It’s fitting that Pose airs during Pride. For generations, the LGBTQIA community has been erased from history in an attempt to isolate (“you’re the only one”), inflict emotional cruelty (“no one will ever understand you”), and condemn a life of eternal damnation (“find a closet and seal the door tightly”). Following steps laid out in Harvey Milk’s plan to recruit you, Ryan Murphy’s trans, queer, and cis cast present an important era in US history, heretofore hidden from mainstream television. Exposure leads to tolerance. Acceptance. A place in history. As an added bonus for my Vanderpump Rules peeps, we get an advanced lesson on why some consider the 80’s an insensitive theme for Pride. Silence = Death but I bet Scheana looks hot in her leotard.
The second episode of Pose opens at a ball. House of Evangelista has recovered from their crippling challenge loss with a new member and reinvigorated Mother. Angel walks in Weather Girl Realness. “Show us whether it will be rain or shine? Who is real enough to be on Channel 9?” She is the very model of a modern career girl. The audience heaps praise upon her performance in the role of Woman. It doesn’t quite erase the sting of her disastrous experience at Trump Tower, but it’s a start. At the very least, the thundering applause temporarily drowns out her inner critic. Tens, tens, tens across the board. She’s passing. She’s earning a seat at the table.
Blanca sees House of Abundance snicker at Angel. This aggression will not stand, man. It’s time to challenge Elektra on her own turf: Legendary Runway. Think presenting your Paris collection to Bianca Jagger and David Bowie. Elektra is a five-time winner. No one bothers entering at this point. But Blanca is ready for the House of Abundance vs House of Evangelista, redux. Pray Tell grins like the Cheshire Cat. The crowd slurps the drama up with a straw. Blanca is Cinderella. Eliza Doolittle. Pretty Woman. She’s the ball scene’s shiny, new plaything. Her perfect score knocks Elektra off her pedestal. Pray Tell interrupts the celebration with an important announcement. “I must inform the audience… that after tonight’s performance… there is another contender for Mother of the Year.” Not even Elektra’s parting salvo (“You are the Cracker Barrel to my Gucci and Saint Laurent”) can dull Blanca’s shine. She is the future, and the past is the past.
Damon is approached by Ricky, a ball groupie with a sweet smile and a mild case of kleptomania. Damon negs him like an experienced player. When Ricky asks if he likes smart boys, Damon purrs, “If they’re cute.” They agree to a date that Ricky negotiates down to a slice and a stroll. “Don’t do nothing stupid,” Blanca warns. The two fall in love arguing the merits of Janet Jackson. Ricky takes Damon to his special place: a cavernous building on the pier. It’s moody, gritty, and the site of Damon’s first kiss. It could also serve as a ballroom (if the need arises). Ricky wants to seal the Damon deal. He tries romance, the L word, even flattery. But Damon is a good boy. “Maybe we can go on a few dates first?” Ricky shakes his head. Of all the ballrooms, in all the world, he walks into mine. They make plans for Saturday. Damon floats home on a cloud. Who says he can’t have a Disney ending?
I grew up with Afterschool Specials. Drugs, suicide, eating disorders. Every teen crisis was plumbed for pathos. I don’t know if the Specials helped anyone avoid the pitfalls of human frailty, but we did get something out of them. If you read between the lines, they offered frank discussions of our bodies. Sexuality. Consent. Self-esteem. Tonight, Blanca and Damon right a wrong and finally give gay boys (and the men they grow into) their Afterschool Special. They talk about figuring out if you’re a top or a bottom (“What if I’m a bottom and I fall for another bottom?” “Oh, don’t!”). Safe sex. And Blanca answers the Afterschool Special mainstay “when will I know if I’m ready?” She suggests Damon listen to his intuition. It hasn’t steered him wrong yet. And when all else fails, there’s always Mother. In case you missed it, Ryan Murphy just had a birds and bees conversation with all the little Damons in the audience. For far too many, it will be the only one they get. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why visibility is important.
Blanca tries to poach Elektra’s second in command but gets distracted by homophobia from within her community. Instead of drinks, New York’s #1 gay bar (two years running) serves the trans women walking papers. Angel isn’t surprised. Trans women of color are the bottom-rung in our social pecking order. Now Blanca has two obsessions: pivot Candy from Abundance to Evangelista and desegregate NYC nightlife. Easy peasy. When Saturday night rolls around, Blanca returns to the scene of the crime. She positions herself in prime real estate and demands service. “Gay, straight. It doesn’t matter. They all think we got psychological issues.” Angel’s words resonate as the bouncer manhandles Blanca out the door. “I should be able to drink wherever I want!” Blanca screams into the night. And pee. And buy cake. And serve.
Damon is his best self at dance school. The Dean notices. While she usually restricts her private Varsity squad to Seniors, she makes a special allowance for Damon. He has something special, the mark of a star. Damon is overjoyed to join her collection. From sleeping in the park to ballet with the Dean. It’s all happening. When the Dean’s soirée conflicts with his date with Ricky, Damon doesn’t think twice. He chooses his future over what Lil’ Papi calls a Hit It and Quit It guy. Blanca revels in Damon’s success like the pageant mother she is. Damon’s night at the ballet is as magical as he hoped. The Dean compliments his Members Only jacket. She instructs him on proper decorum. And the dance, oh the dance. Damon is transported. His entire body reacts to the dancers on stage.
Damon had so much fun, he tells Lil’ Papi it was well worth skipping his date. And you’d almost believe him if he didn’t turn into a jealous biddy the first time he sees Ricky with someone else. When Hit It and Quit It Ricky admits he sat around that pizza shop for an hour and a half, Damon realizes he needs to apologize. But he has dreams, see, and he needs to see them through. In the face of Damon’s nonpology, Ricky loses it. “You know, you ain’t the only one who came here with a dream. I’m still sleeping on that park bench.” Damon metaphorically pats Ricky’s head. That part’s easy. Just join a House. Ricky looks defeated. Houses want boys with ballroom skills. Not losers like him. When he met Damon, Ricky hoped to hitch a ride on the Damon Express. Figures it would end this way. It’s not the first time Ricky has been left behind.
Stan, the outwardly cis Trump employee, is also consumed with passing. Not only is he hiding his true self, he has to keep up with the Jones on Park Avenue. He’s not to the manor born. He’s made it thus far on wits and adaptability alone. But this is the big show. If only his harpy wife would stop complaining about dishwashers and charm his repulsive boss. As he towers over her, mansplaining her concerns away, I physically cringe. His verbal calisthenics aren’t any better. Because she’ll never understand how hard he works, Patty has no right to question any of his actions. No matter how gay they may appear. He does it all for her. FOR HER. So how about she get off the couch and make him a sandwich?
As soon as Stan finds out Angel is working peep show booths, he begins a quest to save his fair Princess. When the doorman refers to Angel as he, Stan corrects him. The sex shop worker just chuckles. “Yeah, Whatever you say, boss. Second to last door on the left.” As the peep show door lifts, Angel’s face drops. She’s not ready to admit their relationship is a transaction. Staring at Stan’s face through the glass, Angel’s fantasy disintegrates. But Stan isn’t a quitter. He tells her she doesn’t belong there. That it hurts him to share her with other men. What follows is a delicate dance between the two as they attempt to negotiate a Sugar relationship without rocking their L.O.V.E. vibe. Angel demands a year lease. She doesn’t want him running once he gets bored. Stan agrees as long as she knows her place. “I can’t help you if I can’t keep my life.”
Against her better instincts, Angel is happy. Her odds of not getting killed in a gutter increased considerably and that’s enough for now. Angel stares at her boyfriend with new eyes. Who is this man? Stan answers honestly. He’s no one. He does all the expected things. Works the right job. Golfs the right course. He’s wears the life of a middle class white guy like last year’s Versace. While she faces an unfriendly world simply for being herself, he’s the one playing dress up. What he needs is someone real. Angel hears the magic word. He thinks of her as a real woman? “You’d be crazy to choose this life if you didn’t have to,” Stan rationalizes. It’s all too much for Angel. She gathers her belongings and flees, terrified to wake up from this dream. Ever the romantic, Stan calls after her, “Do you believe in love? Or is that just a word from the suburbs too?”
Elektra is frustrated. She’s at the top of her game. She drags a child’s wagon full of trophies home from every ball she attends. The crowds chant her name like she’s the Supermodel of the World. But she’s bored. Since losing her challenge to Blanca, House of Evangelista has gone radio silent. Out of options, she takes her beef to the straight, white world. Over Blanca’s manicure table, they’re just a rich bitch yelling at the nail girl. Elektra demands the opportunity for redemption by attacking Blanca’s social warrior status. “You’re not Rosa Parks sitting up front of the bus. You’re a tired old queen looking to sip a margarita with some white boy in Sergio Valente blue jeans.” It’s scathing but Blanca is high on Evangelista. Elektra is the past and she is the future. She honors Elektra’s generation for getting them where they are but she wants more. “I’m entitled. I have the right.” Elektra shakes her head. The young always think they know best. “When it comes to the life we lead, there comes a point where you must accept disappointment. Like I’m disappointed in this topcoat.”
Blanca returns to the gay bar. They realize their nuisance is quickly becoming a bother and call the police. While waiting to be served (or arrested), Blanca tries to forge a bond with the only other person of color in the establishment. He’s aghast at being lumped into any category with her and makes sure everyone knows. His privilege extends to the bar. Hers doesn’t. As she’s eventually led out in handcuffs, male cheering drowns out her protest.
In a surprising turn of events, Elektra springs her from jail. Blanca is grateful. She thinks Elektra finally gets it. But Elektra doesn’t need to be down with the cause. She can pass anywhere from gay bars in Chelsea to penthouses on the Upper East Side. She only helped so Blanca would owe her. When Blanca blasts her for caring more about balls than people, Elektra lectures. “That is our place. Our community. The balls were created so we would have somewhere to matter.” They matter so we matter. It makes perfect sense.
Damon is upset to find Ricky with a woman at the pier. He wants to start over. Date. Ricky hems and haws over a night at the ballet. The way Damon describes it (“the dancers were the music”) brings back warm feelings. But his Inner Saboteur won’t stop humming Stranded At The Pizza Place. What’s a boy in love to do? Damon takes a chance and tells him he’ll wait this time. All Ricky has to do is show up.
Category is… femme queen in pumps. Ersatz Real Housewives circle the floor to the drowning bass of Grace Jones’ Slave To Love. Pray Tell receives an announcement of epic proportions. The legendary House of Abundance and the upstart House of Evangelista have agreed to a grudge match. With one win apiece, tonight’s challenge will prove which House rules supreme. “Yes, Mother!” “Yes, Mother!” The crowd explodes. Blanca walks first. It takes everything in her to take a dive but a deal’s a deal. Hiding in the shadows, she lets Elektra have her moment. Elektra laps up the unearned admiration. Hey, it all looks the same in the dark.
As the episode closes, there are winners and losers. Damon thinks he’s been stood up but Ricky shows at the last minute. Under the spell of dance, the boys hold hands. Stan surprises his wife with a dishwasher and Angel with a key. Who knew working for Trump comes with a girlfriend allowance? Only Blanca stands alone, outside the gay bar, looking in. I just wish they’d let her drink already.
Coming up: Angel gets her Dreamhouse. Damon struggles at school. Patty gets suspicious.