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‘Pose’: Ryan Murphy and Janet Mock Break Down ‘Milestone’ Death

SPOILER ALERT: Do not keep reading if you have not seen “Pose” Season 2, Episode 4, entitled “Never Knew Love Like This Before.” 

The second season of “Pose” sees the story jump forward in time to 1990, putting the AIDS epidemic even more at the center of the ballroom culture drama. However, in Episode 4 of the FX show’s sophomore season (“Never Knew Love Like This Before”), which features the shocking murder of Candy (Angelica Ross) and her subsequent wake, executive producer Ryan Murphy and co-executive producer Janet Mock sought to “shine a scalding light” on a different epidemic that still plagues the trans community today.

“We’re dealing with AIDS, but there’s another epidemic happening then as it is now, which is violence against trans women and the murdering of trans women,” Murphy tells Variety.

Candy’s involvement in the episode begins with her interrupting a meeting of the ball emcees and demanding that they include a lip-sync category at future balls. Pray Tell (Billy Porter) turns her away, and later on he and Blanca (MJ Rodriguez) discover Candy’s body hidden in the closet of a shabby hotel room.

The rest of the episode plays out at Candy’s wake, with a series of fantastical sequences in which she appears before each of the main characters, as well as her parents, for some final words of regret and hope.

“We wanted to explore the idea of having that opportunity — that if you have one last moment with someone, what would you say to them, would you let them know how you felt? Particularly for somebody who felt marginalized in that community, if you could do it all again, what would you say to them to let them know that they were important to you and to the world,” Murphy explains.

Murphy reveals that Candy’s death had been a long time in the works, as he and the other creatives behind “Pose” had talked about it since the beginning of the show. But they decided to wait for the audience to get to know the characters before dropping such a bombshell.

“We wanted the impact to feel like a milestone as opposed to some plot device,” Murphy says.

Writing and shooting this episode felt particularly raw, Mock says, given that many of the LGBTQ cast members find themselves in the same position as their characters: seeing their friends and loved ones fall around them and attending a seemingly never-ending stream of wakes.

“We always had the community right there when we wrote; we knew it was a memorial for them. And for me, it was a memorial to myself,” Mock says.

Mock shares that one of the reasons she first wanted to go public with her own story of transitioning was because of Gwen Araujo’s murder. Araujo was an 18-year-old trans woman who was killed by three men who had slept with her, a death that “constantly haunts” Mock, she says, “in the same way that ‘Paris is Burning’ with Venus Extravaganza dying at the end of that film with no explanation about what happened to her, how her family felt, what happened to her body” lingers.

“There was no memorial, nothing, and so for us, it was our way of paying proper tribute to what it means to lose somebody and the importance of a life,” Mock says of “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” which deliberately spent the entire episode showing the “nuts and bolts” of what happens when someone close to you is torn away.

“The moment at which they go out to search for her when she’s lost, the moment at which you gather together to realize you need to talk about her being dead, the moment at which you have to claim her body, the moment when you notify her parents and pray and hope that they show up, the moment at which you have to sit and grieve on your own and then the fantasy of her coming back to say her last words — we wanted to capture all of it,” Mock says.

The episode also offered a bit of closure for Candy’s parents, who do show up to her wake despite having kicked her out of their house and their lives. Her mother in particular gets a moment of fantasy to say goodbye to her daughter — a scene the producers say resonated with Ross, who was also rejected by her parents when she came out as trans at age 17.

“For us, the aspirational part of this episode is that there is a great sense of healing that comes from Candy being able to confront her parents and be able to reintroduce herself to her parents,” Mock says. “All of these characters on this show have dealt with that rejection from their first family in their lives and have to go out and create a new sense of family. But no matter what, there’s still that aching pain for so many LGBTQ people, despite having a chosen family, of wanting that acceptance and that love and that recognition from the people who birthed you.”

In directing “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” which he describes as the “most important episode of TV” he has ever helmed, Murphy says he wanted to give the actors space to decide what their characters’ reactions would be to this terrible loss. This allowed for Indya Moore, who plays Angel, to make an emotionally-driven decision to approach Candy’s open coffin and take her hand.

“When we were filming that scene everyone was crying — you can’t help but to cry, it’s such a cathartic moment. We all want to be seen and loved for who we really are,” Mock says. “We hope that with the grim situation and circumstance of losing Candy, at least she can leave us with the sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, we’ll one day all be loved and seen for who we are.”

“Pose” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

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