RuPaul’s Drag Race Recap: Puppet Show

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Photo: VH1/VH1
RuPaul's Drag Race

RuPaul's Drag Race

Gayest Ball Ever Season 9 Episode 11
Editor's Rating 3 stars

After a slow start to the season, we’re finally down to the wire, and Drag Race has presented us with a real question mark of a final four. At this point last season, Bob had all but walked away with the entire competition (Justice for Kim Chi), but this time around we’ve got ourselves a nailbiter of a showdown between Shea Couleé and Trinity Taylor.

If you lurk long enough on Reddit and other corners of the internet, you probably know that many fans (both excitedly and begrudgingly) were ready to hand Shea the crown seconds after Valentina was given the boot. But it’d be silly to discount Trinity at this stage of the game, especially as they are neck-and-neck. Trinity has been a strong contender from the beginning, and while Shea was busy forming a close bond with Sasha and desperately trying to pull Nina out of the crevasse that was her own insecurity, Trinity has always brought a focused, competitive intensity. It’s an impressive feat on reality TV to keep yourself so singularly focused on winning without turning into a foaming-at-the-mouth villain, but Trinity has acquitted herself nicely and I could easily see the pageant queen walking away with yet another title when everything’s said and done.

This episode is a bit of a slog compared to the excitement elicited from the last two weeks’ front-runner-in-the-bottom shockers. Things return to the rushed pacing that plagued the earlier episodes of this season, but there’s only so much drama Drag Race can infuse into a puppet show and rhythmic dance.

The puppet show is another recurring mini-challenge that I was excited to see, however, it only ended up highlighting the big problem with this season’s queens: These people are not funny. Without a comedy queen among them, the puppet show ends up feeling a little broad and confusing. And although nobody was giving us legendary reads, Alexis is clearly given the loser’s edit here. I didn’t find her Sasha shtick much worse than anything else we saw, but God bless them for the dead air. Sasha ends up taking the win for what ends up being a pretty, um, funny Trinity puppet act.

As the winner, she is awarded a $500 TodayTix gift card (or about one-fourth a Hamilton ticket) and the privilege of choreographing the girls in a rhythmic dance-inspired lip sync. This is a dubious honor, especially for Sasha, the queen who seems least-equipped to choreograph a dance (I wonder if that is … why she … won?). The song and dance don’t exactly hit dog-musical levels of crazy, so it serves mainly to annoy and enrage Alexis Michelle. Still, it does end up giving us the season’s first moment of real tension between Sasha and Shea. It’s been clear (based on what we’ve been privy to) that Sasha has been the “second lead vocalist” of their little duo, so seeing her briefly stand up for herself is shocking in exactly the same way I imagine it would be if Kelly ever snapped at Beyoncé.

Luckily for Sasha, this component of the challenge barely matters in the long run. It is almost never mentioned when selecting the winner, though usually always brought up when selecting the losers. This makes sense because the main event is the annual drag ball, a design-centric challenge with this year’s theme being the “Gayest Ball Ever,” because, sure. In addition to a Pride-inspired drag look, they have to come up with a unicorn look and something influenced by an individual member of the Village People. It isn’t exactly a disaster, but it’s hardly the most compelling prompt we’ve seen.

Truth be told, I’d say it’s even a little disappointing after two seasons with relatively fun twists on the formula. In season eight, the queens were tasked with emulating their mothers, which gave us several interesting narratives. Season seven had to create a Hello Kitty friend, which, y’know, is weird and out of left field, but made it less of a straightforward design challenge. But I don’t know, maybe you connect with the Village People on a more spiritual level than I do.

Let’s talk about it, shall we?

The Pride Looks

Shea: This is a stunning look and somewhat of a departure for Shea, though I agree that it sort of ignores the prompt almost entirely. It’s frustrating that she didn’t just throw in a few Pride colors, but c’est la vie. It’s a good look.

Sasha: This is a little basic for my tastes, but the house really makes it for me. It’s such an odd choice and quintessential Sasha.

Alexis: Oof. This isn’t just on the nose, it’s way up inside of it. She looks like something you’d find discarded on the parade route days after it ended.

Trinity: I liked this a lot more than the judges, but it may benefit from popping up right after Alexis’s look. It’s hard to call this basic after seeing that monstrosity.

Peppermint: This one I liked far less than the judges did. It’s a little hard to look at and I wish she would have removed one or two elements here. Something about the black and the gold and the rainbow and the wig, it’s just a lot to take in all at once.

The Unicorn Looks

Shea: This is just fine! Shea, as always, sells this rather well, but take away the horn and the hooves and it’s something we’ve seen from her before.

Sasha: The only person who nailed this component of the runway. It just felt so fully fleshed-out. It really told the story. The blood on the horn is an inspired choice, too. This is one of those moments where Sasha’s attention to the narrative behind the look actually translated to the runway.

Alexis: When you think of a drag unicorn, this is what you think of, which I don’t particularly think of as a good thing.

Trinity: I have the same issue with this as I do with Shea’s.

Peppermint: It had a lot of potential but, as she herself points out, the fit is distractingly bad and unflattering.

The Village People Looks

Shea: This is about as couture as a construction worker can look without moving too far away from the source material. The cape is impressive, and while I know Trinity meant it as a read, I would really love to see Adore Delano wear it.

Sasha: Despite being the only remaining contestant without major sewing chops, Sasha makes this work rather well. However, as much as I hate when the judges go down the existential rabbit hole of “Is this drag?” I did find myself wondering that too. It feels like it stopped at wearable and didn’t really push the idea much farther.

Alexis: I’m concerned that she thinks this is current, or more fashion-forward, than Shea or Trinity’s looks. Deeply concerned for her. You almost feel bad when she gets read for looking like off-the-rack Ricky’s for the second week in a row, but stop in to your local Ricky’s and tell me where the lie is.

Trinity: Had all three of Trinity’s looks been this strong, she would have been the uncontested winner. She looks stunning and the detailing here is great.

Peppermint: A step up from her first two looks, to be sure. This is the one that ends up looking most like the source inspiration, but it’s hard to be mad at her. She looks fantastic and it’s fun to watch Peppermint play against type.

As in every season, Ru asks the girls to evaluate the remaining contenders and nominate the weakest link, which is so reality-show 101 it almost feels beneath RuPaul. It’s not like Ru or the producers are going to seriously consider sending Trinity to the bottom because Peppermint wildly thinks she is her biggest competitor. Also, it does nothing but create tension between the girls that will surely play out beautifully in Untucked, so I guess never mind, I take it all back, I love this question and it is good.

The judges chuck Alexis and Peppermint in the bottom two, a move that is in no way shocking at this point in the competition and is therefore vaguely comforting. Alexis takes this well and once again whines that the other contestants did not warn her that her final look was shit, something that, to my knowledge, is not explicitly laid out as a responsibility of the other queens. Alexis seems like a nice person who probably got a shady edit, but when you say things like this, it’s hard to understand where you’re coming from at all.

I have to admit I was mightily disappointed to hear a Village People tune start up at the beginning of this lip sync. This is one of the only lip syncs we’ve seen featuring a male vocal — not counting this season’s B-52s appearance as well as any songs sung by RuPaul herself — and it poses an interesting challenge to Alexis Michelle, who unfortunately comes off a little too macho throughout. Peppermint, on the other hand, once again shows us why she’s considered a legend. She is undeniably magnetic, so much so that the camera can’t help but remain on her throughout. It’s a shame that we won’t see Peppermint here again, because I’d love to see what she could do with an actual banger.

And so, Alexis is finally given the boot. I think she’s had a rough go of things online, and I don’t think much of that criticism is fair. Though it is odd to me that she managed to make it this far with a playing field that, even at its weakest and most overstuffed, felt way more competitive than what Alexis brought. She is by no means a bad drag queen, of course — she’s always polished, she keeps most of her tantrums to the confessionals, and she doesn’t seem to make many enemies — but it felt correct when Shea called Alexis a dime a dozen. What exactly does she bring to the table that makes her stand out? RuPaul saw something, and here’s hoping the rest of us will get to see it in her post–Drag Race career.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Recap: Puppet Show