Photo: Pose (FX)

As with any great ensemble series, Pose has not only a deep roster of talent but a rich tapestry of characters with lives that overlap but also bring different things to the table, standing on their own. Sometimes ensemble series will still have a sneaky protagonist around whom everyone else orbits, but that really isn’t the case here. Even Blanca, who up to this point has received a lot of screentime, is slightly out of the spotlight in “The Fever.” Events of the episode certainly touch her, and MJ Rodriguez gets in some more standout work, but “The Fever” really opens up Pose’s world even more to check in with characters we haven’t gotten to know as well before, like Candy, and also show different sides of characters we do already know, like Elektra.

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Pose’s timeline is moving very quickly—just last week it was Christmas, and now it’s already springtime—so a lot happens off screen, like the evolution of Stan and Angel’s relationship as well as Damon and Ricky’s relationship. But Pose hasn’t sacrificed carfeul character development for the sake of a quick timeline, and Janet Mock turns in another fantastic script that has bursts of humor and fun amid some of the episode’s more intense darkness. Both of those relationships hit a critical turning point.

When Damon comes down with a fever, Blanca worries it could be HIV after a quick conversation reveals that Damon and Ricky haven’t always been practicing safe sex. She overhears another conversation between Damon and Ricky that shows just how little they both know about the virus and how it’s spread. It’s a disheartening moment: Despite her best efforts to educate Damon, he still made risky choices.

And so much of this storyline hinges on the fact that mainstream society and the people in power did not give a shit about the HIV crisis. Damon and Ricky have not been given the support and knowledge that they need, because it simply wasn’t part of the dominant discourse. Pray Tell puts a fine point on it, lamenting how so many people see it as a plague that the queer community deserves rather than a serious epidemic and public health crisis. His own fears of how the system would fail him have led to him deciding not to get tested. While she does play a smaller part in this episode, Blanca has to step into her mother role in a big way and encourage Pray Tell to get tested and to also be there for these young men, including Papi, who finally gets fleshed out a little more in the episode.

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Pray Tell does the hard thing and shows up for himself and the boys, taking them all to the clinic to get tested. Pose takes its time revealing each of their statuses, acutely conveying the anxiety and tension of the situation while also highlighting just how important it is for them to know one way or another. It’s immediately evident that someone is going to walk away positive, and it turns out to be Pray Tell, his worst fears coming true. Like Blanca, he hides his status from the boys. But he can’t hold up the lie with Blanca for very long, and the two share a heartbreaking scene. But once again, Pose never feels exploitive or gratuitous in its depiction of pain and suffering. Pray Tell and Blanca are both much more than their statuses. And their storylines are deeply personal while also tapping into more zoomed out issues, like the healthcare system and government’s neglect.

Much of this episode is about insecurity. Beauty standards of course affect all women, but they are particularly punitive when it comes to trans women. Candy and Angel both feel immense pressure to adapt to conventional beauty standards in order for the world to perceive them as real women. Candy feels this pressure so much that she literally puts herself in harm’s way, opting for discount plastic surgery that immediately has negative effects on her health. Angel doesn’t go through with it, but she gets so in her head about the idea that Stan might prefer curvy girls that she throws him out of the apartment. Despite his attempts to assure her, she can’t hear it. She has internalized too much hate and judgement. When he talks about going to the porn store, even if it isn’t his intention, he’s objectifying and fetishizing her, and it’s clear that Angel has had that fear and insecurity in this relationship for a long time.

Even Elektra, who seems to ooze confidence in every stride finds herself in a tricky place when it comes to how she sees herself. She wants to go through with the surgery, but the man she has been in a relationship for a very long time doesn’t want her to do it, and he ends up saying a bunch of manipulative stuff, positioning himself as her savior for “rescuing” her from the sex work she was doing before. It’s gross, and at the same time, it’s easy to empathize with Elektra for not wanting to lose this relationship.

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In the end though, she chooses herself. Her scene in the bathroom is powerful and raw but never voyeuristic—just intimate and real. Elektra needs this surgery, and the weight of that is felt fully in her scenes. Pose has done an excellent job of slowly peeling back Elektra’s layers and showing that there’s a lot more there than just quips and looks. Introducing the new character Aphrodite also shows a different side of her, opening up Pose’s world even more. “The Fever” digs deep into its characters’ psyches for one of the most visceral episodes of the season so far.


Stray observations

  • Best Shade: “You’re not the first girl I’ve seen go down this particular avenue of dumdum.” There’s something hilarious about hearing such a refined woman like Elektra say “dumdum.” Sometimes her insults can sound a little too thought out, but this one is raw.
  • I love watching Damon dance so much.
  • Billy Porter was great last week, but his performance here is just stunning. Pray Tell having to ask for a moment to be alone to collect himself is devastating.

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