SPOILER ALERT: This article contains major details about tonight’s episode of Pose.
Tonight’s episode of FX’s Pose had everyone gasping in disbelief. Titled “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” the episode depicted the attack and murder of an outspoken, fan-favorite character. Rest in peace, power and pageantry, Candy.
Candy was played by the impeccable Angelica Ross, and the character’s murder is more than just a death. It’s a moment to reflect and a call to action in an era where more and more trans women of color are getting murdered. The news somehow always gets buried and the names are forgotten. This year alone, 13 trans women of color have been killed: Dana Martin, Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Claire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle “Tamika” Washington, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Zoe Spears, Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, Layleen Polanco and Brooklyn Lindsey were all of different ages and in different parts of the country.
Series co-creator Ryan Murphy directed tonight’s episode and co-wrote it with Janet Mock. They felt that they needed to address this issue that seldom sees the light of day. At the same time, the pair knew they needed to subvert the “bury/kill your gays” trope that has often been the norm in TV and film. The trope refers to an LGBTQ character in a film or TV show getting murdered at the service of a straight, cisgender character’s plotline. It gives the impression that LGTBQ lives are more expendable than their hetero co-stars. Of course, the “bury your gays” trope is all about how the storyteller frames it, but more often than not, Hollywood tends to frame it in a less than enlightened manner.
Murphy and Mock had their work cut out for them when it came to a plot point that might have steered close to homophobic cliche, a pitfall avoided by having an inclusive and empathetic writers room. The Pose directing-writing pair talked to Deadline about how they thoughtfully shed light on the issue of trans women of color being murdered and how they injected hope into the emotional episode by celebrating family, ballroom culture and the undeniable ferocity and beauty that was Candy’s life.
DEADLINE: What was the conversation that led to this episode, Candy’s arc and her ultimate death?
JANET MOCK: Once we got picked up for the second season, [we knew] that we would have to lose one of our main characters. We were quite sure that we didn’t want it to be necessarily anchored around the epidemic of HIV/AIDS at the time. Instead, we wanted to really concentrate on the epidemic of violence that trans women are facing, not just back then but today. And we wanted to illustrate what loss looks like for this community in a very deep and impactful and grounded way.
Our hardest thing was which character. So once we figured out which character — and Ryan really plotted it out in his mind — we kind of plotted the whole first half of the season around losing Candy and really showing what that would look like. So that involved us showing one of her first scenes in the premiere talking about what a waste and what bullshit funerals are because the person dead can’t read everyone herself. So we knew that we were going to take this surreal step forward by having her be able to speak to everyone that meant something to her. So that’s kind of how the idea came about.
DEADLINE: Why Candy?
MOCK: We have this duty and this burden of occupying this space on television which is so accessible to millions of people, that we needed to have our viewers that were watching, who are just being introduced to this world and to these characters, that they need to also feel that loss…someone who was beloved, someone who stole scenes, and someone who had these iconic moments on the show. So, because we had all these touchstones with her for 11 episodes prior, we knew she was the right person.
DEADLINE: You said that this season felt like you had to lose a character, but when you first started the series were you already planting that seed?
RYAN MURPHY: As Janet said, there are two epidemics running through this show. There’s the epidemic of HIV/AIDS, and there’s the epidemic of violence against trans women. I think we’ve always been conscious of that — of the dangers and the injustices. When we did season one, I think we all felt, in the writers room, collectively, that we didn’t want to do anything gratuitous. We wanted you to know the characters, we wanted you to be invested in them. Because I feel so many times there is the trope of “kill your LGBTQ characters.” Sometimes as a plot point, as opposed to a character development point.
We all were sort of floored when the show aired last season, and so many people who loved the show would go on social media and say, “Oh, Stan is going to kill Angel. I don’t know if I can watch this. It’s going to kill me.” It became such an epidemic online that we actually went on and said, “We’re not killing anybody. We’re not killing Angel, so you can relax into the storytelling.”
But, as we started season two, we felt it would be irresponsible to not tell the truth about the second epidemic, which is the violence against trans women. So we started to chart that out. When Candy’s in the funeral parlor and she talks about that funerals are a waste of time to the dead because you can’t hear anybody talk about you, we started to lay that in so that it all pays off.
DEADLINE: How did Angelica react to the story?
MURPHY: We didn’t take it for granted, and we took it very seriously. We had a conversation with her, who’s so brilliant in the episode, very early on in the writing, and said, “We want to do this. How do you feel? Will you support it? What do you think?” She thought it was a very important thing to dramatize. I think when you watch these characters on TV, they become your friends. I know this from Glee, that that character, Kurt Hummel there, really helped gay kids and families, and I think Pose does the same with families as well.
We spent a lot of time talking about and plotting it out and working with the actors. It’s important to talk about this issue right now in our culture when so many trans women are being killed and they’re headlines. At best, they’re on page 24 in a newspaper and then the next day they’re gone and forgotten.
DEADLINE: How did you make Candy’s death and funeral not fall into the “kill your LGTBQ character” trap?
MURPHY: We really wanted an episode that takes you beyond the headlines. I mean, the thing that I think Janet and I and the writers are the proudest of is, we take you through the process: How do you claim the body? What is it like to walk in and see your friend and your sister in a casket and have to take charge of that narrative and make that person look like who they want to be seen as? Then how do you notify the parents and the families? It’s things that you haven’t really seen on television, I think, in terms of how we handle that death.
DEADLINE: It was truly a shock that Candy died — and there was part of me that didn’t believe it was really happening. But when it was shown that she was really dead, you went into this fantasy storyline where her spirit came back and sort of reconciled with nearly all the main characters. What was the conversation of creating this fantasy world where Candy returns?
MURPHY: Well, I think two things. I think we can all relate to this universal idea of maybe not telling people you love them enough or appreciate them enough when they’re alive, right? Everybody feels that. They say: “Oh, I wish I could’ve said something. I wish I could’ve let them know.” So that was our jumping off point, which is, wouldn’t it be great if she could show up and have conversations with people? And not just talk about her identity, but also her power and need and want to be seen and respected? All of those things.
DEADLINE: Did you look to anything to inspire the fantasy of her return?
MURPHY: For me, as a director, one of the things that I really thought about was All That Jazz as a sort of dreamlike quality and yet ends on sort of a triumphant note. I think as we were writing it, Janet and I were always wanting to make sure that the character Candy was always seen — like in that scene with the parents. What you see in our show is the first take from those wonderful actors. It was a room full of people. They got standing ovations from the cast after every take.
We were also dealing with the idea of, “I wish my parents had said that to us.” It’s not just about a trans person, it’s about any child wants to feel loved and seen, but not just by their parents but by the world. I think, hopefully, that scene, in particular, will launch many conversations. The thing we know about Pose is that people watch it as a family. Young people watch it with their parents. It’s always been a show that’s good medicine — if you will. It’s an instructor. It is a healer. All of those, I think, were involved in the making of it and the structure of it.
But there is sort of a theatrical phantasm to it, but that’s what the ballroom is. Ballroom is going into a space and claiming, “I am this. I want to be seen as this,” and getting respected for it. Whereas out in the real world, you’re not. I liked that one of the runners of our episodes throughout the first two seasons has been Candy, very thirsty for fame and having a lot to offer and being taken for granted, and not allowed to be everything that she wants to be in the world. I love that last scene that Angelica plays so beautifully where she sings that song and gets that perfect 10s, finally. I think many people will relate to that idea.
MOCK: Also, for us, you have this great moment, where you said, you went through the moments of complete fright, at first, then denial. You didn’t believe that she was really gone. I think that everyone has that first reaction when you see her body. You’re hopeful — because our show is hopeful — that when she goes missing and the girls can’t find her that she’s going to pop up, and then they’re going to pull her back together. Maybe she had a scare and then she won’t strip anymore and put herself in these situations. So there is that sense of that.
Then, also, we lay the groundwork also in episode three. We have Candy, who’s also aware that the systems aren’t fair, and she introduces them to Euphoria, who’s played by Peppermint, and we see the brutality that trans women face at the hands of men. You see her get beat up in that car. You see her get thrown out. You see her get arrested and beat up. So we get to show all the things that we don’t necessarily want to show to our beloved Candy because people care too much. But people can now imagine, right? They can imagine the brutality that her body faced. They can imagine violence in that hotel room, they can imagine the idea of a John just throwing her and discarding her body into a closet.
DEADLINE: You talked about loss earlier and wanting to give nuance to Candy’s death. What was the process of getting that story on to the page?
MURPHY: For us, the care comes in the sense of, what do our people do after we’re found? How do they deal with that loss? What does that look like, as Ryan said, to go and claim this body that the system says you have no right over, despite you being the ones that were her real family? What does it look like to contact parents who haven’t even talked to her, who don’t know her as a woman? What does it look like to reconcile all this pain? We see Lulu for the first time without Candy, and that’s a loss. Because ever since the first frame of the show, those two women have been together. They started a house together, they were sisters together in Abundance and all these girls were Elektra’s daughters… and now she’s gone. What does a proper goodbye look like?
So all of these elements, I think it speaks to the intentionality and the thoughtfulness, specifically in the writers room, and how many drafts it took us to pour over it. I think it’s probably the most revised script we’ve ever done beyond the pilot from last season.
DEADLINE: The biggest shock of Candy’s death was that it felt like she had so much story left to tell.
MOCK: That’s it right there. Right? It’s like, you still don’t know enough about Candy. I feel like we’re still kind of meeting her. Who are these parents? Where did she come from? Did she grow up in New Jersey? You want to know so much more. But that’s what happens. It’s like these women are stripped away and you don’t get to know all of that. At the same time, we are putting the responsibility in the kindest, gentlest way to the audience, to think about how we lose our people — and this is what’s happening every single day, from back then to today.
DEADLINE: Pose is changing the game when it comes to LGBTQ storytelling and it has accomplished a lot of “firsts” in the industry. You both have entered a space that is predominantly occupied by white, heterosexual cisgender males. In that aspect, you are considered pioneers. Do you guys experience pressure and pioneer burnout because of the responsibility to the LGBTQ community?
MURPHY: For me, I don’t. But I’m also doing things where I feel like I’m using any power that have or money in the bank, so to speak, by giving people from the generation below me a chance. That’s Janet in my book. She has this amazing, groundbreaking new deal at Netflix. So, no, I never get burnout when I have the opportunity to bring people up that I love, who I think can change the world. If that wasn’t in the cards, maybe.
I started in television in 1998. I remember on my first show I wasn’t allowed to have a gay character. I walked into that set, I was the only gay person out of a crew of 500 people. So I look at what has happened to me in the past 20 years, and I sort of marvel at that. To be blunt, it was a fight. I wasn’t just given something, I have to fight. I was lucky that I had great people in my corner who believed in me. But none of it came without cost — and it certainly took a lot out of me.
But, I feel very lucky and blessed to be in this position to be able to make shows like this and give people like Janet and Steven [Canals] opportunities. So that, in itself, is energizing. What I love about Pose, for me, is I feel like I’m literally passing a torch and saying, “Okay, now you run.” That’s what it feels like on this set. Janet and Steven are writing, directing, producing. They are the boss, they are calling the shots. That is, for me, such a blessing and a miracle, that I’ve lived in a time where that has been able to happen, from where I started.
MOCK: As for me, I think if I had any other showrunner, maybe I would feel that sense. But there’s not much fighting that Steven and I have to do to tell the stories we want to tell. Our showrunner is invested from the start, and the team of people that he’s recruited and brought on as collaborators, they’re all on the same page. Our space is very intentional, the way that it’s been built.
Even when we spoke with Angelica, that first time, to let her know that we were going to lose Candy, she never thought about herself. She thought about serving the story. And what she does well in this episode is that she uses every single inch of her experiences and her talent to tell this story, and so does all of the other actors who are featured. Everyone gave of themselves so much.
So, for us, I think that we are pioneers in this space, but we get to do it together. I know I sound very much like Mother Blanca here. It’s true, though. We don’t feel like we’re alone and doing it in a vacuum. We feel like we’re a team and a family of collaborators and people who are together wanting to tell the best story possible. And when we give it to the audience, they sop it up, like a biscuit to gravy. They love it and they embrace it and they watch it over and over again and they tweet us. So we feel just the love and the affirmation.