RuPaul’s Drag Race
Some reality-TV producers describe their jobs as taking a bag of broken glass and turning it into a mosaic, and the people at Drag Race have enough laser-cut shards to tile your entire bathroom, floor to ceiling. With each episode getting 50 percent more run time this season (plus new-and-improved Untucked), certain narrative threads are getting plenty of mileage just three episodes in, while others are being newly unspooled by the minute. (Our metaphor here involves mosaics that somehow incorporate string, but just go with it.) Let’s try and follow these story lines as best we can.
First, we have to address the croak-voiced elephant in the room that is RuPaul, who is clearly fighting off a nasty bout of strep or bronchitis or wigborne allergies that makes him sound infirm. Girl, she is struggling! It may not be the worst thing in the world to have Michelle Visage step in, at least for the workroom segment, when it clearly pains Ru to phonate. We’re just worried for our mom! Later, on the mainstage, it almost seems like Ru has made a slight recovery, but by the time she’s announcing the bottom two, she seems exhausted. Fluids, RuPaul! Fluids and rest. We’d say that being home sick is a good excuse to binge watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, but you are RuPaul, so we sympathize.
The mini-challenge this week is to improvise an on-camera casting call with an offscreen RuPaul sleazily giving directions on selling a chocolate bar. It’s goofy, creepy fun and brings to mind a Broke Straight Boys porn, which is to say that it’s everything a mini-challenge on Drag Race should be! The winners are just-off-the-bus-to-Hollywood Blair St. Clair, Monét X Change, and — hallelujah! — Monique Heart. It’s high time that Monique is acknowledged for her talents, and we’re excited to see her (somewhat) vindicated.
But as we know, winning a mini-challenge is mostly a double-edged sword. Often it comes with a position of power or leadership opportunity, wanted or unwanted, that can bite you right in the padded ass. Monique is no exception to this phenomenon, at least when it comes to how her team’s interactions play out in this episode’s edit. Not long after the groups are chosen, Team Monique’s Mayhem Miller is despondent without much explanation. She quietly sulks through prepping for the maxi-challenge, which is to write and star in commercials for different fake dating apps. We presume she’s self-conscious about being chosen almost-last for the second week in a row, and her energy is low from the jump. Noticing this, Monique goes into excessive coddling mode and makes sure everyone is comfortable and satisfied with their roles in the commercial, checking in numerous times with Mayhem specifically, especially after Kameron suggests she narrate the commercial instead of her. Kameron’s reasoning is that she wrote the copy and therefore can remember it best, which makes sense, but there’s a strong vibe that this isn’t cool with Mayhem. She ends up acquiescing, but as Monique points out in her talking head, “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”
While shooting their commercial for Fibstr, a dating app catered to pathological liars, Monique becomes very involved as a director despite it being Michelle and Carson’s job. It’s very funny and endearing to watch Monique direct herself, but Mayhem becomes the Shelley Duvall to Monique’s Kubrick when she steps in to volunteer notes and suggestions during Miss Miller’s takes. In our view Mayhem is very much in need of the help, as she seems extremely lost as to making an actual choice. She vents frustration in her talking head over Monique’s alleged micromanagement, and this bodes well for neither of them. Kameron turns in a boring performance as the narrator, and Mayhem sits idly by, knowing she could have done better but unable to assert herself.
Elsewhere, Team Monét is in the thick of their own drama as Yuhua ignores suggestions from the other girls on uglifying herself enough to star in a commercial for Madam Buttrface, an app for people with great bodies and unfortunate mugs. She lightly snaps at Aquaria for offering too many suggestions about how to do her makeup, and for a second we want to give Yuhua the benefit of the doubt. We hate it when people breathe down our necks about how to make our faces uglier too! She does nothing to assuage her teammates’ fears, however, and although Yuhua arrives on set looking kooky, she’s not anywhere near as ugly as Aquaria or the truly disgusting-looking Asia O’Hara, who impresses Carson and Michelle on set with a great freeze-framed face. While Yuhua’s facial situation is cause for concern, her self-scripted copy and performance in the challenge are even weaker.
Performances aren’t an issue over on Team Blair, but individual histrionics certainly are. Eureka’s personality, at which many queens have taken umbrage when it comes to collaboration, grates on the Vixen. It looks like it could turn into a conflict but ends up being a nothingburger once the team appears to do a great job in their takes. Perhaps this will be an episode that sees the Vixen setting aside her brand of just-being-here-to-fight, and a fun and playfully shady conversation between several of the queens has Asia O’Hara reading Vixen for wearing someone else’s wig during last week’s Best Drag runway. It’s an understandable thing to pick at, and the Vixen responds good-naturedly about it. Until Aquaria butts in.
“Can we talk about how your best drag is someone else’s wig, though? That’s confusing.” Game over. As the Vixen prepares to go fully in on Aquaria in response, a spider crawls its way up someone’s tulle and wreaks total pandemonium with its mere existence. The ladies can’t handle it, leaping over tables and screaming until Kameron Michaels, designated butch queen, captures it with a moisturizer jar. “That spider saved Aquaria’s life,” The Vixen says, and for a second we think the conflict is squashed.
Not the case, as we see later on. Whilst applying her makeup for the runway, Aquaria makes a sneering joke that doesn’t land. The Vixen calls it out as unfunny and Aquaria yells at her for being “negative” and “a bitch,” and the first trickles of blood are in the water. The Vixen knows she can get under Aquaria’s skin and does nothing to hold back: Words are exchanged, shit gets personal, and it’s all very schoolyard until Aquaria storms out, upset, frustrated, and probably feeling bullied. To the Vixen’s credit, she has never been dishonest about who she was. If you come for her, she will come for you right back, and how. Aquaria, out of her depth, has messed with the wrong girl here. “South of Chicago doesn’t need to be here right now,” offers Monique to the Vixen. “Oh, but South of Chicago is in the building.”
This brings us to an interesting aside over in Untucked-land, where the Aquaria-Vixen narrative fully explodes in the lounge. When Monique tries to mediate the Vixen-Aquaria spat, Aquaria eventually feels cornered and breaks down in tears, completely overwhelmed by the optics of a white drag queen snidely remarking on a black queen’s shoddiness, only to disengage from the conversation once it becomes too much to bear. Vix points out the trenchant Angry Black Woman stereotype she’s been painted into, and recognizes that both her power and oppression come as a result of her blackness while Aquaria buckles under the weight of the racial politics that she may or may not have considered. It’s a deeply clarifying moment in understanding the Vixen’s M.O., which is not to gun for the villain edit for the sake of villainy. She’s rightly been assertive and protective of her work and the talents that brought her to the show, respectability be damned. Miz Cracker, well-intentioned Harlem gentrifier that she is, calmly tries to mediate the conversation and suggests the Vixen try dialing the vitriol back, which is deliciously met with a hard pass. Monét and Monique co-sign on how skewed the perception of the Vixen is just by virtue of her being black, and once the other queens walk in to join them all, it seems that Aquaria arrives at a place of understanding. “It’s cool, act like it,” Vixen tells her, without a hint of comfort or concern. The onus is on Aquaria to rectify this and not the Vixen. It’s remarkable, instructive television that manages to escape any saccharine, Norman Lear–esque display of racial harmony.
In other edifying television, we learn that Dusty is not in any meaningful contact with her family, who don’t even know that she’s competing on one of the most beloved reality shows in the world. She recounts a completely devastating story of her journey through conversion therapy and ex-gay pastors who imprinted harmful, simplistic notions of gay life on her. Just listening to Dusty describe it is brutal. The fact that Blair’s loving family gives Dusty pause and encouragement speaks to her strength, and she continues to believe in God for leading her to openness and truth and drag. Also, Monét apparently leads her church choir in full drag and invites all the girls to show up sometime, which would be delightful to witness.
For those of you less into emotional confessions and ego clashes and more into fierce runway looks and gaggy lip syncs, this episode delivers them generously in the final act, during which the stops are pulled all the way out. The runway theme? Feathers. It is quite possible that RuPaul was too ill to muster the words “Creatures of Flight Eleganza Extravaganza!” but we honestly love when the queens can run wild with a simple theme. It forces them to be creative in order to stand out, and almost everyone who takes a risk here succeeds in spades. We have to give props to the Vixen, who we side-eyed last week for her controversial Best Drag look but delivers a stylish peacock-inspired gown that looks resplendent. Eureka O’Hara is back in top form with a black, raven-esque Edgar Allen Poe ensemble. The other O’Hara, Asia, caps off an already terrific performance in this episode with a bright yellow Tweety Bird dress that is goofy upon first glance but pretty darn cute as it walks the runway. Asia commits to this 100 percent, and we’d say it was tied with Eureka as the best look of the week if it hadn’t been for, insanely enough, Kameron Michaels!
We know, right?! This queen may be a toss-up in terms of acting capability, but you can’t deny the runway ensemble is a complete and total stun. She appears onstage as a human-vulture villainess; the costume would be right at home in a Mad Max movie, we think (we’ve only seen the one with Charlize and we’re fine with that). Kameron recalls season six’s Trinity K. Bonet in that, while acting and overall performance may not be her speciality, she just may be able to get some mileage out of runway artistry alone. We say, Okay bitch! Overall, it’s one of the more impressive runways we’ve seen on any given season of Drag Race, especially this early in the competition. And while we’re talking lewks, where did guest judge Nico Tortorella get that suit?! C’mon, suit! It’s the most standout element of the judging panel this week, and that’s saying something. Courtney Fucking Love is there. We like this show a lot.
The commercials are iffy once we get to them. Blair’s team succeeds at making the judges laugh with their doomsday dating app EndOfDays, but the other two teams struggle at getting any laughs from the judges at all. Team Monique’s commercial suffers from narrative incoherence, and Mayhem is barely in it. The Madam Buttrface ad is memorable for Asia’s scene-stealing performance, but also for Yuhua’s confusing one. It feels like a different commercial altogether when she’s onscreen, and we brace for an uncomfortable critique in which Yuhua will no doubt interject several times.
Which is exactly what goes down. Yuhua winds up in the bottom with Mayhem and Kameron — whose runway look can’t save her from at least some element of danger — while successful team leader Blair, a triumphant Eureka and breakout-of-the-week Asia fill out the top three. The latter O’Hara is rightly named the week’s winner, while Yuhua goes up against Mayhem Miller in the lip sync. Mayhem admits to the judges that she didn’t speak up when she had concerns about the maxi-challenge, and sort of throws Monique under the bus in the process. It’s when the judges give her a stern warning that she’s here to win a competition instead of make friends that Mayhem wakes up.
In a lip sync to Hole’s “Celebrity Skin,” Miss Miller comes alive and performs like some sort of feathered, punk-rock zombie diva. It reminds us of Trinity Taylor’s “I Wanna Go” lip sync last year in that it’s an example of how being in the bottom can improve your standing in the competition. Her performance, which culminates in tearing the feathers off her own gown in some glorious bit of drag fury, sends a message to the rest of the girls. We certainly wouldn’t want to compete with this queen in a lip sync.
Yuhua Hamasaki, Yuhua gone. It’s a tough season populated with solid, all-around talented queens who are here to win, and while we would have gagged for more of her Chinese dowager empress fashions, Yuhua had to leave. Màn zǒu, màn zǒu, bitch.
SAID THE BITCH! A Weekly Quote Spotlight
Monét: “I think our name should be Team Sponge.”
Asia: “No, bitch!”
Monét: “We’re gonna have the luck of the sponge!”
Asia: “The luck of the sponge didn’t work the first time, it’s not gonna work the second.”
Monét: “It did work, I was safe! My ass is here and Vanessa is Vanjie-ing somewhere else.”
…SAID THE BITCH!!! But honestly we just wanted an excuse to type out “VAAAAAAANJIE.” Thank you.