Here’s the funny, obvious thing about Drag Race: When the show casts entertaining performers, and they’re given good material, the show is good. When the show fails to do that … you get Down Under (kidding … just some shade from one Commonwealth spinoff to another). Earlier this year, RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 and U.K. season two proved that the show’s still got it, so long as “it” is a pool of talented drag performers to choose from and fun challenges that highlight their strengths. For the first 15 minutes of this week’s episode, I wasn’t sure what kind of season this was shaping up to be yet.
And then they sent in the clowns.
Like pitching a (circus) tent, this episode was a grower, not a shower. The mini-challenge was a Doordash-sponcon werkroom fashion show that had the queens showing off regional looks that repped their neighborhoods. I couldn’t help but think that some of these pieces — namely, Océane Aqua-Black’s poutine headdress — were packed in the hope of a main-stage runway and were underserved by the mini challenge’s quick drag. Also of note: Both Montreal queens dressed as that most beautiful symbol of local wildlife, the orange traffic cone.
Brad and Tracy Melchior — who is back from season one while last week’s Handmaid is conspicuously missing — tell the girls that the maxi challenge is “Under the Big Top: The Rusical!” A circus performance that is also a musical kind of feels like a wig on a wig, but it’s a very fun theme. Clearly, the show was inspired by famous Canadian export Cirque du Soleil, but I guess they couldn’t get its rights because I don’t even think it was alluded to? Instead, there was a spiel about how back in the day, drag performers were seen as “clowns” and “freaks.” Rude of them to single out Lady Bunny like that.
Over on the casting couch, the queens get into one of those classic debates about who will play which role. Gia, who hasn’t lost a lick of confidence from last week’s bottom two showing, says, “My first, and my only, choice is Himbo.” Same! Synthia wants to play the lead, an ingenue clown named Corsette (Okay, Pulitzer Prize for hilarious writing), and no one objects. Pythia is psyched about this challenge. “A clown Rusical! Are you kidding? I was little born for this,” she says in her confessional, and she’s not joking: She literally looks like Crystal Methyd was cloned by the guy that did Barbra Streisand’s dogs with the sole purpose of producing more drag clowns. She wants to be Pennywise because ”Pennywise is a very spooky ooky clown who loves to freak people out.” I laughed at this explanation because it was giving “Alias is a show about a spy.”
As soon as the queens meet on the main stage with vocal coach Thom Allison, it becomes immediately clear that this episode will be hilarious. Pythia is up first, and I don’t think anyone was expecting that Ed Wynn-ass voice to come out of this young queen. Pythia rapping “I’m a SCARY clown/biggest creep in the whole damn town” deserves a spot next to Nicki Minaj’s “Monster” verse in the scary rap hall of fame. Synthia crushes her part, outing herself as the cast’s best singer. Kendall can’t find the note to her Ringmaster number, while Gia’s Himbo song is serving sexy femme Rum Tum Tugger. Océane, Adriana, and Suki Doll stumble through their rehearsal as the trio “Bing, Bang, Bong,” but they wore these sad little clown wigs when no one else dressed up for practice, and that’s commitment.
The way Canada’s Drag Race films its dance rehearsals is frankly cinematic, giving Center Stage. What is less impressive is “self-proclaimed dance queen” Icesis choking in her dance-heavy role opposite Stephanie. Kimora shines during this portion of the episode precisely because she doesn’t have to dance at all, just stomp around (playing the part of famous non-dancing clown Bianca Del Rio, naturally). On elimination day, the makeup mirror talk centers around immigration and racism. ”People think this is not a reality in Canada,” Suki says. Océane shares a tragic backstory, saying, ”My parents abandoned me in the forest back in Haiti.” A Quebecois family then adopted her. ”And you were fed well,” Stephanie claps back. Sauvage.
The Rusical is performed with live vocals, making it a thrill to watch when it’s good and even more fun when it’s a mess. Whoever they had in the Canadian World of Wonder basement writing this stuff did a way better job than what we’ve seen in the American Rusical challenges of years past. Synthia is serving Big Comfy Couch realness in her costume, and her vocals are even more impressive sung live for the judges. She does not lose her composure for a second throughout this whole number. Kendall has stage presence galore and makes up for her inability to sing with a really fun character voice. The “Bing Bang Bong” number mess is a sight to behold in full clown zhuzh. Who thought it was a good idea to make these three French Canadian queens rap in English? Rough is an understatement. Stephanie looks gorgeous while Icesis flounders as fashion queens “Leather and Lace.” Eve 6000 is supposed to sing a sexy song about a “big reveal” (the joke is it’s a clown nose on her crotch) but looks so worried the whole time. Kimora makes Bianca her own. The two stand-outs in this number are Pythia’s Pennywise and Gia’s Himbo, who come revving in like Eddie in Rocky Horror on a big trike and who looks as if she took a movement class between last week’s abysmal lipsync and this episode.
The runway theme this week is “Circus Bezerkus,” and the looks are uniformly excellent as hell. Some highlights are Pythia’s two-headed woman, Eve 6000 dressed like a clown swallowed by a lion, Gia as a femme take on the Keanu Reeves-voiced Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom from Toy Story 4, and Suki Doll as a genuinely scary sleep paralysis demon clown with a ventriloquist dummy coming out of a hat. The only truly disappointing look of the night is Synthia’s very basic rainbow tent dress; I think she would have been in the top instead of merely safe had the look matched the polish of her excellent performance.
Synthia’s Brat Pack sisters Kendall and Gia are at the top, along with Pythia. Suki, Icesis, Eve, and Océane are all praised for their looks but find themselves at the bottom for their performances. In Mini Untucked Junior, Eve 6000 is clearly feeling salty and insecure and makes some dig at Kendall’s singing, prompting the other Bratz to come to her defense with effusive praise, in turn making Eve feel ganged up on. But Eve’s look ultimately saves her from the bottom, Pythia takes the prize (diamonds!!), and the bottom two is a face-off of two talented queens in gorgeous black and white looks: Icesis Couture serving harlequin and Océane Aqua-Black wearing the whole damn circus tent.
They face off to “Stupid Shit” by Girlicious, who, let’s be real, is in here on a technicality. The group isn’t even Canadian, they apparently just took off more in Canada than the States. The gag of the LSFYL is when the editors cut away to a confessional from Icesis: “Remember when I said I had bad knees?” Cut to Icesis doing some crazy impressive thing with her legs. “I lied bitch.” Okay, Miss Shyamalan! Icesis and her duplicitous knees win the day, meaning Océane gotta go, but not before this beautiful closing line: “Now I get to go home and eat some cheeseburger!” Forever in our hearts.
• “Icesis and I are the mean girls and bitch, we are method actors.” — Stephanie, continuing to serve pure C behind that smile.
• “I love stunt casting.” — Thom Allison when he sees Pythia walk onstage to voice a spooky clown.
• “Okay, well back to Brooke Lynn’s basement I go!” — Pennywise.
• “And her beard goes all the way down to her vagina, bitch.” — 10/10 runway narration from Stephanie.
• “The ocean is rising, and she’s coming to a city near you.” — OAB’s final words were also kind of a threat. And that’s beautiful.