Summer has finally come to the “Pose” ballroom, where serving booooooooody is fundamental, no matter the cost. “Pose’s” fourth episode, “The Fever,” is an ensemble piece rivaling the show’s pilot, intertwining stories about body image, gender dysphoria and the AIDS epidemic. (If “Pose” gets any Emmy nods for writing, it’ll be for “The Fever.”) How do you quench a fever when the world won’t even give you a dixie cup of water? Here’s a quick recap of “The Fever,” just in case you missed it.
The category is curving at the summertime ball, where Candy Abundance (going against Mother Elektra’s protests) walks the runway and gets booed off the floor. Candy, while a solid winner in “face” categories, has a thin frame hormone can’t turn into the extreme hourglass figure queer audiences scream for. Crushed, Candy is comforted by trans sister Angel, who suggests a trip to the local beautician: aka, a seedy backroom “doctor” who mold bodies into new shapes for half the price of a plastic surgeon. Still, the price is still too high for the girls, who leave without pumping up…for now.
The fever for a new look isn’t the only sickness spreading across NYC. Damon, finally back in his dance teacher’s good graces, falls ill with a nasty bout of the flu during dance practice. He’s quickly bundled up into bed by worried Mother Evangelista, who frets over him with thermometers and VapoRub (every mom’s cure, am I right?). Blanca confesses to local fairy drag father Pray Tell that she’s worried for Damon, who revealed he hasn’t been playing safe with boyfriend Ricky despite their safe sex talk. A long flu, as Angel later tells Damon, can be the first sign of HIV, and Blanca is terrified that one risky decision could kill her children.
The scene is a hard watch for modern viewers, a harsh reminder of the world’s reaction to the AIDS epidemic: Darwinian-flavored homophobia and no calls for a cure. Blanca and Pray Tell are terrified by what the future could hold for them and those they love most, with Pray Tell too frightened to even get tested for the virus. Blanca, the fiercest of cinnamon rolls, proceeds to mother Pray Tell into taking the Evangelista boys and himself to the nearest clinic. (P.S. We find out during Pray Tell’s sit-down with the boys that Lil Papi bats for both teams. Welcome to the TV Bisexual Club, Lil Papi.)
The younger men’s results come back negative, but Pray Tell gets the results he was dreading. Shell-shocked, he manages to pull himself together and lies to the boys, unable to pop their youthful, happy bubble. While he does tell Blanca, the matter is left on the back burner in an effort to keep the kids from knowing (and damn, is there a lot to unpack about queer families of choice and the strength of the older LGBTQIA+ community here). The group heads off to Damon’s recital, where he stuns the audience and Blanca gets to be That Proud Mom.
Across town, we finally meet Mother Elektra’s sugar daddy (Christopher Meloni of “Law and Order” fame is looking ripped, y’all.) After some horizontal tango, the afterglow is quickly ruined by Sugar Daddy Stabler, who is adamant that Elektra not get the sex reassignment surgery she’s been saving for. His reasoning? He’s got a fetish for pre-op trans women, which he says in a decidedly less PC way, tossing in some emotional manipulation and general grossness along the way. He gives Elektra an ultimatum: if she gets the operation, their ten-year relationship goes down the tubes (and Sugar Daddy Stabler’s “sugar” along with it). Elektra finds herself torn between romantic love and self-love, with gender dysphoria biting into her every time she tucks.
Elektra tries to stuff down her feelings, reverting to her usual evil stepmother ways when Candy returns to the ballroom to walk the body category. Mother Abundance calls out Candy’s obviously padded outfit, leading to a blowout fight that ends with Candy leaving House Abundance. Candy attempts to walk in the body category and is read for filth by Pray Tell (are those maxi pads, my dear?). Humiliated, Candy throws her pads at the judges and stomps out as Elektra sweeps onto the floor amidst cheers of praise. But a win isn’t in the cards for Mother Abundance, who loses to a Beyoncé body-double/child of Abundance who’s just come back from getting a hell of a lot of plastic surgery (including SRS) in Bangkok. The pair grab a bite afterward and hash out Elektra’s feelings about the surgery, with the evil queen of House Abundance showing a refreshing level of vulnerability. Slight character growth, I’m here for it. Elektra, thank god, decides to dump Sugar Daddy Stabler and take the last step towards feeling comfortable in her own body.
In the meantime, Candy’s fever for a “better” body reaches the boiling point, and with Angel in tow, Candy goes to a truly terrifying backroom where an even-less-qualified “doctor” with more silicone than skin injects some liters of some terrible concoction into her body. The rejected Abundance queen finally has the curves she’s always wanted, earning 10’s across the board at the next ball amidst adoring cheers, only to faint in the bright lights. We find out that those injections were are dangerous as they looked, giving Candy an actual fever of 102 and oozing lumps all over her hips. Elektra, using her newfound self awareness, takes Candy in and gets her the right meds, with mother and daughter cautiously bonding over their own struggles with dysphoria. It looks like– at least for now– Candy will be sticking with House Abundance.
The fetishizing of trans bodies is at the heart of “The Fever,” showcasing the push and pull between society’s standards of beauty, the bootylicious standard for femme queens, and straight men’s secret fetish for pre-op trans people. Unsurprisingly, Angel’s talks and “doctor” visits with Candy cause their own inner turmoil, culminating in yet another fight with Stan. It seems that Stan may not fall far from the Sugar Daddy Stabler tree, when a unfortunate bedroom situation results in an awful reveal: Stan’s first interest in trans women was sparked by the fetish aisle at the local porno store. Angel, horrified that Stan might be with her purely to satisfy his own kinks, throws him out of the apartment. This may seem like a small event compared to the rest of “The Fever,” but it shows the struggle that trans women still deal with in 2018: do you love me for me, or for my body?