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Pose - Never Knew Love Like This Before - Review

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When you make a decision to watch a television series, there comes a point in which one makes peace with the fact that they may not like everything that unfolds before their eyes. After all, the project's literally in the hands of others so there's bound to be disappointment at some point. That being said, it still doesn't take away from the frustration/hurt someone endures after investing the time and the care into a story they're passionate about. This pretty much sums up my thoughts on this week's episode of Pose, which to me was the worst of the series thus far. Before I begin, let's start with an overview.

Never Knew Love Like This Before opens with a ball in effect. Members of the community are walking avant-garde fashion or realness with a twist until Candy makes an entrance embodying Madonna's look from the Blonde Ambition tour. Pray Tell immediately scolds Candy once again for partaking in an category that doesn't reflect her skillset. This leads to an argument among the two as the latter detests the former for his refusal to give her a chance. The judges present Candy with low scores, but it doesn't deter her from making her voice heard. "I'm a star, I know who I am, I am somebody." Honestly, the digs towards Candy were getting tired. At a certain point, something has to give as the condescending remarks speak to something deeper beyond comic relief. The blatant disregard for Candy's efforts evoked a level of misogynoir within the dialogue that was rather unsettling. Regardless of what she does, the character gets treated as a spectacle for others to ridicule. Truthfully, it's uncomfortable watching a cis-gender gay man demean a trans woman's aspirations as it reinforces the transphobic power dynamic that many gay men ensue towards these women.

Later, Blanca and Pray Tell visit the hospital for what appeared to be a meeting to organize another AIDS cabaret, but much to his surprise it was an intervention. Judy informs him that his T-cells are declining and advises him to use AZT but he refuses. This bridges the next scene which finds Pray Tell attending a meeting with the curators of the ball. Now this was interesting to me because viewers had the chance to see mature black gay men engage in meaningful dialogue together (something I hadn't seen since Noah's Arc). The men discuss the growing costs of the balls, its consumption within mainstream society, and its future moving forward. Eager to make her presence known within the conversation, Candy inserts herself to the fold (in the most hilarious way possible) by pleading her case for a potential lipsync category. As expected, Pray Tell rejects Candy's suggestions to which she confronts him once more on why he doesn't see it for her.

Shortly after, the episode stumbles into a rather bleak direction as Lulu informs Blanca that Candy's missing. Viewers learn that Candy had been engaging in sex work to sustain the House of Ferocity, but hadn't returned home from the job as anticipated. Fearing the worst, Lulu asks Blanca to accompany her in finding Candy at the motel she was staying in to no luck. As the night progressed, Candy's fate gets revealed as we learn that she was violently murdered by a client. From the promos alone, I anticipated Candy's demise but to watch the tragedy unfold was so offputting. It just didn't align with the initial tone of the episode at all. The plot placed Pray Tell at the centre of the story despite the fact that darkness was looming for another character. There was no buildup leading up to Candy's death and to make it worse, it occurred in such an abrupt fashion. We went from her and Pray squaring off comedically to the news that she was dead without a moment to truly brace ourselves. 

The remainder of the episode was spent inside the funeral home after Blanca and Judy claimed Candy's body from the morgue. In a rather bizarre sequence, viewers witness Candy's ghost making peace with the rest of the characters. Honestly, I hate it when TV series resort to these stunts. Rather than utlize the characters while they're still alive, the writers insist on giving them spontaneous moments that weren't reflective of their actual journey on the show (Edie in Desperate Housewives, Wes in HTGAWM, Poussey in OITNB). It's counterproductive considering the character has already passed. More than anything, it speaks to the laziness on the writers end for not incorporating these ideas earlier.

Candy warns Angel of the dangers surrounding sex work, which came off as a colorist forewarning. The fact that the darkskin character had to die so the lightskin character could persist under greater circumstances was very offensive, especially since viewers hadn't gotten any indication in the past that Candy pursued this line of work. What makes Angel more deserving of life than Candy? The connotation associated with that scene was just poor. Later, we see Candy forgiving Pray Tell for his antagonistic attitude towards her. Viewers learn that she was a mirror towards his internalized homophobia that he projected towards her as a means of protecting himself. That was ridiculous to me because his explanation was presented more as an excuse than an accountable moment for his blatant misogynoir. Everyone on the show managed to let it slide that Pray Tell purposely singled Candy out in the balls, but now that she has passed a shift is expected to take place exempting him from his cruel ways?

In the most wildly unnecessary moment, Lulu finally works up the nerve to say goodbye to Candy. As the character reflects upon the loss, Lulu enters a fit of rage once she realizes that her belongings were assigned to the body prompting her to be verbally aggressive with the corpse. The scene like most of the episode just didn't align with the overall tone of the story. Not to mention, it was completely insensitive given the fact that Lulu was the one character that Candy depended on. The writers couldn't even tastefully respect the dynamic that they had. To make matters worse, in conversation with Candy's ghost we learn that the two actually despised one another with Lulu citing the hostility to being "lightskin and thick". That had to be one of the most ignorant lines I've heard on television this year. It reinforces the colorist vision that the show is adamant on pushing by presenting the fair skin characters as desirable/likable and the ones of darker complexion as hostile/antagonistic. What upsets me the most is the fact that it erases Candy and Lulu's history together. Not once had we gotten an indication that there was tension related to skin tone between the two (even though that could've been a great storyline to develop both characters). Between their S2 teaser and their plots together from S1, it was clear that Lulu and Candy were bonded by their sisterhood so it was incredibly disappointing to see this retcon unfold.

The one high that came out of the episode was Candy's biological parents attending the service. Having been estranged for years, Candy reconnects with both and instills forgiveness over the hurt she endured. It was a moving scene that showcased Angelica's talent, but it also depicted the unfortunate truth surrounding many queer lives - that they're typically seen only when they're gone. Before the service closes, Pray Tell announces that a lipsync category would be implemented at the balls in Candy's memory. This leads to the character's swan song as she lipsyncs "Never Knew Love Like This Before" in a fantasy sequence where Candy finally gets her "10's" at the ball.

By that point in the episode, I was highly irritated. The fact that Candy's character was only celebrated in death and within a dream was just cruel. It didn't make any sense to me why the writers couldn't exude this type of energy while her character was still alive. It wasn't fair seeing other characters on the show garner respect for their performances, while Candy was constantly made into a mockery for all of her efforts on the runway. The storyline with her parents could've also been highlighted while the character was still alive to further develop her character as an actualized presence. I was also bothered by the fact that the episode devoted so much time towards Pray Tell's perceptions of the matter rather than Candy and the people within her life. Candy didn't have ONE single encounter with Elektra when she was originally her mother. She would've been a more appropriate figure to deliver the eulogy, but they reduced her to the background which was a complete slap in the face (especially after she JUST assisted Elektra in the previous episode).

As a whole, the episode felt choppy and out of sort. I adore Pose for all that it has done. Serving as a vehicle to showcase talent among black/brown trans women, while also acting as a platform to depict the realities surrounding queer individuals. That being said, there's a difference between a gimmick and an informative storyline. The structure of this episode made it very clear that it was the former by presenting a timely issue in the form of shock value. It didn't seem as if the writers put much thought into the execution of the storyline, which is unfortunate as it takes away from the greatness that the show has to offer. I'm hesitant with regards to the progression of Pose at this point. Given the vastly negative connotations that now accompany the series, I hope the writers take it upon themselves to unpack them so the show can thrive.

Overall Grade: F

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