Up top, the one-star girls are rightfully scared. With only four weeks remaining in the competition, stars are becoming harder to come by … and some girls only have one! Shea and Monet, in particular, lament their lot: They started off so strong and have yet to recapture their initial momentum. With only a couple more challenges to go, they better step it up in this week’s acting challenge. In the skillful hands of Janicza Bravo (a formidable director who seamlessly drops gems such as “Color those lines more: I want to hear the waxing of the crotch and the potential cumming”), queens must act in Santa’s School for Girls. The genre? Yuletide-themed slasher whodunit. The setting is a cultish, Christmas-obsessed all-girls preparatory school. It’s a fun setup: clear enough to follow along while nonsensical enough so that the queens’ performances (which run the gamut from psychotic to grounded) are the true stars of the show. The judges continue to refuse to give any substantive critiques (which is growing a bit stale to me!), but I have no such issue. Let’s dive in:
Top Tier: The Vivienne, Shea, Yvie
Were you expecting anything less? This week we’re treated to yet another master class from The Vivienne. Her accent work is impeccable, and as always, she’s a wizard with a damn contour palette. It’s clear that every single time The Vivienne gets in drag — whether it be for an acting challenge or simply to walk the runway — she’s doing so with a fully formed character in mind. A character with a specific voice and a specific shape of their face that informs everything they do, from their behavior to their movements and idiosyncrasies. A marvel to watch. This time around, she’s doing Joan Crawford by way of Faye Dunaway’s infamous portrayal with a distinct Trumpian flare coloring the whole thing: a domineering, Evangelical headmistress turned fanatical murderer. Her distaste for Shea is as entertaining to witness as her white-hot rage at all things not Christmas. Masterful.
If I had my way, Shea would be right there next to The Vivienne lip-syncing tonight. Shea makes a very bold choice for a comedy skit featuring the most over-the-top drag queens this hemisphere has to offer: She decides to be grounded. Shea is the compelling heart of this comedy skit–film chimera, reacting believably yet never missing a single joke. In this sense, she’s the polar opposite of Jinkx: so confident in her mastery of the material and ability to land every witticism that she has no need to chew scenery. She commands our attention with her presence rather than with her volume.
A few weeks ago, I insisted that Yvie could never stand in the ranks of Jinkx and The Vivienne in an acting challenge. Well, I’m here to eat my words! Yvie’s performance as leader of “the Nice Girls” is as compelling and well-formed as Shea’s and Viv’s tonight. She doesn’t miss a moment and injects this Regina George analog with a sinister niceness that has us fully believing that she’s the murderess pulling the strings. And to top it all off with my favorite runway of hers to date: a gorgeous, hand-dyed, extraterrestrial knit set? Top marks for Yvie tonight.
Middle Tier: Raja, Monet
While not at the level of my personal top three, Raja does an admirable job handling the Christmas school’s goth. In her own words, it’s a little bit Beetlejuice, a little bit Breakfast Club, and a little bit Heathers. A winning combination, to be sure. She ably delivers her more ridiculous lines with a knowing wink, letting us know that she knows they’re truly ridiculous, but at the same time maintaining a commitment to the truth of the scene. It’s a difficult line to walk, but she does it well. And perhaps it’s just the comical height difference, but her unlikely friendship with Jaida’s nerdy character works well for me, always eliciting a laugh when Raja hokily throws an arm around her shoulders. On the runway, Raja is a deity. She says, “This is a look that is based on the juxtaposition of something so futuristic and modern with something as ancient as weaving.” A description and syntax that will haunt my mind for weeks to come.
Monet settles into her character once she receives a critical note to stop modulating her voice. There’s no need! An unnecessary crutch that she was thankfully asked to toss aside. While her costuming is excellent and she lands her most important jokes (getting murdered), it becomes clear that Jinkx would have been far better suited for the crunchy, crystal-selling art teacher. Without any distinct characterization, many of Monet’s lines fade into the background in a way that they probably wouldn’t with Jinkx at the helm. On the runway, however, Monet shines in a knit cropped puffer jacket and matching booty shorts: the platonic ideal of Monet’s runway.
Low Tier: Jinkx, Trinity, Jaida
Unfortunately, Jaida ultimately doesn’t resonate with her nerdy character in any way. As the hottest woman on the planet, Jaida is simply unequipped to play a lonely, ugly nerd. Her Frida Kahlo joke doesn’t land, and her most successful lines tend to be those that advance the plot rather than enrich her portrayal in any way. That said, as always, Jaida is doing drag. Her Santa hat is pinned seamlessly into her gorgeous braided wig, and her makeup and the taped bridge of her oversize glasses make her a joy to look at. Speaking of … that runway! Jaida’s knitwear look is a high-fashion, editorial nod to The Big Comfy Couch. It’s styled to perfection and as flattering as it is well-crafted. Jaida didn’t need to win tonight, and her middling showing in the acting challenge does little to shake my conviction that she will find herself in the season’s top four.
Jinkx comes into this challenge mad as hell. The Trinity-Monet alliance is as strong as ever, and Jinkx is a (minor) victim of their machinations this week. She doesn’t get her first, second, or even third choice of parts this week and reluctantly takes on Holly, the slutty shopaholic. However, she’s so determined to “make the most” of her lot that she ultimately overdoes it, losing sight of the character. Sometimes Holly is ditsy, sometimes she’s demonic, sometimes she’s a valley girl. The only constant is Jinkx’s commitment to stretching the lines as long as possible. Unlike Shea, Jinkx is reliant on volume, both aurally and spatially. Every line must be louder than the last, and each sentence must take up a paragraph’s worth of real estate. It’s not bad, and because it’s Jinkx, sometimes the jokes work despite it all, but it’s a far cry from what we know Jinkx is capable of. Jinkx has the potential to win this whole season, but in the coming weeks, she must resist being thrown off by minor casting inconveniences.
Trinity is perfectly fine this week, but she proves that playing dumb is harder than it looks. Janicza gives her some excellent notes (“Take pleasure in your absence”), but even so, some key jokes are missed. However, I’m not worried about Trinity one bit. It’s about time she took a brief respite from dominating this competition and gave someone else a shot. I am confident she’ll be back with a vengeance before we know it.
After a stellar runway, the top-two stars of the evening are Raja and The Vivienne, who lip-sync to “Super Freak,” by Rick James. Just when I’d written off Raja’s ability to turn a lip-sync, she comes back with this joyous little number. Not 30 seconds into the lip sync, Monet is ready to call it. She pivots in her chair and announces to Yvie, “Raja is turning it.” The lip-sync assassins have convened, and the consensus is clear: Raja is the victor. And after another entertaining platinum-plunger ceremony, Raja chooses to block … Jaida! A prudent decision that maintains the integrity of the social game the queens have found themselves playing. Jaida is the only winner who has yet to be blocked, and Raja can justify her decision as such next week when the queens untuck.
Speaking of, next week the queens are charged with creating a “viral social-media dance challenge.” TikTok has taken hold of every aspect of the entertainment industry, so Drag Race is no exception. There are no Gen-Z queens in sight, so let’s see how these aging millennials fare.