Spoilers ahead for the June 17 episode of Pose.
Many television moments have brought viewers around the country to tears this year. Most of those episodes involve the words “Queer” and “Eye” or a malfunctioning Crock-Pot. But, Sunday night’s Pose entered the race for TV’s most moving instalment as the holiday season descended upon Blanca Rodriguez (M.J. Rodriguez) and her self-made family. While makeovers and murderous kitchen appliances have already made viewers reach for the tissues, the Ryan Murphy drama’s “Giving and Receiving” used something else to wreak havoc fans’ tear ducts for the evening: a simple pair of red pumps.
After talking to the the episode’s co-writer, Pose producer and trans advocate Janet Mock, it becomes clear the moment — and the series as a whole — is so emotional because it comes from a very real, very personal place.
Viewers first hear out about the shoes in question at the very top of “Giving,” when Angel Evangelista (Indya Moore) explains why she doesn’t enjoy celebrating the holidays. When the trans woman was a child, she stole a pump — “I had never seen anything quite so beautiful” — while out Christmas shopping with her father. While running to her room to hide the pilfered treasure, the pump slipped out of Angel’s coat in front of both her parents. “My father slapped me across the face,” she says through tears. “For stealing, but more so for what I chose to steal.”
Then, when the Evangelista family unwraps their Christmas presents at the close of “Giving,” Angel learns Blanca has gifted her the perfect pair of patent red pumps. With one wonderful gesture, house mother Blanca proves she is the mum Angel always deserved.
“It really is Ryan’s story,” Mock, who counts “Giving” as her first official television writing credit, told Refinery29 over the phone, saying the mega-producer “got in trouble” as a little boy for stealing a pump of his own. Mock, the only woman of colour in Pose’s writer’s room, continued, “I expanded upon it in terms of the gender piece for this little trans girl out in the world, who’s reprimanded for expressing her gender in a way or finding her preference.”
What makes the moment so great is that it speaks to both Angel’s specific backstory and the experiences of trans people the world over. “This is something that trans people go through every single day where we are rebutted and punished by those who are charged with our care,” Mock said in between filming the Pose finale. “Our parents, who tell us our natural inclinations, our natural wants and desires, the ways in which we see ourselves or want to see ourselves in the world, are wrong and incorrect and we need correction.”
Blanca’s red shoes push back against that incorrect and harmful idea.
Although the Evangelista family’s entire emotional Christmas dinner was all written in Mock and co-writer Our Lady J's script, Mock, who also directs Pose’s upcoming sixth episode, credits the drama's on-screen performers for making the scene as touching as it is. “I can go in [the writers’ room] and cry all I want, but they can play it funny if they want to,” she pointed out.
“I was already crying in the private rehearsal with the cast … The way Indya played Angel opening the box and taking her time with it. There was a resistance she had to accepting the gift, but she [sees the shoes] and she’s like, ‘You heard me and you see me and you love me.’”
When you pull back on “Giving And Receiving,” the theme of the Pose world finally recognising Angel for who she is and loving her for it becomes a major guiding principle for the episode. Just look at how her relationship with boyfriend Stan Bowes (Evan Peters) progresses. Yes, the real estate exec gives Angel the financial stability she has desired for some time, but they also share their first sexual experience together, which proves to be a beautiful, supportive encounter.
As with all good things in Pose, it seems the scene’s writer identifies with the moment. As inspiration for the scene, Mock went back to her own first sexual experience. “Angel’s not a virgin at that point, but I was. I remember a moment when I had a boyfriend I really cared about, and I was hiding myself,” Mock, who is now happily married, recalled. To combat Mock’s discomfort at the time, the boyfriend did something really “empowering” for her. “He grabbed my hands and moved them to a point of saying, ‘I see you, and I see you as all that you are. I love and accept you, and I want to share this with you,’” Mock continued.
That intimate sense of “reconciliation” with oneself is what the writer looked to bring into Angel and Stan’s first sex scene.
We can expect Mock to continue imbuing her own personal experiences and attitudes into the rest of Pose season 1, as the producer-director-writer also penned the next episode of the series, “The Fever.” The upcoming instalment centres around a disagreement between Candy Abundance (Angelica Ross) and her ball family mother, Elektra Abundance (Dominique Jackson), over what kind of body modifications and adjustments are appropriate.
While we can’t tell you how that feud is settled, we can tell you what Mock’s outlook on the entire subject is. “For me as a feminist,” she said, “I believe we should be able to do whatever we want with our bodies, without the policing or interjections of other people’s wants or desires or expectations on us.”