The third season of Pose is a journey of heartbreak lit up by hope, promises Malvika Padin.
Warning: this article contains some spoilers for the third and final season of Pose.
Larger-than-life, confetti-ridden lip syncs of Whitney Houston, Madonna and Diana Ross songs – all backdropped against the theatrics of ballroom culture – are what come to mind when speaking about Pose.
The show has always walked a delicate balance between the uplifting and the painful, thanks to its unflinching approach to the realities of being an LGBTQ+ New Yorker during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. But the true power of its third and final season rests not in its bigger storylines, but in its potent instances of normalcy.
Presented in the most devastating yet celebratory fashion possible, the last chapter of the transformative show sees Pray Tell (Billy Porter) slowly coming to accept his fate, and admitting himself to the hospital. And it offers hope in the form of a potentially life-saving clinical trial – largely closed off to the Black and Latino communities – which Pray is added to after Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) makes their case to the hospital head.
Later, a much healthier Pray is seen reconnecting with Ricky (Dyllon Burnside), whose health is worsening in contrast.
Here’s where we see the show at its best. Because, despite scenes of protests against the lack of access granted to people of colour over those aforementioned new drugs, funds raised for those impacted by the disease, and that stunning duet of Diana Ross’ Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, it was the quiet strength of Pray giving up his meds to Ricky that proved the most moving.
This sacrifice, of course, caused Pray to lose his battle to HIV/AIDS. And, while death from the disease is the unfortunate norm – not only of the time period the show is set within, but in TV’s stereotyped portrayals of the disease, too – the series manages to elevate our loss into one of defiant purpose.
Pray’s death is heartbreaking, yes, but it also serves as motivation for his ‘found family’ to throw themselves into fighting even harder for access to effective medication.
And, in a simple yet memorable final scene, we see Blanca (now a registered nurse and married to Christopher) explaining to a young woman that her HIV status is not a death sentence – reminding us that there is a narrative beyond trauma for minority communities.
This idea is underlined in the show’s homage to Sex And The City. Reframed to fit the success of those who had to fight to get there, we see several characters coming together for a fashionable brunch and highlighting their individual successes. Angel (Indya Moore) is thriving as a full-time mother, but also making the move to pick up modelling; Lulu is working as a tax accountant; and Elektra is paying for surgeries and making many charitable donations.
Others like Judy, meanwhile, are working in the maternity ward – a clear signifier that the new AIDS drugs are working effectively enough that no more extra hospital rooms are needed for patients. And Damon, despite being absent for most of the season, is hinted to be in a happy relationship as he teaches dance in Chicago.
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These simple mentions of monotony – of new jobs and relationships – are a much-needed reminder that minorities do succeed. As Steven Canals has mentioned in an interview, Pose takes the stereotypical narrative arc of Black, Latin and Asian characters, pushing their stories beyond the trauma they’ve faced, giving them and the viewers the chance to know that there is more to these stories than “solely surviving,” but actually thriving.
As a person of colour myself, the trauma of being made to feel lesser-than is one that I am deeply familiar with. This show’s message of life beyond heartbreak, defining success beyond trauma, presents viewers with hope that our own lives will move into happier phases. And it is this, Pose’s willingness to tell stories that need to be told and leave us with still-open narratives pulsing with aspiration and hope, that truly sets the show apart.
Yes, the fact that the show is coming to an end after only three seasons is bittersweet. As Canals told The Wrap, however, “Pose was not just a moment; Pose is a movement.”
As such, Pose’s beauty is that it’s not here to serve up a “happy ending”. Instead, it shows us that stories and lives will go on – filled with trials and tribulations, true, but just as much triumph, too.
Pose’s third and final season will receive its UK premiere on BBC Two on Sunday 8 August at 10pm.