Published 5 hour ago on 21 Aug 1919
The ballroom lights have dimmed on the second season of Pose.
After nine episodes full of heartbreak and hope, exploring the struggles and triumphs of the LGBTQ ball scene in early ྖs New York &mdash including the impact of Madonna's "Vogue" and fatal attacks against trans women of color, among other topics &mdash the Janet Mock-directed finale, "In My Heels," returned its focus to Blanca Evangelista's HIV diagnosis, which had advanced to AIDS, as revealed by Nurse Judy Sandra Bernhard in the season premiere of FX's groundbreaking drama.
"We love taking our audience on an emotional roller coaster, and I think we've accomplished that," Steven Canals tells The Hollywood Reporter of Tuesday night's concluding episode, which he wrote alongside fellow co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. "For us, it was about closing out a critical narrative that was the launching pad for the season. It felt important to us."
Following a medical setback in the spring of 1991, nine months after season two's penultimate episode took place, Mj Rodriguez's typically optimistic character, Blanca, reflects on her mortality and her role as mother to the now-dissipated House of Evangelista. But, after reuniting with her children, dancer Damon Ryan Jamaal Swain &mdash who has gone on to become an international choreographer &mdash and the newly engaged couple, model Angel Indya Moore and hustler-turned-businessman Lil Papi Angel Bismark Curiel, Blanca rediscovers her passion to perform and her will to leave a legacy behind.
"We also had to circle back because we have very sharp viewers and their question would inevitably be, 'What is going to happen with Blanca and her heh?'" adds Canals. "Now that we've addressed it, we can start telling new stories and begin new threads for season three."
Below, the writer-producer-director talks more with THR about the highs and lows depicted in season two of Pose, while also sharing his vision for the future of the Emmy-nominated series.
Pose scored an early season three renewal &mdash unlike last year, when it came after the season had already aired. How did a more certain future help you craft the season two finale?
With the second season, we've proven &mdash or hopefully established with our audience &mdash that our approach is always going to be family first. It's always going to be about heart, connection, empathy and love. And you see that at the end of the second season. Maybe it's not in the way that one would have expected. Most people, probably, if they hear, "Oh, the second season ends on a happy note," you would assume that probably means the House of Evangelista comes back together again. And it does, but it's not in the way that we've seen it before.
The first season also ended on a very uplifting note. Was that purposeful in case the show hadn't been renewed?
It was purposeful, but it didn't have anything to do with us not knowing about a second season. Though we didn't know if we were coming back, we, as a writers' room, never write from a place of fear. The reason we ended the first season on a happy note was because that was the story that we were telling during the first season. We didn't shy away from the grittiness and the reality of what it meant to be an LGBTQ person of color living in New York in the ྌs. With that said, the show is aspirational, it's hopeful, it's about family and it's about resilience. And it would have felt disingenuous for us to tell this family drama, where at the end, we left you with a cliffhanger or a pit in your stomach.
The finale for season two featured a time jump to May 1991, after spending most of the season in 1990 when Madonna's "Vogue" was released. Will there be another time jump in season three?
I've thought a little bit about it. Right now, we're on our hiatus. As a writers' room, when we pick back up, that's when we'll dive into that discussion. Truth be told, between seasons one and two, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Janet Mock, Our Lady J and I had an email thread and we were constantly sending each other links to articles that we found and things that we thought would be interesting to explore during season two. We had a text chain where whenever we saw something fascinating, we made sure to share it. I'm certain that will happen for season three, that during this hiatus, we'll continue to share ideas with one another so that when we get back together in the room for season three, all of us will be on the same page and ready to go. But the short answer to your question is no, we haven't necessarily planted a flag yet as to whether or not we'll stick with a direct pickup from the finale or if we'll time-jump again.
The song "Vogue" almost acted as a secondary character in season two. Is there another event or theme that you'd like to center season three on?
There are two pretty big events that we've talked about in the writers' room. We're obviously not there yet, but it feels like we're working toward those moments. One of them is the AIDS Quilt, which was put out on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.. That's one event that we've talked about and then the other is obviously the HIV/AIDS medication cocktail that came around 1996. Again, that's ྜ and I doubt we'd do such a dramatic time jump between seasons two and three.
"Vogue" came out the same year as Jennie Livingston's ballroom doc Paris Is Burning, which I know has inspired your work on Pose &mdash and Livingston, herself, even directed episode 207, "Blow." Though the ballroom community was most likely talking about Paris Is Burning in 1990, the characters on Pose never mentioned it in season two. Was that intentional?
That's a great question. When we were first developing Pose, we did have conversations about Paris Is Burning and there was a version of the show where we had characters who were from the film. We were going to have Pepper LaBeija and Dorian Corey be characters on the show. Part of the reason we decided not to do that is that we would then be beholden to the truth. We still are, frankly, but the truth of a person's life is tough because there's always going to be some creative license. So, we felt it would make more sense to honor those folks' lives and tell a story about ballroom and what it meant to survive in New York in the ྌs and ྖs instead. When we went into season two, we were very aware of the fact that our show is in conversation with Paris Is Burning. We obviously wanted to pay homage to all the individuals who are in Paris Is Burning and Jennie's landmark work. For example, Elektra's narrative in the third episode with hiding the body in the closet is directly inspired by Dorian Corey's experience. There were ways that we gave a nod to the documentary without having to directly address it in the show.
The season two finale ends with Blanca seemingly interested in adopting two new house children, Quincy and Chilly, played by KJ Aikens and Gia Parr, respectively. Was this to set up a House of Evangelista 2.0 for season three?
That's how it feels, right? This is the next era for the House of Evangelista. The reality is &mdash and it's all in the setup of who Blanca is in the pilot &mdash that Blanca has a deep desire to leave a legacy behind. Blanca being a mother is such a large part of what Pose is about, and certainly, I would argue, the largest part of her character arc. The show is about motherhood and what it means to mother and to be mothered. Obviously, the last bit of the season we saw the dissolution of the House of Evangelista. Now, Blanca needs to figure out what her role is and who she is when her other kids have moved on. How does her mothering continue to evolve? Even if, moving forward, Quincy and Chilly aren't specifically her children or aren't in a revamped House of Evangelista, what we wanted the audience to take away from that moment is that Blanca isn't done being a mom and that it's a core part of who she is as a woman.
So, is it too early to say whether Aikens and Parr will return for season three as series regulars?
At this point, yes.
Pose made stars out of Mj Rodriguez and Indya Moore, and Billy Porter's portrayal of Pray Tell earned him an Emmy nom. By possibly expanding the House of Evangelista, are you looking for new talent to "discover" or give a platform to?
Absolutely. The opportunity to do that even extends beyond Pose. I'm going to speak for all of us and say every single one of us in that writers' room recognizes just how life-changing Pose has been &mdash for us, the cast and the audience. Every single one of us, beyond Pose and moving forward and thinking about other projects, will always consider centering people who often aren't centered. Speaking for myself as a queer person of color, holding those identities, I know that my work will in some way always resonate with those communities &mdash with the LGBTQ community and hopefully with black and brown folks &mdash because those are the boxes that I check. I grew up not feeling seen and I know how critical representation is, especially for young people growing up and, in this climate, in particular, where we are consistently having to fight to be seen and heard, and for people to know that our lives and our voices matter. I know that my work will always uplift the communities that matter the most to me.
What would you like to explore more of in season three?
I definitely would love to see Blanca find love. Something that I would really love for us to explore in season three would be Blanca in a relationship and how that affects the relationships she has with her kids. For example, Lil Papi is so protective of Blanca. How is he going to interact with Blanca having a lover? And if this lover moves into her home and, presumably, if there is a House of Evangelista 2.0 &mdash whatever that looks like, whatever shape that takes &mdash how are they now interacting with Blanca having this live-in lover? Those are some of the things that I think would be really fun and interesting to explore moving forward.
After leaving the Evangelista nest, how will Damon, Angel and Lil Papi fit into Blanca's new world?
What's important for the audience to remember is that Damon, Angel and Lil Papi will always be Evangelistas. They'll always be Blanca's children. They'll always have a special relationship with her. And I don't even know that we could say definitively that they won't ever be back in Blanca's house &mdash literally and figuratively. If we're thinking about actual ballroom, folks sort of go off and do other things with their lives and then they return. So, it's realistic for us to consider that Damon would go off to Europe to choreograph and then eventually rejoin the house a couple years later and bring all those new skills with him. We'll see once we get into talking about the story for season three.
Ryan Murphy recently said that Pose will ultimately end in 1996 when, as you mentioned, breakthroughs in HIV/AIDS medication were made. Can you tell me about the conversations you had with him about that? Why does that feel like a perfect place to put a period on Pose?
We always conceived the show to be grounded in what is happening culturally and socio-politically for this particular community that is living in New York City. And, so, our approach was never that we were telling a story about ballroom, it was never a story specifically about the plight of LGBTQ people of color. It was always a story about navigating living in New York as a queer or trans person of color, specifically in the ྌs or the ྖs. Looking at that whole arc and how we start that whole story &mdash Blanca finding out that she's HIV-positive and now having to navigate the world as a positive trans woman &mdash the HIV/AIDS cocktail seemed like a great destination. For us, narratively, it feels like the story we've been telling has been working toward that moment of relief. So many lives were saved. The government's response to people living with HIV/AIDS and the response from the medical community was so problematic for so long. That moment felt like such a victory for everyone. And, finally, the community went from just surviving to once again thriving. In terms of the greater story, we've been looking toward that moment of salvation. But now that we're two seasons in, we might get there and ask ourselves, "Is this really where we want to end the show? Or do we have more story to tell?" We've certainly done that with other arcs throughout the show. What's important is that we're open and flexible.
How does this loose idea for an ending impact the way you'll outline future seasons? Does it add pressure or is it more helpful?
I don't know if I would say it adds pressure. To be honest with you, that sense of pressure has always been there, and it's always been something that we've been hyper aware of. We have two of our main characters &mdash Blanca and Pray Tell, who are living as HIV-positive people &mdash and the audience has now fallen in love with those characters. And for us, as storytellers, we don't want to lose those characters and we certainly don't want to lose Mj and Billy as performers. But we also recognize that we have a responsibility to tell the truth. How realistic is it going to be to the audience if our characters are never affected by their statuses? You see that play out in the finale that it happens &mdash people get ill. We've been continuously cautious about how we use that narratively.
How many seasons do you see Pose going for?
When I was pitching Pose, I always envisioned that it would be a five-season show. With that said, could it be a four-season? Could it be a six-season? Sure. It could be more or less. What's really important for all of us &mdash and maybe more specifically for Ryan, Brad and I &mdash is that we felt we told the story that we intended to tell. Once we've hit that point, we'll know that it's time to end it. The thing that we don't want to do is continue to tell stories beyond the story that we intended to tell because a lot of shows do that. And then what winds up happening is that the work suffers, and the audience can mostly always feel it. There's a lack of narrative drive or there isn't that same passion for the narrative. I don't know how much longer it will take for us to get to the conclusion of the story. But we, in the writers' room, will certainly know once we've reached the end and so will our audience.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Source: Hollywood Reporter
Published 6 hour ago on 21 Aug 1919
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers from the “Pose” Season 2 finale “In My Heels.”]
It’s not every TV show that can reach its climax with a character lip-synching to Whitney Houston’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner, but “Pose” not only pulls off this performance with show-stopping style, it does so with emotional honesty. This triumphant ballroom moment is also a callback to the boldest narrative choice this season, resulting in a well-crafted arc that is both meaningful and thrilling.
In the finale “In My Heels,” House of Evangelista mother Blanca MJ Rodriguez has just emerged from a debilitating stint in the hospital stemming from her HIV. Although she’s weak, she attends the Mother’s Day Ball and enters the lip-synch contest Candy’s Sweet Refrain while being pushed in a wheelchair. By the end of the national anthem, she’s ripped off her frumpy sweater and lap blanket, abandoned her chair, and finishes standing proudly in a dazzling red ensemble. She’s still standing, dammit, and she’s sensational.
This ball also features the council of emcees &mdash all men &mdash literally stepping into the shoes of the women by taking part in a new category: Butch Queen Up in Drag First Time at a Ball. As they wobble or strut in heels, the heartening performance acknowledges the importance of the women in the ballroom and how they’re often harshly assessed by the male judges.
In an earlier scene, Pray Tell Billy Porter discusses the idea for the gesture with the other council of emcees. “Will we just look like a bunch of men in wigs?” he asks. “I don’t want to trivialize what these women go through, how they live, who they are.” It’s this empathy and humility in acknowledging that they truly don’t know what women endure that helps make the ballroom stunt work.
It’s the final act of solidarity in a season that has driven home the need for a strong support system for the ball and LGBTQ community. Whether it’s through activism with Act Up! and the giant condom protest or a beachside girls trip, this year “Pose” de-emphasizes the competition between Houses and doubles-down on the message that only by banding together &mdash and specifically through sisterhood &mdash can people not just survive, but also succeed.
That is why guest star Patti LuPone, as power-hungry real estate mogul Frederica Norman, is painted as such a villain. It’s bad enough that she commits arson to shut down Blanca’s nail salon, but Frederica is also a woman struggling to succeed in a male-dominated world. When she’s jailed for her crimes, she goes on a rant to her lawyer:
It’s to put me in my place, to put all women in their place. We are not allowed to have empires or emotions. We are expected to sit at home patiently waiting for our husbands, cook their meals, supply unpaid emotional and physical labor to aid in the fulfillment of their dreams. We are not supposed to have dreams of our own.
The only thing I feel bad about &mdash if I have anything to feel bad about at all &mdash is that I ended another woman’s dreams. For that I will gladly serve time but I will not be penalized for having a dream of my own and doing what I had to do to make it a reality. I refuse to be shamed for my ambition.
There’s an internal logic to how success and happiness is achieved in “Pose.” They’re made possible through the love of friends and family. Frederica betrayed a woman, and therefore she doesn’t have any allies or support of her own in jail. After Blanca’s ballroom sisters shore her up emotionally, she’s able to pursue a romance with a handsome lifeguard. And after Angel Indya Moore is dropped by Ford Models after being outed as transgender, it’s through the support of her new fiancé Papi Angel Bismark Curiel that she books work overseas.
“I learned very early on not to show nobody who I really am because nobody would see me or love me,” Angel says. “You taught how to feel safe in the world where tomorrow is not guaranteed for us girls, safety is everything.”
Safety in the community is key. Between living on the streets, the AIDS epidemic, and hate crimes targeting transgender women of color, merely surviving is an achievement. This circles back to Season 2’s most creative storytelling choice: After Candy Angelica Ross, a transgender woman of color, is killed by a client, her ghost appears to haunt several of the characters &mdash not in a scary way but by arguing, goading, and joking with the friends she’s left behind. Her continued presence is a reminder of the real dangers that the LGBTQ community must face and why it’s imperative that its members look out for each other.
Candy’s death has been a critically divisive element this season. Although highlighting the violence perpetrated against transgender women, Candy’s murder and her subsequent ghosthood didn’t feel earned. Candy was “Pose’s” eighth-most important character at best, and to have all the other main characters wax on so poetically about her felt false. Fortunately, the series treated her death as more than just a one-off plot device. Through her continued presence &mdash whether it’s through her hammer, as a ghost, or in the Candy’s Sweet Refrain category &mdash over the rest of the season, it was clear that Candy wasn’t just forgotten, but a driving force in how the community supports and celebrates its members. Just like in the ballroom, “Pose” makes an over-the-top device work.
The series isn’t quite as successful with the dungeon storyline that appears to mock those in the BDSM community. There’s a moment when Elektra Dominique Jackson calls out one client’s privilege that could have offered some sort of commentary if the storyline was given more time, but alas, it was treated more as a condescending joke.
Besides this tonal misfire, this season of “Pose” has been able to fit in a surprising amount of issues organically, without sacrificing story. The finale is the beautiful culmination of all the lessons learned in fighting for justice. America has had a history of persecuting the very people who make the country great, but that’s also why the land of the free is also the “home of the brave.” Because bravery is what’s needed to challenge the status quo.Grade: A-
“Pose” is available to watch via FX. Season 1 is streaming on Netflix.
Published 6 hour ago on 21 Aug 1919
Disney and Sony Pictures have failed to reach new terms that would have given the former a 50/50 co-financing stake going forward, which means that the web slinger will no longer be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe MCU, according to Deadline.
On the last two Spider-Man movies, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” Disney took a smaller percentage of profits from each roughly 5% of first dollar gross, in exchange for Sony allowing Marvel to use the character in “Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Avengers: Endgame.” It was likely inevitable that Disney would want to renegotiate the agreement in favor of a more equitable deal between the two major studios on future Spidey movies.
According to the Deadline report, Disney’s offer for a 50/50 co-financing arrangement between the studios, which might extend to other films in the Spider-Man universe, wasn’t even met by a counter from Sony, suggesting that the latter isn’t currently interesting in even entertaining a renegotiation of the current agreement.
Clearly, as Sony begins building its own Spider-Man expanded universe, with box office hits in “Venom” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” both with sequels on the way, the studio just simply does not want to share profits from its most important franchise. It also has a Morbius film with Jared Leto, as well as Kraven the Hunter, and another spinoff with the characters Silver Sable and Black Cat.
This news comes after “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” which is being re-released in a few weeks, became Sony's highest-grossing film of all time. And with two more Spider-Man films in development with both director Jon Watts and star Tom Holland attached, it means that Marvel chief Kevin Feige will not be involved as lead creative producer, unless some kind of deal is reached. But with neither studio seemingly willing to budge, it appears unlikely to happen.
Although, in response to a request for comment from Sony, the studio, reticent about speaking in detail on the matter, told IndieWire simply: “Kevin [Feige] always had a hand in the movies he didn't have a producer credit on – ‘Venom,’ etc. This comes down to producer credit only and our understanding is negotiations are ongoing.”
But should an MCU that now includes the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool franchises, indeed continue forward minus Spider-Man, that scenario would certainly be disappointing for fans of the MCU. Especially if, even if it was just for a short while, all of Marvel's heroes were under the same roof.
Post Fox deal, Feige certainly has his hands full with existing properties, especially as Disney+ launches in the fall, but gaining control of one of the most popular superhero characters of all time, would have been a coup.
But Sony clearly believes it doesn’t need Marvel, but time will certainly tell.
Published 13 hour ago on 21 Aug 1919
EXCLUSIVE: Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige won’t produce any further Spider-Man films because of an inability by Disney and Sony Pictures to reach new terms that would have given the former a co-financing stake going forward. A dispute that has taken place over the past few months at the top of Disney and Sony has essentially nixed Feige, and the future involvement of Marvel from the Spider-Man universe, sources said.
This comes at a moment when the last two films Kevin Feige produced broke all-time records - Disney’s Avengers: Endgame became the highest grossing film of all time, and Spider-Man: Far From Home this week surpassed the James Bond film Skyfall to become the all time highest grossing film for Sony Pictures.Columbia Pictures
Sources said there are two more Spider-Man films in the works that are meant to have director Jon Watts and Tom Holland front and center. Unless something dramatic happens, Feige won’t be the lead creative producer of those pictures.
There is a lot of webbing here, but it all comes down to money, and it’s easy to understand why both sides refused to give ground. Disney asked that future Spider-Man films be a 50/50 co-financing arrangement between the studios, and there were discussions that this might extend to other films in the Spider-Man universe. Sony turned that offer down flat, and I don’t believe they even came back to the table to figure out a compromise. Led by Tom Rothman and Tony Vinciquerra, Sony just simply didn’t want to share its biggest franchise. Sony proposed keeping the arrangement going under the current terms where Marvel receives in the range of 5% of first dollar gross, sources said. Disney refused.
Now, it’s easy to say that Feige has enough on his plate, especially after taking control of the X-Men universe in the Fox acquisition, including the Deadpool franchise, along with architecting the next phase of the Marvel superhero universe and building movies and shows for Disney +. But I’m told Feige loves Spider-Man, arguably the biggest superhero character in the Marvel canon. He would have continued if Disney and Sony could have reached new deal terms.
Essentially Sony has made a decision that is similar to saying, thank you, but we think we can win the championship without Michael Jordan. After all, Feige’s first decade at Marvel is largely unblemished and his consistency has been nothing short of historic: even George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson haven’t seen everything turn into a hit, and so maybe only James Cameron has the success record that Feige has achieved. But Feige has done it all in the last 10 years, producing and overseeing 23 superheros, with not a flop in the bunch.  They’ve all been number one openers that have collectively grossed $26.8 billion. Feige this year became the producer of the top grossing film ever for two studios - Sony and Disney - and he produced three of the top four highest grossing films this year in Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home. This after scoring the first ever Best Picture Oscar nom for a superhero film last year with Black Panther. I can’t think of a Hollywood producer/executive who has done anything close to this.
And the launch of the new iteration of Spider-Man was done brilliantly with Marvel’s support and help. It has been a boon to both studios. Tom Holland’s character was introduced in the Joe & Anthony Russo-directed 2016 blockbuster Captain America: Civil War, the film that set up the two record breaking Avengers films. Sony’s first rebooted Spidey film, 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, rode that Marvel wave and grossed $880 million worldwide, and then the webslinger was a key character in the two Avengers films, leading to the Spidey sequel that this week became Sony’s top grossing film ever.
Sources said Disney’s top brass for the past several months has sought new terms for Feige and the Marvel cross-pollination to continue. As the Spider-Man relationship grew, Feige and Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman spoke about the possibility of a wider involvement in the Sony-controlled Spider-man universe, which contains 900 characters. I’m told that Feige lent an unofficial hand with the blockbuster Venom, but I’ve also been told that that film was far from the polished product that grossed $856 million worldwide, until Rothman himself spent a good long time in the editing room helping to get it there.
It is understandable that the fiscally shrewd Rothman would balk at giving up half of Sony’s biggest franchise to Marvel. After all, Marvel already owns the merchandising on Spider-Man. Does the Mouse really need half of the movie universe also? Sony so far has decided that as valuable as Feige is, Disney is asking too high a price.
Sources said that Sony reasoned that they will be fine, without Feige. The creative template has been set on the Spider-Man films, and Watt and Holland are in place along with Amy Pascal, who became producer with Feige after she exited the executive suite after presiding over the previous Spider-man iterations directed by Sam Raimi and Marc Webb as Sony Pictures chief.
The Venom sequel is well underway with Andy Serkis directing Tom Hardey, and there is Morbius with Jared Leto, Kraven The Hunter, and another spinoff with the characters Silver Sable and Black Cat. And a Sinister Six film that got shelved. Sony, which once felt the ticking clock of generating a Spider-Man film every three or so years to prevent a rights reversion to Disney, now has plenty of pictures to make. And the studio also won the Best Animated Feature Oscar for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, a smash hit they made on their own.
No comment from Marvel/Disney, Feige or Sony Pictures.
Published 13 hour ago on 20 Aug 1919
Let’s get one thing clear: The imagery brought to mind throughout “Our Boys” is horrific however, the imagery actually seen onscreen is anything but. It’s a crucial distinction to make, as HBO subscribers weigh whether or not to embark on a 10-hour journey into multiple child murders, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, ultimately, the 2014 war in Gaza. Handling the dense storytelling is one thing understanding the age-old conflicts between secular Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Jews is another.
But the core story itself, told primarily through the investigation into Mohammed Abu Khdeir's death, is a far cry from the bloody, gut-wrenching imagery used in other true crime tales. “Our Boys” is carefully constructed to be accessible. Creators Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar, and Tawfik Abu-Wael want this story to be heard worldwide, and the early episodes depict the death and ensuing violence in a visually palatable yet emotionally shattering fashion, hooking their audience with an anger-inducing crime and absorbing them in a nuanced investigation soon after. The framework is familiar, but the message &mdash and means of getting there &mdash are anything but.
Shot in Israel, “Our Boys” picks up shortly after three Jewish teenagers are kidnapped. Shockwaves are felt throughout Israel, as the incident receives intense news coverage and stimulates mass prayers, protests, and even more outrage when it’s confirmed the boys were killed by Hamas militants an Islamic Palestinian movement dedicated to the establishment of an independent Islamic state in historical Palestine.
Shin Bet, Israel’s Security Agency, is monitoring the situation closely, especially the Jewish Division’s lead terrorism agent, Simon Shlomi Elkabetz. They have to balance the release of information carefully, in order to avoid insinuating further violence, but the worst is yet to come.
A day later, in the early morning hours, the son of a construction worker walks outside his parent’s house to wait for morning prayer. Though his mother, Suha Ruba Blal Asfour watches from the window, Mohammed Ram Masarweh disappears. His father, Hussein Jony Arbid, is on the streets in seconds, looking for his kid, and the police are called to the scene soon after. Suspicious of the Palestinian’s claims, the beat cops don’t take him that seriously… until a body is found.
When Simon arrives at the scene, directors Abu-Wael and Cedar frame the shot in a medium close-up with a slight upward angle. You can only see the upper torso of Simon and his superior officer, Mike played by Tzahi Grad, even as they glance down toward the tarp covering Mohammed’s body. Eventually, they walk over and crouch by his remains so Simon can inspect for himself, but the image cuts out the blue tarp &mdash it’s only shown when Simon lifts it into frame.
When he takes his first look, Simon immediately looks away. There’s a beat, as the men process what’s in front of them, and then Simon asks, “Was he alive when they set him on fire?” The two men stand, and the covered body creeps into the edge of the frame. Later, there’s a glimpse of Simon looking directly at it, but viewers are never shown what’s underneath. You understand it thanks to the descriptions, and you feel its weight because of the characters’ pained reactions.
This all takes place in Episode 2, “I Love Toto,” but it sets the tone for everything to come. Though there is violence and tragedy in the ensuing episodes, “Our Boys” is primarily concerned with building an atmosphere viewers can feel and a discourse they can wrestle with, more so than provoking extreme reactions through graphic visuals.
To that end, the focus soon shifts toward the investigation, as well as the bias steering it: Despite the obvious retaliatory motivations, everyone at the Shin Bet refuses to believe the Jewish people are capable of such a crime everyone, that is, except Simon. Part of their skepticism is rooted in protection: They know if angry Jewish citizens burned a young boy alive in response to Palestinian militants killing three Jewish teens, it could spawn another war confirming that theory or even letting it leak could ignite an outcry they’re unable to quell.
But there’s also something purely instinctual about the investigators’ response. They really don’t believe that Israeli Jews, the predominant population and controlling power in the region, could be capable of doing something like this. They know the Palestinians could, but not Jews &mdash not their own people. Simon knows better, and as “Our Boys” continues to unfurl its investigation, soon others do, too.
This early examination of what connects warring parties is an odd twist on the typical way these stories are told. Usually, films and series look for the unifying good within two opposing people &mdash whether it’s “Green Book’s” artsy black pianist and his blue collar white driver finding common ground over fried chicken, or “Avatar’s” blue native Na’vi and white colonizing soldier falling head over heels in love, it’s clear why each should treat the other with respect and understanding when they see undeniable and universal positive traits. That’s what allows for a happy ending whether it’s earned, truthful, or neither.
“Our Boys,” however, is dealing with a unique dispute still raging in the real world, and it’s not interested in easy answers. So its initial point of comparison arises not from the good attributes Israelis and Palestinians share, but their worst human instincts. Both are capable of murder. Both are capable of vengeance. Both are capable of the kind of disturbing, enraging, and segregating acts they each think of as being unique to the opposite party. “Our Boys” contends a shared capacity for evil can eradicate a dividing line just as quickly, perhaps faster, than a shared capacity for good.
Acknowledging as much makes the storytelling distinctions all that more important. Ghastly imagery and visceral sequences could send the series over the edge, making it too dark and intense for anyone to keep watching. Instead, the creators invite viewers to thoroughly consider the difficult themes with patience and compassion. As the middle episodes unfold, it’s clear Levi an Israeli writer, Cedar, and Abu-Wael a Palestinian filmmaker want their audience to see the humanity in each and every character. Through seven episodes, the series encourages an intimate knowledge of its characters, including those who killed Mohammed.
Establishing a capacity for evil is a far cry from endorsing it. “Our Boys” starts by acknowledging the darkness, keeps its viewers from getting lost there, and then steers its difficult journey back toward the light. There’s an immense level of compassion here, which should ultimately prove rewarding for anyone who digs in.Grade: B+
“Our Boys” airs new episodes Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.