On Saturday night, I was sitting at a drive-in FYC event at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for the series finale of your show and was excited to see the finale for the third time. That said, it was clear I was there for the free food…but I also showed up for the Q&A with Ryan Murphy as well as stars Mj Rodriguez and Billy Porter and the mastermind behind the series Steven Canals, who pitched this show over 160 times until the Glee creator felt that he wanted to work with Canals to get you to the masses.
Now, you are ending your third and final season. It’s bittersweet because although it is sad to say goodbye to these characters, it feels that it’s the perfect time for you to bow out. As they say, leave while you are out on top — and you have skyrocketed.
The aforementioned FYC screening for you also featured surprise guests Elton John and David Furnish during the Q&A but more importantly it me to take another look the series finale. A closer look at what this series is beyond the representation of queer and trans people of color. From season one, the series told a universal story of the strength of community and how it can bring us closer together. Through all the balls, shade, and camp, you stirred up an emotional family drama. You gave us a narrative of the queer and trans community that is not rooted in trauma, but fully fleshed out with nuance. Ultimately, you celebrated people who are seldom celebrated. You gave credit to trailblazers who are seldom given credit for their work and courage. You taught empathy. You introduced us to talent that Hollywood wouldn’t traditionally give shine to. You made the invisible visible… and you did it with sickening looks in every single episode.
During the FYC event, Murphy said that Pose was the most important work that he has ever done. “The more specific you are, the more broad it will be,” he said. Canals added, “What all of us have done is we rewrote the narrative.”
Yes, you did that.
Now before we go any further, I will be going into details about the series finale so consider this a spoiler alert. If you read past this, it’s not my fault that you decided to ignore my warning and read everything past this point.
The very first season of Pose debuted three years ago — almost to the day. From the moment they announced the history-making trans-inclusive cast and I saw pics of drenched in ’80s New York panache (specifically Indya Moore rockin’ that sailor hat), I knew that this series was going to be something special.
I reviewed the first four episodes when I was at Deadline, saying: “When it was announced that the guy who created Glee and American Horror Story was helming a show following the 1980s ball scene of New York City, red flags immediately went up as Murphy is known for Murphy-izing subject matter into a hyperreality that’s sensational, over-the-top and oftentimes campy — but that is in his wheelhouse, and he is unapologetic about it. Admittingly, I’m not a devout passenger that rides the Murphy train. If I happen to hitch a ride on one of his many properties, I usually offboard halfway through the season (if not earlier).”
Yikes. Does that seem like shade? I was just being honest. Moving on.
I continued with my review: “But based on the first four episodes of Pose, this FX drama may be the first Murphy journey that I will watch from start to finish…Set in ’80s New York City during the era of shoulder-padded boldness, the drama dives into the ball culture, a counterculture movement steeped in queerness and defiance.”
“Pose gives different layered narratives to its core characters and explores sexual and gender identity and how they interact with each other, mainstream society and ’80s New York, which included hyper-transphobia outside and within the LGBTQ community, the growth of the greed-is-good Donald Trump empire, and the tragic AIDS epidemic — all are folded into the show as vital plot points that push the story forward rather than shoehorned necessities…Pose delivers a marriage of Paris is Burning and Rent that lives, breathes and slays in the Murphy TV universe.”
From the very first episode, the series was at a 10 and held fairly steady and finished by pulling out all the stops with its season finale. It may have dipped a little bit every now, but it always always returned strong and had a clear point of view of what it was.
The series finale was directed by Steven Canals who co-wrote it with Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Janet Mock and Our Lady J, did what needed to be done. It satisfyingly bookended an era of television that would change the landscape forever. Each character found a moment to say goodbye and at the very last ball, the entire family glowed with hope and love. It was a tearful farewell with a dope soundtrack.
We saw the heart of the series, Blanca complete her heroine’s journey by getting the love and career she deserved. At the same time, we mourned the death of Pray Tell — but his death was not a “kill your gays” trope. Rather than root his story in the trauma of his AIDS diagnosis, it celebrated his life and respected his journey as a three-dimensional character which ended with him selflessly saving the life of Ricky (Dyllon Burnside). After Ricky tested HIV+, Pray began to give his medication to Ricky, who didn’t know Pray was making the sacrifice.
The series finale was packed well with moments that defined the late ’90s that are just as relevant today: lack of access to medicine and health care for historically marginalized people and the discrimination against trans people of color and the LGBTQ community. It also gave a nod to Sex and the City… and showed us how a real representation of cosmopolitan Manhattan women looked like All was balanced well with the individual narratives of the characters — specifically Blanca and Pray.
The series ended well and was made memorable with one last fabulous ball with a new, reinvented House of Evangelista. Ricky is now working with Destiny’s Child and Blanca was surprised by her family with a special trophy that honored her as a House Mother.
As Blanca walks away from the ball after giving sage advice to a struggling house, the credits roll — not to a high-energy extravagant song but to the mellow and chill — yet thoughtful lyrics of Whitney Houston’s “My Love is Your Love.” It was the perfect song to dry your tears to as you say goodbye to Pose.
I don’t mean to insert myself into the narrative of Pose, but I am going to do it any way. I felt like I was going on this journey with the Pose team as a “spectator-in-close-proximity”. I was easily the spokesmodel for the series while working at Deadline. I was that kid who just wanted to sit at the cool table with the Pose team.
I remember when the series made its Contenders debut and I moderated the panel with Canals and Pose producers and writers Janet Mock and Our Lady J.
I made an extra effort to support the show in any way I could. In fact, Rodriguez and Canals were recently on the New Hollywood Podcast while Janet Mock, Our Lady J and Angelica Ross guested in earlier seasons.
I would go on to interview Mock, Porter, Canals and Murphy on more than one occasion and also made sure that I was the one asking them the questions during Deadline Contender events to make sure they got the love and respect they deserved (click here and here for those videos).
I’ll be honest. I could have easily done a formal recap of Pose‘s series finale and leave it at that, but I thought it would be better to do this scrapbook-esque/open letter-feature hybrid to pay homage to this series that not only changed the landscape of television but inspired and changed me.
On a larger level, Pose will forever be a touchstone of storytelling and TV, further proving that queer and trans people of color dictate the direction of culture. From to fashion to dance to music to slang, ballroom culture has been an epicenter of culture. As Pose has shown us, larger details of pop culture has been a boiled down derivation from ball culture. From Madonna’s “Vogue” to terms like “throwing shade” to telling people to “werk, bitch!”, ball culture has been at the forefront.
Pose is only one narrative from the LGBTQ community. No matter what you think of Pose or the stories it told, you can’t deny that the series broke the down the door to amplify trans voices. It comes from a long trail that has been blazed by Paris is Burning as well as actors like Laverne Cox, Trace Lysette, Brian Michael Smith, Isis King, Jen Richards, among many others. And on an even bigger scope, the use of trans and queer actors playing trans and queer characters telling stories written and directed by trans and queer people speaks volumes for the importance of authentic representation for all marginalized voices on TV and film.
Pose changed the game. TV will never been the same again. Not saying that it solved everything when it comes to the tone deafness and trash that is churned out by Hollywood; but it cleared a huge path for “the othered”.
On a more intimate level, Pose spoke to the importance of community and chosen family. It spoke to how the strength of community can help move that boulder up the hill. It showed how the trans community are able to be a mother, be an entrepreneur, learn a trade, and make a whole life for themselves despite what Republicans and bigots say.
Pose came at a time when the LGBTQ community — specifically the trans community — were under attack. In fact, they are still under attack. Still, Pose was a lens that provided representation of a community. An ability for those who are traditionally unseen by Hollywood feel seen. From that, grew a sense of morale. It provided a glimmer that turned into a glow and that will soon turn into a full-out glaring spotlight that can’t be dimmed.
In addition to giving insight to a community that has been overlooked even by members of their own community, Pose inspired me to bet on myself. It taught the importance of family and how a strong community could incite change. It taught how to value yourself in a space where you aren’t valued. It taught me to fight when you need to fight. It taught me who to trust and taught me how to trust myself. And most important, it gave us Elektra reads that will forever resonate in the history of television.
It’s a bummer that Pose is done after tonight, but we look forward to the 10 year reunion show. Even though Canals and company are leaving us wanting more, choosing to end the series now seems right from all angles.
I just remembered that this was an open letter so now I shall end it as such.
Pose leaves us with the heart of Blanca, the bravery of Pray; the confidence of Elektra, the grace of Angel; the aspiration of Lil’ Papi; the boldness of Candy; the cleverness of Lulu; the charm of Ricky, and the hope of Damon.
Most of all, Pose proves that #RepresentationMatters.
Thank you for three solid seasons of history-making television.
Live, Work, Pose, Love,