Damon and Ricky take centerstage in Pose this week, yielding some excellent dance sequences. Whereas most of the episodes this season have been sprawling and, occasionally, unfocused, “What Would Candy Do?” has a clear throughline, zooming in on a very specific story that sees Damon and Ricky competing for a spot in Madonna’s world tour.
This story also ties back into one of the season’s larger themes and arcs by giving new urgency to Blanca’s ongoing insistence that Madonna’s “Vogue” is a cultural turning point for queer and trans people of color and ballroom folks. She’s immensely proud of Damon, that beautiful motherly love pouring out of her. MJ Rodriguez is magnanimous as ever, and this episode is steeped in hope and joy and so many radiant feelings.
This is, of course, juxtaposed with Elektra’s approach to mothering Ricky, and the episode cuts between House Evangelista and House Wintour to play up those differences to comedic effect. Elektra is tougher than tough love; she’s cold and demanding of Ricky and also invested in what this could all mean for her. But in her own Elektra way, she’s still supportive of her child...so much so that she asks her other children to go full Tonya Harding on Damon. Confusingly, she attributes this command to...Candy.
It isn’t until over halfway through episode that its title makes any sense—and even then, barely so. Elektra invokes Candy’s name in her speech to her children, saying that Candy did whatever it takes to win. She even pulls out Candy’s hammer. In some ways, this episode of Pose was always going to be a bit of a test for how well the episode before it would hold up. While I’m certainly not against the decision to kill off Candy, which I think does tie into this season’s larger themes and speaks to a larger truth beyond the show about the violence enacted on trans women of color, I found the execution clumsy in parts and downright frustrating in others. Having Candy come back repeatedly throughout last episode undercuts the emotional potency of her death. When a friend or family member dies, you don’t get to have them come back and tell you everything is going to be okay, but that’s exactly what happens on Pose.
And now, in “What Would Candy Do?” Elektra’s attitude toward Candy’s death is almost flippant. As I feared, Pose isn’t really allowing this death to carry deeper and more lasting meaning beyond the confines of the episode it happens in. Candy’s name is in the titular line here, but it doesn’t have any weight to it. She’s shoehorned in, and it’s yet another instance of Pose struggling to marry its more buoyant moments with its more dire ones.
But when the episode really does keep the focus on Damon and Ricky, it shines. First of all, we’re treated to incredible dance sequences. Pose is a goddamn production, and the show’s meticulous attention to detail, spectacle, camp, and extremes mirrors the aesthetics and sensibilities of thee ballroom. From the YMCA vogueing class to the audition to the ballroom sequences to the absolutely fantastic “Solid Gold” medley, “What Would Candy Do?” delivers mesmerizing choreography, and director Tina Mabry injects every scene with life. Seeing two queer Black boys get to be joyful and confident and free in their bodies is beautiful. Even Helena, who is often tough on Damon, acknowledges how important of an opportunity this is in terms of visibility.
Ricky and Damon’s certainty about reaching for their dance dreams unfolds in tandem with the uncertainty of their relationship. I wasn’t totally sold on the way Damon broke up with Ricky earlier in the season. It feels like the writers were going for one thing by having Damon say they need to focus on their dancing instead of on a relationship, which gets reiterated in this episode, but then also threw in the cheating to dramatize things. And the fact that Ricky so swiftly breaks up with Chris here only underscores that. The infidelity weirdly doesn’t seem to play much of a role in the emotional beats of this relationship.
The final scene between Ricky and Damon includes some of the best writing and acting of the episode. Ricky doesn’t want this day to end, because he had so much fun with Damon. Dance is a hugely important part of their relationship, and it’s easy to get swept up in the romance of seeing them dance on a stage together—for both the characters and as a viewer. But Damon remains resolute. He wants them to focus on their dreams; their young love is too distracting, too all-consuming. But even though he rebukes Ricky by explicitly establishing them as just friends, the episode does end on more of a question mark than a definitive answer about what the future holds for these two. Pose excels at keeping hope alive, even in its darkest corners. Ricky and Damon are getting the epic love story treatment. They keep dancing their ways back into each other’s hearts, and the earnestness of their scenes is a rare gem for cable television.
- “Otherwise known as my future best friend” - Elektra on Madonna
- Lil Papi helping Damon get ready for his audition is very sweet.
- I know he can’t be a major player in every episode (and it looks like next week’s will intensely focus on Pray Tell), but it does always feel like something huge is missing when Billy Porter is used sparingly.
- “If anything happens to my child, I will kill you”...I fully believe Blanca when she says this. Don’t fuck with her children, because she will come for you.