While every episode of Pose, creators Ryan Murphy and Steven Canal’s groundbreaking series about the LGBTQ community of color and the ballroom scene set in early-’90s New York City, is a reminder of why transgender lives matter, season 2’s “Never Knew Love Like This Before” really drives that message home in a powerful and emotional way. “It was one of the hardest scripts I have written,” Janet Mock, the Emmy-nominated producer behind the FX drama, tells ET about the episode, which served as a tragic representation of the real-life horrors of transgender women of color being murdered all around the country.
(Spoilers for the episode, which first premiered on July 9, 2019 on FX, and is now streaming on Netflix.)
In the series’ most shocking moment yet, the story of Candy, the fiercely competitive co-founder of the House of Ferocity played by the scene-stealing Angelica Ross, comes to an abrupt end. It’s discovered early in the episode that she was murdered; a victim of a sexual encounter gone bad with her body carelessly left inside the closet of a sleazy motel.
“Ryan Murphy and I wrote the script together, and it really was to bring a spotlight on the epidemic of violence that surrounds the lives of black and brown trans women,” Mock says, explaining that in order to do that they “had to lose a character that was so special and so dynamic.”
In fact, Candy’s death is strikingly familiar to what happened to Paris Is Burning subject Venus Extravaganza, who was killed in 1988. It is also a reflection of the many transgender people who have lost their lives in the decades since. In 2019, in the wake of the increasing numbers of deaths, the American Medical Association even called the violence against the transgender community an epidemic, stating that transgender women were most at risk.
Ross says that when she first found out about her character’s fate, “I was like, ‘Why Candy?’ And as I began asking a lot of these questions, it was sadly just a reflection of all the questions I ask when a black trans woman is killed.”
Even though saying goodbye to Candy was extremely hard to do for Mock, Ross and the rest of the Pose family, the episode gave her the justice of being able to speak from the other side. “To speak her truth, to right the wrongs done against her and to also forgive. Forgive her parents who may not have always made the right choices -- and I know for a lot of LGBTQ people, the scene with Candy and her parents was cathartic for so many of us who had to struggle with that, had to struggle with who we knew ourselves to be and the people we came from,” Mock explains.
Not only do Candy’s friends -- Pray Tell (Billy Porter), Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), Angel (Indya Moore) and Lulu (Hailie Sahar) -- get to share tear-filled, one-on-one moments with Candy’s spirit, but her parents show up to see their daughter for the first time as she truly was before she is buried. For Ross, “It was such a healing moment because there are so many things that are said that it was cathartic for me,” she says. “I know that people at home are going to be able to have these healing moments with their parents and their loved ones.”
And the reason those moments land with audiences at home is because it’s an example of what Pose excels at: delivering messages of hope. “When I read it, it hit so close to home in such a way that I think it’s going to hit close to anybody,” Ross says, before point out “what’s wonderfully unique about the show and about this experience is that normally, if this were on any other show, you would need to call in the consultant.” But not on this set, because the show is run by the likes of Canals, Mock and Murphy, “people who’ve already had these conversations,” she says.
In the end, true justice for Candy comes when she rises like a phoenix from the ashes to perform a lip-sync to “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” the Stephanie Mills’ 1980 hit single that inspired the episode’s title. “She got her trophy, she got her 10s across the board [before] finally being laid to rest,” Mock says of the fanciful sequence.
“It felt like it was a beautiful send-off for us both,” Ross adds, before paying tribute to the real transgender women who lives were lost. “I like to think that Candy is living her best life in the afterlife. And I like to think that all of my sisters that I’ve lost are living their best life wherever they are.”