Pose: Billy Porter Discusses the Show’s Sad Yet Hopeful Finale

Pose: Billy Porter and Steven Canals on the Show’s Tragic Yet Hopeful Finale

“I always have a hard time patting myself on the back for all the great things that Pose represents because the intention was always to see the door get kicked down, and to see more progress,” the creator says. “I’m hopeful that it will come but I would be lying if I didn’t say I’m disappointed that it didn’t happen over the course of the past 4 years since our show was announced.”

Pose series finale and inset of

FX’s groundbreaking drama Pose concluded its 3-year run Sunday with a finale that delivered both heartbreak and hope for the future.

The series, created by Steve Canals and Ryan Murphy, helped usher in a new era of storytelling with its historic casting of transgender actors to play trans characters in the 1980s-set ballroom drama.

After a Peabody Award and landmark Emmy win for star Billy Porter, Pose signs off by honoring the queer men of color and HIV/AIDS crusaders who fought for visibility and access to life-saving medication.

The finale saw Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) and Pray Tell (Porter) fight for access into a clinical trial that, in a reminder of the racial injustices that continue to today, favorited white men.

After Pray comes close to death, the cocktail prolongs his life long enough for him to reunite with ex-boyfriend Ricky (Dyllon Burnside). Ultimately though, Pray sacrifices his own life so Ricky can survive and create his own legacy–Ricky had no idea Pray was giving up his own meds to save his life.

 

Billy Porter Photographed By Lia Clay Miller

After Pray’s death, Blanca, Ricky and the rest of their family spread part of Pray’s ashes as part of an Act Up protest to fight for access to life-saving medication.

The series ends in a hopeful note as Blanca imparts Pray’s words of wisdom to a new generation of kids on the ballroom scene and are struggling to achieve their success.

The series referenced Sex and the City, showing Blanca, Elektra (Dominique Jackson), Angel (Indya Moore) and Lulu (Hailie Sahar) meeting for drinks to celebrate their professional success in a scene culminating the fight for survival and acceptance that Pose represented.

The show’s creative conclusion, how Pray Tell’s death sped up Porter’s plans to break his 14-year silence about his HIV status and their hopes for Pose‘s lasting legacy.

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Canals, left, directing Rodriguez and Porter in the series finale. ERIC LIEBOWITZ/FX

Billy spoke openly about starting trauma therapy during pandemic. What was it like to film Pray Tell’s death?

Porter: Having done the work on myself, that was the self-care component of being an actor that we don’t always get the opportunity to understand that we need. I’m grateful for the trauma therapy, I was able to already have my mind in the right space and understand that Pray Tell has been, and continues to be down to the very end, a proxy for my healing. When that is the conscious objective, you can hold on to your sanity. How does that bear out in real time? What does that mean? When we were shooting the break-up scene with Ricky, I said, “I don’t have more than two takes in me.” In seasons 1 and 2, I would have done it however many times somebody asked me to do it.

Learning about Billy’s HIV status?

Canals: Billy and I had a conversation privately at the onset starting Pose, during the pilot?

Porter: We were shooting the pilot. I wasn’t telling a lot of people, but I felt the creator of the show needed to know, because subconsciously it would inform where Pray Tell’s storyline went.

Canals: We never talked about it again until the finale. It wasn’t anything I ever brought up in the writers’ room. I never talked about it with Ryan Murphy or the other producers. It wasn’t anything that Billy had ever talked about and it’s never come up in any interviews. That’s private information. It made the process of working on the show sensitive, because I was always hyper aware. It’s similar to the experience with the ladies as well that I never want to be re-traumatizing our actors. I never want you to feel like you have to go to these scary to places and not feel like you’re not supported. The benefit of over the past 3 seasons, building a rapport with Billy specifically, is that he’s never not advocated for himself. If there was a moment where Billy was going to feel uncomfortable–or was not going to want to go there–he would say, “We need to have a conversation.”

I wanted to be able to hold space for him. Going into season 3, Billy and I had conversation about the importance of the show specifically for us as queer men of color living in the shadows of the people who came before us, whose names we don’t know. But if it weren’t for their work, and it wasn’t for all the things that they did, we wouldn’t be able to stand in and be where we are.  Working with Billy, I had real ally who shared the goal of the story. The show has been so much bigger than us and our own experiences, shining a light and honoring our forebears.

 

 

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Mj Rodriguez’s Blanca with Pray Tell’s ashes in the series finale. ERIC LIEBOWITZ/FX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pray Tell’s death?

Porter: I knew he was going to die in season 1, and Ryan Murphy mentioned that Pray Tell might not survive.

Canals: We had conversations about it in season 2.  We were really sensitive to that we were telling a story about HIV/AIDS. When you have not one but 3 characters who are HIV positive, is it realistic to think that you’re going to craft a narrative that takes place at the height of the epidemic, where there still was a lack of access to resources and a lack of access to medical care, and think that at no point they are never going to get sick? In the context of a TV show, you can’t have these characters continue to get sick every couple of episodes and wind up in the hospital. We were hyper aware that there was another greater story there for us to tell around HIV.

It wasn’t specifically around Pray Tell going to die as much as it was about the sacrifices the community had to make to survive. We decided that Pray Tell would be the character to tell that story through. Telling story of the fullness of what it means to be diagnosed with AIDS, to know that you have a finite amount of time left, and then what are the choices you’re going to make moving forward in life. Pray Tell goes home to have closure with his mother. We started that story in season 2, when he joined Act Up, and we come back to that in the season 3.