Warning: This post contains spoilers for Sunday’s Pose series finale.
Pose took its final bow on Sunday with a grand (two-hour!) series finale… and sadly, we had to say goodbye to an old friend.
The finale saw Blanca and Pray Tell fight hard to get added to a trial of an experimental AIDS drug cocktail, and they both bounced back remarkably. (“Here’s to getting so old, folks will start calling me grandmother,” Pray Tell quipped as he took the meds.) But the flamboyant emcee later succumbed to his disease in heartbreaking fashion — and afterwards, we learned he started giving his meds to Ricky, who had just found a lesion on his chest. Pray Tell and Blanca did get one last moment of glory at the balls, though, lip-syncing together to Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” complete with an indoor rainstorm.
Per Pray Tell’s wishes, Blanca put some of his ashes into lockets for all of their friends to wear — and she dumped the rest onto the mayor’s front lawn in protest of the city’s horrific treatment of AIDS patients. Then the finale jumped forward to 1998, and Blanca is now a full-fledged nurse, still with Christopher and enjoying a chatty, Sex and the City-esque lunch with Elektra, Angel and Lulu. (Elektra has never seen that show, though.) Blanca is also still a house mother, with a new group of LGBTQ youths representing the House of Evangelista at the balls… and winning, of course.
To help us process all of that, TVLine reached out to Pose co-creator/executive producer Steven Canals — who co-wrote and directed the series finale — for a post-finale chat. Who was the show’s real “love story”? Was Pray Tell ready to die? And could the story live on in a spinoff? Read on to find out.
TVLINE | This show has been an ensemble from the start, but we didn’t see much of Angel or Papi or Elektra in the finale. Why did you decide to focus primarily on Blanca and Pray Tell?
Part of it is that we spent time with Elektra and with Angel and Papi already, and because they got their endings, we felt like we told their story. But the other really important reason is that, from the very beginning, this show secretly has always really been a love story between Blanca and Pray Tell. We tend to think about romantic love when we [say that], but the reality is that the show really was a love story between these two characters. My reference for their relationship has always been Beaches, which is one of my favorite movies. I’m obsessed with Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler, and so I think that was another part of it, just honoring their relationship and their love story.
TVLINE | Blanca says something about them not getting a happy ending, but getting happy moments. Is that what you tried to do in the finale: give the characters happy moments, without shying away from the hard stuff?
Yeah, I think the core of the show has always been this delicate balancing act between the light and the dark, between the hard and the soft. The truth is, that specific line from Blanca is so deeply rooted in the truth of what we typically see in film and television for historically marginalized people. Especially in the case of queer or trans people, we never get to lean all the way into our joys. Our stories are always rooted in our traumas. In the case of Pose, we wanted to shift the lens and show that we are also joyful, that we’re not always surviving, that we also can be thriving. But again, a show that is rooted in the truth, in authenticity… we’re all things. We are multifaceted people. We are a multitude of moments and experiences, joyful moments and sad moments, and so the show was always about honoring all of it, as opposed to only ever showing one side.
TVLINE | Pray Tell’s death: It wasn’t unexpected, but it still hit hard. Did you always know that he wouldn’t survive the series?
I didn’t during the first season. I think [co-creator] Ryan Murphy would say he had a sense of it in the first season, but we didn’t have a conversation about Pray Tell’s death until the second season. The conversation had a lot to do with a couple things, the most important being that if this is a show that is grounded in reality, how do we have not one but three characters who are living with HIV, and these are three individuals who all happen to be Black or Afro-Latin, living just around the poverty line, who don’t have access to quality medical care, but are still living and healthy? It feels a little like a stretch. So we had a lot of conversations during the second season around the reality of what was happening in the community in New York in the ’80s and ’90s at the height of the epidemic, pre-cocktail, for us, how realistic are the choices that we’re making on the show? You see us struggling with that a little bit during the second season, because we see Pray Tell get sick, and he’s hospitalized in our sixth episode, and then you see Blanca get sick, and she’s hospitalized in our second season finale. So we were obviously going back and forth on that question of losing one of our characters. Again, we knew we’re going to have to make that choice at some point, and it’s an important story for us to tell.
TVLINE | Pray Tell did get a heroic death, essentially sacrificing himself by giving up his HIV medications to Ricky. Do you feel like he was ready to die at that point?
[Long pause] It’s interesting, because we had this conversation in the [writers’] room quite a bit. And as I was editing the finale, Ryan Murphy and I had this conversation quite a bit as well. I think the reality is that Pray Tell knew the sacrifice he was making by giving Ricky his medication. Whether or not I would say that Pray Tell was ready to go, I’ll leave that up to the audience. I really think every audience member is going to have their own opinion on that. I have an opinion on it, but I don’t know that it’s fair to share it. Obviously, in his dialogue, he says quite a few things throughout the finale… and some of those things are contradictory. In the scene where he’s with Blanca when they’re preparing for their performance together, he says, “I feel like I’ve done it all.” But in the scene just before that, where Ricky shows his lesion, he says, “I have a new lease on life, and I think I might want to get back into designing, and I might want to go to France.” He had other plans. So it’s interesting, because I think it forces all of us to ask those really important questions.
But I think the most important question, though, is: Why? Why did he make the sacrifice for Ricky? And that answer for me, specifically, is in Pray Tell’s acknowledgement or recognition that we’ve always had to stand up for each other. We’ve always had to be our own heroes. No one else is ever going to, in the face of any hardship, is ever going to show up for us in the way that we show up for each other. To me, that sacrifice, it was so much bigger than Pray Tell deciding to give up his medication to a young gay Black man who’s living with HIV. It is a reminder to that community and to our audience that at the end of the day, we as queer and trans people are always going to have each other’s back.
TVLINE | The Diana Ross number was a great note to go out on, though. How did you come up with that as Blanca and Pray Tell’s swan song?
It’s arguably one of my favorite moments ever on the show. [Laughs] That moment came up really organically and very collaboratively. We were in the room, and we were talking about Blanca and Pray Tell having one final moment together that felt really special leading up to his death. I believe I was the one who pitched that we should do something other than a song, because we’ve seen them sing already, and I don’t know that anything’s ever going to trump them singing “Home” in the first season. So I was like, “What else can we do?” I don’t remember if it was me or if it was Ryan, but I know that we basically were like: We have this category, Candy’s Sweet Refrain, and we haven’t seen them perform together in the ballroom, so that feels like it would be a really special moment for the finale. That’s something we’ve never seen before.
So that got the wheels churning, and then Ryan was like, “If we’re going to do that, then we need a really iconic duet. It has to be something great.” And Janet Mock then said, “What about ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’?” and Ryan was like, “I love that.” Because we used “Home,” which is sung by Diana Ross, in the first season… a lot of this final season was a bunch of bookending moments from the first season. You see that again with ending the series with Whitney Houston singing, and we ended the pilot with Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” So similarly, Ryan is like, “What if we do the Diana Ross version?” And immediately, a light bulb went off, and I was like, “Oh my God, we have to do this as a nod to her performance in Central Park, and what if it rains in the ballroom?” And Ryan just started guffawing. He just cackled out loud. He was like, “That is perfect. That is what we need to do.” Really, that’s how it happened. It was really that simple. Obviously, because I knew I was going to direct it, I then started panicking, because I was like, “How are we going to put rain in the room? I don’t know if this is going to work!” But we managed to make it work.
TVLINE | The finale ends with Blanca reviving the House of Evangelista with a fresh crop of kids. I know you ended the show on its own terms, but did you give any thought to continuing the story from there, almost like Pose: The Next Generation?
No… I think there’s certainly room for us to go back. I’ve always loved the Marvel films, and one of the things that I’ve always loved is that they have those little teasers at the end of the film that whet your appetite for the next film. So I think because of that, to me, that moment of seeing the new family kind of feels like a little wink wink, nod nod to that. It’s like, oh yeah, there’s always the possibility of another story happening. But it wasn’t done explicitly with the intention of saying, “Yes, there will be a spinoff.”
I think in truth, the reason for that had everything to do with indicating to our audience that our cycle continues, and life goes on, and this community will continue to exist and will continue to bring in new crops of kids and continue to support one another and show up for one another. Throughout the first season, I was always asked by fans who are not familiar with ballroom: “Does it still exist? Is ballroom still thriving?” Or I would have fans approach me and say, “I really wish I could’ve attended a ball back in those days.” And it’s like, “You can still attend a ball now!” The ballroom community is still thriving. It’s still doing really well. It’s global. In fact, if you go on HBO Max, there’s a wonderful show called Legendary, and there are a lot of our Pose cast and family members working on that show in front of and behind the camera. So the reality is, that moment of seeing a new house and seeing new kids, and specifically seeing Ricky as a house father, was really just important because I wanted the audience to have that understanding that the community doesn’t end. Just because the show is ending doesn’t mean this community has ended. It still exists. It’s still thriving. It’s still a really important safety net for queer and trans people.
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