‘Pose’ Season 2 Closes With a Memorable Ballroom Finale Full of Hope and Unity
The second season finale of FX’s “Pose” brims with magnificence and a bittersweet heart. It takes a particular kind of vision to combine such elements. Creator Ryan Murphy, ever the storytelling maverick, melds drama and myth, creating a show like no other. For every tear shed there is a bit of happiness in the end, and even when beloved characters seem poised for disaster, Murphy makes sure they get back on their feet.
As hinted for weeks, the season finale, titled “In My Heels,” opens with a jump in time. But before that we find Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) running her business at home, after her nail salon burned down. Through the door enters Pray Tell (Billy Porter), who has finally decided to reunite with our favorite house mother. And then we are in 1991 and Blanca is in the hospital, weakening due to the HIV virus. Long gone are the glory days of the House of Evangelista, all of Blanca’s “children” have grown. Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) is a great success as a dancer, touring Europe and getting work as a choreographer, Angel (Indya Moore) has risen as a model and lives with Lil’ Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel). Yet everyone gathers around Blanca’s bedside, including Elektra (Dominique Jackson) and Lulu (Hailie Sahar). While they all have a lot of potential for good things in their lives, there are also continuing hardships. Angel is exposed as trans by someone who recognizes her at a photo shoot and on a lighter side Elektra notices that the ballroom competitions are still judged primarily by men, something she immediately aims to change.
The second season of “Pose” saw the show gain a more openly political voice and socially conscious character. While its brilliant first season was already absorbing in the way it captured New York ball culture amid the greed and creeping AIDS crisis of the 1980s, this one had a particular power in its radicalized spirit. Murphy and his team used Madonna’s release of “Vogue” as a springboard into the fusion of pop culture and activism. If the diva’s tunes helped bring recognition to the ballroom world, Blanca and her house felt obligated to march in the streets and get involved in the battle against AIDS, as well as the fight for LGBTQ rights. The season’s most controversial yet striking statement came in the fourth episode, when Candy Ferocity (Angelica Ross) was killed while doing sex work to survive. It was a disturbing but effective development, which brought home how amid the glamour and exhilarating spectacle of the ballroom sequences, lives have always lived on dangerous edges.
For “In My Heels” Murphy and co-showrunners Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals have written an eloquent hour and a half where heartbreak leads to hope. Angel loses her modeling gig when word spreads that she’s trans. But Lil’ Papi uses the opportunity to start his own business as a manager willing to represent clients like Angel without discrimination. He even strikes a deal with Angela’s former employer, Mrs. Ford (Trudie Styler) that could lead to a permanent position if he can bring in real talent. Maybe it wouldn’t go so smoothly in real life, but the way Papi delivers an inspirational speech to Mrs. Ford in her office, promoting the idea of being pioneers for change is irresistible. It all builds to a scene of pure, daydreamed romanticism as Lil’ Papi and Angela simultaneously propose marriage to each other. “Pose” has always had a fairy tale vibe combined with its elegant grit, and this is just one of those moments.
Elektra also has great fun making the ballroom more egalitarian by forcing the male judges to put on heels and do the catwalk, challenging them to participate at the ball evening itself and be judged by the ladies. The writing here goes into some unique, psychological depths as Pray Tell must face his fear of being feminine. There’s some deliciously enjoyable closure as well when malevolent landlord Frederica Norman (Patti LuPone) gets arrested for having set Blanca’s salon on fire. Pray Tell reads Blanca the details from the New York Post. This leads into a surprisingly memorable scene where Frederica tells her lawyer she will serve time for ruining Blanca’s dreams, but not for trying to be a woman of means in a man’s world.
“Pose” was always Blanca’s story and she is the true heart and soul of this episode. From her bedside she is watching the fruits of the lives she has helped save and build. Thanks to her Damon found his calling as a professional dancer, and he knows it when he thanks her in the hospital. Her greatest moment comes during the spectacular ballroom scene that closes the episode. Even sickness cannot bring down this warrior and she emerges after the first themed competitions, first in a wheelchair lip syncing to the “Star Spangled Banner,” two flag holders carry the pride colors and the House of Evangelista banner. She then stands and finishes the song. Not only is this a moment of cathartic drama, but is in itself a memorable political statement from Murphy. These were the Americans afflicted by disease and discrimination that the system simply brushed aside for so long. Later, when the men do their walk in women’s accessories (including Pray Tell in stunning fashion), Elektra delivers a speech about the need to place oneself in another’s shoes, only then can we truly defeat hate.
Closure is not so defined or simple in “Pose.” As Blanca sits outside the ballroom with a newly-attained trophy, she spots two young runaways and hears their story before inviting them to get dinner. The other children may have grown, but Blanca is still a mother at heart. She goes off into the distance with the two new discoveries and we are left wondering what the future and her health have in store for the next season.
So ends another successful season of this unique, exciting yet always endearing show. Ryan Murphy, a showrunner of many tastes and interests, whose eye runs from the annals of American crime to musicals, and an upcoming, nostalgia-tinged season of “American Horror Story,” found a story both fantastical and all too truthful with “Pose.” This finale leaves us expecting that he will continue to mine these characters for more moments of blistering fashion and very human experiences.
“Pose” season two finale aired Aug. 20 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.