The FX series Pose came to a conclusion this year after three seasons and earned nine Emmy nominations, including for Outstanding Drama Series. Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals, Pose takes a look at the underground drag ball culture in the African-American and Latino LGBTQ community during the late 1980s and early ’90s. The series earned Billy Porter an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2019, marking the first time an openly gay Black man was nominated, and won, an Emmy in a lead acting category.
Porter is nominated for the same category this year as well, while co-star MJ Rodriguez is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, marking the first time a trans person has been nominated in a lead acting category.
The series finale is a nominee in the Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series category and was written by Murphy, Falchuk, Canals, Janet Mock and Our Lady J. In the episode, Blanca Evangelista (Rodriguez) is working in an HIV ward of a hospital when she hears about an HIV clinical trial, with promising results, that is denying access to people of color. With her friend Pray Tell (Porter) hospitalized due to the disease, Blanca joins ACT UP, an LGBTQ activist group, to get medication for him and other patients.
Here, two of the Emmy-nominated writers of the script — Canals and Our Lady J — answer some questions about their work as part of Deadline’s It Starts on the Page, a series showcasing scripts from this year’s Emmy-nominated programs and the writers who brought them to life.
DEADLINE: What was the inspiration behind the script for this episode?
STEVEN CANALS: We, the Pose writers, were all deeply impacted by Covid-19 and immediately identified the parallels to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s. We’d always planned to have the episode be about Blanca and Pray Tell’s friendship and Pray’s unexpected death, but the story took on a new sense of urgency amidst all the loss that was being felt globally. Ultimately the story was written to honor the lives of the individuals lost to HIV/AIDS and pay homage to the LGBTQ+ heroes who fought tirelessly at a time when there was little resources or support.
OUR LADY J: As the series finale, I wanted folks to find hope in Blanca’s survival, inspired by the survival of my own trans “mother,” Alexandra Billings. I also wanted folks to understand that Pray Tell’s death did not mean that his spirit didn’t survive. Life is so much more than stacking up a day count — the imprint we leave from our time here is what echoes into eternity.
DEADLINE: What is your favorite line from the script?
CANALS: My favorite line in the episode is, “What you gotta do is work harder, reach higher, and dream big, until you triumph!”
OUR LADY J: This line is from an Act Up meeting, which, to me, summarizes the spirit of Pose: “We have thousands and thousands of loved ones, sitting in urns, moribund and inactive. Well if you ask me, they were revolutionaries who died for a cause, who beyond the grave call out to be in service. And they would want to be active in our final fight!”
DEADLINE: What was the most difficult scene to write?
CANALS: The sequence of scenes around Pray Tell’s death — especially the moment Ricky finds Pray — was emotionally taxing. The episode was already tough because I was saying goodbye to characters I love, but Pray’s death made it all so final.
OUR LADY J: The scene where Blanca delivers HIV-positive test results to a young trans woman required a bit of emotional excavating for me. I wrote almost every HIV/AIDS-related scene on all three seasons of Pose, based on my own personal experience of living with the disease for nearly 20 years, but this particular scene was tough because it explored frontiers we had never seen. It’s about two HIV+ trans women grieving the loss of innocence, finding comfort in their shared trauma, and carving out unprecedented paths for each other — a sisterhood I wish I had experienced in my early diagnosis, and a quality in my friendships that I cherish today.
DEADLINE: How many rewrites did the script go through?
CANALS: Very few. There were six revisions, but those were all minor tweaks. We’d spent three seasons working ourselves up to this moment, and this was one episode where we knew the story clearly and wrote it quickly.
OUR LADY J: Goldenrod was the final revision, so five.
DEADLINE: Talk about the additional pressure of co-writing the final chapter of the series.
CANALS: There was no pressure. Pose has had the same writers room for all three seasons. As a result, there’s a shorthand to our communication and understanding of these characters. Each of us was deeply invested in this final episode and brought our best selves to the page to honor these character’s lives.
OUR LADY J: Each episode of Pose was co-written by the entire writers room, so it felt natural to continue this process with the final episode. The shared credit on this finale was an important nod to the work we did as a team.
Click on the script below to read it.