Emmy watch: ‘Pose’ season 2 premiere features emotional turns from Mj Rodriguez, Billy Porter and Indya Moore

Balloting for the 2019 Emmy nominations began Monday, June 10, and a day later FX‘s drama series contender “Pose” began its second season. The premiere episode “Acting Up” featured emotionally and politically charged performances from series stars Mj Rodriguez, Billy Porter and Indya Moore, all of whom are contending for nominations for their work on season one.

If you thought season one of the series brought the waterworks — I mean, remember episode six “Love Is the Message,” one of two eps the series submitted for consideration in the Best Drama Writing category — then you may not be ready for the season two opener/tearjerker. The premiere — directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, an Emmy contender for helming “Mother of the Year” from season one — opens with Blanca (Rodriguez) and Pray Tell (Porter) visiting the infamous Hart Island in Bronx, NY, a potter’s field where thousands of AIDS victims were buried apart from the other unmarked graves because it was believed that their bodies would “contaminate” the other corpses. It is an emotional start to a show that in season one started to touch on the emotional toll that the AIDS crisis took on the queer POC and trans communities of New York.

SEE Mj Rodriguez (‘Pose’) hopes audiences ‘can always see humans first’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

From there the episode straddled the fine line between dark sadness and hopefulness — touching on Blanca’s own battle with HIV, Judy (Sandra Bernhard) introducing Pray Tell to the ACT UP political movement and Angel (Moore) submitting herself for consideration in a modeling competition at a time when only cisgender women would be considered. Angel’s foray into modeling could be an ode to real life trans models Caroline Cossey, whose career in the high fashion world was prematurely ended when a tabloid journalist outed her as trans in the late ’70s, and Octavia St. Laurent, legendary “queen of the underground” whose struggle translating her success in the ballroom scene into career modeling work is documented in the famous documentary “Paris Is Burning.”

When Angel goes on her first professional photo shoot for headshots, the photographer, who recognizes her as a sex worker from the piers, coerces her into posing nude for him in order to pay for the photo session. That heartbreaking scene is Moore’s best work in the series so far, taking Angel from the high of being on set and adored by the camera to the otherworldly low of being once again reduced to objectification by lustful and opportunistic men. Later when Angel confesses about it to Blanca and Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel), her house rises up on her behalf and confronts the photographer in epic fashion.

Porter, who it seems has been absolutely everywhere this season — carried in as a Sun God at the 2019 “Camp” Met Gala and speaking eloquently about being a struggling queer POC actor at a Hollywood Reporter roundtable — also delivers extraordinary work in the premiere. After laying his friend to rest at Hart Island, Pray Tell discovers activism through ACT UP, leading him to fight back against the injustices against his community. He attends a meeting with the advocacy group and then leads the charge in the show’s recreation of the 1989 “die in” that ACT UP held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to protest the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception and abstinence. Later he publicly reads Elektra (Dominique Jackson) to filth for not attending the die in, suggesting to her and the room full of young people that their focus on trophies is insignificant if they aren’t also fighting back on behalf of their community.

Between his emotional connection to AIDS victims, his newfound activism and his saucy spot as caller of the ballroom scenes, Porter is given a wealth of material to showcase his talent as the show’s lead actor. After nabbing his first ever Golden Globe nomination for the role last year, Porter should be a very easy tick on the ballot for Emmy voters this year. To put it as bluntly as Pray Tell would, he is fabulous, worthy and simply undeniable as an Emmy contender this year.

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