The question of what does a show or a film that breaks the representation norms of marginalized groups owe to its viewers is a tricky one. Of course, honesty is key to ground the story and keep the audience invested. Without honesty, any story has significantly lower chances of humanizing the group it seeks to represent. But as the world remains an unkind place of systemic violence and oppression, the viewers who are handed the short end of the stick by the system also tune in to escape the mundane, to watch someone who looks like them succeed and thrive.
FX’s Pose has understood its assignment of storytelling and representation more often than not. By humanizing its characters and giving them dreams, ambitions, and flaws, the show avoided falling into the trap of sidelining the heart of the story for the sake of tragedy. Although, it is still a very educating series when it comes to grasping just how dark and desperate the AIDS epidemic was. That depiction helped me understand some key things about the impact of institutionalized homophobia and transphobia that my Queer Theory graduate seminar definitely did not.
Despite the constant presence of the deadly disease, Pose does not look at its characters through the prism of pity and heteronormativity. Throughout its brief run, it has never sent its audience a covert cautionary message of how bad it could feel to be different. Instead, Blanca, Pray Tell, Elektra, and others are allowed to be fully themselves and we could not imagine them any other way.
For its final season, Pose had not an easy task of tying up the plot in a matter of seven episodes. This is where the above mentioned question of the show’s duty before its viewers comes in. It is Pray Tell’s ultimate passing that serves as the finishing stroke of the show and it is a storyline that bridges the reality and escapism most successfully. In this season, Pray Tell goes on the journey to sobriety and finding solace from his AIDS status in his found family and community. His untimely death in the last episode is tragic yet unavoidable, while still finding a way to bring out Pray’s dedication to his loved ones and to the ballroom one last time.
For the rest of the show, the creators of Pose opted out for a more fan service-based approach. All conflicts and loose ends get resolved rather easily as the season progresses. Elektra’s trunk safely disappears into the river, while her newfound mafia-related wealth appears to be safe and permanent. Angel and Papi have no difficulty sweet-talking the lady giving out marriage licenses so that she overlooks Angel’s gender in her passport. Blanca is making her way through nursing school and her new relationship.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a happy ending. I, for one, was moved to tears more than once when watching the last few episodes of the show. Seeing beloved characters happy in a world that has been shown to be hostile and unfair is one of the prime forms of entertainment we sign up for. I just cannot help but wish that Pose had more time to lead us to those endings. Perhaps one more season could have helped to make the ending more intricate and satisfying. Nonetheless, the landmark of the show is undeniable and I hope to see its stars shine on their own terms in many more projects in the future.
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