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

Pose dances through an explosive family fight

Illustration for article titled Pose dances through an explosive family fight
Image: Pose (FX)

“Families fight,” Blanca tells Angel in “Revelations.” It’s the most succinct summary of the episode, which deftly examines the ways secrets, lies, and betrayals destabilize families. Pose so often deals with family. Sometimes that means dealing with the families these characters didn’t choose, the ones they were born into, the ones who rejected them, hurt them, couldn’t truly see them. But more often on the show, that means looking at the way ball culture creates queer family structures and how these characters have built communities of their own to protect and nurture each other. Just like there have been glimmers of catharsis between the characters and their birth families amid the turmoil, Pose also complicates the idea of what a chosen family is. No family is perfect, and that includes chosen families. The show spends a lot of time unearthing all the power and beauty of the house and ballroom structures, but “Revelations” unearths the sticky mess of it, too. Families fight. And in “Revelations,” it gets ugly.


In the wake of learning that Ricky did indeed cheat on him and has tested positive for HIV, Damon loses it. The celebration of his graduation from dance school is undercut by a vicious speech he gives. High on cocaine and drinking a lot, Angel pushes him to the brink. Siblings can say some nasty stuff to each other, and what starts out as bickering escalates quickly and sets the course for the rest of the explosive episode.

“Revelations” marks the directorial debut for Pose co-creator, writer, and co-executive producer Steven Canals and seriously begs the question: What took him so long to direct? In addition to the performances (give MJ Rodriguez all the awards, please), the direction throughout is visceral and immersive. That’s true for the romance, including a steamy love scene between Pray Tell and Ricky and also a tender moment between Angel and Lil Papi. A lowering sun peeking between their kissing mouths is one of two perfectly framed shots in the episode. And the second is a sweeping shot around the circumference of Blanca’s home in the final scene, ending on her alone,

In addition to the romance, Canals nails the heightened emotions of the episode. There are a ton of moving pieces in the Damon speech scene—on emotional, technical, and story levels. Canals is working with a lot of characters at once, and the cast is all having to give huge performances, often shouting over one another. It’s a long scene, too, one with several emotional beats, all of which touch on events from throughout the season and bring lots of conflicts together for one big clash. From a story perspective, it’s not all black and white either. Damon is rightfully hurt by Ricky’s betrayal, but he unfairly discloses Ricky’s HIV status during the fight. Blanca is quick to believe Angel over Damon, and it isn’t until later in the episode when Blanca laments that losing Angel means losing her only daughter it becomes clear why she does so. Also, “even mothers make mistakes,” as Blanca says herself. You can always rely on Blanca for a little dose of wise words. Canals pulls brilliant performances out of everyone. Rodriguez, Billy Porter, and Indya Moore delivering is always a given, but Ryan Jamaal Swain (outside of dance numbers) and Dyllon Burnside don’t always make as much of an impression. This time, they do.

One of the more layered conflicts at the heart of the episode concerns Ricky and Pray Tell’s new relationship. When first introduced last episode, I found Ricky’s flirtation with Pray Tell to be a little out of nowhere. But thinking about it more and seeing how their dynamic plays out in “Revelations” further contextualizes it. There is, of course, the Daddy Issues explanation, which other characters in the episode point to. But it’s not just that. Ricky seems to be the kind of person incapable of emotional intimacy unless it also comes with sex. He’s framed as a player by those he hurts, but Ricky has so much heart and so much softness under all that swaggering charm. Does Ricky really have any friends? Or does he just have people he sleeps with? It’s hard for him to be emotionally vulnerable, so he sticks to what he feels more comfortable with: sex. It’s no coincidence that he first starts being attracted to Pray Tell when Pray starts being there for him emotionally.

“Revelations” takes the time and care to touch on all sides of the Ricky and Pray Tell mess, both acknowledging the problems that arise from it without totally judging Pray and his choices. The contrast between the scene of Pray gabbing with his fellow masters of ceremony—he’s so smitten and happy!—and the fight scene is stark. Reality comes crashing in. Blanca feels betrayed, and even Elektra, who isn’t exactly one for following rules, steps up to say something about the messed up power dynamics of the pairing. Pray Tell might not be a house father for Ricky, but he’s such a parental figure in the ball scene in general. All the boys look up to him.


The conversation continues well into the episode, culminating in a conversation between just Pray and Blanca. Pray asserts that Ricky came onto him, but it isn’t that simple, and Pose recognizes that. Ricky is in an especially vulnerable position right now because of his HIV status, and while Pray didn’t explicitly take advantage of him, he is an elder in the community and that comes with certain expectations and codes of conduct. At the same time, he deserves to feel desired. Pose sharply touches on the nuances of the issue (Canals also wrote the episode and infuses so much humanity and especially human shortcomings in the script), giving emotional weight and legitimacy to every player.

Pray and Blanca’s conversation also digs up some of the differences between their experiences as HIV-positive people. Here, Pose once again makes clear that there is no monolithic HIV narrative, that the epidemic affected and affects so many individuals in so many different ways. Blanca points out to Pray that it’s easier for him to date, which is a bit of an oversimplification, but she says it in the heat of the moment, and she’s right about the stigma being different toward women who are HIV-positive.


These interpersonal dynamics play out in the ball scene this episode, too. Damon dances out his emotions, yielding a fantastic performance that has a much different edge to it than his dancing usually does. Damon usually dances with a perpetual smile on his face and is a moving sunbeam. Here, he’s electric lightning. His vogueing is razor-sharp; he came to win, but he also came to assert himself. Pray, meanwhile, has to put his (literal) master of ceremony hat on, which means setting the drama aside to lead the ball, although little snippets of shade do come through.

“Revelations” marries so many parts of Pose’s narrative web to make for one of the tightest but also most lived-in episodes of the season. Everything from the love scenes to the ball to the fiery family fights brims with passion and cogent stakes rooted in character. Families fight, and Pose delves into inter-family conflict as adeptly as it celebrates community—often tackling both at once, which an impressive dance in and of itself.


Stray observations

  • Damon is off to Europe to go on tour with Malcolm McLaren! So Blanca really has an empty nest, and I’m curious to see the effects that has on the character since being a mother has become such a huge part of her identity.
  • “Life is pain.” An excellent lesson from Elektra.
  • There’s so much embodied in the simple line from Pray “you’re still here” the morning after he drunkenly berates Ricky. He sounds relieved, grateful, a little bit incredulous, happy.
  • As tumultuous as it is, there’s some solid humor in this episode, too (again a testament to Canals’ writing and direction), like Elektra’s reaction to Damon first revealing that Pray and Damon are sleeping together, which made me laugh out loud even amid the drama.