Pose season one strutted its way into our hearts and onto our TV screens with a freshman run that defied the odds. Instead of just simply being a campy extravaganza of fierce moves and even fiercer looks, Pose grounded itself with deep character development and acting performances that brought to life the raw and real emotion of its story. With 1980’s New York society as its backdrop, Pose delivered one of the best first seasons of 2018.
Primarily focusing on the New York City ballroom scene allowed us to witness the competitive world of Houses that we might not have seen before. TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race sometimes would reference the history of these underground events, but it started with the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning that initially popularized the knowledge within mainstream culture. FX’s Pose didn’t sugar-coat or glamorize the reality of this world. For all the outfits, competitions, and a sense of familial love shared within the community, people had to endure the reality of life being LGBTQ+ in 1980’s New York.
Pose tackled issues ranging from gender reassignment surgeries, the AIDs epidemic, poverty, and even the discrimination/prejudices dealt within the LGTBQ+ community itself. For anyone new to these discussion topics, it’s an eye-opening thing to witness because, even though it’s been roughly 30 years since when this plot was set, NYC 1987-88 seems like a completely different world than the culture we have now. By no means is the current climate perfect (and we still have a long way to go), but life has progressed so much more for the better in regards to acceptance and health.
One thing that Pose did smoothly was weave these topics naturally into the plot and histories of the characters organically. Sometimes in other TV shows, issues are brought up as hot-button items in an episode to tackle before being resolved, but these issues were aspects of their lives that rounded out their other characteristics. For example, right from the series premiere, we found out that our main protagonist, Blanca, had been infected by HIV at the height of the AIDs epidemic. We knew nothing about her except for this big change that made her re-evaluate her entire life. She didn’t only talk about this one topic (she brought it up maybe once or twice), but it became her motivation to live her life and start the House of Evangelista. Pose put its character development at the forefront.
When it came to Blanca, MJ Rodriguez did a great job putting a lot of heart and soul into the character. Blanca never had any hate, vengeance, or spite toward any character – she focused on giving love to her House and being a thoughtful mother to her children. Even when someone was putting her down, Blanca kept the grace and composure to be kind and considerate. We need more heroes like this that we can root for because it can’t always be about complex characters who are good one minute and do something bad the next.
Dominique Jackson’s portrayal of Elektra Abundance, the mother of the House of Abundance, was another breakout performance. Who could ever deny the sheer power of Elektra?! Dominique stole the show with her Victorian-like approach to being a mother; she would cut people down to walk over them like a queen, but she still had enough heart that made you want to root for her. Her progression from thoughtless ruler to a compassionate ally provided her the biggest change as her character did need to grow beyond being the season’s villain during the first half of the season.
Elektra’s entire landscape has been left shaken in the wake of the battle against the Houses of Evangelista and Ferocity. Her entire House abandoned her, and the love of her life left her after she completed her gender reassignment surgery. Getting the one thing she truly wanted in life (i.e. feeling complete) cost her everything. But, I loved that her character didn’t regret anything because she should be living the life that’s true to her. Sure, she doesn’t have her rich boyfriend, but she has her happiness and the family with the House of Evangelista again.
Damon’s story also focused on him finding happiness. After being kicked out of the house by his parents, he went from homeless teen to dance student in a serious romantic relationship. While Damon and Ricky do have a sweet relationship, the real important one for his story is his friendship with Blanca. She loved him unconditionally and changed his life in ways that he could’ve never imagined – she was his actual mother at that point. His life as a dancer will be thanks to her. Hopefully, Pose season two doesn’t mess that up because it’s one of the more tender and heartfelt plots.
Also, the casting change for Helena St. Rogers made a lot of sense. As much as I do like Tatiana Maslany and wish she was involved in Pose (or another Ryan Murphy project like Feud or American Horror Story), the role did benefit from having Charlayne Woodard. Helena came across as a worldlier and wise teacher who could guide Damon based on years of experience.
A negative about Pose might be the side story between Angel, Stan, Patty, and Matt. The inclusion of the pushy New Yorker lifestyle of abundance, excess, and corporate climbing didn’t fit with the tone of the House drama. At different times throughout the season it felt like we were watching two different TV shows being pushed together based on the high amount of footage we saw regarding Stan’s life. If we had seen a bit of Stan’s life being weaved into Angel’s story, with Patty and Matt making a few appearances, the plot could’ve connected more to balance out the tone.
That’s not to say it was all bad. Angel and Stan’s romance provide a full circle storyline that leads them to the next phase of their lives (i.e. Angel realizing she wanted real true love, and Stan coming to terms that he wasn’t ready for Angel’s world). And Patty received one of the more robust character developments from where she started at the beginning of the series. If Stan, Patty, and Matt return for the second season, I wonder how they’ll fit in since they all seemed to find resolution with their stories by the season finale.
Pose season one served a great season for its freshman run. The cast perfectly channeled their characters’ emotions and thoughts, the writing provided great realistic dialogue, and the costuming had a good mix of 1980’s style and extravagant flair. And the music kept getting better and better each episode! (Check out Beth Winchester’s awesome music breakdowns of the songs used throughout the season.) There’s a lot to love about Pose, and if you give it a chance, you’ll get hooked too.