When Damon runs into his new paramour, Ricky, on the Pier, we can hear the classic 1986 jam “Ain’t Nothing Going on but the Rent” playing in the background. The chorus of the song says, “You have to have a J-O-B, if you want to be with me,” and that is the motto of this episode. This week, everyone is obsessed with money: how they’re getting it, what it can do for them, and the invisible strings that come attached to it.
This is most obviously the theme of Angel and Stan’s story. Stan starts off the episode going to the famed 21 Club in Manhattan to meet his new boss Matt. He rolls up in his new Cadillac and his wife Patty is wearing a new ball gown. Cut to the next day, when he’s adding up the bills and figuring out that playing the part of the successful real-estate man is costing him more than he’s bringing in. When Patty asks for a dishwasher instead of another gown, Stan tells her that they have to look the part in order to succeed. He’s trying to achieve the same “executive realness” that everyone in the ball scene is going for as well.
Even though he’s strapped for cash, Stan goes looking for Angel at the Pier and finds out she’s now working in the peep show at Show World in Times Square. Angel tells Stan that she makes just as much money and doesn’t have to touch anyone. He doesn’t like the idea of sharing her, but she tells him that if she wants him to quit, she needs to be a kept woman. That means Stan pays her rent, gives her money for clothes, and supports her full time. And she wants a year-long lease or she’s not giving up her lucrative gig.
Then, after Angel asks Stan why he wants her at his beck and call, he delivers the best speech of the entire episode. “I’m no one. I want what I’m supposed to want, I wear what I’m supposed to wear, and I work where I’m supposed to work. I stand for nothing … I can buy things I can’t afford, which means they’re not really mine … I accumulate. I’m a brand, a middle-class white guy,” he says. “But you are who you are, even though the price you pay is being disinvited from the world.” He says he needs that in his life to keep going.
He goes to his boss and asks for a raise, and his boss knows immediately it’s because Stan has a lover. He gives him the raise as long as he gets the dirty details. That way everyone is happy: Stan gets Angel, Angel gets the safety of an apartment, and Patty gets her dishwasher. (As usual, Patty is the one who is setting her sights way too low.)
Angel’s and Stan’s stories continue to be the most interesting to me because they’re the ones that seem to bridge the ball world with the world at large, showing that what the legendary children are striving for isn’t just a subculture but a reflection of society at large. Damon’s story, to me, is the most boring because it seems the most obvious — but this too, of course, has to do with money. After meeting Ricky at a ball, he stands him up on their date because his dance teacher invited him to go to the ballet. Ricky is pissed when Damon doesn’t show, so pissed that a poor street kid throws two slices of pizza into the trash without eating them. Girl, he must be really pissed.
Damon finds out that Ricky is living on the street and he tells Damon that if he really wants to go places, he’d do better than dating someone like him. Damon invites him to meet him at the ballet at 6:30 the next day. Alright, this annoys me. First of all, everyone in New York will tell you that the theater, ballet, and opera all start at eight. Why is Damon inviting Ricky to show up to the ballet almost two hours early?
Second of all, Damon has no money and is a poor student. He’s so poor, it’s a big deal when his teacher invites him for free. So where did he suddenly come up with the cash for two ballet tickets? When Papi came home with a skateboard, which probably cost less than two ballet tickets, Blanca correctly assumed that he started selling drugs. What is she going to think when Damon suddenly can afford box seats for ABT at Lincoln Center?
Speaking of Blanca, she starts off the episode with a triumph over her arch nemesis Elektra by walking in the Legendary Runway category. I’m not so sure about this win, though. While she was wearing a magenta sparkly gown covered in marabou and a hat that would not have looked out of place at a royal wedding for the queen of camp, Elektra wore a gorgeous navy ruffled lewk. One of the judges likened to the inside of a coffin, but for my money, it looked far more timeless and gorgeous.
Blanca celebrates by going to Boy Lounge in the West Village, a bar full of preppy white gays that was named the best gay bar in the city. (The scene was filmed both inside and outside of Julius, the legendary gay bar in the village.) She and her friend are kicked out by the manager who says they can go to the Cubbyhole to drink instead, even though neither of them are lesbians.
Blanca is determined to leave a better world for her children, and so she keeps showing up to the bar every night to get thrown out. She hopes that, one day, no gay establishment will bar people of color or trans people. Why she doesn’t enlist her children to flood the bar in protest is beyond me. She’s so busy being a “transvestite Norma Rae,” as Elektra calls her, that Elektra keeps winning at the balls uncontested. When Blanca ends up arrested and thrown in the men’s cell, Elektra comes and bails her out, but only on the condition that Blanca compete in the next ball so that Elektra can have her revenge. To get that access to money, everyone has to compromise just a little bit.
Elektra continues to steal every scene she’s in, whether it’s walking out of the competition with a wagon full of trophies or exiting the nail salon where Blanca works by declaring, “It’s on the house.” Alexis Carrington was always everyone’s favorite character on Dynasty and Dominique Jackson is doing her best to bring her back to life.
As we’ve seen, Elektra and Blanca are approaching life from two very different ways. Blanca wants to improve the world around her and bring everything she’s learned from the ball culture into the mainstream, or at least the gay community at large. Elektra thinks that she has no place in the greater world and that the balls are the only thing that matter. She wants to rule a little fiefdom that she knows she can surely conquer, rather than try to take over the entire planet and fail.
We see these two different types of people all over the show. On one side we have Blanca, Stan, and Damon, who are shooting for something that seems impossible but they are determined to make happy. On the other side is Elektra, Angel, and Patty, who keep their expectations low and keep their dreams small in hopes that they might actually get fulfilled one day.
Before we close on this money-obsessed episode, a note must be made about these run times, which find the first two episodes clocking in at well over an hour each. Someone needs to tell Ryan Murphy no — nearly every single scene in this episode was too long. Blanca and Damon’s funny birds-and-the-bees talk was too long, Damon’s rehearsal scene was too long, even Elektra cussing out Blanca was too long. When an episode is so jam-packed and tense that it needs a bit of extra time, I think FX is totally justified in giving it. (See: every episode of The Americans.) However, neither of Pose’s first two episodes have risen to the occasion. Let’s hope that Mr. Murphy and his network tighten things up, before our attitude changes from “nothing going on but the rent” to “the rent is too damn high.”