart can be found in the ballroom, and it’s a musical sendoff that feels right for the character. Candy loved to win in the ballroom, and she loved all eyes to be on her, and she loved to fiercely follow her dreams of being a star.
Janet Mock co-directed the episode with Ryan Murphy, who directed, and there’s definitely Murphy DNA all over it. Murphy often takes big swings, and they don’t always hit. Parts of the way the episode portrays grief and resilience absolutely stick, but many of the post-death Candy scenes are frankly off-the-rails in a way that distracts. Pose always manages to find theatricality and humor in unexpected places, and it does some of that here, but it also becomes stagnant and mechanical in the way it uses these fantasy sequences to tell tightly confined and heavy-handed stories for each main character as they react to the death. There are absolutely flickers of emotional death in there, but it’s packaged like a sympathy card.
- The acting really is the best part of this episode, and whew, there are damn good performances across the board.
- The show continues to be excellent in the way it portrays the HIV crisis and real, complicated HIV-positive individuals. It’s true that some HIV-positive people refused intense drugs like AZT because of the side effects and also because so little was known about them because of the institutional bias when it came to HIV research and science.
- The episode also sharply touches on the disturbing paradox of ballroom culture going mainstream at the same time as the HIV crisis. Cultural appropriation is about so much more than music styles and dance moves.
- Okay, I laughed very hard at “I assume she’s a Scorpio.”