RuPaul’s Drag Race
Hello, my dear little goblin readers! It’s me, the boy who LIVED for this episode and is here to talk about why. Let’s jump in, shall we?
It’s a new day and there’s a new energy in the workroom after poor Cynthia Lee Fontaine’s demise. I’m not saying that Cynthia was the last bit of flotsam and jetsam to get the heave-ho this season, but it’s becoming clearer who the front-runners are and who still has a big fat target on their back.
I’m speaking, of course, of Farrah Moan, the classic sort of queen who has managed to sneak her way this far into the competition without doing much of anything memorable (except cry, which I love and am a supporter of because gosh I need a laugh sometimes, you know?). Hopefully Farrah has a trick or two we haven’t seen yet. Maybe she’ll even make the mid-season Naomi Smalls pivot and end up in the top three. Wouldn’t that be wild? I mean, it’s definitely not going to happen, but take an afternoon and entertain that fantasy and see how you feel after.
The challenge this week is a pretty straightforward acting challenge, tasking the girls with performing a dragged-up version of a teen soap called 9021-Ho. Peppermint is tasked with assigning parts, but unlike Alexis, she tries her best to placate all the girls and their various whims and wishes. While it’s a nice thought, of course it doesn’t go according to plan because how could it? (And let’s be honest, would we really want it to?) Aja, initially saying, “I’m fine with anything, but …” is immediately incensed when she isn’t given one of her preferences. She apparently forgot that only seconds ago she began a sentence with, “I’m fine with anything,” but remembering is hard!
I’m not exactly sure what Aja’s endgame was here, because there’s certainly no scenario where she walks away looking like anything but a petulant child. Shea steps in and offers to switch roles with her, which is a double-layered “fuck you” because it not only further highlights Aja’s tantrum, but makes Shea look like the hero she is for just wanting to move on and get to work. I know Shea to be a kind, peacekeeping kind of person, but strategically this move sets her up in all the right ways for the rest of the episode. Not only does she step up to solve a problem — while also making Aja look stupid — she now gets the all-important “make it work” narrative throughout the rest of the challenge for doing suburban old lady drag. (Seriously, she looks like the Grandma from The Proud Family.) Shea is a next-level drag queen but, more importantly, she knows how to play this game and she’s playing it well.
We turn now to my weekly unpacking of Alexis Michelle. I think I may have cracked the case this week, but please chime in with your own fan theories about why she is such an insufferable enigma of a person. While the girls are rehearsing, Alexis gleefully informs everyone that she is a self- proclaimed “expert” on the subject of 90210, which feels like a lame thing to admit to your friends, but God bless her, we all have weird things that excite us. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Frasier, so I guess I’d be excited too if Ru announced a Frasier drag challenge.
I stated last week that the show was positioning Alexis for the villain edit, and while part of me still believes she’s best suited for the role out of these remaining queens, I’m not so sure “villain” is the correct identifier here. Many people have thrown Roxxxy Andrews comparisons around, but I don’t think that’s quite right because I don’t think there’s any real malice behind Alexis’s whackadoo behavior. I have no doubt she thought she was being very helpful giving notes on appropriate high pony lengths to all the girls, but there’s just something so performative about the way she goes about it that makes it clear she wants to help but also remind people that she is indeed an expert at the same time. She is the Anne Hathaway of drag queens. We hate her because she tries too hard and wants it too badly. She’s the girl in your high school who asks everyone what they got on the SATs. She’s the Tracy Flick, the Paris Geller, the Lea Michele. In another version of all of our lives, Alexis Michelle is us, a type-A weirdo trying way too hard on a reality competition show.
But let me be clear: As much sympathy as I have for Alexis, I want to see her remain safe for three more weeks, then watch her slow implosion until it eventually results in something resembling good TV. Why? Because I am a garbage TV recapper first and a deeply sensitive empath second. Always remember that.
As far as drag parodies go, this 90210 one actually ranks among the show’s better ones. Not necessarily because of the performances — which were by and large very good — but because I genuinely felt like the winking references to the source material were subtler than they normally attempt, with some jokes really resting on the audience’s knowledge of esoteric facts about 90210. Moments like the diner appearing in the middle of the school, Shea’s fantastically shady Andrea Zuckerman drag, and Nina’s final “I’m leaving to play a witch on Charmed” seemed slightly less broad than the jokes normally are. I really did guffaw alone in my sad, dark, little apartment when Nina delivered that line.
But what are we going to do with Nina Bo’nina Brown, folks? After her top-three performance last week, many surmised that the show was building her up for an eventual fall (as they love to do on this show). Maybe they were right, but it certainly doesn’t feel like there was any outside sabotage happening this week. The only gripe I generally have with this kind of challenge is that the problems at this point seem a little repetitive. We know going in that someone will forget their lines or someone else won’t be able to bring the funny. But as frustrating as she was to watch, Nina gave us a new little wrinkle, one I’m not even sure I can articulate.
This week, she’s given the role she requested, is supported by nearly everyone around her, and yet she still can’t handle even the most glancing of critiques from the judges. 90210 alums Jennie Garth and Tori Spelling seemed game to play and generally more invested than the standard D-list celebrities they drag out of obscurity to coach these things, and yet I was afraid for them after their notes to Nina. It’s unclear if Nina is struggling because of self-confidence issues or a persecution complex, but she’s bringing all this baggage to the competition and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with what she’s gone through while filming. The closest corollary I can think of is Jinkx Monsoon, but that queen was actually bullied by a trifecta of mean girls on her season. All Nina has experienced is wave after wave of supportive hugs and a handful of Tyra-tinged “We’re rooting for you!” speeches from Shea Couleé, so I just do not understand what her deal is.
I don’t have time to dig deeper because, dontcha know it, we’ve got this week’s big-hair-themed runway to contend with.
Valentina: This is very pretty, but I’ll admit I was vaguely disappointed with most of these looks.
Farrah: Wish she would have pushed the Dolly a little bit more. It still reads as very Vegas to me and I’m starting to get bored.
Trinity: This is absolutely bonkers and I’m not sure if I love it or hate, but that’s fashion I’m told. So yes, good on her.
Sasha: Stands out completely while also being fully predictable for Sasha.
Peppermint: This may be her best look yet, but it’s not exactly exciting. I feel like there were a lot of missed opportunities for this runway, and most of the girls stopped thinking about the theme after the wig.
Nina: A return to the makeup that we love so much. But Michelle was right to clock the silhouette. Is Nina pushing herself?
Shea: Banjee Katy Perry. I loved it.
Alexis: Honestly? This might have been my favorite only because it looked like she’s the only one who used hair in the actual dress, which is what I craved. It’s not the prettiest dress beyond that, though.
Aja: Her best, most polished look yet.
The top three honors this week are given to Valentina, Shea, and Trinity. It feels fairly clear to me that barring any major screwups, this will be our top three and I’m okay with that. Trinity has become a real dark horse for me, but she consistently turns it out on the runway and her Jennifer Coolidge drag proves she’s got the chops. Valentina too was a surprise, proving again that she’s not just a pretty face. Shea, my own personal biases aside, is the triple threat to beat. Beyond this particular challenge, these three are the only queens who from the very moment they entered the workroom moved with the self-assured confidence of a winner, in the same way Sharon, Bianca, and Bob did before them.
In the bottom, it’s Sasha (who of course gave a boozy cafeteria worker the “Meryl Streep treatment”), Aja’s bland, one-note performance, and Nina who once again ends up in the bottom due in part to a lackluster performance complemented by a truly wild attitude.
And … it’s Aja and Nina sent to lip sync. I was initially very hyped for this performance, as these are two very strong lip syncers, but perhaps I set my sights too high. It felt a little low-energy to start and I am not fully convinced that Nina was giving it her all. Aja gave us the very first gag-worthy lip sync of the season, but if we compare her first performance with Peppermint’s from last week, there is a clear difference. Aja performed with a throw-it-all-out-there desperation that didn’t leave her with much higher to go. Peppermint, on the other hand, was self-assured and connected to the song, while making it clear that she had a whole lot left in her bag of tricks that we have yet to see.
So it’s bye-bye to Aja, who I do genuinely feel a bit bad for. She was read for her makeup, threw two tantrums, and got sent packing without any wins under her belt. Aja’s already large fan base talked her up a lot before the season, and while I have no doubt she is a fierce-ass performer, I’m left wondering if she’ll walk away with more fans after this showing. In any case, I look forward to her eventual appearance on All Stars.