Knowing this episode was titled “The Trunk” meant I watched it anxiously knowing (or, rather, thinking I knew) what was ahead. Those of us who watched season two’s “Butterfly/Cocoon” episode having read Jeanie Russell Kasindorf’s 1994 New York Magazine article “The Drag Queen Had a Mummy in her Closet” knew it was only a matter of time before Pose would circle back to this most infamous of plotlines.
And so, when I saw Elektra being escorted out of her business by a pair of cops in the opening minutes of the episode, I thought we’d get a conclusion to this fictionalized Dorian Corey saga in a lurid, Cold Case/Law & Order kind of way. Instead, while this Janet Mock and Brad Falchuk–penned entry is structured around the literal skeleton hidden in Elektra’s closet, er, trunk, it soon became clear this wasn’t gonna become no cop drama. (As Blanca puts it later in the episode, “The system blames us when it’s the system that fails us”; and in that respect, Pose was never going to let its characters be framed by a genre so beholden to glorifying the systems that be.)
What we have here instead is the best episode of this final season yet. Yes, it’s about “The Trunk,” but it’s about what that trunk has meant to Elektra — as a kid stashing Halston dresses away from their mother’s judgmental eyes, as a House Mother all too happy to build herself a home anew, and yes, later still as a reminder of the unspeakable choices she’s had to make in order to survive.
Those flashbacks to 1978, 1983, and 1984 give the episode an almost self-contained quality, as if we’re taking time to look back before the full thrust forward toward the show’s inevitable conclusion starts to kick in. And who better to usher us down memory lane than the legendary Elektra Abundance Evangelista herself?
Showing where Elektra came from, further framing her take on motherhood as a correction on the way her own mother treated her, is a lovely way to bring her character full circle. As she beams about Blanca’s admission into nursing school at the end of the episode, you cannot help but flash back to the moment she adopted Angel, Cubby, and Lemar at the piers, even as the interactions with her own mother help better frame the hardened exterior Elektra’s long depended on. Her poise, “The Trunk” reminds us, is as much armor as weapon, and you see why she so struggles letting it go and making herself vulnerable — even amid those she now calls family.
What’s long made Dominique Jackson such a captivating performer on Pose has been her ability to be quintessentially bittersweet; she may be abrasively harsh at times, but you never doubt her heart’s in the right place. Take a line like “Ask for Blanca and don’t be startled. She’s got a good heart under that unfortunate wig.” It’s a delicious read, yes, but it’s also a heartwarming admission of how much she cares for her daughter. Allowing this episode to flesh out Elektra’s backstory, giving us a look at the mother who never could see her for who she was, as well as key moments that led to the gag-worthy arrival of the House of Abundance at the ballroom scene in 1984, is not just a treat but a welcome chance to give Jackson ample room to delve into the complexities (and softer aspects) of one of the show’s most captivating characters.
Honestly, the moment in 1983 when Elektra, standing in front of her mother, drops her haughty affectation and reverts back to the vocal cadences her mother would recognize is a thing of beauty. Not only as a mini-tour de force, but as a reminder of the way one’s voice (be it its tenor, its inflection, its accent) is very much a part of one’s identity, even if it remains as malleable as one’s wardrobe.
Speaking of wardrobe, we need to talk about that final ball (category is: Once Upon a Time). I noted last week that Pose at times functions like a modern, queer twist on the heartwarming family TV drama, one anchored by loving mothers like Blanca and Elektra. But as the House of Abundance made a killer entrance in ’90s riffs on age-old fairy tales, I was reminded that such a genre has also played a role in the way the FX drama conceives itself. Scored by Donna Summer’s “Once Upon a Time” — “She lived in the land of never-never,” she sings, “Where everything real is unreal and only fairy tales come true” — the ball feels like a distillation of the vision Pose has dreamed up for its characters. Over the course of its three seasons, cast and crew have recuperated and reinvented stock characters that had so dominated storytelling about the queer and trans community (the Black trans sex worker, the flamboyant Black gay man) and made them into aspirational role models, heroes of their own stories, giving them life in their own version of “Once Upon a Time.”
A young Angel (Indya Moore), for instance, coming out in a scarlet hooded outfit that evokes both Red Sonja and Red Riding Hood shows us an empowered version of femininity that wrestles that fairy tale about girls facing predatory men in the woods away from childhood fancies and into the world of ballroom (and late night pier hookups). Likewise, Blanca and Elektra turning the tables on Snow White (“She’s not eating the poisoned apple; she’s making you eat them!”) and the Evil Queen (“I pity the princess who crosses this bitch!”) is a brilliant opportunity to illustrate how damsels and villains are rife for subversion under a queer gaze. But also, how appropriate those stories remain for the members of the House of Abundance, who are inching themselves ever close (we hope) to their own happily ever afters.
Tens Across the Board
• Elektra negotiating herself a hot apple pie at McDonald’s on top of her rate at the piers in 1978 (“They pay more because I am more!”) is perfection.
• Between The Undoing, Made for Love, and now her turn as Elektra’s no-nonsense mother Tasha, I need us to give Noma Dumezweni bigger and juicier roles in the years ahead. She deserves as much.
• I’m still laughing over Angelica Ross’s delivery of, “I thought someone without a hammer said something!” So lovely to have had her back if ever so briefly. (Bonus: she, like everyone else in the House of Abundance’s debut, looked divine.)
• “You have disappointed me! The category is ‘Once Upon a Time’ not ‘Prom Night Massacre!’ And what is this? What is this with craft store cellophane wings? You trying to fly away from your shaaaame, Miss Capri?!” After an episode that gave Billy Porter some truly dark material to work with, it was refreshing to see Pray Tell circa 1984 and find him at his wittiest and most extravagant, relishing the chance to breathe life into a Pray that’s yet to see the darkness up ahead.
• Get you a man who looks at you the way Jeremy Pope’s Christopher looks at Blanca. Any man who doesn’t do so much as blink when he hears his girlfriend has a body to dispose of (and who then helps out, without puking, I might add, when said mummified body rolls out of its trunk) is a man worth keeping around, a Prince Charming incarnate.