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'Pose' 3.01 Review: On the Run

Pose returns on a busy, yet encouraging note with "On the Run"

Pose's Pray Tell (Billy Porter) decides to retire from the ball council after watching it deteriorate in style and artistry, but more than that, while too many members of its community continue to die from AIDS.
(Image: © FX Networks)

Our Verdict

Steven Canals and Janet Mock start Season 3 of Pose on a busy, encouraging note with lots of hopeful activity but also some ominous signs of trouble for some of its beloved characters.

For

  • 👠 Jeremy McClain is devastating and poignant as Cubby, one of Elektra's children who's dying of AIDS, and whose plight reunites the House of Evangelista.
  • 👠 MJ Rodriguez seems more comfortable on screen than ever before, which makes her character's ambition and maternal instincts increasingly naturalistic and compelling.

Against

  • 👠 Pose's relationship between Angel and Lil Papi has sometimes been a bit boring, and introducing her potential jealousy doesn't make it more interesting.

This post contains spoilers for Pose.

In the opening scene of “On the Run,” the first episode of Pose Season 3, Hellfire Club is shut down. Between its sex worker employees and potentially high profile patrons, there’s plenty of running and shouting. But Elektra (Dominique Jackson), who’s in the middle of a session with a client, responds to the police in a way that only she can: “What is this?” she screams at the police pouring into her dominatrix’s chamber. “Explain yourself!” Suffice it to say that she is in a real lather by the time she’s arrived to give the news to Blanca (MJ Rodriguez) at this week’s ball. “Maybe it’s time you come with a new enterprise,” Blanca suggests. “If anyone can suck up a get rich scheme it’s you.” But as they arrive on the threshold of the ball, Blanca gets distracted by Lemar (Jason A. Rodriguez), whose take-no-prisoners approach to performing is not only keeping him from visiting Cubby (Jeremy McClain), a former family member who’s dying of AIDS, but also exemplifies a new attitude among the next generation of houses.

Both unofficially retired, Blanca and Elektra have largely missed this shift from ball culture being driven by community and family to motivated by fame, and more recently, wealth, with cash prizes being handed out to the winners. But Lemar’s taunts about Blanca’s son Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) almost prompt a scuffle before the ball even begins. Despite protests from the other houses, Lemar’s newly anointed House of Khan takes the stage and dominates, easily winning the money as Warren G’s “Regulate” provides a perfect backdrop for their performances. “This mother has stepped into 1994 without missing a motherfucking beat,” Pray Tell (Billy Porter) announces. “Beware the wrath of Khan!” The council soon learns about that wrath firsthand when they can’t pay them the full prize money, leading to a violent food fight in the diner where they regularly convene.

That same morning, Blanca awakens in bed with Darius Chris (Jeremy Pope) as the news reports that O.J. Simpson’s wife Nicole Brown was murdered. She hustles out the door to see Damon, while across town Lil Papi (Angel Bismarck Curiel) consults with a receptionist at the talent agency where he works, stirring Angel’s (Indya Moore) jealousy. As Papi tries to reassure her about work, much less their relationship, Pray begins work at Macy’s, selling Chanel No. 5 to rich, bored housewives. Unfortunately, he quells his own boredom, his barely-at-bay sickness, and the ongoing anxieties of a community being decimated by AIDS, with a growing addiction to alcohol, leading to him being drunk at the latest funeral for a lost friend. “How many more of these are we going to have to sit through?” he asks bitterly. Holding back tears as he looks down at the body of a 25-year-old black man, Pray announces to the rest of the council that he’s retiring; they refuse to accept his resignation, but he explains that too much has changed, and not for the better. “I just don’t have anything left to give,” Pray says.

Working as a nurse’s assistant at the hospital, Blanca comforts Cubby, who’s in his final stages of deterioration. He remembers the unhappy experience of coming out to his birth mother — “she said I was going to die from this disease” — but Blanca explains that she’s come to visit him, and is “there to make things right.” Their reunion is loving as Blanca gives them privacy, taking a break to discuss her future with nurse Judy Kubrak (Sandra Bernhard), who suggest that she pursue a degree in nursing. “It’s never too late to go after what you want, “Judy encourages her. When she gets home at the end of her shift, the apartment is dark, but news reports about the Simpson case have intensified; meanwhile, Ricky (Dyllon Burnside) and Pray bicker over dinner until Blanca calls them for a watch party.

After they arrive at Blanca’s — and Pray gets another drink — the three of them quickly begin to argue about O.J.’s guilt, the familiarity of watching cops pursue a black man, and what O.J.’s fame changes, and doesn’t, about the developing case. Before Blanca can invite Angel and Lulu (Hailie Sahar) to join them, the two of them smoke a joint laced with crack at their apartment, an addition to Angel’s regular drug consumption that she is not comfortable with (at first, anyway). Over at Blanca’s, Damon corners Pray Tell and encourages him to consider going to Alcoholics Anonymous, empathizing with his situation after going through something similar himself. But Pray is understandably too bitter to truly listen, but just as Damon seems to reach him, Elektra shows up at the front door wondering what’s important enough for her to cancel her Friday night plans. She defends O.J.: “you can’t blame a black man for running from a broken system.”

Angel and Lulu arrive as Judy leaves, and they pull Pray into a back bedroom to smoke more of that laced joint. Pray declines. Papi shows up with pizza for the group, and Blanca simultaneously thrills about the overdue family reunion and frets over how lost and disaffected everyone seems. Just as the manhunt for O.J. reaches favor pitch, Blanca intervenes and makes her children set the table for dinner. While they eat and talk, Blanca proposes that they reunite and bring back the House of Evangelista for the Summer Solstice Ball. “We rose from the bottom and became stars,” Blanca reminds them. “This could be our one opportunity to remind the world who we really are.” Everyone joins in, but Elektra warns, “the first category we don’t snatch a trophy, I’m out.”

Blanca goes back to Darius’ Chris’ apartment to find him studying, prompting a conversation about her difficult year in school and a diagnosis of dyslexia that came way too late at 14. They confess their love for each other, inspiring DariusChris to ask if she will meet his parents. Blanca gets defensive, concerned that they will not be understanding, but he reassures her that they will love her precisely because he does. “Take the next step with me,” he says. But before they can go out to dinner, Blanca gets a call: Cubby is about to die. The family gathers around his bedside and reminisces about the good times they shared with him. “I regret letting my own ignorance drive him away from me,” his mother forlornly admits. Elektra comforts her: “nobody is out here teaching parents how to accept their gay children. You can’t blame yourself for what you didn’t know.” As his mother apologizes, Cubby passes away.

Not long after, Lemar shows up to visit, unaware of the sad news. He lashes out at Blanca and a fight ensues, before Elektra proposes a better solution for resolving the conflict: Evangelista will walk against the House of Khan at the Summer Solstice. Lemar goes into Cubby’s room alone and shares a quiet moment of grief with his brother, betraying the fearless façade he maintains in front of the others. Later, during the challenge, Lemar and his children square off evenly against the House of Evangelista, but once Elektra strides onto the floor, the competition is over. But instead of gloating, Blanca hails the House of Khan and celebrates ballroom as a home for lost souls, announcing that she will run no longer — and wants everyone in that community to stop running as well. While they gather later over Chinese, Chris shows up and joins them; it would appear that he’s meeting her family for the first time, rather than the other way around. “You want to eat first before we grill you?” asks Pray. The next day, Blanca walks into Manhattan Technical College to apply for their nursing program.

After creating some of the most dynamic and interesting characters on television, Pose has always wrestled with three simultaneous dynamics: the legacy it inherited, and individuals on whose shoulders it stood; the unfortunate realities of LGBTQ+ characters of color, then and now; and the wish fulfillment and representation of those characters as an act of normalizing their lives for viewers who have never seem them happy, succeeding or fulfilled in such a diverse way on screen. Sometimes one comes at the expense of another, and other times they work in perfect concert. Re-entering this world in 1994, Pose more than earned the right to set this ensemble up for success, even as writers Steven Canals and Janet Mock, and Mock as director, hints at some or the darker challenges the characters will face. But most importantly, Pose's Season 3 premiere feels like the show audiences have passionately followed already for two seasons, and it gives them reasons to be excited about what’s to come.

Pose airs on FX at 10PM EST on Sundays.