Tuesday, July 9, 2019

REVIEW: 'Pose' - Candy Gets a Celebration That Highlights Her Life and Strength in 'Never Knew Love Like This Before'

FX's Pose - Episode 2.04 "Never Knew Love Like This Before"

The ballroom community is shaken to its core when a valued member is brutally attacked.

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 next episode of FX's Pose.

"Never Knew Love Like This Before" was written by Ryan Murphy & Janet Mock and directed by Ryan Murphy

Death has had a prominent presence in this series. Death has a prominent and heartbreaking role in LGBTQ+ history. People have died fighting for their rights. People have died because of the hatred towards the community. It is even part of a tragic storytelling trope called "bury your gays" in which people in the community never seem to have the same happy endings as their straight counterparts in film and television. Pose has always been such a revelation because it brings such a strong focus to this significant chapter in the community's history. This is a time of celebration and deep despair. People don't know how long they are going to live. They fear that a plague is spreading and could infect them at any moment. It's important to fight. Blanca and Pray Tell have received grim diagnoses. But now, they are arming themselves with the medication that can ensure that they fight for as long as possible. There is such a profound fear that the drugs won't ultimately help. That they are destined to die young and tragically. That's the world that has consumed them. Whenever they aren't performing, they are attending the funerals of friends and loved ones. And yet, that can't keep them down. Then, it would be inevitable that they would just be another number in the statistics. They are full of life and need to keep fighting for it. However, HIV is hardly the only attack that the community faces. There is so much hatred and misinformation about the trans identity. This show has always been groundbreaking because it has five trans actors of color playing authentically trans roles. It's recurring cast bolsters those numbers as well. This is an accurate depiction of the environment in this story. But it also makes it so significant when the show features the death of one of its main characters. The conversation would always swell around the idea of it falling into a familiar trope that the viewer has seen over and over again. That has always been a tricky line for the show to balance. It wants to be accurate in its depiction of the time while still telling empowering stories about these characters who aren't typically seen in this medium. Death has been such a huge component of this world. As such, it feels natural for it to be included here in a very personal way. This is the reality of what these people are living every single day. There is essentially no hope that Candy's murder will be solved. She was a ball of energy who didn't always know how to best perform at the balls. But she was still a member of this community who sought out validation and love though. Pray was always cruel to her. But now, he feels compelled to rally the world around her to celebrate the life that she lived. It was tragically cut short by a monster who hated her for living as her true self. Her friends and loved ones have to break the rules just in order to have a funeral for her. It's tough on so many of them. However, it also shows how funerals need to be a celebration of life. Everyone grieves in a different way. They all reflect on the relationships they had with Candy and how this loss will shape them moving forward. They have to rely on each other because this family is all that they got.

All of this happens so suddenly as well. Candy was fighting until the very end. She wanted to be taken seriously as a performer. She saw her star as rising and going big places. She was reaching out to the council of MCs about adding a lip syncing routine to the ballroom. She knows that she would kill it. Pray sees it as lowering the community's standards. He doesn't see that as something that belongs in this environment that everyone is choosing to imitate now. Blanca saw the value in the release of Madonna's "Vogue." She saw it as this lifestyle going mainstream. But it has mostly amounted to people co-opting their culture without the respect and reverence that it deserves. Even though Candy didn't always know the best categories to perform in, she understood this life and celebrated it. This hour is a stirring and exuberant showcase of her love for this world and the friends she made along the way. It also highlights the importance of visibility for the trans community. The hour ends with the show noting just how many trans and non-binary people have been killed in the last decade. This discrimination and hatred continues to this very day. The community is constantly under attack by those who see it as despicable and unnatural. But our trans brothers and sisters really are extraordinary and beautiful. There is so much value that can come from seeing someone's true essence. There is the fear that Candy's parents will continue their rejection of her. Angel sees it as her failing her friend in death. And yet, Candy's parents do show up. That's a powerful moment because it starts a dialogue in which they talk about the importance of seeing their daughter as who she is. She is still their child who beams with the same joy and fight she has always had. They may not have been able to understand and show that love to her while she was alive. It all comes to a tragic end here. These are the conversations that need to be had early on to show that the support and love will be ever present and appreciated. It wasn't here. Blanca, Angel and Elektra won't allow their sister to be disrespected in death though. They ensure that she is given everything that she deserves. That includes a complete transformation in the casket as well as a service in which people pay their respects in a way that feels earned and rewarding. Pray Tell may be a strange choice to lead the service. And yet, he sees so much of himself in Candy. She was a fighter in a way that still scares him. He doesn't always know how to be open and proud of himself. He is constantly terrorized by the cruelty of this world. Candy wasn't. That's the greatest gift she can give to everyone. Of course, she was only close friends with Lulu. Even then, that friendship was complicated by animosity. Lulu doesn't know how to be a mother without Candy. She also doesn't recall any of the happy memories that can make any of this better. It takes a beat but those eventually come back to the surface. That too is so crucial. This person may be gone but it's important to remember all of the great things she brought to life. And that continues in death too with Pray honoring her with the lip sync category. The fantasy of Candy performing to Stephanie Mills' "Never Knew Love Like This Before" is wondrous and marks a new era in the ballroom. She is awarded with a perfect score and the complete adulation of the crowd. She is loved and she is seen.