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

Pose takes a much needed beach trip

Illustration for article titled Pose takes a much needed beach trip
Image: Pose (FX)

In “Life’s A Beach,” Elektra takes Blanca, Angel, and Lulu on a girls’ trip to the beach. As far as a super sprawling and stylized show like Pose goes, it’s as close as it gets to a bottle episode. And in this kind of contained story structure, the show can sink into the skin of its characters even more than usual. What unfolds is a gorgeous story about love, friendship, and feeling comfortable in one’s body.


Pose eschews the typical “girls’ trip” framework for less of a “girls gone wild” narrative and more of a “girls live their best lives” one. Normally a wild weekend away would lead to mishaps and conflict, a trip gone awry, as in movies that fall in this genre like Rough Night and Girls Trip. Pose skips that in favor of a genuinely uplifting episode. “Life’s A Beach” stays with Elektra, Blanca, Angel, and Lulu for pretty much the entire episode, making it a girls’ trip that specifically centers trans women of color. It celebrates these women, but it also explores some of their insecurities. They’re concerned about not passing; they’re concerned about how others might see them. These insecurities are valid, but Pose also lets the characters overcome them instead of just simply defining them by their fears. Initially, Blanca is worried about wearing a bathing suit because she doesn’t feel like she passes as well as the other women. Angel offers duct tape. These are the kind of moments that only Pose is doing on television: authentic, nuanced, and layered character work that centers trans identity.

I’ve written about this before, but there are so many times when I feel like something bad is coming when I’m watching Pose just because I’m so used to stories about queer and trans characters of color taking dark turns. But that’s not what happens in “Life’s A Beach.” In fact, the only time something goes a little wrong, a transphobic character gets put in their fucking place. Elektra reads the white woman in the restaurant for filth in the most glorious way. These characters who we love get to have their night on the town and even when other people try to get in their way, they prosper. It’s exactly what Blanca needs in the wake of losing her salon, and it’s a powerful example of how Pose doesn’t beat its characters down. This show is interested in queer and trans joy like no other show, and it feels nothing short of revolutionary. Janet Mock and Our Lady J have written an episode that breathes with depth and humanity. It’s a fun getaway episode, but it’s also so much more than that, a beautiful display of sisterhood.

The other time that the episode could potentially skew into dark territory, it thwarts expectations. Blanca meets a hot lifeguard on the beach, and she has a full-on Baywatch moment with him. After he rescues her, they have a lovely date along the ocean’s edge in the moonlight. Pose doesn’t skip over the potential danger this poses. Elektra and the other girls warn her that this could lead to something horrible, that cis men can’t be trusted in the dark. Their concern is valid, but so is Blanca’s conviction to go with her gut. She hasn’t had this kind of love in a long time, and she doesn’t want to hold back. It’s a crucial moment for the character.

Last episode leaves Blanca with an empty nest, and “Life’s A Beach” allows her to step into a totally different role for herself in a way that feels true to the character and also meaningful for her arc. We’ve never really seen Blanca quite like this, giggling and crushing on a guy who returns the sentiment. Adrian is a compelling new character right off the bat; he feels real, and it’s easy to get swept up in the feelings Blanca immediately has for him. Just the way director Gwyneth Horder-Payton shoots the scene drips with romance and beauty. Blanca says she feels like the protagonist in a sweeping romantic-drama, and that’s exactly what Pose lets her be. She’s evolving from her roles as just a mother, and it’s rewarding to see her finally receiving some of the affection she puts out into the world.

The other girls’ excitement about Blanca’s new love interest is beautiful, too. This really is an episode about family but specifically about trans sisterhood. Elektra puts aside her drama with the other girls and uses the power that she has thanks to her new job as a dominatrix to treat them. Her client who owns the beach house is an exact representation of the opposite of these women. He is so privileged that he can choose to derive pleasure in loneliness and literally pays for it. These women, instead, have to rely on each other. The world tries to make them feel like outsiders, as represented by the woman in the restaurant and even in the fear the other women have on Blanca’s behalf when she goes off with a man at night. But they have done everything in their power to make sure that they are not alone, that they are there for each other. This beach trip is a stark example of how they build each other up and protect one another. It’s a fun bottle episode, but it’s also a tight examination of what community and family means.


Stray observations

  • Angel’s bathing suit is so good.
  • Angel’s story about why she’s scared of the ocean is such a perfect example of strong but understated character development.
  • I do miss Billy Porter every time we do an episode without him.
  • Gwyneth Horder-Payton’s direction is strong throughout.
  • Elektra’s Candy vision at the end feels a little shoehorned in, but it is powerful to see another woman in this car full of family, singing along carefree.