Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

An Elektra-centric episode of Pose shines a light on family

Image of Dominique Jackson in FX's Pose
Dominique Jackson stars in Pose
Photo: Eric Liebowitz/FX

In “The Trunk,” Pose finally deals with its literal skeleton in the closet. When the NYPD targets Elektra’s new phone sex business and arrests her to pressure her into cooperating, she remember that there’s a man decomposing in a trunk in her closet and enlists a reluctant but ultimately loyal Blanca to help move it in case the cops search her place. That naturally provides some suspense and also forces Blanca to have some tough conversations with her loved ones about how she helped cover up Elektra’s client’s death, but Pose imbues the trunk with new meaning and, in turn, spins an emotionally resonant and compelling story that gives Elektra a past, present, and future. It’s the fullest arc we’ve seen for Elektra, who is intensely vulnerable and powerful throughout.

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The episode begins with a flashback to 1978. Elektra is working the piers and still living with her transphobic and homophobic mother. The violence of this opener is difficult to watch. When Elektra finally announces to her abusive mother that she’s leaving to be on her own so that she can be her real self, her mother won’t even let her have that shred of agency. She quite literally throws Elektra out, belittles her, and refuses to let her take her trunk of fancy clothing that she worked hard to buy. Now, I didn’t initially make the connection between this trunk of clothing and the trunk with a body inside it, but once Elektra makes that call to Blanca to get her to remove the trunk from her place, it clicked into place. This trunk has lived a long life. So has Elektra.

When Blanca and Papi arrive at Elektra’s—where Ricky is living now—to retrieve the trunk, Blanca ends up having to come clean to the two of them. Air fresheners dangle from the ceiling of her closet—an eerie and indelible visual—but they can’t mask the smell completely. Papi and Ricky are nervous but understand Elektra’s position, and they both feel a familial obligation to help. So much of the episode hinges on the push and pull of family. Elektra’s mother is her blood family, but Elektra’s mother uses the ties that bind them to control, manipulate, and abuse. Even later on when Elektra returns to her mother’s home with her children (more on the early days of the House of Abundance in a bit) to steal back her trunk of clothes, her mother attempts to hold everything against Elektra. She says that she always prayed for a boy who could protect her and not abandon her like all the men have in her life. She brings up all the good times they used to have together and says they could have that again...if Elektra stops being herself. Elektra’s mother is too blinded by her own hate and baggage to realize that Elektra was all the protection she needed. Elektra is strong and confident and boldly herself, and the only real shame here is that her mother can’t see that and can’t ever know Elektra.

Elektra, on the other hand, is what a mother is supposed to be. Loving and supportive and always working hard to provide. She has forged her own family, and the ties are way stronger than the blood that binds her with her birth mother. The flashbacks throughout “The Trunk” give us a glimpse into the origins of the House of Abundance. This means a very welcome cameo from Angelica Ross as Candy, who along with Flashback Lulu is rocking some early 80s hair and makeup. The house starts with Candy, Lulu, and Blanca, who is the same Blanca we know and love now, just a little less sure of herself. Elektra is already struggling to make ends meet, but she ends up taking in more children because she feels a responsibility to do so. We meet a very young Angel, who along with Cubby and Lemar are living on the streets like so many queer and trans youth whose families reject them are forced to do. Elektra gives them a new family, one that won’t throw them out, one that will celebrate them for who they are. It means she’s even more strapped for cash though, so cue the trunk heist. House of Abundance getting the trunk back is even more thrilling than the heist to remove and dispose of the trunk in the present, because it represents so much for Elektra. She’s taking a part of herself back, and she’s getting in the last word with her mother. She doesn’t need her mother. She is a mother now, and she has a family that will quite literally do anything she tells them to. Here, we can see where Blanca’s blueprint with motherhood comes from. It comes from Elektra, who sure, gets swept up in herself sometimes, but who ultimately cares so much about her children. Abundance is such a fitting name for her legacy.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Elektra in all her dramatics. I even love Elektra when she’s functioning as more of a soap opera villain. The Elektra that we get 90% of the time doesn’t seem like a persona so much as an authentic performance of the self. She is exactly who she wants to be: glamorous, larger than life, a force to be reckoned with. In “The Trunk,” we get to see all the layers beneath that, all the things that inform this approach to life, which absolutely goes back to the stifled silence she was forced to live in with her mother as well as the ways she constantly had to be creative and ambitious in order to provide for her house when she was just becoming a mother herself.

The flashbacks really are the highlights of “The Trunk,” especially when we finally get a ballroom scene near the end of the episode. It was the first time House of Abundance walked together as a house, and they absolutely slayed with their interpretation of Once Upon A Time. Lulu is a long-tressed Rapunzel; Angel is a sword-wielding Little Red Riding Hood; Blanca is a Snow White; Candy is Sleeping Beauty, complete with an actual mattress sewn to her back; and Elektra is, of course, the Evil Queen, dazzling and dominating. It’s instantly one of the most iconic ballroom sequences of the whole series, because House of Abundance is simply slaying, missing zero beats and hitting every mark.

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This bright and exuberant sequence follows the truly dismal but cathartic dumping of the trunk in a river. It’s a relief for Elektra to finally be rid of that body. But it’s an even more transcendent moment to watch this triumphant ballroom sequence that harnesses so much of what makes Pose special. There are technically no dramatic stakes to their walk. We know they’re going to get tens across the board. And yet, it’s so satisfying when they do. Pose knows exactly when to deploy moments like this—ones that work on an emotional level without being overwrought. It’s simply moving to watch these characters succeed at what they’re doing. “The Trunk” certainly has some more dramatic moments, including genuinely emotional ones like when Elektra becomes overwhelmed by Christopher helping her out. But its best moments are these—the moments that let these characters glow from just being themselves.


Stray observations

  • In the present timeline, Lulu calls Elektra to leave a message saying that she’s alive but not to come looking for her. It sounds like Lulu has not been doing so hot since Angel left for sober living.
  • Seeing young Lemar and Cubby in the flashbacks sort of underscores how empty the Lemar and Cubby arc last episode felt. I just don’t know how we got from them being so bonded to Lemar not even bothering to show up on time to the hospital.
  • Christopher tells Blanca that she needs to let him in more, so she ends up telling him the truth about the body, too. He’s initially thrown off but comes around to seeing it from Elektra and Blanca’s side of things. He is genuinely open to hearing about and learning from their experiences, and it makes him a kind and loving partner. Rooting for these two!
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