What to Watch Verdict
Billy Porter's commanding performance and the restlessness and irresolution of the other characters' journeys introduces some welcome complexity to the new season.
👠 Porter's performance as he wrestles with alcoholism, and rejects the help of his family, offers a powerful portrait of the realities of addiction.
👠 As always, the music choices on the show, from Duke Ellington and John Coltrane to Mariah Carey, are pefect in every single scene.
👠 As starkly as the choice brings into focus the plight of the gay community at this time in history, foregrounding secondary characters risks becoming a device for the show like sick patients on a medical series.
This post contains spoilers for Pose
As bright as Blanca’s (MJ Rodriguez) future seemed at the end of Pose's premiere, she’s in decidedly unhappier spirits at the beginning of “Intervention,” sitting across from Judy (Sandra Bernhard) in the hospital cafeteria in silence. Judy draws out her worries about Pray Tell’s (Billy Porter) addictions, prompting Judy to reveal that she hasn’t spoken to him in weeks, after running into him at a funeral where he showed up drunk and high. Acknowledging that he is going to hate her for it, Blanca recognizes that he needs an intervention.
Angel (Indya Moore) and Lulu (Hailie Sahar) show up with some major reservations (and a possible developing problem of their own), but Blanca has enlisted the help of a harm reduction counselor, Lisa, who challenges them to approach the process with love and compassion. Blanca reveals that helping Pray is especially important after Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) relapsed and went to live with a cousin — permanently, she fears. After Lisa indicates that rehabilitation costs $2500 a month, the group is more discouraged than ever, but Elektra (Dominique Jackson) suggests they raise the money by dominating at the next few balls, promising to coach them all back into readiness. Angel and Ricky (Dyllon Burnside) struggle to keep up with her stern direction, but her pedigree — and her dominating personality — forces them in line.
Nevertheless, Angel and Lulu are indulging in Lulu’s crack-laced joints more and more often, prompting them to worry they too might need an intervention. When Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel) arrives home from work, he unexpectedly agrees, first by pointing out that he knows what the two of them are doing, and then telling Angel to be patient about the current lull her career is in — and suggesting that the effects of her drug use will not help improve it. “You’ve got to choose us instead of that pipe,” he begs her. Elektra later presses Lulu about her addiction after she unconvincingly auditions to lip sync a Toni Braxton song at the ball, and eventually assigns her to be seamstress at their next performance: “you’re going to be a behind the scene bitch on this next one,” Elektra tells her.
Later, Angel helps Blanca prepare for her meet-the-parents date with Chris (Jeremy Pope), observing Lulu’s changes while remaining mostly oblivious to Angel’s. Chris’ parents are initially welcoming, but quickly begin asking questions that make Blanca uncomfortable, including about her “kids” in the House of Evangelista and her previous enterprise running a nail salon. But when she recaps the evening with Angel and Elektra, they remind her just how hard she fought for the confidence that made her a house mother: “You were given nothing, and made everything,” Elektra says. They encourage her to confront Chris about standing up for her with his family as they prepare for the ball. Meanwhile, Pray visits with Castle (J. Cameron Barnett) to bring him to the ball, and his ailing friend offers one of the methodone pills he’s taking to mitigate the pain from his AIDS treatment. Pray declines, but when they arrive, Pray unsuccessfully instructs the bartender not to give Castle booze.
In the first category, Elektra easily prevails over her opponent. But as Castle gets quietly soused at the bar, Pray faces off against Lemar (Jason A. Rodriguez), who makes a good showing dancing to Janet Jackson’s “If.” Performing to En Vogue’s “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” Pray beats Lemar, but his celebration is cut short when Castle goes into seizures. As paramedics take him to the hospital, Blanca reassures him that Judy is waiting to take care of him, but insists they have to finish the ball — for Castle, if nothing else. Ricky wins his category while Pray drinks at the bar, but after Lemar quietly taunts him about Castle — and the future he inevitably faces — he knocks him out.
Their post-mortem at Blanca’s apartment is immediately contentious, but Elektra insists that Pray dial back his wine consumption: “think of your skincare routine if nothing else,” she says. “You have hit epidermal rock bottom.” The confrontation awkwardly leads into their planned intervention, which Pray receives with a somewhat predictable level of resistance. After Blanca reads a letter about her love and support of him, Ricky begins his, and Pray lashes out, eviscerating his partner for issuing him an ultimatum about their relationship, and mercilessly dressing down each of the rest of them, from Papi to Elektra. As Blanca chases, pleading with him to stay, or at least forgive them for trying to help, he storms out.
At home, Pray pours himself a martini and listens to Duke Ellington and John Coltrane’s “In A Sentimental Mood,” seemingly indifferent to what transpired. But when Ricky packs his bags and tries to leave, Pray first tries to tear him down and then finally breaks down himself: “everybody leaves me,” he cries as he collapses in Ricky’s arms. Ricky tearfully exits anyway, leaving Pray alone. But even if the family’s attempted intervention didn’t work on Pray, the process (and likely Pray’s insults that she was a “crackhead”) struck a nerve with Angel; Papi prepares a meal for them to celebrate a new perfume campaign that Calvin Klein wants her to be its face, but she announces that she’s going into rehab instead.
Nevertheless, Blanca continues to be out of sorts the next day, and finally confronts Chris about his parents’ invasive questions over dinner a few nights before. He apologizes and says that they invited both of them to dinner “as a do-over,” and she reluctantly agrees after he indicates he will stand up to his mother and let her know that their opinions do not matter — he loves her. Initially, the dinner goes about the same as the previous one, with his mother interrogating Blanca and making snide comments. But as Blanca gets up to walk out, Chris gets up with her, making a scene as he tells his mother that Blanca is his life, and his parents need to understand and accept that.
At another funeral service, Pray shows up and apologizes to his sisters on the ball council and asks to come back — which they accept. After indicating he’s been working on his sobriety, he asks about Castle, but they haven’t seen him since he went to the hospital; Pray races to the Plaza, fearing that he carried out his suicide plans in one of the hotel’s luxury suites, but Castle is convalescing with room service when Pray walks in. “I couldn’t do it,” Castle says as he chokes back sobs. “I want to live, Pray.” They embrace, and Pray suggests he get rid of the pills Castle was hoarding to commit suicide. Castle asks if Pray will get rid of the alcohol, and they make a pact: “I will keep fighting, if you promise to as well,” Castle says.
Not long after, Blanca finds Pray in a hallway at the hospital, seeking her comfort as he attempts to reckon with his addiction. “I’ve performed for too many years, trying to be what the world wants me to be.” She drives him to the rehab facility upstate, and he thanks her for always being there for him.
What’s really effective about Pose's second episode is the way that Pray responds defensively, even violently, to the intended intervention, but also to the way that the rest of the family attempts to express themselves to him in a supportive way — a challenge under any circumstances, but especially in a community where shame and self-actualization too frequently go hand in hand. What will be interesting to see is how compelled the show becomes to squeeze in these kinds of issues in order to “resolve” or concentrate storylines across the season; as is often the case when showrunners know there won’t be anything else, they will pack every episode with both big drama and big resolution in order to satisfy audiences. And so, while thus far emphasizing an outside or secondary character (Cubby in “On the Run,” and Castle here) feels a little bit like cheating — avoiding some direct development of the main characters with their own different question marks over their heads — the show’s peerless use of music, climaxing with Mariah Carey’s “Anytime You Need A Friend” over the final scenes at the rehab facility, always guarantees a powerful emotional punch, in scene after scene.
Todd Gilchrist is a Los Angeles-based film critic and entertainment journalist with more than 20 years’ experience for dozens of print and online outlets, including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly and Fangoria. An obsessive soundtrack collector, sneaker aficionado and member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Todd currently lives in Silverlake, California with his amazing wife Julie, two cats Beatrix and Biscuit, and several thousand books, vinyl records and Blu-rays.