Performing Through Pain: 5 Key Takeaways From 'Pose' Season 2, Episode 6

Billy Porter as Pray Tell and Mj Rodriguez as Blanca
Michael Parmelee/FX

Billy Porter as Pray Tell and Mj Rodriguez as Blanca in Episode 6, Season 2 of Pose.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for season 2, episode 5 of Pose (“Love's In Need of Love Today") 

When it comes to staging musical numbers on major television series, there is likely no one more experienced than Ryan Murphy. From his work on the countless performances of Glee, to the few disparate numbers in American Horror Story, Murphy knows how to give a television audience a good show. 

Murphy even brought his musical sensibilities to Pose Season 1, when he had Pray Tell (Billy Porter) and Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) perform a stunning rendition of “Home” from The Wiz. But in “Love’s In Need of Love Today,” Murphy steps it up by offering not one, not two, but five musical numbers from the show’s cast, while also delivering audiences with the necessary plot to make this one of this season’s best episodes yet. 

From a few familiar ghosts to some show-stopping numbers, here are our 5 key takeaways from episode 6 of Pose Season 2, “Love’s In Need of Love Today.”

Taking the fall: A mere two episodes ago, Pray Tell finally began taking his necessary AZT to combat the progression of his AIDS at the behest of Nurse Judy and Blanca. Sadly, it looks like he was right about not wanting to take it after all. During a truly sickening futuristic ball, Pray suddenly hits the floor and is rushed to the hospital. There, we get some bad news -- his body is rejecting his new medication, and Pray Tell is rejecting Blanca’s constantly optimistic worldview. “Yeah, I wanna live, y’all know I want to live,” he says through tears. “But I just need to throw a motherfucking temper tantrum every once in a while! Can I have that at least?” Now tasked with putting on the AIDS cabaret themselves, Blanca and Judy leave him alone. 

A loving embrace: But Pray’s not alone for long! While he’s hopped up on the drugs helping combat his symptoms, the emcee is visited by a few ghosts to bring him news, like a very gay Christmas Carol. One of those ghosts is Costas, Pray’s departed lover whose burial site we saw at the beginning of the season. He reminds Pray that he has a responsibility to keep fighting for himself and his life, while reminding him that he still loves him. What ensues is our first musical number of the episode. Porter’s Pray Tell suddenly emerges from his hospital room cloaked in a sparkling suit to deliver an empowering rendition of Judy Garland’s “The Man That Got Away” from the original A Star Is Born. It’s a touching moment, and an excellent performance from Porter that will surely have you reaching for some tissues. 

The angel of death: Costas isn’t the only spirit who visits Pray. Along with a brief and angry interaction with his dead father, Pray is visited by the Ghost of Ballroom’s Past, Ms. Candy Ferocity. She’s doing well; she tells Pray about her lavish time spent in the heaven that she chose (which is predominantly filled with famous stars who died of AIDS), while he lies in anguish in a dirty hospital. Her purpose becomes clear -- whether she’s really a ghost or just a product of Pray’s symptoms, Candy is here to escort Pray out of his life. She does her best to persuade Pray, going as far as filling his fist with Valium to ease the pain. But even still, by the episode’s end, Pray refuses to give up living. “Go ahead. Keep haunting me,” he says. “I’m telling you now, and I’m gonna keep on telling you -- it’s not my time.”

Boarding up: While Pray lives out his Judy-Garland-meets-Ebenezer-Scrooge fantasy in the hospital, Blanca is having her own troubles. As she preps for the upcoming AIDS cabaret, she is also fending off her vicious landlord Frederica Norman (played by Patti Lupone, giving you her best scowls to date) from closing down her nail salon. But something switches when Mrs. Norman agrees to come to the AIDS cabaret, perform a number (trust me, we’re getting there) and even take Blanca out to dinner. Wow! They’re friends now! This is great! Except it’s not. Turns out, Frederica was merely distracting our fearless mother while her son and a few of his goons emptied out her salon, boarded up the doors, and changed the locks. Sadly for the real estate tycoon, she’s dealing with Blanca, who’s not particularly good at being told “no.” With a few dozen ballroom members, some painted signs and a lot of chanting, Blanca uses the power of protest to hit Frederica where it really hurts -- the press.

Showstoppers: Okay, now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, it is time to discuss the sickening performances at this cabaret! Before we discuss our main stars, let’s give a shoutout to Ryan Jamaal Swain, Dyllon Burnside and Hallie Sahar (Damon, Ricky and Lulu, respectively) for their excellent backing vocals on a few of these performances. Enough chat, let’s dish:

Nurse Judy (Sandra Bernhard) — “Sometimes it Snows In April” by Prince: As if Sandra Bernhard wasn’t already an absolute gem, her performance of this excellent Prince B-side only further proves her essential role on Pose. Her quiet, subtle rendition of the track gives the song nuance and emotion that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a comedy icon like Bernhard, and brings the tragedy of the situation into crystal-clear view. 

Frederica Norman (Patti Lupone) — “I’m Still Here” from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies: When you have a Broadway legend like Patti Lupone at your disposal, you get her to perform a number, no matter how strange it seems. The plot line leading up to Lupone’s performance of this iconic Broadway standard is shaky, but it doesn’t matter because Patti Lupone is singing Stephen Sondheim on national television. Obviously, this moment is pure gold, and exactly what you would want from a number like this. 

Electra Wintour (Dominique Jackson) — “Sooner or Later” by Madonna: What is there to say? Electra Abundance-Then-Evangelista-Then-Ferocity-Now-Wintour certainly...stops the show with her Madonna-meets-Dick-Tracy number. Dominique Jackson does an excellent job selling us on the delusion that Electra lives in, and at providing us with this comically bad performance. 

Blanca & Pray Tell (Mj Rodriguez & Billy Porter) — “Love’s In Need of Love Today” by Stevie Wonder: Harkening back to their first performance in season one, Rodriguez and Porter show exactly why they fit so perfectly together on this classic Stevie Wonder track. With perfect harmonies and some beautiful acting, this song is certainly the most powerful in the episode.

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