[Pose Recap w/t Joe Lipsett] "In My Heels" Brings the Season to a Close with Tears, Endings and New Beginnings
Each week Terry (@gaylydreadful) and Joe (@bstolemyremote) discuss the most recent episode of FX’s Pose, alternating between their respective sites – gaylydreadful.com and queerhorrormovies.com. If you need to catch up with last week’s recap, it’s available here.
Pose 2x10: “After a medical set back, Blanca struggles to reassemble the House of Evangelista. Meanwhile, Pray Tell confronts old traumas when an exciting new category is proposed.”
Well, fuck me, Joe. It’s the end of the season. Here, we have Pose finally bringing together the themes it introduced back in the beginning of the season. Going all the way back to episode 1, we had Blanca deciding she needed to set-up her kids for the future and ensure her house is in order before she passes. Fast forward to the finale and Blanca thinks it’s time. That she’s done enough and that maybe her body is telling her it’s time to say goodbye.
It’s now May, 1991. Nine months after Damon’s graduation, and Pray Tell and Blanca are finally putting the past behind them while also discovering that Blanca isn’t doing well. Business, relegated to her home now, might be booming. But she’s coughing. She’s weak. Pray takes her to the hospital. And she hands him her will. “Don’t let them forget me,” she tells him. And, Joe...this is the moment, not even seven minutes in, that I cried.
Even though Blanca thinks her work is done, things aren’t going great for Angel and Papi. Turns out, Angel hasn’t worked in months and she’s glad Papi had her set up a saving’s account. When she finally busts in on Ms. Ford, she discovers she’s been clocked. To make matters worse, she was stabbed by a loose-lipped member of the ball scene. It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch moment, as Pose had already re-established the photographer as a threat to Angel’s career. But what’s more, this throwaway moment felt important to note for me because it sheds light on the fact that even in their own supposed community, trans people still have to fight to be seen and understood.
Papi, though, is the eternal optimist; so when Angel tells him she’s been discovered, he responds in the most Papi way. “It ain’t over. Trust me. I got you. I got you,” he tells her, hugging her close. It’s one of the reasons I’ve fallen in love with him this season. Yes, he’s needlessly naive and earnest, but he’s the kind of guy anyone would want in their corner. He represents the best in us.
This episode, even though it meandered a bit and was filled with too many commercials to inflate the runtime, was fantastic for me. When Pose is firing, it’s firing on all cylinders. Yes, I’ve had issues with this season and I think it could have probably been eight episodes like the first, this finale did a phenomenal job of ending on a tender note. It felt like a goodbye, of sorts.
But before we get to that, what did you think of the episode, Joe? Did it work for you the way it worked for me? What stood out for you? There’s a lot to cover here...Damon’s return, Elektra calling out the all-male council, Ricky nabbing the Paula Abdul gig. And speaking of Ricky, I gotta ask (in my most Blanca voice): “is he keeping you moist?”
You’re right, Terry, that when Pose is working, it really works. For me, “In My Heels” is about 90% of the way there. There’s a bit of narrative whiplash as series co-creators Steven Canals, Brad Falchuck and Ryan Murphy race around to catch us up post-time jump and there are some scenes that, while emotional, also feel slightly unearned and even inauthentic...but compared to nearly half of the season, at least the finale knows its strengths and leans into the emotional beats HARD.
If nothing else, though (pardon me...just climbing up onto this handy, nearby soapbox) some of the most cathartic moments reinforce how badly the show faltered in its handling of key story cues over its second season. The Angel stuff? Her downfall came about not as a result of the drugs or the photographer, but simply because a loose-lipped baby gay couldn’t keep his trap shut. Umm...ok. Does it subtly highlight the internalized homophobia that continues to play out against trans members of the queer community as you suggested, Terry? Absolutely. Does it reinforce that we had to wade through a few garbage episodes that, in retrospect, didn’t really contribute much to S2? Also yes.
Bitchy, I know, but I think it’s important to reinforce what’s at stake with Pose. This season was accompanied by a whole new level of exposure and recognition after an incredibly well-received and award-nominated first season. Like it or not, Canals, Falchuck and Murphy immediately became the tastemakers for telling OUR stories in a way that a large, mainstream, mostly straight audience can consume them (ie: sugar-coated fantasies with plenty of sass and attitude). As critics, we can debate what their “responsibility” is as content creators, but the reality is that for A LOT of audiences, Pose is their gateway into queer culture, trans culture and serious discussions about AIDS, drug abuse and hierarchical powers of oppression.
All of this to say: with its sloppy storytelling, inconsistent character development and reliance on “very special episodes”, I found a lot of this second season disappointing. Thankfully “In My Heels” works to address some of those issues. I didn’t cry seven minutes in, but I definitely got misty-eyed a few times (when Damon encourages Blanca that her time raising children isn’t over and during Elektra’s toast to her daughter before the beautifully edited lip synch to Whitney’s rendition of the US National Anthem).
It’s not surprising to me that we’ve both identified key scenes featuring Blanca overcoming adversity and health concerns. For me, MJ Rodriguez is the shining, beating heart of the series (along with Billy Porter). There’s an emotional authenticity to her that rings true to me (and perhaps the writers, as well, whom she seems to bring out the best in).
But enough complaints and sappiness! Let’s celebrate the end of the season with some positivity: Pray Tell and Ricky (who remains swoon-worthy) are still together, Damon has started an European outlet of House Evangelista and become a house father, and Elektra wins the house cup...er...Mother of the Year. All worthy of celebrations at iHop or a vegetable-free helping of burger and fries.
Terry, you seemed to enjoy Papi and Angel’s storyline in the episode more than me (I didn’t care for Angel crying about her professional setbacks when we’ve seen exactly ONE). What other storylines did - or didn’t - work for you? And what’s your overall grade for Season Two vs Season One?
Joe, I’m not completely sure how I feel about Angel and Papi’s storyline this episode…let alone this season. I think at some point, I just threw up my arms and embraced it. Mostly I’ve just been happy that the writers have given Papi something more to do than just stand in the background and offer up a joke or two every once in awhile.
I agree that Angel did cry pretty quickly at one setback, but honestly it’s a pretty huge setback. I can see from her perspective that this was her one shot, her one chance. Being clocked at such a high level in the modeling world, she didn’t think she’d ever be able to work again. Talk about soul-crushing. That said, her whole arc this season has felt very passive. She kind of fell into the modeling gig and just continued to fall upwards without much in the way of effort. Here, again, she’s not in control of her future stardom; it’s Papi that pushes her. At some point she needs to, like, push herself. So I’m conflicted.
And conflicted is the word of the season, for me. I think the season should have been shorter. I think some of the episodes could have been trimmed, condensed or deleted all together. It’s definitely not as strong as the first season. Season One had such a strong through line and obstacles that made the narrative feel propulsive. Season Two, meanwhile, was like that car you love that sometimes breaks down when you hit a stoplight and takes a bit to get humming again. You still love it, but it might need a tune-up. I think that makes sense. I don’t know cars.
Yes, this episode mostly hit all the right notes for me…except in two glaring areas.
The first is the ending of Frederica’s storyline. Her incarceration made perfect (and hilarious) sense to me. When the salon burned down, I immediately questioned whether this was sloppy writing or whether the writers would make use of it because, let’s be honest, an insurance company is going to look into her oddly timed insurance policy increase. It’s literally the first thing they’d look into. And while Blanca had absolutely nothing to do with the outcome and it had no narrative resonance on the rest of the season, it made me laugh at the schadenfreude of it all.
But the meeting with her lawyer annoyed me. There’s a song cue that the composers use every time something tender/special/meaningful happens, as if to clue you in that you’re witnessing a special moment. And it’s used here while Frederica rails about the adversity of being a woman in a male-dominated career/society. This moment almost fell into parody for me because, while she makes technically true statements and valid points, her downfall wasn’t because she was a woman. It was because she burned down her own building in a frankly stupid attempt to commit insurance fraud.
The other issue I had was with the way the council handled Elektra’s incredibly valid point about being judged by men who haven’t walked in the performer’s shoes. She brings up the fact that it’s typically a bunch of women being judged by men and that the men are making all the decisions, when ball culture is mostly about the women. So when Pray Tell brings her complaints to the pithy monthly meetings, they seem stumped about how to fix it. I literally shouted, “why don’t you have a woman on the judging panel??”
But no. The only possible solution to the problem of having men make all the decisions was to…put on a drag show. A song and dance to distract from the fact that the men are in charge, and the women are to be judged. This is followed up by one of the most poorly timed competitions, where the women literally are forced to fawn over the male judges, who inspect them like they’re buying a horse—they literally check their teeth! But, sure. Shave your legs, wobble around in high heels. That fixed the male judging issue. I’m sure they learned their lessons from that.
Hooboy, I went a bit negative there after you tried to pull us back up into happier things. I guess it’s because there’s so many of these little rough edges that chafe when I’m trying to enjoy the rest of the superbly crafted show. You’re absolutely right that MJ Rodriguez is the beating heart of the series. Her desire to be a House Mother is what propelled us through the amazing first season and it’s her powerful and human performance that has kept me interested in the show, regardless of the ridiculousness it sometimes throws at us. Season Two was at its best when it was still about these underdogs, trying to make it in the world. So, for grading? Well, I have a hard time assigning a score…but if Season One was an “A” in my estimation, then Season Two is barely a “B-“…or a “C+”, depending on my mood. It had some incredibly high highs and some bottom of the ocean lows, for me.
But what about you, Joe? I know you found a lot of the season disappointing, but are you lower or higher than me in your estimation and why? And what about the ending? To me, it felt hopeful but finite in a lot of ways, as if it could have been a Series Finale. So I’m curious how you felt about it and if you have any ideas on where the show will go from here.
I’m so glad that you raised those incredibly valid points because I am soooo on board with you!
Frederica’s storyline, in particular, is very frustrating. LuPone is such a great performer and she and Blanca had such a fiery dynamic that I am miffed that this is all that we got out of her guest spot on the series.
As for that impassioned speech (to her lawyer, of all people!), I 100% agree with your assessment. It is a frankly gobsmacking moment of poor writing from this creative team: she feels bad because she screwed over another woman, but really it’s men keeping women down? I mean, absolutely, preach...but where did this about-face come from? And why tell it to this rando? Why not have this realization earlier in the season during the AIDS ward charity episode when it narratively and emotionally would have made far more sense?! This is such an unearned, awkwardly shoe-horned in resolution that I nearly threw my heels at the screen. Ok, hyperbole, but still…
As for the Council’s resolution, all I could think was “well, no wonder they have a problem.” If their solution is for Pray Tell to be kinder during the categories and have men do drag (two of whom, from House Wintour, have obviously donned wigs and heels before), they are clearly out of touch.
While I love a good Elektra quip as much as the next guy, this whole sequence felt off: her delivery wasn’t quite right, the “female empowerment” of the all-women panel was immediately (visually) set aside to focus on the men walking in the category and it all ended with Pray Tell embracing his feminine side in Diana Ross drag. That’s LITERALLY the opposite of what this storyline was meant to do!
Your solution is both more obvious and eloquent, Terry! Oh Pose <shakes head>
As for grades, looking back on Season One, it took some time to get going, but that back half was among the best TV of the year. Grade: A-.
Season Two, meanwhile, has bounced around between emotionally compelling character drama, inconsistently administered plot holes and vapid pop-culture clichés. The highs were very high, but they were infrequent (and by extension the show too unreliable). The result was a bit of a chore to watch. Grade: B-/C+
So that’s the end of the road for Pose S2, Terry, but I’ve enjoyed doing this with you far too much to let it go. We’ve talked offline, but let’s announce the happy news to the world: we’re teaming up for another round of Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuck madness!
That’s right, we’re going to keep these epistolary reviews going for American Horror Story: 1984 so keep an eye out when that madness returns next month on Wednesday, Sept 18th.