After nearly a decade of watching Ru Girl after Ru Girl label herself as a comedy queen or fashion queen or postmodernist-metadiscursive-Lacanian-Dadatrash queen, we know that the identity politics of drag can become restrictive to the point of sectarianism. Pageant girls butt heads with Instagram girls or some such, and while we love a Drag Race contestant who knows her strengths and leans into them hard, it’s worrisome to hear her say she’s “not good at doing [insert quintessential drag talent here].” And if she’s an All Star? Sound her death knell, bitch.
One of the more important moments of this week’s episode was Ross clocking his own subverted expectations of Kennedy, whose performances across the board were nothing short of stellar. “I never think of you as a comedy queen,” Ross tells Kennedy, “but you are!” This is where labels lose their meaning, because Ms. Davenport was all things this episode, and her talents appealed to all sectors. She gave you comedy, she gave you fashion, she gave you choices and commitment thereto, mama. As for the drama of the lip sync? More on that later.
We start the episode with Milk and Kennedy clashing over Thorgy’s elimination, which Kennedy is naturally okay with since her jewel-encrusted mug has been spared. Milk laughs off the lipstick-drawn phallus that Thorgy tastefully leaves everyone and tells a disturbed Kennedy she wouldn’t understand the nuance of it because she’s not a “clown.” Ugh, labels!
After a lengthy A-block, we finally cut to the girls getting briefed on their maxi-challenge, which is to improvise in a Bachelor parody with assigned personality types and backstories. Anyone who has taken an overpriced Scenework FUNdamentalz workshop knows that (1) This challenge is just a big shoddy improv warm-up with a set designer, and therefore (2) This will be tough to watch. We’re not saying these queens wouldn’t slay a pattern game or an Invocation, but there is just so much room for failure here beyond Ru telling the girls to just “yes and.” We then get some quick peeks at the queens crafting their personas, like Bebe making a choice that her shy virgin character will be a chaste African princess and Chi Chi going for a Crenshaw-meets-British hybrid, for example.
Here we have another moment of identity-solvent distress. Chi Chi doesn’t consider herself to be a comedian and spends a good deal of the episode handwringing over her performance, which for some reason involves addressing Shangela (her onscreen lover) as “Mama” as the gears visibly turn in her head. Shang ends up steamrolling Chi Chi with canned jokes and clear character wants (like a sample of Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman’s semen) and she carries the whole thing on her death-drop-bruised back. It’s another solid outing from the self-anointed Daenerys of drag, which is a label that we will accept despite it not falling into any traditional drag identity.
Speaking of steamrolling, Milk’s stalker character commandeers the entire scene without letting Trixie or Jeffrey get a word in edgewise. For her part, Trixie does get a few great (and shall we say grounded) fake-bitch moments in the mix, but otherwise it’s just Milk trampling over everyone’s base reality with no developed character game. Any advanced-study Harold program worth its salt would reject Milk’s application open-and-shut.
Elsewhere, BenDeLaCreme gives us a funny cougar character in an homage to Jennifer Coolidge, though we might be partial to Trinity Taylor’s impression in season nine’s 9021-Ho challenge. At this point, maybe watching DeLa do broad comedy is like watching her celebrity analog Anne Hathaway host SNL, in that it’s technically impressive but emotionally kind of exhausting? Actually, scratch that; we love Anne and Ben both.
Bebe’s shy virgin gets varied mileage and Aja’s needy girl, while a step forward for a queen who famously botched the aforementioned 90210-Ho challenge, ends up being frenetic and difficult to play opposite. But somehow, Kennedy’s party-girl character manages to snatch the reins and gallop off with the whole gig. It’s a necessary example of what makes Kennedy great, which is that she contains multitudes and lets the children know about it, labels and identity be damned. Kennedy’s sparsely toothed and generously padded alter ego is comedy gold, and it easily beats out her Little Richard impression from season seven, a high bar to clear. The challenge ends with an eggplant ceremony in which Jeffrey chooses a mock-predatory RuPaul over the other queens, and it’s a fun little button to this glorious lurch through basic improv. Now sweep edit the whole damn thing, please.
Cut to elimination day as the queens assess their standings and beat their faces. Trixie comments on how she has yet to do well in any challenge through her cumulative run on the show, and that “in these four fake walls, you’re garbage until proven otherwise.” (This is exactly what they say to people working the changing rooms at Zara.) It’s a reminder that Trixie hasn’t ever truly shined on Drag Race, which is not a good thing, and hopefully this edit sets up some resounding success in a later episode. Chi Chi, meanwhile, still wallows in insecurity as we get a triggering flashback to season eight’s Shade Tree (our original guess for AS3’s tenth queen), and you wonder how far she’s really come since then.
On the main stage, Constance Zimmer and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman sit in as guest judges while the runway category is Wigs on Wigs on Wigs, as if nesting hairpieces wasn’t the hardest feat of engineering in the world. We do get some pretty great fashion transformations along with the hair changes, like Bebe going from dowager empress fish to Chun-Li cosplay, and Aja starting out as a manga blow-up doll and turning into a Sailor Star Hatsune Miku mash-up. We also love Trixie describing her second wig as “a Dennis the Menace fantasy,” because that’s a label we can get behind. Kennedy stuns in a high-fashion gown and Shangela executes an elevated corn look as a nod to her cob-accessorized past. Milk gives us ‘60s kaleidoscope, Ben reveals a wig skirt, and Chi Chi, to throw her a bone this episode, hits the runway looking better than ever as the glamorously bewigged child of Foxxy Cleopatra and Cleopatra herself.
The judges’ critiques go as expected, but Milk is shocked that she’s up for elimination after confidently telling the girls she would land in the top. (“I’m cracked!” is the only correct response indeed, Shangela.) Chi Chi then has a epiphany in front of Ru after acknowledging her imposter syndrome, and the judges politely blink in response. In any other iteration of Drag Race this would be relatable, but for an All Stars season, it’s a realization that seems far too late in the game.
Kennedy and Ben earn top marks, with Ben being three-for-three with challenge wins. It’s an impressive, Alaska-level accomplishment, and by scores and stats alone DeLa is our early front-runner. Milk, Chi Chi, and Aja round out the first bottom three of the season and must curry Ben’s favor in deliberations. Kennedy, on the other hand, staunchly decides to have no one-on-ones and to judge the queens cumulatively, which is the biggest middle finger to the deliberation format yet. It’s a bold, bad-bitch move that adds another layer to Kennedy’s sudden, startling depth as she operates on her own terms, and we are patently gagged.
Ben hears out the bottom queens, and Milk all of a sudden is “not super into comedy” and can’t figure out why she’s in the bottom with two girls who were bulldozed by their scene partners. No one can ever hope to know! She also insists that the judges want her to stay, which explains why she’s in the bottom. Aja makes the case that she’s won a challenge recently and doesn’t deserve to go, but Chi Chi continues down her free fall in confidence. She basically tells Ben to send her home should she win, and it’s all dangerously reminiscent of Adore’s arc in All Stars 2. It’s heartbreaking to see her so defeated, and we’re holding out hope that Chi Chi turns this all around in time and that our Creole queen comes through.
A double outfit change later, Ben and Kennedy lip-sync to Lorde’s mathematically incorrect hit “Green Light,” and we never knew how much we needed to see drag queens lip-sync the lyrics, “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar.” They both strike the right tone, but Ben’s interpretation is less layered in comparison to the full-diva gravitas Kennedy brings to the song while honoring its gradual buildup to the chorus. The reveal of a second wig and a jewel-encrusted black dress under her robe is breathtaking, and Kennedy easily nabs the win for an all-around amazing lip-sync performance. Many of these other queens can throw themselves into the air and acrobatically impress, but this is lip-syncing. This is the assignment, honey.
In a thrilling but predictable culmination of their episode-long feud, Kennedy sends Milk packing. As far as identity politics go, Milk’s cathected insistence on being a goofy, avant-garde, future-challenge-inspiring fashion queen is so diffuse in its conviction as to mean nothing at all, while Kennedy’s wonderful evolution beyond her pageant background is its own point. And so, we have another salty exit from a queen whose delusions got the best of her. Meanwhile, Kennedy begins to take her throne as a queen who is all things for all people.
Bebe: “We have three now in the bottom. That’s the gag of the season!”
Aja: “They did it last season too.”
Bebe: “Well, to me this is a gag.”
…SAID THE BITCH!!! This exchange is a perfect encapsulation of why we love Bebe. It’s unbothered, it’s aloof, it’s fun. Nothing sticks to Bebe and it’s inspiring to watch, so let this be a lesson: If someone is trying to undercut your gag, tell them you’re still gagged nonetheless.