‘Pose’ Season One Closes in Wicked Style With a Hail of Glorious Showdowns

FX’s “Pose” fittingly ends its first season with an hour of pure exhilaration. Part fairy tale, part grand drama of trans life in 1980s New York, this is one of the most enticing and enrapturing new shows on television. The finale caps off a groundbreaking inaugural season which combined dynamic visual storytelling with stories of endearing individual struggle and experience. The LGBTQ experience in the Reagan era is brought to life with a personal touch that makes it timeless. Like few shows it has successfully balanced piercing ideas with fireworks.

The finale finds the once great Elektra (Dominique Jackson), formerly the head of the House of Abundance, abandoned and sleeping in the streets, making what she can dancing in peep shows. Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) decides to intervene and help her old rival. She lets Elektra stay with House of Evangelista and even helps her get a job at the trendy Indochine restaurant as a hostess. Although Elektra maintains her demanding ways when it comes to her lifestyle, she is still grateful for Blanca’s efforts. Meanwhile Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) and Ricky (Dyllon Burnside) are moving up when they audition for a dance spot in the new Al B. Sure! video with the possibility of touring. This rattles Blanca a bit because she hopes Damon will stick with his dance training, especially since, unbeknown to him, his scholarship has been approved for another year. But now Blanca faces her greatest challenge yet at the ballroom, where the city’s LGBTQ community, forced into the underground by a conservative culture, square off in competitive catwalks. The House of Ferocity is strutting with pure savagery, tearing everyone apart, mocking Blanca and dismissing Elektra as a has been. The House of Evangelista will throw down a challenge and square off with Ferocity in the ballroom for all the prizes.

From its stunning season premiere, “Pose” has stood out as a remarkable combination of visual energy and personal storytelling. Creator Ryan Murphy, one of TV’s reigning gurus, again crafts a show where substance flows with style. “Pose” is not just one story, but multiple ones, all telling one angle or another of gay and trans life as it was experienced in an era of encroaching reactionary politics and the sudden rise of HIV. Blanca’s conflict throughout the season has been a duel struggle of cementing her identity and place in her community, while dealing with the fact that she is HIV positive. Amid all this she has to make tough choices, such as kicking out Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel) earlier in the season out of her house for drug dealing. But he returns later and she takes him back, because solidarity is so crucial in hard times. This is true too with Elektra, who is kicked out of her own house only to be saved by her former protégé, Blanca. Other moments during the season have been full of emotional force and a look back at the culture of the times. In one unforgettable scene Prey Tell and dance teacher Helena St. Rogers (Charlayne Woodard) visit an AIDS ward, coming face to face with an epidemic that altered society. Love outside of the bounds of conformism was even more dangerous during the Reagan era, this is best captured in the story of corporate up and comer Stan (Evan Peters) and Angel (Indya Moore). Stan’s postcard marriage to Patty (Kate Mara) is revealed as more and more of a sham as the season progresses, but his true identity can’t just be revealed, especially when his own corporate nemeses could use it as a fatal blow to get him fired. Yet Patty herself is complex, and she comes to realize that her own role in society is itself partly conditioned. She has been acting like the dutiful postcard wife because she’s supposed to, not because she wants to. By the end of the season she decides to go back to school and be independent. Her struggle suddenly mirrors Stan and Angel’s.

These storylines crescendo in a finale that is so good we get not one, but two of the most romantic moments in 2018 television in just this one episode. Blanca in her quest to help others, pushes ballroom host and fashion savant Pray Tell into going on a date with a ballroom bartender. Pray Tell is stricken with fear over revealing his HIV status, but when he does, the scene develops with a beautifully-written sense of understanding. There is nothing corny about the scene. It is two people opening up in an organic, deep way. The other moment of searing romanticism occurs in-between ballroom struts, when Stan approaches Angel and tells her he’s leaving his wife Patty, who has already deemed their marriage dead. He wants Angel to now give the idea of them a chance. But she turns him down, delivering a line elegant and shattering, “the idea was only good in our minds.” The acting and writing make every other romance on TV look stale by comparison.

And yet this finale soars because its final half turns into a banquet of stylish vengeance. Pray Tell gives his most dynamic performance out of the entire season, hosting the great showdown with thunderous presence. The House of Ferocity are a fierce bunch indeed, with Candy (Angelica Ross) ripping down Blanca on everything from her hair to the shape of her face. But Elektra steals the show, deciding to unite forces with Blanca, because she really owes her now, and walking up to Candy and her harpies and delivering a savage, ego-destroying set of putdowns. The final showdown between the houses is an intense battle of poses, moves and flaunting of who looks good in what wear. When the House of Evangelista comes out triumphant we relish in the villains getting their just desserts. Great comedy is also thrown into the mix when Candy attempts one shot at glory by showing off her atrocious dance moves to the horror of Pray Tell and the judges.

“Pose” has always featured a mythic vibe as heroic characters chase their dreams amid changing times, hoping for a greater acceptance that society is still struggling to make complete. We get a happy ending to this season, with a few good questions left open for the next round. Will Damon stick with school? Who will challenge Blanca now that her house stands above all others? Can Angel truly let go of Stan? We care enough for these characters that shallow cliffhangers are unnecessary.

“Pose” celebrates diversity and the freedom of identity, fusing its journey into the LGBTQ world of the 1980s with a universal power that can connect all viewers, but with a keen insight into a specific community’s experience. It is a show fighting against prejudice with a vivacious spirit. May it live on.

Pose” season one finale aired July 22 at 9 p.m. ET on FX.