The complicated relationship between love and loss is explored when both Pray Tell and Patty Bowes's stories take center stage on Pose Season 1 Episode 6.
Pose's usual suspects take a back seat in this episode, and the shifting spotlight clears the way for some of the series most tense, but compelling drama.
The smallest storyline in "Love Is The Message" is Blanca's romantic plot with a man she meets outside the hall. She's both surprised and flattered by his interest, and after he lays on the charm, agrees to go out on a date with him.
But when she tells her friends about her new suitor, they recognize him as someone who has taken home several women, including some of them.
The revelation is an understandably upsetting one for Blanca, and she skips their date without notifying him to help Pray with his performance at the hospital.
When Blanca's confronted about it at the next walk, she explains she is not interested in whatever he's looking for, and her friends come to her aid in telling him to beat it.
In spite of the brevity of Blanca's story, viewers get some great, light-hearted and funny interaction between former and current House of Abundance members. It's a nice balance to the emotional heaviness of the rest of the episode.
Not to mention, it was affirming seeing her embark on the beginnings of a romance. We've seen Blanca act as a support to other people's relationships from the show's start, though not her own until now.
However, with how little time is taken to explore this, on top of how quickly things soured, it felt like the episode could have done without the subplot.
The message about who this man was and the kind of person he represents in the community is clear, but it didn't land all that well emotionally because we never quite saw Blanca get invested.
If anything, Blanca's first romance felt a bit like episode filler and stacked up against the episode's two other storylines, ultimately fell flat beyond its comedic moments.
Hopefully, the series will be able to hark back on this event to help build out her character and a potential romance down the road.
As for the rest of "Love Is The Message," the performances and writing were not just resonant, but incredibly well-delivered drama.
Picking up where Pose Season 1 Episode 5 ended, Patty and Angel make their way to an area diner to discuss Angel's relationship with Stan. Going in it seems like it's going to be an escalating confrontation, but it's quite the opposite.
There are moments where things get tense, particularly when Patty slights Angel as a sex worker and then demands to see under her dress.
But the scene never crosses over into physical violence, intimidation, or even an aggressive verbal altercation.
The scene is neither pretty (in content only, as visually the direction and editing are commendable) nor without discomfort, indeed. And even with Patty's (mostly) respectful demeanor, she does cross a line, and Angel makes her aware of it.
The entire encounter, however, lacks a purposefully bitter hostility for which moments like this – between characters like this – are known.
The characters get to the issues at the heart of the affair without being villainized, and as a result, illustrate the shared experience Angel and Patty now have as women in a man's world.
The scene places the onus of the drama on the cheater, not the cheated. Patty and Angel relate as victims of Stan's confusion and behavior. As we see when Patty tells Stan that she wants to be separated, they are both fed up with being treated as props in his playhouse.
Patty’s desperate need to understand coupled with Angel’s unapologetic honesty play like a dramatic harmony, making this delicate scene quite unlike anything Pose – and most of television – has produced thus far. It's a confrontation for sure, but it's also a subtle exploration of womanhood.
The vulnerability and authenticity that both Indya Moore and Kate Mara bring to their characters at this moment are award-worthy, as are the deliberate creative choices behind this scene, from the writing to the shooting to the editing.
The resulting fallout of Patty and Angel's conversation is dire for Stan, who learns that Patty wants to get a separation during a counseling session. His lies risked not only their family but also Patty's health. Furthermore, Stan took the opportunity to explore who he is outside of her, and now Patty wants to do the same.
This scene was unusual for a similar reason as Patty's conversation with Angel. Through calculated creative decisions, they both generated a sort of safe space for the characters.
Here, Stan, Angel, and Patty were allowed to question, express and face the truth of themselves, the unique challenges of love and loss among the triangle and the stifling politics of the world they (and we) inhabit.
The decision to split Patty and Stan isn't so much surprising as the timing of it. Up until now, she's mostly been a character that has existed as an extension of Stan.
Now she'll have to develop in spite of him. It will be interesting to see how much focus the rest of the season gives to Patty, and where her story will go from here.
Stan now has the freedom to work through his feelings, which have seemingly led him into dangerous territory with Matt and back into Angel's arms. But will his job still be there after his big office fight, and more importantly, will Angel take him back?
Meanwhile, "Love Is The Message" sends Pray Tell on an emotional rollercoaster that ultimately champions the resilience of the LGBTQ community's defining battle with a fatal disease.
Regardless of the amount of screen time Billy Porter has gotten week-to-week, he has consistently brought it with Pray. Not only were Porter's acting chops highlighted but their depth and range.
Pray is angry, sad, and bitter. Most of all, he's scared. When he looks at Costas, he doesn't just face losing the love of his life. He sees his future, as Costas points out.
Viewers are shown this dichotomy again during the series first musical numbers – the cabaret put on by Pray and Blanca for the AIDS ward's patients. A beautiful, but painfully intimate scene, Pose uses the moment to draw a visual connection between love and loss; the present and the future; Blanca and Pray, and the rest of the patients.
Not only are MJ Rodriguez and Billy Porter's vocal performances outstanding, but the song choices are – like everything from the episode titles to the walk categories – a thoughtful love letter to the message and people they represent.
The series also managed to tackle the journey of grief and trauma associated with HIV/AIDS-related deaths in a single episode, adding a lot of meat to Pray's seasonal development.
Through Costas's passing, Pray becomes just a little bit stronger than he was and invites everyone, right on down to Papi, to celebrate the community's fight to live.
The show has tackled various aspects of the HIV/AIDS experience, but this episode's choice to use a specific character to explore the nuances made it one of the show's most solid goes at this.
If you have thoughts about the episode, you can comment below. And if you haven't caught it yet, you can watch Pose online.
Abbey White is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.