FX’s critically acclaimed drama Pose returned tonight with more mentions of “Vogue” than the Met Gala and a time jump to 1990.
EW talked to series co-creator Steven Canals about all the new developments and what’s in store for the rest of season 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you all decide to do this time jump to 1990?
STEVEN CANALS: Rebooting a season in that way, or a show in that way, is always really fresh and exciting because it lets you check back in with the character. They’re a little older, a little wiser. We didn’t want to feel beholden to continuing the narrative of the first season. Just talk about Angel [Indya Moore], for example: At the end of the first season, we leave her as a woman with agency. She’s told Stan, “You can go kick rocks. I don’t need you.”
And thinking about what the narrative would be moving forward, it’s like, does he pop back in her life? Because more often than not, that’s what you’re experiencing in real life. Is she at some point going through the heart pains and thinking, “Sh—, maybe I should go back?” And I just think we were thinking, I don’t know how interesting it’s going to be for us to do a direct continuation of everything that just happened to these characters from the first season, as opposed to jumping ahead and just giving them brand-new narrative. That was part of it.
I think the other thing is that at its core, Pose has always been grounded in what was happening culturally, and also sociopolitically, in New York City. We just thought we might as well just do 1990 because there were so many interesting things happening in New York. Obviously we wanted to talk about access to medical care for HIV for the LGBT community who were battling and living with HIV/AIDS. We saw the first black mayor elected, David Dinkins. Then Madonna’s “Vogue” was released, and it just felt like there was so much meat on the bone narratively. It just made sense to us to put the story there.
AIDS and HIV were obviously a huge part of season 1, but while season 1 felt more about the spread of the disease, this feels more about fighting back and things like ACT UP.
That’s definitely part of it. Yeah. I think that this season the stakes are higher. If we’re looking at the reality of the time, the LGBT community was being eviscerated. And if you were poor or working-class, if you were black or brown, you did not have access to resources. I think because the stakes are so much higher, our characters have no choice but to fight and that’s why you see Pray Tell [Billy Porter] being such an active and vocal advocate for the community, along with nurse Judy [Sandra Bernhard].
It’s just we don’t have the time to sit back and wait. And so there’s a real sense of urgency this season, really for all of the characters. You see that in Blanca’s [Mj Rodriguez] narrative as well. Because she obviously discovered that she now has AIDS, and for her the ticking clock is twofold: It’s now that I accomplished that first goal of creating a family, I know I’m leaving a legacy behind in ballroom. How do I encourage these kids to go out into the world and continue to live their best life and to continue to be productive and successful?
What can you say about Pray Tell’s arc? He seems much more driven to activism.
Sure. I think Pray Tell is someone who has been thrust into the role of godfather and caretaker. He is the voice for the community. He’s constantly up on that stage narrating everything that happened. So, I think that this season what you see is Pray Tell finally recognizing that about himself, but also not taking that responsibility lightly. I think that he, in many ways, steps into himself this season. I think that there’s obviously power in knowing that you have a voice and knowing how to use it.
This season we spend time with Pray Tell just figuring out, how do I reserve some of that energy for myself? Similar to Blanca, and specifically in this space of having a love life. Pray Tell obviously lost Costas [Johnny Sibilly] last season. We find out that Keenan [Blake Morris] has also passed away. When we meet Pray Tell right at the top of the premiere, here is this man who’s broken, just lost another lover. There’s obviously that fear that this monster is slowly making its way to you. I think part of Pray Tell’s arc this season as well is how do I give up myself in a relationship and not carry the weight and the fear into it?
Speaking of Blanca, she enters into a professional relationship with a very wealthy real-estate mogul named Frederica Norman [Patti LuPone] in the next episode. Can you tease that a bit?
They have a relationship that starts off friendly and very quickly shifts. I think that Frederica Norman is someone who is used to being in control, used to having her way. She isn’t familiar with dealing with individuals who are equally vocal and willing to challenge her. So, their relationship becomes pretty contentious very quickly, but in all the best ways.
Equally contentious is Elektra’s [Dominique Jackson] relationship with pretty much everyone. She is clearly keeping a secret about her income. What can you say about that?
Elektra is a woman on the go. She’s always, as Cardi B would say, “making money moves.” You know? I think for Elektra, I think she started plotting her exit strategy the minute that she moved in. That’s how I see her. But without specifically saying what she’s doing and ruining that for the audience, I think Elektra found a way. She found not a way, excuse me — Elektra found a profession. Can we call it a profession?
I would call it a trade.
It’s a trade. Oh, that’s good. Okay. So, she’s found a trade that’s allowed her to tap into all of her best qualities and utilize her assets.
Angel attempts modeling but is exploited by the first photographer she works with. What will this season hold for her?
Well, through Angel we really will be exploring all aspects of becoming a model. So, we will absolutely see the challenges, but also the victories to that career choice.
Do you imagine you will ever address Stan [Evan Peters], Patty [Kate Mara], and Matt [James Van Der Beek] again?
That’s in the past. There will definitely be moments where, specifically through Angel, where she’ll be reflecting. The reality that she had a relationship with Stan was significant. I think like any human being those relationships that leave indelible marks, and sometimes scars. Yeah, there are moments throughout the season where she’ll address that relationship.
Ricky [Dyllón Burnside] is on tour in this episode, so Damon [Ryan Jamaal Swain] is alone. What’s happening with their relationship?
Well, I think with Ricky and Damon, this season we’re exploring what happens once you move past the honeymoon period. Specifically, moving past the honeymoon period when you’re in your early 20s. Because it’s one thing if you are an adult and you’ve sort of been around the block a few times and you’re ready to settle down. But here you have these two young men who still have a lot to accomplish and occasionally may have a wandering eye. So, what happens when some of the spark and the excitement has gone but you still feel committed to this person?
How would you tease the rest of the season for viewers?
This season feels epic. And in particular in the latter half of the season, there are a couple of moments that are really big. I think that the audience is going to be like, “Whoa.” I think in tandem with us making bold choices narratively, like I said earlier, the stakes, the risk feels bigger this season. The back half of the season, I think we start to see some of our characters finally find their bliss. And then for others, we start to see life unravel in really significant ways.