Recap: When We Rise – Night 3
Night three starts with a time jump. When we last saw our characters they were dealing with the early years of the AIDS epidemic. It is now ten years later and hundreds of thousands of people have died. Medication options are getting better but there is still nothing lifesaving available.
The year is 1992 and we find Cleve is living with HIV, and his idea for a memorial quilt has been fully realized through the Names Project. Friends and family of those lost to AIDS can sew a large patch to be added to the quilt. It is a major success and is being displayed on the National Mall in D.C., yet the President has not come to see it despite the invitation. Cleve is also partnered with Ricardo, the man he met in the hospital over a decade ago.
Ken and Richard are still living together and battling HIV together. Richard’s health starts to fade and he succumbs to AIDS-related complications early on in the episode. As a result of Richard not living in the house anymore, Ken is suddenly evicted. His attempts at establishing legitimacy as a couple for the last 20 years, fails. He is not recognized as family and therefore has no entitlements to the property they shared. This leaves Ken basically homeless.
Roma and Diane are also still together and raising their 10-year old daughter. She is becoming increasingly curious about her biological father. She wants to meet him and know who he is but her moms don’t even know his identity. They are able to track him down and it turns out he is a highly visible gay man that is running for mayor of San Francisco. Despite their feelings Roma and Diane let their daughter meet him and build a relationship.
In the 90s, we have seen a change in administrations. President George H. W. Bush is in office and the community is not satisfied with his handling of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. People are still dying and drug treatment options are not coming fast enough. AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) is now in existence and their approach to fighting the epidemic is to take direct action through advocacy. They are a self-described grassroots anarchist network that is focused on getting new treatment to people living with HIV by gaining attention through public demonstration. The members of ACT UP are even critical of Cleve’s approach with the memorial quilt. They want more focus on the living and less on the dead.
Cleve doesn’t stop doing his work and traveling the country to raise awareness. It may be taking a toll on his health but he doesn’t stop despite the concern of his mother and father. During this time we do see a breakthrough with Cleve and his dad. His dad tells him about a new medication and asks Ricardo to make sure he takes it. It may seem small but that is a way to show that his dad cares about him and acknowledges what he is going through. Unfortunately Ricardo will eventually pass away while Cleve is trying new cocktails of medication.
Now Bill Clinton is in office and Cleve continues his requests for the President to visit the quilt. President Clinton does indeed become the first U.S. Commander-In-Chief to see the memorial in-person. At the end of their visit Cleve makes the plea that many are still dying and quicker access to treatment is needed now.
Meanwhile, Ken needs a place to stay and is taken in by Celia, a transgender woman that he has known for years. She becomes his support system and helps him to get care through the VA. While at the VA Ken battles alcoholism and turns to other drugs to cope with his life. This is also right around the time that President Clinton signs “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” into law. It seemed like a good compromise at the time but having been in the military I can tell you that it added an extra layer of fear and concern about being outed as anything other than straight. I only served four years but many good servicemen and women were forced to leave their careers because of their sexuality.
Roma and Diane are now dealing with a defiant teenager who is clearly not comfortable with being raised by two moms. Her father is in her life and she holds on that relationship in a lot of ways because it helps her feel like she is “normal” like the other kids. She openly mocks her moms and says that they are pretending to be a married couple. During this time the Defense of Marriage Act has been passed, which makes the possibility of marriage seem unlikely. One thing that Diane does come to realize is that her daughter is doing very well in school. So despite everything else Roma and Diane are doing the most important thing right. They are raising a successful, intelligent child.
As we round out the end of night #3 Ken hits his rock bottom and reaches to a higher power for help. He stumbles into a church and says that he needs help before he drinks himself to death. This could be a major turning point for Ken and undoubtedly will shape the upcoming years.
Cleve is living life without Ricardo and ends up taking in a neglected infant. He is wonderful with this little girl and provides all of the love and support that she needs. When it is discovered that Cleve is gay and HIV-positive, she is abruptly taken from him with little opportunity for him to do anything.
We move into the new millennium and the HIV epidemic has taken a turn. There are now lifesaving medications available and the death count has dropped significantly. President George W. Bush is in office now and looking to pass legislation to ensure marriage remains between a man and a woman.
The episode ends where the first one began. We see Cleve talking to a younger gentleman. It is 2006 and Cleve says this generation has entered a stage of complacency. He feels it is the first time where there is nothing to fight for. Or so he thought. I’m sure that we can anticipate night four to focus heavily on the fight for marriage equality.
Overall, I have to say that this episode was my least favorite of the three. It at times felt a little all over the place and disjointed. For me the switching of the cast didn’t work. The characters were now significantly older and looked drastically different. And I would have liked to see a stronger closing of the HIV story. The availability of antiretroviral therapy was huge for the community and shouldn’t have been glossed over. It literally changed the trajectory of history and has saved millions of lives. But despite all of that this is still an important story that I am glad is being told. Please come back for the conclusion.