theI’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on TV! Pride Month kicked off with a bang Sunday night with the premiere of Ryan Murphy’s “Pose,” a drama series about the ball scene of opulent, tumultuous 1980s NYC. The series, which has already made TV history, exceeded expectations on Sunday night’s episode, with enough ballgowns, evil stepmothers, princes and princesses to rival Disney fairytales. I’m calling it now, folx: “Pose” will dominate during the coming awards season. Here’s a recap of show’s first episode, just in case you missed it.
“Pose” opens in the living room of the House of Abundance, where Mother Elektra, the spitting image of Grace Jones, holds court. It’s clear that Elektra is the evil stepmother of this story, as she scolds Blanca while stealing her outfit idea for that week’s ball. (The image is helped along by Blanca’s “evil stepsisters,” who laugh and shoo Blanca back to the stove to finish cooking dinner.) Tensions climb as the House of Abundance breaks into a local museum, stealing finery of ages past. The group runs from approaching police sirens and to the ball, where the category is…royalty, of course! House Abundance struts down the runway and wins the grand prize, just in time for the cops to burst onto the scene. Elektra, head held high, twirls for the gods before delicately presenting her wrists for the handcuffs. The Queen decides her own exit, thank you very much.
We then meet Damon, a teenage dancer with dreams of “becoming a star” someday. Things quickly take a turn for the worse when Damon’s dad confronts him, angry over Damon’s dancing, which he’d been doing in secret…and the gay erotica he found in Damon’s room. The ensuing scene is the coming out of every queer kid’s nightmares, ending with his parents throwing him out on the street. Shouldering his (soon stolen) bag, Damon begins a life on the street, sleeping on park benches and dancing for tips.
Meanwhile, Blanca gets a rude awakening after a blood test reveals she’s HIV positive, a death sentence felling LGBTQIA+ people left and right during the 1980s. Crushed, she turns to her friend Pray Tell, the MC of local balls and “Pose’s” fairy dragmother. Pray Tell works his magic on the despondent Blanca, turning her thoughts to her own hopes and dreams instead of dwelling on her approaching untimely end. In a move that shocks the House of Abundance, Blanca breaks off to start her own house, the one dream Blanca has had since Mother Elektra took her in off the street and into the fold. Mother Elektra, obviously, does not take it well. But Blanca sticks to her guns, walking out of House Abundance and onto a path all her own.
Every fairytale needs a hero, some knight in shining armor ready to whisk the princess off her feet. Reality is less than magical: Prince Charming is Stan Bowes, a married Trump executive with 2.5 kids and a house in the ‘burbs. Angel, a child of the House of Abundance who picks up johns to pay the bills, is another “Pose” princess who’s looking for love in the worst possible places. The pair have immediate chemistry, disrobing in a dim hotel room only to talk about music and drink the night away. But when Angel waits outside Stan’s office the following day, he brushes her aside, making it abundantly clear he’s a cheating cheater who’s afraid to be seen with a trans woman. (I’ll say it again: Stan sucks.) Still, Stan can’t help but think of Angel as he dances with his wife on their wedding anniversary, leading him back to Angel later that night. Will this couple beat the odds and have a happily ever after, or will the bubble pop by the end of the season?
Here’s where the storylines converge. Blanca finds Damon dancing amongst the crackheads of Central Park and is astounded by his skills: thus, her first drag child is born. Blanca takes Damon in, feeding him and giving him a home while teaching him the ways of the ball. With a little help from Pray Tell, Damon is outfitted like an 80’s prince, introduced to voguing, and encouraged to apply for the prestigious dance program Damon has been dreaming of. In the midst of Damon’s herstory lessons, Angel is humiliated at a pageant, leading Blanca to take in her former Abundance drag sister.
Itching to prove Elektra wrong, Blanca challenges the House of Abundance to a dance battle, a challenge that they ultimately lose (but at least Blanca gets a chance to name her new house: welcome to the ball, House of Evangelista!) Licking their wounds outside the ballroom, Mother Blanca is further disheartened when Damon reveals that he was too afraid to submit an application to the dance school Blanca had encouraged him to attend. Just when Blanca feels the lowest, a young dancer named Lil Papi rushes out of the ballroom, hurrying over to beg entrance to House Evangelista. While Blanca may not have won the challenge, she may still become the queen mother she’s always wanted to be; Lil Papi is granted a place in the House of Evangelista, and Blanca gets an idea.
Determined to do right by her house, Blanca walks into the dance school on Monday morning and delivers a moving speech to the school’s dean, imploring her to give Damon an audition despite missing the application deadline. The dean is convinced by Blanca’s sheer nerve and gives Damon one last chance to wow her and the admission committee. As Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” plays, Damon twirls, vogues and dances on tables, pouring his soul into the most important three minutes of his life. He is accepted to the prestigious school, to the delight of the waiting House of Evangelista. The episode ends in a family hug as Blanca, Angel and Lil Papi congratulate Damon on his victory.
The ninety-minute episode packs a colorful punch, melding “Paris is Burning” with Cinderella transformations and the groundwork for what is sure to be a scathing critique of Trump across the ages. I’ll be giving my full thoughts on the episode in Friday’s post, but right now I want to hear from you: did “Pose” live up to its hype? And will the series keep its momentum going?