We Need to Talk About the ‘POSE FX’ Hospital Episode Right Now

Billy Porter as Pray Tell.

Writer Mark S. King was blown away by the latest episode of POSE FX. Grab the tissues.

POSE FX is nothing less than astounding to me. So much could have gone wrong, with the era, the themes, the characters, and – the aspect of the show closest to my heart and my critical eye — the disease that looms over it all.

Trans writers and advocates are better qualified to remark, and have, on the show’s moving depiction of the ballroom scene in the 1980’s and 90’s and the trans people of color who populated it. The talent of the leading actors, who are trans, is now a given rather than a novelty. What makes the show so absorbing is its depiction of their lives on the margins and how they redraw societal lines around their chosen family.

HIV has been a leading character, too, playing the villain that kills the partner of ballroom Master of Ceremonies, Pray Tell, as it infiltrates the close-knit community of house families. Pray is HIV positive himself, and this season has dealt with his resistance to taking AZT, the only approved HIV medication in 1990, when the season takes place.

MJ Rodriguez is Blanca.

Which brings us to “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” episode six of season two, the episode that aired on July 23, 2019.

Pray Tell lands in the hospital, and it’s a dingy one, folks, which is about all he can afford. The décor consists of weak air conditioning units and pasty walls. It’s depressing, but the real horror hasn’t even started.

Pray blames Blanca, a house mother, for talking him into taking AZT, because the side effects made him sick. Now Pray will have to go off the AZT and recover from the damage. Their argument in his hospital room over the drug dramatizes the HIV community’s complicated history with AZT. Was it approved too quickly because of community and activist pressure for something, anything, to treat HIV? (Note: I grinned at a well-researched prop in an earlier episode, when Blanca takes her AZT. There it was, that unmistakable white pill with the little blue stripe around the middle. No long-term survivor missed the historical accuracy of that capsule.)

Pray suffers from a few hallucinations, which is mostly a great excuse to bring back the recently departed Candy for some shady chatter and another long drag of a cigarette. I do hope she haunts Pray indefinitely.

But then this thing happens, this surreal blend of sickness and song and blood and jazz, and I’m still trying to process.


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