Image: Pose (FX)
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Early on in “Worth It,” Angel sits Blanca down and tells her she needs a makeover. She’s being practical and a little harsh but ultimately comes from a place of love. Angel points out that Blanca probably won’t be able to rent a space to start her own nail salon unless she can pass as cis. She pokes fun at Blanca’s personal style, and Blanca explains that she can never buy clothes that fit or flatter her because she usually gets kicked out of stores when employees clock her as trans. Angel admits she never thought about that before.

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It’s the kind of scene that only happens on Pose. Because on this show, trans and queer characters are the majority. They’re not tokens. They’re not set dressing in a cis, heteronormative story. They are the focus, the center, the stars. It’s a candid and well written scene between two trans women of color, and there’s no one else in the room. It’s a special moment, one that underscores the differences between Angel and Blanca, the shades of privilege that exist within their identities. Their lived experiences are different. Pose doesn’t paint any one identity with the same strokes. It’s a show simultaneously about difference/margins and togetherness/home. It’s about not belonging and belonging, too.

The show still seems to be struggling a bit, however, when it comes to Elektra. The conclusion she comes to that her surgery made her weak and soft is, at best, confusing. At worst, it’s a harmful message to send. And on top of that, the way Elektra has been jumping from house to house just to dramatically tell everyone how much they suck and storm off is becoming repetitive to the point where it’s difficult to see what the point even is. I suppose it’s all just to get us to her starting her own house: House Of Wintour. But the lead-up is almost unnecessary, just a chance to have her make a scene for the sake of making a scene. At times, Elektra comes off as a daytime soap villain in a way that doesn’t quite align with the rest of the show.

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The payoff is admittedly splendid though. The sequence of Elektra assembling her house is a rare departure from realism for the show, which suddenly turns into an 80s-style, campy, stylized moment with overlaid text and freeze frames. Plus, Trace Lysette returns and presumably in a more significant capacity. And she’s always a blessing.

Elektra is back where she belongs: on top and in charge of her own house. Wintour is coming, indeed, and we have a whole new layer to the ballroom drama and spectacle. The ballroom scenes are almost like a show within the show. Of course, they function best when they tie into some larger storyline or theme in the episode, but even when they don’t, they’re just so immersive and lovely to watch. In some ways, these scenes function in the same way that the ballroom events function for the characters; it’s an escape. It’s a moment of glory and splendor outside of any of the bullshit.

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In “Worth It,” Ricky also returns from tour just to have a dramatic breakup with Damon. Surprisingly, the decision to breakup actually comes from Damon, and the way we get there is another slightly off-kilter part of the episode. Another dancer claims to have slept with Ricky on tour, and Damon believes him, especially since Ricky apparently lied and told him all the other dancers were straight. Ricky denies it throughout, and we’re never given a reason to believe he really did cheat. Damon ends up breaking up with him for a few reasons: he feels like he needs to love himself before he loves anyone else; he is too young to be this invested in a relationship; and he thinks Ricky really did cheat on him. Those first two reasons are definitely compelling, even if we sort of arrive there in a clunky way. But why throw the cheating in, especially when it’s never confirmed? It feels like drama for the sake of drama, and there’s so much organic drama in Pose’s narrative right now that fabricating some more isn’t really needed for the stakes of the story.

The more nuanced and well developed side of the Ricky/Damon storyline comes when Damon reveals that they have been having unprotected sex. This leads to some of the episode’s finest scenes, including one between Pray Tell and Blanca where they both reflect on the ways society teaches young gay black boys to devalue their own lives. Again, it’s a conversation not typically seen on television, and it comes from two authentic points of view. Then, the episode hits its emotional climax when Blanca reveals to the rest of her children (only Angel knew up to this point) that she is HIV-positive and now has AIDS. Mj Rodriguez slays as usual, and the flashbacks work well in juxtaposition to the more self-assured Blanca we know today.

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One of Pose’s consistent strengths is the way it lets Blanca—an HIV-positive trans woman of color—be the hero of her own story. It’s telling that when she makes a handshake deal with a terrible white lady to rent space from her to open her salon instead of signing any paperwork that my gut reaction was to anticipate Blanca getting screwed over massively. Pray Tell’s reaction was my reaction. I worried for Blanca. My instinct is to believe that the rich, white lady will win out, will beat down Blanca, because that’s what I’m so used to seeing on television. But that’s not the way Pose operates.

Indeed, the woman has her son kick Blanca out when she finds out Blanca’s trans. But the story doesn’t end there. Blanca doesn’t let her dreams be upended by this woman. She pushes back. She pushes back not just for herself but for . It’s probably not the end of this storyline by any means, but the fact that the episode ends in such a happy place for Blanca’s business—with Pray Tell recognizing her for her success at the ballroom and also with her receiving her first customer—highlights where Pose’s priorities are. It doesn’t want to tear these characters down. It wants to let them—as the main title sequence so proudly proclaims in Billy Porter’s voice—live, work, pose.

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Stray observations

  • Pray Tell’s funeral outfit is honestly my favorite look at the episode, even if the circumstances are devastating.
  • Shoutout to the security butches!
  • The dogs named Cash and Credit...I’m here for this satirical depiction of rich whiteness.
  • I love the Sandra Bernhard/Billy Porter dynamic so much.
  • Lil Papi absolutely made me cry.

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