Everyone's facing major decisions about their healthcare in Pose Season 1 Episode 4, but not everyone is coming out better on the other side.
"The Fever" is an apt title, both metaphorically and literally, for the latest episode of the FX drama. The writers have put everyone at a crossroads at the exact same time, and manage to carry them through their choices with some of the best writing of the series so far.
Of course, the episode is about the literal fevers characters like Damon and Candy experience. But it's also about the metaphorical ones, including the jealous fever that ravages Angel when she becomes so self-conscious about her body and her relationship with Stan that she throws him out.
Damon's actual fever starts unassumingly from a cold bug but quickly morphs into a health scare when Blanca discovers he and Ricky have been having sex and once the condom came off.
The news understandably takes the house mother emotionally from a two to a nine. In the days of the Reagan era – as Pray Tell pointedly reminds her – being HIV positive was essentially a death sentence.
Blanca calls on Pray to help push the boys, including Lil Papi, into getting screened to find out if they're negative and to make sure they understand the importance of practicing safe sex.
In the process of setting this up, Pray reveals he stopped getting tested. It shocks Blanca, but when he explains, Pray sheds light on the heart of both the behaviors and fears of people with AIDS during the 1980s.
Because medications to stop the disease were relatively new, it wasn't entirely clear how well they were working, if at all. Pray argues that of all his friends and partners he saw on AZT, it seemed to put the people he cared about in the ground faster.
There was also the perpetual fear, so much so that you stopped living. The incessant need to be careful when engaging with any kind of partner, because you might die if you didn't, put a mental strain on Pray.
In short, it became psychologically easier to merely practice safe sex and assume that you were healthy than to be always reminded every time you got close to someone that you might get sick.
As we see, this approach didn't work out well for Pray. After all the other boys of the House of Evangelista are confirmed negative – a profound learning experience for them all – Pray learns he is HIV-positive.
His conversations with Blanca about this are illuminating, pointing out the kind of political, psychological, and physical warfare the LGBTQ community was experiencing.
Pray's storyline this episode is a perfect example of what makes Pose such an essential and exceptional show. Viewers are given perspectives that for much of the country's history have been conveniently swept under the rug.
As for Candy's fever, it's also self-inflicted and potentially deadly. Her literal fever, however, doesn't arrive until the end of the episode after her metaphorical fever – a burning and consuming desire to have her body more physically resemble the curves of other women – does its damage.
When Candy attempts to walk in a category, Elektra says she's not built for, she's publicly dragged with the help of Pray Tell.
The humiliation lands her in Elektra's bad graces, someone who we've already seen feeds right into the atrocious "passing" game. In her embarrassment, she leaves, and Angel follows, trying to provide her friend with comfort.
It's during their conversation that the two women agree they deserve to be treated better. Their plan to make this happen? Getting silicon injections.
Their jump from a safer, more established (though not entirely legal) outfit to a shadier one reeks of potential problems, and while Candy does get to walk and owns it, the glory unsurprisingly comes at a cost.
Candy passes out and ends up struck with a fever, the result of a spreading infection in her upper thigh.
What this could ultimately mean for Candy remains to be clear, but fitting her storyline into this episode was a solid decision both narratively and character-wise.
Up to this point, we've really only seen her as an echo of Elektra or Lulu. In Season 1 Episode 4, we got a better glimpse of who Candy is, what she desires and what her stakes are in the ball world.
All of this helped to make her development that much more impactful and the potential outcome of her choice more investing, as well as heartbreaking.
The same could be said of Elektra who, despite having made fun of Candy for her desires earlier in the episode, makes similar moves.
When Elektra's "sugar daddy" shows up unscheduled, she reveals and argues for her plans to get gender confirmation surgery. She played with the idea in Pose Season 1 Episode 3, but in this episode, she becomes set on it.
Dick is entirely against it and even holds his financial support of Elektra over her head to convince her not to go through with the surgery – even if she's willing to pay it on her own.
While Elektra's storyline didn't really dominate the episode, Dominique Jackson's subtle but commanding performance did.
Watching Elektra have to choose between being safe and housed and being who she is was the episode's breaking point. Having this level of authenticity and empathy written about a stigmatized aspect of trans womanhood on TV is incredible.
What's even more incredible is how effortlessly it's done. Unlike past episodes, the messages shared here never felt too preachy. Instead, they are quietly, but firmly delivered dramatic developments that double as real realities.
Interestingly, the episode also picked apart the ways all woman are often forced to sacrifice their health and happiness to please the world around them.
Everyone's storylines helped round out the show's exploration of the grim history of LGBTQ healthcare and our culture's sometimes deadly infatuation with the "perfect womanly physique."
Going into the next episode, the stakes are actually pretty high for most characters. How will Pray Tell move forward after his diagnosis? And will he reach out to past partners to relay the news?
Stan and Angel have seemingly broken up, but based on Stan's past behavior, it's unclear whether he'll be able to stay away. Will Angel be the one to break it off?
For Candy, will the infection become an actual life or death situation? And what will happen to Elektra and the House of Abundance, after the mother reveals her decision about the surgery to Dick?
If you have thoughts about Pose Season 1 Episode 4 comment below. And if you haven't caught it yet, you can watch Pose online!
Abbey White is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.