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Pose's second season finale serves romance, drama, and spectacle

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Pose’s triumphant finale doesn’t tie up all the storylines from its second season (hello, does Elektra still have a dissolved body in her closet?), but it hits all the right emotional beats for the show, bringing a season that took a lot of big swings—not all of which hit their target—to a head and sharply refocusing on the beating heart of the series: the ballroom.

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The ballroom isn’t just a subculture; it’s its own world within the world. It’s the mirror universe, one where queer and trans people of color are the majority, one where they can only be judged by each other. And even within that world, there are hierarchies and a whole spectrum of lived experiences. Some of those differences come to light in the finale when Elektra, Angel, and Lulu push back on Pray Tell about cis men being the ones in power at the ball. There are categories that center womanhood, sure, but they’re still ultimately being judged by the gaze of men, and even if those men are queer, it doesn’t sit right with them, echoes too much of the power structures of the outside world.

Pray Tell hears them, and he brings it to the council, resulting in a new category at the Mother’s Day ball that puts the women in the judging chairs and has the butch queens attempt to quite literally walk in their shoes. They’re not trying on femininity as a costume but rather performing femininity that exists within them. One of my favorite things about Pose—and something that is indicative of the queer and trans presence in the writers room—is that it often doesn’t assume a hetero spectator. Sometimes queer television bends over backwards to make sure it’s catering to straight viewers, explaining the slang in clunky parentheticals and having queer characters act and talk to each other in a way that just doesn’t feel true-to-life. Pose isn’t as concerned with that, and all of the nuanced and beautiful conversations about femme/butch aesthetics and realities in the episode are indicative of that. These are distinctly queer conversations using queer language. Like the ball provides a world within a world, Pose provides a specific world for queer and trans viewers that so few other shows do.

Sometimes though, it does seem like the ballroom exists in a vacuum that makes less sense, as with Elektra winning Mother Of The Year and giving a glowing speech about how much she loves Blanca. Yes, the latter is rooted in real character development, especially following the beach trip that brought all the women even closer last week. And Elektra and Blanca do love each other in their own up-and-down, complicated mother-daughter way. But these moments are the ones that ultimately (and maybe even retroactively) undercut the more cartoonish villain outbursts that Elektra has. Sure, it’s fun to watch her flip tables and scream at people, but sometimes it feels like Pose just slots Elektra in absolutely wherever from week-to-week without much thought for why the character is supremely selfish at some times and selfless at others.

The finale strikes that perfect Pose balance of navigating conflict in a way that ultimately celebrates the strengths of its characters and finds glimmers of hope even amid the darkness. Yes, it starts with a serious medical scare for Blanca, but Pose handles this with compassion and care instead of just playing it for drama. Blanca is a fierce and inspiring mother, even as she faces death. And then Pose lets her bounce back a little in such a profound and spectacular way. There is, of course, the more obvious spectacle of her lip sync, which she crushes. But we also get to see her mothering in action when she takes two new young folks under her wing. This season has pushed a lot of the Pose characters in new directions and out of their houses for various reasons, but this ending shows that there are still so many more stories to tell, so many children who need this community in order to survive.

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Angel also gets briefly knocked down and then built back up again. She’s clocked on the job, and it leads to a career dead end—or so she thinks. Ever the hustler, Lil Papi steps up and launches his own talent management company, determined to put Angel and other girls from the ballroom scene on the map. The ways Angel and Lil Papi’s romantic and business relationships have unfolded in tandem this season are compelling and shed new light on both characters. Angel is strong, but she’s certainly prone to giving in to defeat, and who can blame her? She has put up with so much shit to get where she is. The fact that one person can bring her down with so much as a whisper is absolutely devastating and shows just how hard it is for Angel to navigate the modeling world. But Lil Papi is right there to gas her up, and their love is the kind that feels good to root for because it’s so pure and uninhibited and sweet—a rarity for cable television.

The finale also does a solid job of further developing Ms. Ford as a genuine mentor figure for Angel. Mentorship is a major theme in this show (and a huge part of queer life, in my experience), and it’s often entwined with familial relationships. Blanca is a mentor and a mother to her children. Damon has his dance teacher. Angel has Ms. Ford. Pray Tell is both mentor and boyfriend to Ricky, which can get a little complicated, but it’s clear here that Pray can learn from Ricky, too.

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I’m less convinced by the way the finale ultimately casts Frederica as some sort of redeemed villain and...feminist? Patti LuPone is great, but it’s hard to really take anything this character says about women being oppressed at face value. She says she regrets ruining another woman’s dreams, presumably talking about Blanca, but that isn’t character development so much as one throwaway line that comes out of nowhere. Ultimately, LuPone’s presence this season has felt like a bit of stunt casting. Frederica never quite worked.

But the finale does a fantastic job of focusing on the main players, even bringing back Damon and hinting at a few unresolved feelings between him and Ricky that continue their perpetual dance of will-they/won’t-they. Angel and Lil Papi have been at the core of much of this season’s romance, and while Ricky and Pray Tell get some sweet moments here, too, they really do shine as the finale’s big love story. Not only do they launch a business together and book an overseas commercial, but they also get engaged in what is easily a contender for top television proposal scene (up there with Leslie and Ben of Parks And Recreation). It drips with sweet, bubbly romance, but it also feels very true for both characters, who end up proposing in unison. Watching these two grow together—and sometimes fuck up together—has been a delightful subplot of this season, injecting a lot of levity into the story and also making space for some gorgeous love scenes. And both actors kill it every time. Janet Mock’s direction is consistently strong, but she excels especially at framing these tender moments.

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Queer love in so many forms—between mothers and their daughters, judges and contestants, between friends and lovers and even frenemies—is ultimately in the spotlight of the ballroom and of Pose. Amid all the insults and the jest at the ballroom, there’s still so much love. It’s significant that Angel and Lil Papi’s engagement happens there. And amid all the darkness and heartache and grief on Pose, there’s so much love, so much joy, and it’s a distinctly queer love that powers the show.


Stray observations

  • Elektra is great at emceeing and should do it more often!
  • There are great looks throughout the episode, but my favorites are Pray Tell’s and Blanca’s at the Mother’s Day ball.
  • I love any episode of Pose that gives us this much ball time.
  • There are a lot of things already in place for a third season, which FX has already ordered. I’m especially excited to see where Lil Papi and Angel’s business goes.
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