Pose season 3 review: Farewell to a werk of art
Pose is a show about possibility. The acclaimed FX drama — about a diverse group of LGBTQ outcasts who find power, acceptance, and family in the ballroom culture of '80s and '90s New York City — is rooted in the reality of the era. Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), Pray Tell (Emmy winner Billy Porter), and their community face prejudice, violence, and the devastating cruelty of the early AIDS crisis. But amidst the heartache, Pose (returning May 2) has always put forth the power of what if: What if these trans women of color lived in a world where marriage, career, independence — all the American tenets of success — were within their reach? Though there is tragedy in Pose's third and final season, this narrative of possibility flourishes with glorious and dazzling humanity.
Season 3 jumps ahead to 1994. As the AIDS crisis continues to decimate the queer community, the future looms large for our protagonists: Pray Tell, crushed by the emotional toll of watching so many of his friends die, drinks away his fear of succumbing to a similar fate. Blanca, also HIV-positive but back to full health, considers nursing school, encouraged by her new doctor boyfriend, Christopher (Hollywood's Jeremy Pope). After her dominatrix gig is shut down by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's campaign against "quality of life" crimes in NYC, Elektra (Dominique Jackson) begins building a phone sex empire. Angel (Indya Moore) and Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel) set a date for their wedding, just as a soapy secret from Papi's past emerges to screw things up.
The final seven episodes also spend a decent amount of time looking to the past. Remember that secret stuffed into Elektra's steamer trunk? It comes to the fore once again in episode 3, a robust outing that explores the origins of House Abundance as well as Elektra's heart-wrenching estrangement from her mother (the increasingly indispensable Noma Dumezweni). Jackson's hilarious style of scenery-chewing is an acquired taste, but she's also grown tremendously as a dramatic actress — and she still gets all the best lines. ("Gray is not a skin tone. You have hit epidermal rock bottom!") Porter's showcase episode finds Pray traveling home to make things right with his biological family, including a repentant aunt played by none other than Jackée Harry. (Give her a round of snaps, y'all!)
Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals created Pose in 2018, and the show was hailed for its groundbreaking cast, said to be the largest ensemble of transgender actors ever put together for a scripted series. The show, by its mere existence, was a political statement — but Pose's true triumph is how artfully it developed a traditional family drama around the most unconventional of characters. Every TV series loves a wedding, and Pose is no exception. If you thought Murphy was going to let this show end without treating the leading ladies to a Sex and the City-style wedding dress montage set to Deee-lite's "Groove Is in the Heart," you would be mistaken. It's powerful representation draped in frivolous fun. "Your bride is unlike any other," Elektra tells Papi. "She will be the first. The first from a community that has been excluded from 'happily ever after.'"
There is plenty of pain amidst the joy and glamour: Addiction, injustice, death. While the specter of AIDS hangs over the whole season, Pose leaves a significant milestone in the history of the virus until the 90-minute finale. It's a lot of ground to cover, and some of the dialogue trends toward overwrought speechifying ("They give us life, and then charge us the price of survivor's guilt!"). But this was a time when ACT UP literally had to throw the ashes of their loved ones on the White House lawn to get the government to pay more attention to the AIDS crisis, so perhaps a little melodrama is called for. As he loses his peers to AIDS, Pray Tell begins to wonder what mark he will leave on the world — just as Pose's creators no doubt had the show's legacy in mind as it chose to honor queer activists in its final episode.
"Happy endings are for movies," says Blanca in one of her many (still endearing) inspirational speeches. "But I do believe in happy moments." It's a philosophy that has worked beautifully for Pose, a series that celebrated the beauty of found family without ever downplaying the ugliness and hate faced by the LGBTQ community. The series struts into the sunset on a note of hope and renewal, having imagined the happy ending that so many queer men and women were — and still are — denied.
Final season grade: B+
Series grade: A-