Tuesday, June 11, 2019

REVIEW: 'Pose' - Blanca and Pray Fight to Keep Their Lives and Their Family Strong in 'Acting Up'

FX's Pose - Episode 2.01 "Acting Up"

Convinced Madonna's "Vogue" will lead to mainstream acceptance, Blanca encourages the House of Evangelista to follow their dreams despite putting her own on the back burner. Meanwhile, Pray Tell joins an activist organization fighting for the rights of HIV positive people.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the season premiere of FX's Pose.

"Acting Up" was written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk & Steven Canals and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton

This show is always aware of the world it lives in. The 1980s and 90s were tough and devastating for the LGBTQ community. Blanca and Pray Tell are both living with HIV. Whenever they are out of the ballroom, they are attending funerals for friends and loved ones who have died from the virus. This season opens with a stark portrait of how bleak the situation continues to be even though the story has moved into 1990. The unclaimed bodies are being sent off to an island where the workers are all terrified to touch them. There is so much misinformation and a refusal to understand the disease and be compassionate to those who carry it. And yet, the show aspires to be so joyful as well. Judy has bad news for Blanca when she comes into the office. Her t cell count has dropped to the point where she is now designated as having AIDS. That is absolutely crushing. Blanca couldn't make any sense of the numbers that were down on this paper. But they completely change her life. However, the release of Madonna's "Vogue" does that exact same thing. Hearing that on the radio gives Blanca so much hope and validation. She sees it as the world embracing the ball scene. This culture is finally going to become part of the mainstream. The irony comes from the audience knowing that's not the case. It will forever be a struggle for people in the LGBTQ+ community to be validated and loved. So much progress has been made in the thirty years since the time period this show is set in. And yet, there is still so much hatred and fear as well. It too can run the risk of being crippling. But that's what makes Pose so special and unique. It tells these stories about queer people of color in a way that isn't stereotypical. They all have full lives even when they are dealing with the realities of the time. Blanca is struck with excitement over the idea that new opportunities could be opening up now for her community. She wants everyone to take advantage of that. And yes, being able to vogue can be seen as a special skill now. It's a way for Angel and Damon to stand out. Angel is presented with the opportunity and passion to become a model. She enters this contest looking for fresh faces. She is so green to the industry and the art of auditioning. However, things continue to break her way. She makes it all the way to the finals as one of the ten remaining people who could be chosen for this select prize. Her beauty shines through all of this. She has long feared being looked at as not normal. There is always so much animosity and hatred towards her community. That does play a role in this entire process as well. The photographer she goes to for professional headshots just wants to fetishize her. That's so deployable and despicable. It means she doesn't get to celebrate being the shining star in the ballroom. But she has the support system to fight back and make a difference. This all remains an ongoing struggle for her. And yet, she also sees it as her working hard and deserving the chance to be looked at seriously. She is given that validation which is so rewarding. She gets it because of all the love and support that is given to her by Blanca.

But these characters are also aware that they need to speak up and act in order to make a difference in the world. They can't just be isolated in their ballrooms. Yes, there are plenty of scenes in that specific environment in this premiere. In fact, it's absolutely outrageous and searing to see Elektra dressed as Marie Antoinette complete with a mechanical corset and a functional guillotine. That is so over-the-top and plays directly into the camp and fantasy of this event. She wins the grand prize. And yet, Pray also calls her out for how selfish she is being. All of this may be trivial in the grand scheme of things because their community is under attack. Pray has a fire ignited within him by Judy. She introduces him to Act Up, an organization that is staging protests in order to get the public to care about and understand the HIV crisis. They stage a die-in at a local church headed by a priest who believes that abstinence is the only way to prevent the spread of this disease. That is so toxic and wrong. It forces people to essentially condemn who they are when those identities are so beautiful and powerful. It's tragic to watch as the peaceful protesters are carried out by the police and arrested. That shows just how little the outside world cares about this community. The ballroom is a safe harbor that builds this community up while celebrating who they are. Blanca believes that validation and acceptance is on the horizon because of Madonna. Instead, voguing may just be something appropriated by the masses without any consideration for the history of the art form. The final ball scene remembers that though. This is a community that has such a long and tragic history. But it's also a place that brought so much joy and life to the world. Sure, there is the fear that Blanca or Pray's health could change at any moment. Plus, there is the uncertainty over whether someone is interested in Angel because of her talent or sexual curiosity in exposing her. And then, there is the mystery that comes from whatever is going on in Elektra's life that allows her to afford elaborate costumes and outfits while ignoring the responsibilities of her family. But this is such a wonderful start to the new season. It embodies everything that worked in the first year. There is also the sense that it trusts the audience to embrace this specific world without having to cut away to concerns that don't matter in the lives of these characters. Every day is a fight for survival. Every walk down the ballroom could be their last. Blanca quits her job and Elektra leaves the house vowing vengeance once more. These choices could become repetitive. Right now though, it remains such a delight while highlighting important stories that need to be told. It also inspires the viewer to speak up because the fight isn't over with yet. The LGBTQ+ community is still under attack and needs strong allies to hold true to the beauty and power of these individuals and their inspiring stories.