The category is: the series finale of Pose.
Oh my darling children, the FX drama really werked in its two hour and five minute swan song.
Pose will be remembered as one of television’s most groundbreaking series. It featured the largest ensemble cast of trans actors. But what truly made it revolutionary was how it gave storylines previously confined to white heterosexuals to diverse characters instead. In the background was the vamping and the voguing at the balls, but Pose was also a sophisticated soap opera with plot twist, back stabbing, grand romances, and heartache. The series put trans characters front and center and brought audience into the fabulous ballroom culture of the 1980s and 1990s in New York City. There are other trans characters on television (notably on Saved by the Bell and 911: Lonestar), but the end of Pose leaves a huge void on the television landscape.
The final season has been a beautifully poignant one. After being diagnosed with AIDS-related lymphoma, Pray Tell (the incomparable Billy Porter) returned home to visit his mother (Anna Maria Horsford) and make peace with his past. Viewers met a young Electra (Dominique Jackson), thrown out by her mother, who transforms herself into a mother for all the young, lost children who come to New York City. There were interventions. And rehab. Angelica Ross’ Candy returned in a touching flashback. Each moment saw the beloved characters growing up, learning from their mistakes, and forging a new path forward.
The penultimate episode then featured the wedding of Angel (Indya Moore) and Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel) in all its glory. The guest were donned in extremely expensive wedding gowns (courtesy of the mob). The groom serenaded the bride to Boys 2 Men’s “I Swear.” The happy couple then headed off to their Disney Land with Papi’s son Beto (Jace Moses). It was a joyful, celebratory hour.
So it’s no surprise that the series finale, aptly titled “Series Finale,” took a more grave tone and schooled its viewers. Pose has never shied away from the serious topics and was always prone to having its characters make grandiose speeches, and in that way, the series finale did skew more towards lecturing its viewers. But it’s easy to forgive Pose for that. They still had a lot left to say and were out of time.
Pray Tell and Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) were the MVPs of the final two hours. Blanca has always been the heart of Pose, and Rodriguez—with her soulful eyes and plaintive expressions—has always been the one to ground the series and draw viewers in. Here’s hoping the Emmys finally recognize Rodriguez’s incredible performance.
After resigning himself to the fact that he is dying, Pray Tell is admitted into an AIDS trial where a new drug cocktail is showing great success. Blanca, her boyfriend Christopher (Jeremy Pope), and nurse Judy (Sandra Bernhard) lobby for the trial—which currently has only two people of color out of 80—to let in Pray Tell and Blanca. “The study is flawed if it’s only including white people,” Christopher demands. The cocktail works and we are lulled into thinking that Pray Tell will survive, and that he won’t need the square he’s been making for the AIDS Memorial Quilt. They all become more active in ACT UP protesting demanding that all AIDS and HIV patients receive proper access, treatment, and care. “They are asking us to do nothing and live while we watch them die,” Pray laments.
But after Pray Tell and Blanca make a triumphant return to the ballroom to Diana Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Ricky (Dyllón Burnside) finds him dead in his apartment the next morning. Pray had been giving his medication cocktail to Ricky so Ricky could get better. (How Ricky will continue to be able to take the drugs is left open-ended.)
In one of the most heart-wrenching scenes, Blanca leaves some of Pray’s ashes on the steps of City Hall. Silence equals death and Blanca, Angel, Papi, Ricky, Electra, and Lulu (Hailie Sahar) know they must fight to be heard. Although the final season is set more than 20 years ago, so much of what these characters were struggling with still exists today. It is not hard to connect the through line for how AIDS patients were treated and how people of color have been treated during the COVID pandemic.
But not everything was super serious. You had to love Blanca, Electra, Angel, and Lulu meeting up for lunch just like on Sex and the City before taking the show down several notches. “They need to call it ‘Being White in the City’,” Blanca laments while Lulu notes there’s not one character of color, “not even a sidekick.” The scene of these four ladies lunching was glorious, triumphant moment—taking an iconic television moment and giving it to the ladies of Pose.
In its final season, Pose leapt ahead a few years to take its characters out of the ballroom and into the next chapters of their lives. A quick summary of where everyone ended up at the end:
Blanca: She’s graduated from nursing school with a new job at St. Vincent Hospital. She and Christopher celebrated their four year anniversary. Electra returns to the ballroom to name her a Legendary mother. “Who would have thought you would have found a way to monetize your annoying endless kindness for your fellow man,” Electra deadpans.
Ricky: He’s taken over the House of Evangelista. He’s now the father to all the new children who come to New York City and the House of Evangelista lives on!
Lulu: With her accounting degree complete and her drug habit kicked, Lulu has been promoted to the tax department.
Angel: She wakes up early every morning to make sure Beto gets breakfast (yes it’s just cereal and milk but she puts a napkin out and everything). And she’s back to modeling. She’ll be the face of a new hairspray. She’ll get you a bottle.
Electra: Always with an eye to future and money making, Electra is moving her phone sex business (and money laundering for the mob) into the future—webcams! She’s also a “transsexual Robin Hood” using her vast fortune to fund AIDS research and help pay for gender reassignment surgery. (My only critique of the series finale is that it didn’t feature enough Electra.)
I love when series end in a way that allows us to imagine our beloved characters all continuing on with their lives. And Pose gave almost everyone a happy ending (even Damon in absentia), while bringing Blanca full circle—she’s now the “grandmother” helping the next generation of mothers. “Ballroom is home. Ballroom is family. Ballroom is love,” Electra says and she is right. The ballroom was a place for these characters to, as Blanca points out, survive and thrive.
Pose knew that family is the one you make. And Pose was a wonderful family to spend three seasons with. Let its legacy be that we don’t have to wait years for another show like Pose to walk the runway.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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