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'This can't happen on “Pose”': How TV's queerest show made its most emotional episode yet

Matt Brennan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

This article contains spoilers for Tuesday's episode (titled "Never Knew Love Like This Before") of "Pose."

Ryan Murphy and Janet Mock knew the tune of Candy Ferocity's closing number all along.

"There was never any other choice," Murphy said of the song, "Never Knew Love Like This Before," which Candy -- murdered by a john in Tuesday's emotional episode of "Pose" -- performs in the fantastical sequence that caps off the hour, climbing out of her casket to the cheers of the crowd.

The same might be said of the decision to address the epidemic of violence against transgender women of color in the U.S. The question wasn't whether "Pose" should tackle the subject but when. To do so before developing the audience's connection to the characters risked turning the death of a queer person on television into what it so often is: a trope.

"We didn't want it to feel gratuitous," Murphy, the series' co-creator and the episode's co-writer and director, said in a telephone interview. "We wanted it to feel earned."

Instead, after "laying the foundation" over the course of 11 episodes, viewers are more likely to experience the stages of grief in their own right, added Mock, Murphy's co-writer on the episode and herself a trans woman of color. "That's the goal, at least, is that they go through the denial -- 'No, this can't happen on "Pose." This can't happen to Candy. This can't be real' -- and then for them to have to deal with it in the same way that 1/8Candy's friends3/8 have to deal ... with it."

 

Set inside New York City's queer ball scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, memorably depicted in Jennie Livingston's film "Paris Is Burning," "Pose" follows a group of performers -- including Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), Angel (Indya Moore), Elektra (Dominique Jackson) and Candy (Angelica Ross) -- and their razor-tongued emcee, Pray Tell (Billy Porter), as they navigate the many dangers LGBTQ+ people of color faced, and still face, in American society.

Though the FX series distinguished itself in Season 1 by depicting the joyousness of the ballroom community, Mock said, its fans were so attuned to violence against trans women that they had to be disabused of the notion that Angel's former love interest, a corporate raider named Stan (Evan Peters), would eventually kill her. As such, "Pose" had "a responsibility" to handle the upsetting events of Tuesday's episode with respect.

For one thing, Mock explained, Candy's murder, though shocking, doesn't come out of left field: The prior episode includes a sequence in which a man brutalizes the trans woman of color he's engaged in sex work. For another, Candy's fate is revealed at a slight remove. Rather than depicting the murder directly -- "We never had a version of the script that had us in the hotel room with Candy in it and the man that did this to her," Mock said -- Blanca narrates the story to her friends as the camera captures the discovery of Candy's corpse by a motel housekeeper.

"We've primed the audience to imagine for themselves when they see Candy's body for the first time, bloody and beaten and gone ... what happened to Candy in that hotel room," Mock said. "We don't have to spell it out completely. And also, even though we center Candy in this way, it's about the women's discovery and what that says to them. What fears it instills in them. How it launches them for the rest of the season, and for the rest of their lives."

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