[Pose Recap w/t Joe Lipsett] We Belt Out Some Songs Discussing "Love's In Need Of Love Today"
Episode 2.06 “Love’s In Need Of Love Today”: After falling ill while organizing his annual AIDS Cabaret, Pray Tell lands in the hospital leading to a series of unexpected visitors.f
On this Very Special episode of Pose™, I feel like we tread familiar territory. Again. Again we have a health scare. Again we have discussions about whether Pray Tell should be taking AZT or not. Again we have Pray Tell and Blanca fight, break up and get back together. I don’t know Joe, I just feel like I’m going to sound like a broken record...this episode felt like filler.
I will say that I was afraid this might be it for Pray Tell. Ryan Murphy does love him some foreshadowing and Pray Tell’s abandoned mic, lying on the ground and illuminated by a spotlight before fading to black felt like a classic Ryan Murphy technique. Instead of being directly related to AIDS, he is suffering from blood poisoning due to the AZT. Which, of course, sets off the conflict between Blanca and him. Blanca blames herself and Pray Tell...well, he blames her, too.
What follows is a fever dream for Pray, where he’s visited by the Three Ghosts of...well, Not-Christmas past who torture him, yet still get him to sing “The Man that Got Away” to an empty room. It’s one of 4.5 songs we get this episode (the .5 is being generous to Elektra, by the way).
I think my biggest issue with this episode is that Pray Tell’s drama feels like a sitcom storyline. You know how in some sitcoms, they introduce the episode’s problem, the character solves it and then it’s back to the status quo beginning? I feel like this is what happened to Pray Tell here.
He gets a death scare, fights with Blanca, spends the episode fighting with his demons - personified by Candy - and then ends the episode where he started it: wanting to be alive (already established) and back as Blanca’s friend (BFFs for life, obvi). Nothing has changed for him, except that he isn’t taking his AZT...a storyline introduced just two episodes ago...
On one hand, I get it. AIDS is obviously a huge part of the show’s DNA, back to the first episode. And it would be disingenuous to use it as set dressing and not show the realities of both it and the only drug available at the time to help fight it. But this just felt like a wasted opportunity to me.
But what about you, Joe? Am I in the throes of Fantasia coverage and not thinking straight? How did you feel about this episode as a whole? What’d you think of Frederica’s re-introduction after being gone for three episodes? And most importantly, are you impressed that backup singers Lulu, Damon and Ricky apparently have perfect pitch and can harmonize like bosses?
Oh dear. You prefaced this episode - which you had seen and I had not - with the simple warning/threat “I hope you like singing.” Well, that’s certainly what we got, isn’t it?
Pose S2 is more willing to take storytelling risks than S1, I’ll give them that. Thus far this season, we’ve had an episode focusing on a murder storyline, an episode on a funeral with fantasy elements, an episode dedicated to dance and now a near mini-musical. While I appreciate the writers <cough Ryan Murphy cough> commitment to experimentation, it certainly makes the series feel scattershot, and yet, as you suggest Terry, also surprisingly repetitive.
To dig in, yes, I did enjoy the return of Frederica - if only because that is seemingly the only story line that is currently advancing. After a few weeks of episodes that felt either “special” or immaterial, I was eager for the return of Pose’s two benchmark storylines: AIDS and community acceptance/gentrification. And while I agree with you that the former storyline with Pray Tell feels like a repeat lap of the same stuff we’ve seen before, I found some good stuff in Frederica’s half.
To start, Patti Lupone is a hell of a singer. It’s entirely appropriate for the Broadway legend to tackle “I’m Still Here” from Follies (she’s a big Sondheim aficionado) and, naturally, she knocks it out of the park. The song has all of the appropriate grandeur necessary for the kind of “operators are standing by” charity tele-a-thon that this episode is evoking, even if I seriously doubt that Blanca would ever let a woman who publicly threatened her have a microphone.
Still, that’s a minor quibble and, of course, the performance reinforces Frederica’s duplicity as she uses the opportunity to quietly board up Blanca’s nail salon. I truly loved the moment at episode’s end when the limo passes by the growing protest and you can see the realization dawn on Frederica’s face that she has fucked with the wrong crowd by going up against Blanca.
Aside from that, though, I can’t say I enjoyed a ton in “Love Is The Message.” It’s not a bad episode of TV, per se, and it once again confirms that Billy Porter is the show’s emotional MVP, but there’s an undeniable feeling that narratively Pose is treading water. And while I love to see Angelica Ross on the show, I REALLY do not like the use of “Ghost Candy” as the AIDS devil on Pray Tell’s shoulder, who will presumably from this point on attempt to lure him towards the dark side. This is the usual Ryan Murphy bullshit through and through (even if the writers are actually series co-creator Brad Falchuk and Our Lady J, this has Murphy’s fingerprints all over it). Ghost characters always feel like a narrative crutch to me - an easy way to make a point - and despite Pose presenting a kind of glamorous heightened reality, I really don’t need this level of fantasy from the show.
We’ve been coming down hard on Pose the last few weeks, Terry. Did you find anything redeeming in the attempt to introduce class conflict in the community (in the form of the hospital roommate, Lester Carter) or abuse (about Pray Tell’s step father)? What did you think of Frederica’s big return? Do you foresee Pray Tell surviving the season? And, most importantly, did you squeal like me when Elektra sang/butchered Madonna’s “Sooner Or Later” from the Dick Tracy soundtrack (which did, indeed, debut in 1990)?
We have been really hard on Pose this season. For me, it’s mostly because the first season was so masterful and purposeful that I feel like we hit a wall. That said, I still am enjoying it and I’m so happy to have someone to dissect it with.
I mentioned previously that I’m not the biggest Madonna fan. I honestly don’t know much of her music, outside of singles that hit the radio in the late 90s/early 00s. Pop music hasn’t ever really been my thang…so I had to actually google the lyrics as she was singing to get that it was “Sooner or Later.” I also wasn’t sure until she was over if it was supposed to be as painful as it was or if it was just my ears hating on auto-tune. Full disclosure: I had to google all five songs. Does this make me a bad gay (again)?
I completely agree with you, Joe, about Ghost Candy and not needing this level of fantasy on the show. It feels divorced from the more grounded aspects of the show. I was willing to grant it some surreality because Pray Tell was tranq’d and dealing with blood poisoning, so having these intense fever dreams was okay. But this lingering spirit issue feels too divorced from reality, too on the nose and, let’s be honest, allows Ryan Murphy and co to have their cake and eat it, too. They were able to have an emotional and powerful death…and still have her on the show. It cheapens Candy’s death. Can you imagine if, on Game of Thrones, Ned Stark just floated around for a few seasons after shocking the (non-reader) world?
I hate to sound callous, but the abuse aspect of Pray Tell’s past felt like a soap opera turn. I did not like this addition, nor how it was handled. It added to the “Very Special Episode of…” quality of the episode that I just really can’t mess with. Though I did find the roommate’s cutting remark about not being a queen a fascinating addition that…didn’t really go anywhere. I honestly don’t know how they are going to handle Pray Tell’s decline this season. I just can’t imagine that they are going to get rid of the character so soon.
I feel like there’s a lot of great ideas here, but nothing really shepherding them towards a common goal. You mentioned you were happy with Frederica’s return and I completely agree, because it gives us a plot thread to follow. Everyone feels meandering this season. You mentioned treading water, which is apropos. And moments that should have shaken up the narrative don’t seem to be going anywhere. We have four episodes left this season and I couldn’t even tell you what this season was about, so far. I’m hopeful that Frederica manages to kickstart the rest of the season. I loved seeing everyone come together at the end (though that’s not the first time this season that gimmick has been used) and I cackled at Frederica’s reaction, for sure. And her rendition of “I’m Still Here” was masterful, of course, but it also just further highlighted how much auto-tune is used for some of the other actors.
So what about you, Joe? Do you think Frederica’s return will finally give the narrative some forward momentum? I was pretty wishy-washy on Pray Tell’s eventual fate, but what do you think? And do you have any predictions on the last four episodes?
If we’re being honest, I’m 50/50 on what to expect from Frederica next. On one hand, the escalation of the dispute between her and the queer/Ball community could be something really exciting and meaningful, particularly if we consider how both she and Blanca have labelled themselves strong, independent businesswomen. Will they both draw blood against each other when they could be working together as a united front to make New York a better place for Jews, trans and AIDS patients alike?
Admittedly a part of me hoped that Frederica would actually change her mind once she saw what Blanca had accomplished with the charity fundraiser, though a nagging voice in the back of my mind acknowledged that that was exactly what Falchuk and Our Lady J were going for.
So best case scenario the pair of them go to battle against each other in a way that comments on some of those bigger socioeconomic conditions affecting these communities in the early 90s. My fear, however, is that the execution gets mucked up a la third episode and it becomes some big, overwrought drama involving Frederica’s connections to the Mafia or something ridiculous. Because let’s face it, Pose ain’t The Sopranos, nor should it aspire to be!
I’m also with you regarding Pray Tell’s future. I don’t think that the show can afford to lose him, although we have seen major characters excised without so much as a mention (Evan Peters? Kate Mara? Bueller?). Still, as the sole member of the cast to score a coveted acting nominations when the Emmys nominations were announced earlier this week, I would be very surprised if Pose is eager to cut ties with Billy Porter anytime soon. I think Pray Tell might be the rare AIDS patient who survives long enough for a new medical advance to spare his life.
As for what’s the come on the remainder of the season, well I have to imagine the Angel/Papi relationship is still in play? I hope they won’t, but suspect they will, try to shoehorn in some drama about Mother of the Year award. Aside from that, however...who knows? Pose could go anywhere, which should be its greatest asset, but currently feels like its biggest challenge!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go download the Dick Tracy album, because even though Queen Madge isn’t my favourite, either, I deeply love that soundtrack!
Next week: “Blow” seems to continue the Blanca/Frederica war. We’ll hop back over to Joe’s site Queer.Horror.Movies for episode seven!