[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the latest episode of Pose, "Never Knew Love Like This Before." Read at your own risk!]
In hindsight, maybe we should have seen it coming.
In Episode 3 and the first half of Episode 4, Pose elevated Candy (Angelica Ross) and her girl Lulu Ferocity from side-splitting supporting characters to irreplaceable fan favorites oozing with chemistry, devastating shade, and fierce confidence. Champions of their own house and their own self-worth, Candy and Lulu saw themselves as flawless, with Candy in particular certain Madonna's "Vogue" would open a door she would glide through to claim her space in the mainstream spotlight. She had epic scenes too, like the one in which she threatened to cut Pray Tell (in public!) and then hurled objects at him before calling him a motherf---er in a dramatic huff. It was fabulous television, and yet, apparently, it was all a cruel trick. By the middle of the episode Candy was missing. By its end, she was in a casket, sent home with the loving, over-the-top celebration so many trans women never received.
It's impossible to watch the episode and not link it directly to the disturbing numbers of black and brown trans women being murdered at levels that constitute a legitimate societal crisis — a fact that makes Candy's story one of the most vital TV stories of 2019. The murder of Candy — a woman with spunk, dreams, style, and fairly good aim — takes what's happening to real-life trans women right now out of the abstract and into the realm of the personal; seeing her lifeless body in the closet of a cheap motel room shows, in macabre detail, the societal disregard for their lives overall. As her devastated friends noted, police wouldn't even be interested in the crime, let alone help solve it. Yet for all the salient points Candy's murder makes about the violence trans women face, the story also served to unite Pose's family — and Candy with her family — to make the most heart-wrenching episode of the show so far.
TV Guide spoke with star Angelica Ross about Candy and the episode, and although she was sad when she learned of her character's fate, she also understood. "Ryan Murphy called me and told me this was happening," Ross said via phone. "I was devastated, but I understood the responsibility of it. When I got the script, I literally had to take breaks reading it because it was so heavy and so much. It was beautiful."
Ross, who insisted on not rehearsing before cameras rolled ("I said, 'This has been sitting on my chest for days. Let's shoot it'"), revealed she couldn't hold it together while filming. "My makeup artist had to touch up my makeup several times. I'm hearing Pray Tell, I'm crying through that. And when Ryan Murphy added [the lighters sequence] to the scene at the last minute, I'm holding my quivering lips. I hear the sound of the lighters and I broke. I was crying Niagara Falls tears."
Filming inside the casket actually turned out to be the hardest part of the episode though; getting in and out of it over the course of 12 hours, Ross described the experience as physically and emotionally grueling. "What made it hard was laying in that casket, realizing it was not made for a body that don't care about how hard it is," she joked. "Luckily I had a body double. She and I took turns, but at one point, I was done. I was like, 'Get her to lay in there for the night, it's been a long ass day!'"
Of course, the part of the episode that really socks it to viewers is when Candy's estranged parents, who'd lost touch with the child they abandoned, come to have their own moment of reckoning and healing when Candy speaks to them from beyond the grave. What could've seemed cartoonish or silly felt authentic and sanguine — a hyper realistic moment of beauty and forgiveness as both Candy and her parents found the resolution and acceptance never afforded during Candy's time on Earth. "When Candy's mother said it wasn't no rule book on how to raise you, that was so universal," Ross said, noting how many people — not just trans people — can relate to feeling alienated by parents who just don't understand their child.
"We didn't do that many takes," Ross said of filming. "There was so much crying. Working with [Candy's on-screen parents] was like an actor's dream because everything we were doing was in response to one another in that moment. When they said 'Cut!' the camera woman was shaking."
Ross hopes people who see the episode understand the urgency trans women face and that African Americans muster the same compassion for trans people as they do others in the community. Noting that she survived a suicide attempt at 16 and acknowledging that she, like Candy, supported herself with sex work in her past, Ross said she wishes trans women in similar situations were given the same room to grow and evolve.
"It's so painful to watch my own black community ignore these things, but when a rapper is on tape being abusive to women or doing things that are unacceptable by any standards, folks are like, 'This person is young, they had more time.' But for black trans women who are dying, the first question is, 'What was she doing?' It doesn't matter. She was living her life. I just hope this show helps us not just care about Candy, but all the Candy girls."
Candy may be gone, but she won't be forgotten — and not only because of her crushing departure. Ross hinted that her ghost may continue to inform the show. "I don't think we've seen the last of Candy," she said.
Pose airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.