How can love be the message when the world is falling apart? Things have taken a dark turn on this week’s episode of “Pose,” where writer Janet Mock makes her directorial debut. The glitz of the ballroom is juxtaposed against the harsh reality of the AIDS epidemic as Pray Tell struggles to deal with his soulmate’s impending death; meanwhile, Blanca dips her toes into the dating world for the first time since her diagnosis. As for Stan, his double life is ripping apart at the seams. Here’s a recap of “Love Is The Message,” just in case you missed it.
“Love is the Message” picks up right where “Mother’s Day” left off, with Angel and Patty sitting down for A Talk about Stan the boring man. Angel lays out the details of the affair to the steel-jawed housewife, who’s honestly over marriage and the man in question. The pair don’t throw down over midnight pancakes, (yay, girl power?) but they get personal, fast. The pair bond over the roles that loving Stan has put them in: Patty as the good, obedient housewife, Angel as Stan’s personal doll and ultimate fantasy. Patty, who didn’t clock Angel at the ball, is shocked by Angel’s trans-ness, puzzling over Stan seeking Angel in the first place and asking to see what’s between her legs. Angel doesn’t punch her for asking about her bits, but it’s a near thing.
We cut to a dim room across town, where Pray Tell’s boyfriend Costas languishes in a hospital bed, dying of AIDS. Pray Tell, ever the optimist, spends his days by his lover’s side attempting to will him back to health. He spirals out every night at the local ballroom, keeping vintage bop “Love Is The Message” on replay and keeping to a liquid diet: all liquor, all the time. House Evangelista, worried about their fairy drag-mother’s health, invite him over for a family intervention over Hawaiian ham and empanadas.
Here we see Billy Porter, the actor behind “Pose’s” Pray Tell, at his full dramatic power (If Porter doesn’t get an Emmy nod for this, I’ll be pissed). His role in this episode is a testament to every queer person who lived through the 1980s, when the LGBTQIA+ community was ravaged by a sickness no one tried to stop. We soon discover the song “Love is the Message,” which he’s been playing at every ball, is his only reminder of times before the epidemic, before the virus came to take everyone he’s ever loved. What’s become an annoying earworm to the young folx on the dance floor is Pray Tell’s way of going back in time. How dare House Evangelista tell him to how to behave, when he’s been here and queer long than they’ve been alive? The intervention ends in a screaming match, not a group hug.
After Pray Tell’s “intervention,” he returns to Costas’ depressing hospital ward. Determined to bring a little light to the place, he sets up a cabaret benefit in the common room, decorating it with streamers and hauling out an old piano. This final act of love for his partner, giving him a way to say goodbye to the only man he’s ever truly loved, finally gets Pray Tell to put down the bottle. Love is the message, and Pray Tell is determined to live by that fact.
Blanca provides some of the only levity in this episode, taking a walk on the wild side with playboy cutie Darius. The smooth-talker manages to get Mother Evangelista to agree to a date, the first she’s been on in over three years. Happy about her new beau, Blanca goes shopping for a new dress and stumbles across her House Abundance sisters, who know allllll about Darius and his oh-so-cheesy pickup lines. The group, including “RuPaul’s Drag Race” queen Jiggly Caliente in the greatest cameo of the season, have a kiki over the ballroom playboy. The consensus: have fun, but don’t expect a soulmate. Blanca, angry over Darius’ sweet-talking ways, stands him up in favor of Pray Tell’s hospital benefit.
The benefit, attended by the handful of patients able to leave their beds, is as heartbreaking as it sounds. Porter’s vocal chops are a force to be reckoned with in a love song to Costas, who tries and fails to fight back tears. Blanca, who comes in just after Pray Tell’s emotional solo, volunteers to sing for the tired crowd. While she starts off strong, the sight of the patients renders her speechless. Pray Tell, coming to the rescue as per usual, turns the song into a duet, with the pair embracing love in the literal face of death. It’s all very emotional and you will probably cry.
Here we turn back to the suburban love triangle, where the episode began. Patty, shooketh by Angel’s revelations, preps for a showdown with Stan. She asks him to meet at a therapist’s office, where she reveals Stan’s infidelity. Stan tries to bluff his way out, but Patty easily shuts him down, telling him their marriage is over. This is Patty’s chance for a new life, and she’s taking it. Things then take a homophobic turn as Patty questions Stan’s sexuality because of his feelings for Angel. Was he hurt as a child? Is he gay? Was their entire marriage a lie? Stan breaks down in the office, unsure of the answers himself. Instead of dealing with the issues that started this mess, he promptly goes back to work and punches out his boss, who revealed his cheating to Patty. Fighting solves everything, right?
We cut back to Costas’ hospital room, where Pray Tell and Costas are cuddling in bed. Costas, who’s now on the brink of death, asks his lover to promise to continue on after he dies. He can cry and scream and grieve for one day, but afterwards he has to continue living, despite his diagnosis: Costas, despite being so ill, has noticed the fear in Pray Tell’s eyes and knows he has the virus too. Pray Tell finally falls apart in Costas’ arms (if you aren’t actively sobbing by this point, you will now). Pray Tell promises to do as his lover asks, and Costas dies soon after. Though devastated by his loss, Pray Tell keeps his promise and goes about his life. We see him back behind the podium, calling out categories and scores to the screaming crowds as Blanca looks on in approval. The pair make plans to sprinkle Costas’ ashes on Park Ave., where he loved to window-shop.
This ball, as always, is not without its own drama. Darius comes over to bother Blanca about standing him up, only to find himself surrounded by Blanca’s girlfriends on the dance floor. Blanca makes it clear that she is an independent woman who needs no man as the group stands by their girl. Boy, bye. If only Angel would take the same advice: while working her shift at the local peepshow, Stan appears with a black eye and a sad face. Two guesses as to who will be back together next week. Oh, the joy.