Pose has always felt like home; family. So I started this episode in my bedroom, with my roommates who, in true queer tradition, are my family. I thought it was going to feel like it did, two years ago, but it didn’t. I don’t know if it’s the show or me that’s changed, probably both. A lot of things are different between now and then, and yet so much of the pain is the same. A reminder of how long we’ve been fighting this fight.
When the show starts, It’s 1994, and everything is familiar yet strange.
The first episode begins with a police raid on the dungeon Elektra works at. I wish it didn’t; I started the show expecting joy at being returned to family. Instead, I got a mild anxiety-attack. Still, Elektra’s presence on my screen, even as the police on the screen pulled on the tense wire that was my fear, was more than enough to keep me watching. Elektra — and the audience — is notified that the dungeon is being shut down. The next scene places us midway through dialogue with Elektra and Blanca. They run into Lmar in the backrooms of the ballroom, and we learn that Cubby is sick, and Lemar hasn’t been to see him. Instead, he’s been focusing on building his own house, in his words, one that “dominates and sustains”. Ouch. There was something about this scene that bothered me beyond the casual way the characters have always seemed to wield love wrapped in barbed and callous truths. Cubby is sick, and Lemar knows this, but won’t go to see him. This is the kind of reckless, unthinking mistake someone unfamiliar with death makes, but Lemar isn’t that person. He knows what he’s saying, and he’s doing it anyway, why?
The answer is quick-coming. Money. Here’s what is easy to say; that money, no matter how needed, how pressing, does not compare to one night spent awake with my best friend envisioning other ways to exist. Money doesn’t come close to all the ways I’ve loved and lost and loved again. Here’s what’s hard; money keeps my friends housed. Money keeps them alive, keeps them here, for me to love them. You know what’s really fucked? That decades later, we are still having to hold each other way too tightly before we leave the house. That this is so normalized that I even dared to feel upset at someone else’s “callousness.” Like it’s at all okay to have to live your life expecting death. Blanca echoes a lot of my thoughts; that ballroom is about love and family, but Lemar argues that things have changed, and maybe he’s right, because he and his house — The House of Khan — are able to enter the competition last minute, and win the thousand-dollar grand prize. After this intro, the show catches us up on everyone’s lives.
Blanca is dating (!!!) someone she wakes up to with that look in her eyes; the one where you’re convinced that somehow the physical sensation of this person’s skin against yours transformed the process of sleep and now you won’t be able to sleep the same again without missing them. They smile at each other, and my stomach does flips and I want to believe, but Blanca’s also saying things like, “I got one child left, under my roof” and “last one will be gone soon” and maybe I’m a little too attached but that doesn’t sound like Blanca. So even though Christopher — that’s his name — seems really sweet, I don’t trust it, but I want to be wrong.
Papi (big Papi now) and Angels agency is doing well, but Angel isn’t getting many gigs at the moment, and she seems to be taking it hard. Pray Tell now works at a mall, and he’s still dating Ricky, but he’s become an alcoholic, so their relationship is nowhere near the same. They argue; Ricky is worried about Pray Tell’s liquor diet, Pray Tell mocks him for having trouble finding work. It’s mean, and ugly, and painful, because both of them are hurting, neither one’s happy. Pray Tell is drinking because the funerals haven’t stopped, and the cure isn’t closer, and there’s only so much a heart can take. Some members of the MC council are at the funeral, and try to console him, and ground him in the community’s need for him, but it doesn’t work. Pray Tell is tired, and he has nothing left to give, so he resigns.
Back in Blanca’s world, we learn she’s working as a nurse aid to patients with HIV/AIDS. Cubby is one of her patients, and she tells him that she’s been able to contact his mother, and she wants to see him. She’s been able to contact his mother because he’s dying. I’m glad Cubby’s mother at the very least, came around now, but it shouldn’t have been like this, it shouldn’t still be like this. Blanca finds solace in her work, and it feels good for the patients to have her in the scrubs. After talking with Jackie, Blanca starts considering a nursing degree. That night, Angel and Lulu commiserate over their experiences. Lulu is back on the pole because college is expensive, and Angel’s worried that she’s not being booked for projects she auditioned for. They share a joint, but after Angel takes a hit, Lulu lets her know it’s laced with crack. Fuck.
That same night, the night of the OJ Simpson “White Bronco Chase”, Blanca holds an impromptu watch party and invites everyone from Elektra to Nurse Jackie. The whole house of Evangelista — and Pray Tell — show up to watch the chase, though Angel and Lulu decline at first. Nurse Jackie leaves after trying to give herself the right to turn off someone else’s television (?!!) which was odd and confusing, and the family settles into a familiar, but different rhythm. Lulu and Angel continue smoking the laced joint, but Papi’s entrance interrupts them. Blanca and Papi get to have a cute moment in the kitchen that warms my heart both because these kids don’t give their mother enough love and because Papi’s way of showing love mirrors mine, and I feel affirmed. The group attempts to continue watching the OJ chase, but Blanca turns off the tv to call them to dinner. Which she can do, because it’s her house.
Blanca feels nostalgic having the family back together again, and she mentions the state of ballroom, and argues that they should start walking again, to remind everyone that ballroom should be about, “creativity, community, family.” She convinces them, and The House of Evangelista agrees to compete again. Later, Blanca goes to visit Christopher. She talks about her dyslexia, and how school was challenging for her, then tells him she’s heading back for nursing. Their night is interrupted by a call from the hospital, but not before Christopher invites Blanca to meet his parents.
At the hospital, the House of Evangelista, Pray Tell, and Cubby’s mother lay around his bed. They share stories of who he is, even though they are unsure of if he can hear them. Cubby’s mother apologizes to him for letting him go, for not loving him well, but Elektra tells her not to blame herself. Which is kind. They talk and share until he flatlines, and he’s gone. Lemar arrives late, his jaunty, clawlike manner tripping into garish in the wake of Cubby’s death. When Lemar finds out, he’s harsh words at Blanca, blaming her for not telling him it was serious, don’t carry the same bite. They all look like they need a hug, but instead, they challenge each other to walk. Lemar tries though,the door between the hospital room and the hallway provides enough of a barrier for him to lay in bed with his brother. Under the facade is pain.
The competition takes place at the next ball, and Evangelista wins. Blanca takes the moment to realign the intention of the space. She acknowledges Lemar’s work in building a house, and donates their proceeds to GMHC in Cubby’s honor. That night, when they go out to celebrate, Christopher surprises Blanca, but she seems okay with it, and the family is quick to welcome him to dinner, along with a round of friendly teasing. I really, really want to like this guy. In the last shot of the episode, Blanca takes the application for the nursing program at a college. So far, it seems like things are setting up to be okay, but I’m still nervous.
In the next episode, the primary focus is Pray Tell. His drinking has been affecting his behavior in ways that are harmful to the people he’s in community with. At the start of the episode, we find out from Jackie that he’s not using alcohol alone. He’s up to his thousandth funeral now, and his emotional, mental and physical state is incredibly fragile. The House of Evangelista arrange a meeting with a counselor to see what they can do to help Pray. Simultaneously, Angel and Lulu continue to use crack. At the meeting with the counselor, Blanca lets everyone know that Damon has relapsed, and moved away. This scene signals Ryan Jamaal Swain’s exit from the show. By the end of the meeting, the counselor lets them know that a rehab program for Pray would be $25000, so the family makes up a plan to win it at the next ball. Elektra puts herself in charge of getting everyone back in “ballroom shape”, and in doing so finds out about Lulu’s cocaine use. Papi also lets Angel know that he’s aware she’s using. She tells him why, she’s not working, and she’s scared of losing him. He assures her that he’s with her, and I hope he’s not lying, because Angel deserves the world, as does he. Neither Papi nor Elektra’s talks with Angel and Lulu seem to have been convincing. I’m particularly worried about Lulu, because she’s facing transphobic bullshit in school, and she has less of a support system.
Blanca meets Christopher’s parents for the first time, but his mother is really mean to her for no reason. She’s the kind of person that thinks her privilege is some sort of inherent value that she possesses over other people, and she’s transphobic. She also refers to Blanca’s family as playing house, but the worst thing is that Christopher lets her, and doesn’t say anything. My friend taught me a phrase recently; weak hearted. It is weak hearted, to see someone as amazing as Blanca, and know how amazing she is, but invite her to spaces that won’t affirm her, and refuse to stick up for her. Blanca deserves more than a cowardly love. When Blanca tells them about her evening, Elektra and Angel say something similar. Elektra reminds Blanca that she is her daughter and therefore, “every fucking thing” and she’s right.
Before the weekend ball, we find out that one of Pray Tell’s friends on the emcee council, Castle, is sick, and Pray convinces him to come out to the ball. They take some methanol pills beforehand and Pray leaves his friend at the bar, but tells him not to drink. He doesn’t listen. While the House of Evangelista competes, and wins, Castle drinks. Eventually he triggers a seizure and the night comes to an abrupt halt. Pray is prevented from escorting him to the hospital, and Blanca convinces him to go back to the ball. There, Lemar tries to pick a fight, because he’s hurt over losing but tonight is not the night, and Pray punches him. I can’t say it’s not earned.
Back at Blanca’s, everyone settles down to eat, but Pray is agitated, and worried about Castle so he berates them for eating and takes out his worries on them, while reaching for a drink. Ricky takes it from him, and the family begins their intervention. They explain that they’ve booked a retreat, and they aren’t judging him. Pray seems to be taking it well, and feeling their actions as love, until they start reading their letters.
Blanca says he’s changed, and Ricky says he can’t continue the relationship if Pray keeps drinking. Pray starts lashing out, and he only pauses for a bit when Elektra reads her letter, but that just escalates things, and he takes his anger out on everyone, before storming out. The next day, at his place, Ricky packs his things and tries to leave but Pray stops him at the door and breaks down, asking him not to go. He fluctuates between insulting him, hitting him, and begging him. It’s painful to watch, but Ricky needs to leave, this relationship isn’t safe for him anymore, and he does. Angel and Papi are having a different kind of morning. He wakes her up to breakfast, and news of a new job, and she tells him she’s begun to work on her sobriety. Angel and Papi feel like themselves again, and that feels good.
Blanca calls out Christopher for not standing up for her, when his mum got on her bullshit. He’s resistant but he eventually acknowledges that she’s right, and invites her to a do-over that night. She agrees and unfortunately, Christopher’s mum continues to be the same person, but Blanca directly confronts her about her classism and transphobia, and walks away. She looks to Christopher to back her up, and at first he wavers but eventually he draws a clear boundary with his parents. If they disrespect Blanca, they lose him. They walk away together. His courage was a little late coming, but I’m glad to see it.
Pray Tell takes Ricky’s absence and loves himself in it. He goes to talk with his emcee friends, and they welcome him back with their signature teasing. He checks in on Castle, because he’s worried Castle has tried to kill himself, but he hasn’t, and so they promise each other to keep living together. For Pray, this means rehab, and the episode ends with Blanca dropping him off, and hope maybe.