Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers from season two of Fx’s Pose.
Representation is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, as consumers, we long to see ourselves reflected on screens large and small — so much so, in fact, that we want the few glimmers of hope that do see the light of day to be all of the things that we’ve been missing. On the other hand, when the show or film or play doesn’t meet our expectations, we sometimes refrain from lodging valid critiques against it, never wanting to endanger the life of a project. Stories by, about, and for Black and brown people, LGBTQ+ folk, and other traditionally marginalized groups need to be unassailable to ensure that similar projects have a chance at getting made, or so the thinking goes.
But after its finale episode which aired Tuesday night, it’s time we talk about season two of FX’s Pose. Because I got questions, and they all have to do with how the shocker death of Candy almost ruined the show.
Let me start by saying that I live for Pose, the Ryan Murphy-powered, Steven Canals-created drama set in the ball culture of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Its first season was groundbreaking for so many reasons, including that it was the first production of its size to have five trans women as series regulars. Writer-advocate Janet Mock also made history when she joined the writer’s room (along with Our Lady J), becoming the first known Black trans woman to write for television. She’d go on to knock down history’s door once more by directing an episode of the show (and eventually nabbing a production deal at Netflix). But beyond the broader fight for diversity and inclusion that can sometimes overshadow the quality of a given project, Pose was actually a joy to watch.
Sure, we had to get used to some of the less-experienced acting and character affectations that might’ve been initially off-putting to some. And yes, it was high drama and high camp of the soap opera variety, but that shit is entertaining and it’s where Murphy’s creations shine! Hell, we all were gagging when Elektra (Dominique Jackson) and the House of Abundance brought it like royalty after stealing their attire from a local museum. I’ve even beat the drum — and will continue to do so — about the travesty that is Mj Rodriguez consistently being overlooked as living legend Billy Porter pulls in all the acting recognition (which he rightfully deserves).
So when I say Pose has been one of the most entertaining shows to hit television since I started covering this industry, I mean it. The show’s second season, however, has felt ... different.
Season two launched with the storyline picking up in 1990, just as Madonna released her infamous “Vogue” track; the show’s creators wanted to reflect how the song’s acclaim impacted the community which inspired it. At the same time, Porter’s Pray Tell (with an assist by Sandra Bernhard’s Nurse Judy) joins ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), galvanizing the ball world to join him in advocating for their lives. As the series went on, Rodriguez’s Blanca started a business, Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) and Ricky (Dyllón Burnside) broke up, Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel) became the finest man on television and fell in love with Angel (Indya Moore), and Elektra killed a man and stored him in her closet à la Dorian Corey. For all intents and purposes, the first few episodes of the season seemed to hit all of the presumed beats — and demanded a season renewal.
Then it happened: During episode four, titled “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” Angelica Ross’ Candy was murdered. Some have said this sudden killing off of such a beloved character was the beginning of the end. I disagree, or rather, I say that if the creators felt it necessary to reflect how the lives of trans women, and particularly Black trans women, are and have always been under constant threat, killing off fan-favorite Candy made the most sense. (Because if they killed off Lulu, played by Hailie Sahar, you motherfuckers wouldn’t have shed a tear!)
Where the show took a turn for me was instead in the following episode, titled “What Would Candy Do?,” in which Elektra attempts to sabotage a competition between Damon and Ricky in Ricky’s favor — using Candy’s infamous hammer, in memoriam. By my estimate, Candy would never, as her weapons were always brandished in self-defense, and the inference that she would’ve approved is nearly offensive. But it was here that Candy’s death became a narrative crutch that the show struggled to move beyond.
In episode six, titled “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” Candy’s ghost is among a number of supernatural visitors to Pray Tell in the hospital — very A Christmas Carol tease. Following a tense argument between the two as she attempts to usher him to the Promised Land — she also disclosed her HIV-positive status to him from the grave — some on social media (and in my private circles) began claiming that the series had jumped the shark. They believed the storytelling devices being employed were questionable choices. But while many consumers may not have sensed it initially, Candy’s death revealed cracks in the storytelling surface of the show. She died and it became obvious to some that what was really missing was narrative balance, and that might explain the disconnect we felt throughout the latter half of the season.
Because while we were falling in love with the women and men of the ball scene in season one, we also got a fair share of drama from their counterparts in white America. The characters played by Kate Mara, Evan Peters, and James Van Der Beek — though viewed by many as a distraction from the world they really wanted to see — allowed the show’s core narratives to breathe and shine within a dual structure. And though it makes sense that they wouldn’t continue their stories into this new season, having similar counter or supporting narratives might’ve helped slow and confine some of the episodes — which might’ve, in turn, allowed audiences to savor the storytelling flavor. Because without it, the creators leaned so far into a space of artistic freedom that a number of the episodes just became too much.
Presumably that’s what Bernhard’s Nurse Judy and Patti Lupone’s transphobic, hoity-toity landlord who causes all of Blanca’s salon woes were supposed to provide. If so, it wasn’t as effective. Meanwhile, Candy's ghost and memory was popping up all over the place as a ploy to tug at viewers' hearts.
That being said, the last three episodes of the season seem to mark a slow, steady return to the show we all initially caped for. The storytelling crutch that Candy’s death became was put away, for the most part, and we got back to the true spirit of Pose, one where the characters’ actions (mostly) made sense with the narratives we were introduced to.
But this hiccup makes me question if Pose is somehow shaking under the pressure of the acclaim that met season one. Or are our expectations outsized because of the Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, honors from GLAAD, The Trevor Project, and GLSEN, and the Peabody, causing us to set a standard that is expectedly hard to consistently meet?
To be clear, creating the second season of any show, particularly a drama, is difficult. That’s why the term “sophomore slump” is used to describe a project whose second season — if they make it to a third — just doesn’t live up to its first. Still, heavy is the head that wears the crown, and though Pose shouldn’t be carrying the weight on its own, here we are.
Here’s to hoping that in season three, it can keep its head up.