Candy: In Memoriam – 5XMV3L
Spoilers for Episode 4 of Pose, “Never Knew Love Like This Before”.
Candy Ferocity is dead. Even if you haven’t seen the newest episode of Pose, you have seen a tweet, from the cast, the creators or any of the viewers, mourning her. I knew, before watching the episode, that Candy would die, that this episode would be a showcase for Angelica Ross, and a sobering reminder of the violence faced by trans women. However, knowing didn’t prepare me for the jarring shock I experienced while watching .
I have mixed feelings about episode 4 of Pose, titled “Never Knew Love Like This Before”, after the Stephanie Mills’ song that Candy lip syncs to at the very end of the episode. The episode itself is stunning, poignant, heartbreaking, but it left a bad taste in my mouth, and by the end I was broken, but also frustrated.
I am aware of the realities faced by LGBT people of colour, more specifically by Black trans women. I knew that for Pose to accurately and effectively portray the lives of these marginalized people, a character would eventually die. This season is set during the AIDS crisis, both Blanca and Pray Tell are HIV positive, most of the characters are sex workers, each episode has featured either a death or a funeral. One of the first scenes of the first episode was a shot of mass graves and unmarked coffins where people who had died of AIDS were buried. Death was inevitable, it hung over the show, gave each scene new meaning, changed the ways they interacted with each other. I, like many other viewers, knew it was coming, but by the end of the episode I was left asking,
Why now, why her?
Candy, although one of the main characters on the show was, for most of Seasons 1 and 2, sidelined, little screentime and no major storyline. I had expected that this would change as the show moved on, that Candy would receive an episode centered around her. She did, but not the way I’d hoped. Whenever Candy was onscreen, she was written as the loud, angry, aggressive, darkskin woman, who did nothing more than pick fights and threaten to assault people with her hammer. Candy was often the butt of the joke, due to her failed attempts at voguing or walking categories she did not belong in. These attempts were then followed by Pray Tell dragging her, to the amusement of everyone. For the bulk of the show, Candy appeared to exist solely to be laughed at by the audience. Angelica Ross is the only thing that saved the character from becoming a caricature, breathing life and nuance into the role that the writing rarely bothered to give her.
It can’t be ignored that prior to Candy’s death, only 2 out of the 5 trans women leading the show were darkskin Black women, and now that number has been reduced to 1. Candy’s frequent sidelining, and lack of an actual storyline or character development, is much worse when compared to the treatment her lightskin counterparts receive. Blanca and Angel thrive in spite of their hostile environment, with each woman on the verge of achieving her dreams in the outside world. If only Candy had been so lucky. If only we had known more about Candy than the fact that she worked as a stripper. What were her dreams? What did she want from life? It was only in this episode that she (suddenly) expressed interest in wanting to be a star, and lip syncing at the balls.
Candy’s murder is a devastating moment, an inevitability in the harsh and transphobic world that Pose is set in. Her murder could be seen as being intended to shine a light on the very real dangers faced by trans women every day, and the frequency of transphobic killings. However, the sight of Candy’s bloodied dead body, laying on the bathroom floor, was almost too much to bear. I had to look away. I already knew that she was dead, and knowing was enough, and preferable to seeing her body.
The memorial service that follows, is one of the most powerful things I have ever seen on television. The best art often draws from pain, and the very real pain of a death, pushes many shows to new heights, and Pose is no exception. There were many points were I almost cried, including the scene where Angel, Blanca and Elektra rush to redo Candy’s makeup The performances are the best they’ve ever been, and each actor is phenomenal, none more so than Angelica herself. Although dead, Candy is present, providing strength and support. Angelica gives a soulful performance, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that Candy is serving as some kind of ghost therapist, wiping away tears and giving encouragement to characters that had either treated her poorly (Pray Tell) or characters we had never seen her interact with (Angel).
“Never Knew Love Like This Before” is possibly one of the best episodes of the year. It is equal parts powerful, sobering and uplifting, but it also feels hollow at certain points. Angelica Ross is the saving grace, holding everything together, showing us just how talented she is. She makes the episode worth watching. Candy may be dead, but Angelica imbues her with life. In the final scene, she becomes almost incandescent. It’s not a sendoff, it’s a star being born.