We could easily start recapping this cycle’s makeover episode by invoking some laconic Buddhist precept on the human futility of physical transformations, then move gracefully to a turgid contemplation of the liminal spaces between the external and internal expressions of gender as they occupy psychogenic tension within each of our models, but shhhhhh, some white girls are about to get buzzcuts and cry about it, so let’s just dive in, shall we?
After some minty sweet slices of cohabitant life, TyraMail beckons the girls downstairs for a most auspicious pronouncement: It’s makeover time! Or, um, Ty-over time? Fine, whatever.
As she swings and shifts her handheld camera around a storage closet, Tyra menaces the girls with industry-termed hairstyles like “Blunt Long Bob” for Sandra and “Bring on the Yak” for Erin and “Bzzzzzzt” for Brendi K. Meanwhile, Shanice gets assigned fuller curls reminiscent of Tyra’s good friend Serena Williams. Coura is threatened with “The Coura,” which obviously means she won’t be needing a makeover and gets to just chill at the salon and read some William S. Burroughs or something. Jeana is simply told to go wigless, and while this is a predictable outcome, it’s understandably distressing for someone who has dealt with a lifetime of internalized shame about her baldness.
Not as understandable is Liberty’s conniption over having to dye her hair red in order to match her political alignment (???). She wipes away nonexistent tears and does a barely passable job of fake dry-crying, but not without wailing some Spanish Inquisition nonsense about becoming a “fire crotch” and an “ugly disgusting red ginger.” Kyla (a BLM activist) admonishes Liberty (a Trump voter whose name is Liberty) that she is being offensive toward people who have red hair, to which Liberty replies in her best troll whine, “Yeah, but I don’t!” In her Palm Beach manse 2,668 miles away, Ann Coulter receives a psychic vision of this exchange and is proud or threatened or both.
The girls break for some emotional preparation before the makeovers, and everyone is so addled by the TyraMail that an argument erupts in the kitchen about Sandra grazing Christina’s shoulder! Cut to a confessional in which Sandra is the first in this cycle to blurt out the “I” word by calling Christina the “instigator.” Brendi K. corroborates this by recounting Christina’s trash-related officiousness from the night before, and Christina overhears all this from the hot tub outside.
“It’s not that close, the hot tub to the kitchen,” Christina says in confessional. “If she’s talking about me from that far away, it’s because she wants me to hear her.” Clearly, she is so shaken by this that she loses all concept of spatial-sonic proportionality, and before long she blows up at Brendi K. over feeling ganged-up on by the other models. Brendi K. tells her, “You’re not the only one that is an individual here,” which is a wonderful Möbius strip of a statement. We’re then besieged with frantic shots of Christina storming up the stairs, screaming at “each and every one” of the girls to never speak to her, and very quickly the whole thing blows over once the shuttle arrives to pick everyone up.
Drew and Image Architect Law Roach greet the models at Andy Lecompte Salon as they begin transitioning into their trademark looks, but not before Law reveals what we’ve all known: Coura isn’t gonna need to change a damn thing about her hair, which seems right, actually. Rhiyan interprets this to mean that Tyra is already in love with Coura and that she’s fierce competition, which seems to us like such a blatant telegraphing of her success that it has to be a misdirect of some kind, right? Watch this space.
Brendi K. endures her buzzcut and it looks good on her! Giving us Sinead with an extra pinch of soft butch. And is that a Triforce tattoo on her wrist?! We love. Then we see Rhiyan having the requisite amount of fun with her new floor-length (or thigh-length?) weave while Kyla just gets a free blowout and straightening out of this whole ordeal. She then presumably joins Coura in the lounge as they sit and read from the same copy of Naked Lunch.
We then arrive at Jeana, whose emotional journey has been heartbreaking to watch. The cameras capture her reliving the cumulative trauma of her childhood as she appraises all the comfort and safety she’s placed in her wigs and it’s genuinely very emotional. Drew and Law kneel down to comfort her as the other girls look on, and both the moment and its latent suspense are deserving of a commercial break. As soon as we’re back, we are walloped with the slow, dramatic transformation from the wig removal, and Jeana’s face mixes fear and relief so affectingly that Law (and we) start to cry. It’s a powerful moment, and of course her photos are stunning.
Sandra gets a shoulder-length Cleopatra chop, Christina gets Kylie-inspired highlights, and Liberty (the erythrophobe girl who voted for Donald Fucking Trump) ends up looking fine and embraces the “edge” the red hair gives her. That’s all it takes, folks! Erin gets some nice curls, Rio stuns in a blonde buzz, and Ivana mourns having to sculpt away at her natural hair. Human vuvuzela Liz seems salty about her pink color at first until she loves it, followed by an unevenly toned platinum-blonde Khrystyana giving us a barely noticeable transformation.
We learn that Shanice struggles with psoriasis which greatly complicates her makeover. Drew tries to make sense of the condition and dutifully reports back to Tyra, who allows Shanice to go for a milder version of her original trademark look. This sends Shanice into an emotional tailspin, which she articulates as having to do less with the makeover process itself but more with her own disappointment in not fully committing to the look. Her curls still get a nice spruce-up in the end, and all is well for now.
The next day, the models are shuttled off to the set of their high-fashion videos meant to debut their trademark looks to “the panel and the [outer] world [of clamoring plebeians].” Director to the stars Director X rushes out from behind a seamless to greet the ladies, and soon enough they’re trying on gem-encrusted metallic corsets of varying color stories.
Director X tells the girls to use the space and play with the many mirrored surfaces and walls. Most of the girls take the note, but some girls ignore or forget it, including Shanice and Ivana, who poses in awkward jerks and spasms. Brendi K. has a small panic about her gender presentation, cathected to her femininity that was shaved off of her the day before. “Everyone else looks like a chick!” Her crystal-studded jacket is NOT girly enough! The femme-performative potential of her reflective choker is LACKING! What don’t you UNDERSTAND! She ends up doing fine.
Standouts from the video shoot include Jeana, Rio and … Liberty? That seems to be the consensus, at least, but the bar is obviously very low when Drew tells Liberty (which is her name), “That didn’t suck!” A couple of hair flips and cheerleader arm extensions does a Top Model make, we guess, but let’s scale up Liberty’s adequate performance in this challenge to, let’s say, Donald Trump delivering a cogent, thoughtful speech on social welfare.
A few beats later we end up at the judging panel, on which Tyra extols the beauty in being vulnerable — something the girls have all experienced by virtue of these makeovers, apparently. Ashley Graham is vulnerable just by being herself, it seems, and Law and Drew emerge as their most vulnerable selves, inspired by Jeana’s beautiful journey. Law reveals his shaved head, which in Image Architect terms means that he’s removed the scaffolding from the building’s exterior. Drew, meanwhile, shows everyone his face without makeup covering his vitiligo. It’s a nice, if not transparently produced moment.
Evaluations are mostly uneventful, though the judges do clock Coura for coasting a bit on her unchanged look. She might not be so safe after all! In the holding area during deliberations, our models shout and bicker innocently until Liz takes a low blow at Brendi K.’s upbringing, seemingly out of nowhere, which appears to be Liz’s style. The girls unanimously side with Brendi K. and rebuke Liz for her comments, with Liberty of all people being her most vocal critic. Oof. If Liberty (a future TheBlaze intern/pundit whose name is Liberty) has the moral high ground over you, you are in the pits, babe!
Speaking of Lib, she shockingly wins Best Performance and robs Jeana of both a rightful win and a satisfying episode arc. We hope this inspires some impassioned #Justice4Jeana tweets in the community. It’s then down to Shanice and Ivana for elimination, with Ivana expectedly getting the boot. We’ll miss her a lot, but she’s got plenty going for her with her Master’s degree and world travels and overall charm. She rolls away her belongings from the house as another model fades from the ending tableau, transformed but not trademarked.