RuPaul’s Drag Race
In Scarlet’s words, “the fear of Goddess” has been struck in each and every one of the remaining girls’ hearts after last week’s elimination, in which all six members of the losing team were forced to lip-sync against each other, resulting in the elimination of Honey Davenport. Clearly, Ru is not super pleased with how things are going thus far, so this week will be important. Not a lot of girls are standing out at the moment, so someone should take the opportunity to do that. We need a challenge that allows the girls to really shine. Something that these girls can make their own. Maybe the mini challenge wi —
Okay, I’m just gonna stop. Rachel Maddow impressions? This season is really starting to feel like season 11 of a television show. I don’t know whether Ru is an extra big fan of Maddow, or vice versa, but this challenge feels emblematic of what’s off about the show right now. Maybe it’s that it feels like it exists in an ultraprivileged bubble. Maybe it’s the celebrity cameo that feels very “we were able to do this and so we did, and we even focused a whole challenge around it.” Something specifically about Maddow’s inclusion just made me roll my eyes. (And I’m a fan! Maybe I’m not over the time Maddow said she had info about Trump’s taxes? And then … did not?) This is fun for Ru and almost none of the contestants; it’s clear these girls don’t watch her. Anyway, the win goes to Scarlet Envy, who just edges out Ariel Versace and earns the “privilege” of assigning roles in the main challenge.
About that main challenge: I don’t love even typing the name “Trump” out just now, but unfortunately we’re going to have to commit to thinking about him, because this episode is entirely focused on the women in his life and cabinet. For “Trump: The Rusical,” the contestants are tasked with performing the standard original musical lip-sync challenge we see every year, except this time it’s based on the nightmare that is our current political landscape. Fun! I’m not someone who finds it difficult to laugh about shit, but Trump feels simultaneously too real and too banal to mine broad comedy from at this point, and I don’t necessarily trust this show to find something new or valuable to talk about, but I’m willing to give it a shot.
Scarlet assigns the roles, and interestingly enough, Mercedes lunges to be cast in the lead role of Shandy. This being a sort of Grease parody, we can assume “Shandy” is crucial to the story, despite it not being totally clear at first who she is in the Trump canon. This is bold of Mercedes, and shows that she’s ready to step forward and take a ris — oh, nevermind! Scarlet gives that part to Ariel, who says she doesn’t even want the role. Kay! The rest of the casting goes pretty smoothly, outside of Silky Ganache throwing a mild tantrum over being cast as Oprah, a new installment in the saga of “What the Hell Is Silky Talking About, Even?” We will also find out soon that Silky is a registered Republican, but only for reasons due to gentrification and redistricting. There is a lot going on with Silky!
Ru also focuses on Mercedes Iman Diamond in her walkthrough. Does she know about Ivanka Trump? No, replies Mercedes, but she’s going to make it work! I question how much we, in the grand scheme of things, actually need to force a Muslim drag queen to research Ivanka Trump and be able to mimic her persona, and this is a big reason why I don’t love this challenge, but here we are. This is Ru’s America!
Choreographer Yanis Marshall is here in the Todrick Hall role of Choreographer Who Brutalizes the Girls. He does a good job of serving tough choreography and bitchy soundbites, and he’s hot. So we love. Ra’Jah O’Hara? Does not love. Yanis is especially tough on her after she expresses that she has dance experience and proceeds to have difficulty nailing the choreo in an exemplary way. By the end of rehearsal, Ra’Jah has fully had it. We’re very close to getting another “an ugly girl could never come for a pretty girl” talking head moment, but Ra’Jah pulls back. Maybe later! Maybe on the runway! That would be fun.
We also find out that Yvie has a connective tissue disorder, explaining that her joints are prone to popping out of place, so she’s gotta be careful with that body. Falling apart emotionally instead of physically is Ariel, who is so scared and frozen in rehearsal that she just stops doing the choreography entirely. From my vantage point, she doesn’t seem super ready for the high-risk and high-stakes televised experience. And we really need Shandy to work. Shandy is very important to Trump, we are told.
The episode slows down in the workroom as Nina West describes a time when her life was threatened at college. The situation sounds frightening, and the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard is discussed. I can see the connection that’s being attempted between this Trump challenge and the rhetoric that leads to tragedies like this (rhetoric that is currently very present in our country), but it nonetheless feels clunky. Mercedes’s story about how difficult it is to be Muslim in this country is also important and well-articulated, but am I the only one who feels it’s odd that we’re even doing this maxi challenge when issues like these are so real? I know it’s the responsibility of drag and art to comment on and pick apart our society’s larger issues. But the episode is feeling produced and convenient rather than artful or like any type of comment.
Joel McHale and (thank God) Tiffany “New York” Pollard are on hand to watch the main challenge, which is not as odd as I thought it would be. Shandy turns out to be the Russian prostitute who allegedly pissed on Trump, an event that provides a sort of gateway into a larger “narrative” that includes all of the women in Trump world. Yvie stands out as a decrepit Kellyanne Conway, Brooke Lynn resembles Trump’s ex-wife Ivana Trump, and Melania Trump is done well (if only in a very limited capacity) by Plastique. I also really enjoy Shuga Cain as Hillary Clinton, who is the leader of some sort of biker gang that includes Vanjie as Rosie O’Donnell and A’Keria as Stormy Daniels. The connections being made here are really bizarre. Major characters in this Rusical feel like minor characters in actual Trumpworld. Mercedes has very little time to register as Ivanka, while Oprah Winfrey (well performed and embodied by Silky) is given an entire segment to chew the scenery. Her performance is probably the best, followed by Yvie and Scarlet Envy as Betsy DeVos, though even that latter performance could probably be really well-executed by someone willing to take it up one more notch. We end with the group singing about how more women need to be running for office? I don’t fucking know. The world is a horror show.
Runway time, and the theme is orange. I love Yvie’s orange peel helmet hair, Silky’s orange eleganza, and Vanjie’s Vegas-inspired plumage, though it is unfortunate that we’ve only seen her in orange and red hues so far in this competition. Brooke Lynn is also looking pretty stunning with a see-through orange trench-y moment. Everyone else looks … good!
The judges’ comments feel pret-ty arbitrary to me, with people like Vanjie being in the bottom despite offering a good runway and barely figuring into the Rusical, and someone like Brooke Lynn landing in the top for a runway that was equally good and looking a lot like the person she was portraying, but that was really it. I understand Mercedes’s inclusion in the bottom as she did not look like Ivanka and wasn’t nailing her mannerisms and vibe, and Ra’Jah certainly didn’t stand out as Omarosa. Being gifted Omarosa as a character and not standing out? Yeah. You’re bottom-two.
Silky just edges out Brooke Lynn for the big win, which probably makes Scarlet feel good about her decision-making skills. The bottom two is Mercedes and Ra’Jah, and it’s not hard to see where this is going. She gives a good lip-sync performance to James Brown’s “Living in America”, but with her narrative complete, Mercedes loses out to Ra’Jah’s energetic performance.
And so we move on with the season, hopefully leaving any mention of Trump behind. I’m not a huge fan of this episode, but we’re still at that point where in any given season, filler queens are on their way out and the stars can start to really shine. I have a feeling that, like season nine, this one will get better as it goes, as the contestants with the most potential in the competition seem to be the most compelling from a narrative standpoint as well.