RuPaul’s Drag Race
Oh, hell yes! A season that felt like it was becoming a procession towards a Symone crowning gets a much needed shake-up in this episode. The dark side of Olivia? Auditions in the werkroom? Annie Hathaway spilling Devil Wears Prada tea? This episode truly has it all. Even the Rusical itself is quite a lot of fun. Does the level of performance excellence stack up to last season’s Madonna the Rusical? Mmm … not really. But if you think I’m giving anything less than five stars to an episode where Utica raps a Gilbert and Sullivan parody about Twitter while dressed as Patti LuPone as Reno Sweeney, you are sorely mistaken. But as is often the case, the backstage drama is even juicier than the challenge itself. Let’s break it down, one queen at a time.
Our midwestern sweetheart undergoes a transformation this episode. That’s right: Friendly Minnesota Mom Utica is dead, and terrifying Amy Klobuchar-lite Utica is born. And she’d like to see how your edges would fare in a blizzard, Olivia Lux! Utica is sick and tired of acquiescing to the needs of the other queens at the expense of her performance. In the ball challenge, Utica helped every queen with their looks only to lose to Gottmik, and last week she gave up the star-making mime role to Olivia only and landed in the bottom three. No more. When it comes time to cast, the rusical, Utica stakes her claim on Lady Tweets. Denali attempts to scoop the part out from under her, but Utica is firm. She whips her proverbial stapler at Denali’s head and makes it clear that she will not be relinquishing the role, don’t ya know! And it pays off. In the Rusical, Utica is pretty great. She nails her patter solo and whips her skinny little limbs around in an adorable Anything Goes costume. She doesn’t win, but it’s still a mental breakthrough for the lovable weirdo. Utica is competition, honey, and she’s finally acting like it.
From a technical point of view, Elliott succeeds this episode. In the Rusical, she is cast in the Billie Eilish role, and her costume and vocal affect translate as such. She looks pretty good, she dances pretty good, and her runway look is also (you guessed it) pretty good. However, “pretty good” is simply not good enough for me this far into a season. Last episode, Elliott sent home one of my favorite queens, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still bitter about it. Yes, it’s not fair of me to hold this against the double-consonant queen, but as a great American poet once said: “Life’s not fair.” At this point, there’s not much more to say about Elliott. Does anyone really think she has a shot at top four? I don’t think so. Is anyone excited to see what she’ll bring to Snatch Game next week? I doubt that, too. On top of it all, none of the queens seem particularly invested in continuing any Elliott-adjacent drama, so she fades into the background this episode. However, I give najor props to Elliott for being the seed crystal of the Rosé-Denali audition sequence. Credit where credit is due.
Rosé is so good in this challenge she almost makes me rethink my proposed dismantling of the musical-theater-BFA-to-drag pipeline. Rosé comes into this challenge determined — determined to secure the lead role, determined to win the challenge, determined to learn from the mistakes of her fallen sister Jan, and determined not to repeat them. Rosé’s most significant hurdle is securing the lead role: a slutty Rachel Berry–type character who sings a parody of Don’t Rain on My Parade, one of Rosé’s “go-to songs.” In The Art of War, Sun-Tzu once said, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” But Sun Tzu didn’t have the vicious tactical mind of a Hell’s Kitchen drag queen like Rosé, who instead chooses to publicly humiliate her competition in an audition. Part secured, all Rosé has left to do is steal the show. And she does. Rosé nails the vocals, the choreo, and the scenes with Olivia up top. The show rests on her shoulders, and she carries it well. On the runway, it’s a delightful reference to Jim Carrey’s The Mask. Michelle calls it “orange” (and I tend to agree), but it’s not enough to keep Rosé from the win. And so Rosé emerges victorious, the corpse of her burgeoning friendship with Denali at her feet. An unavoidable casualty.
This was not how I saw this episode going for Tina, and I bet she’d agree with me. Tina looks shell-shocked this week when she finds herself in the bottom three. All the pieces were there: a musical, a Liza Minnelli–esque emcee role, and a camp aesthetic that feels perfectly inline with Tina’s drag sensibilities. But the judges just … aren’t impressed! They don’t have any particularly revelatory critiques to offer, other than the fact that she stopped lip syncing one or two beats before her note ended (a fact I didn’t notice until I went back to check). But whether or not Tina deserved a bottom three placement is almost beside the point. Unlike Kandy or Symone, Tina isn’t “in her head” at all this week. She is in her element and performing to the best of her ability, and yet the judges remain underwhelmed. In order to remain a contender, Tina really needed a win this week. Next week’s Snatch Game might be Tina’s last chance for a win, so she better Tina Turn it.
If there’s one thing I love about Drag Race it’s that they are deeply unafraid of putting a hat on a hat. Where a lesser TV writer might say “I think we can move on from this joke,” a Drag Race writer would counter with “but I just think we can squeeze one more pun into ‘Markey Tuckenberg SheEO of Fistbook!’” And I am so grateful for it. Honestly? Olivia nails it this week. While Rosé situates herself as the group’s resident theater queen, Olivia clearly has the chops as well. She shows UP in the recording booth, and her personality shines as bright as her smile in the challenge. If not for her winning the last two weeks in a row, I think the judges would’ve heaped the praise on her this week and perhaps would have even given her the win. But lucky for Olivia, that’s that not the case. Because Rosé would’ve poisoned her.
Gottmik is an interesting case study. She has yet to completely steal the show like a Symone or a Gigi Goode, but she has remained consistent across every episode, and even picked up a high-profile win during the ball challenge. It’s a solid strategy and one that worked well for Jaida Essence Hall just a few months ago. Additionally, Gottmik is pretty damn delightful. She’s funny, charming, and does a lovely job of uplifting Denali this week with the help of Anne Hathaway. Gottmik is praised for her scene-stealing portrayal of a Russian bot, and she delights in Soviet Joan Jett drag singing about QAnon and Israel-Palestine (not kidding btw, give those lyrics another listen … ). Gottmik is starting to feel like a lock for the top four. And who could complain? Nothing but respect for the Cher Horowtiz of drag.
Denali has quite the journey this episode. At first, Denali is rightfully frustrated. Last week, she turned out a great performance in Bossy Rossy, and then served a stunning moment on the runway only to be called safe. Then Kandy called her “forgettable” in the reading challenge, and she just can’t seem to shake that out of her head. Is that how the judges see her? Did Kandy Christopher Nolan–style incept RuPaul into literally forgetting Denali exists? Impossible to know for certain. On top of it all, Denali gets out-sung by Rosé and out-bitched by Utica! Frustration turns to defeat, and Denali seems down for the count. That is until, like many queer people before her, Denali is saved by Anne Hathaway. In a wonderful cameo, Annie stops by via Zoom to give the queens some advice on acting for the screen. Afraid for her scene partner’s mental stability, Gottmik asks “What do you do when you don’t get the part you want so badly?” “You steal the show anyway,” Anne replies. It’s exactly what Denali needs to hear. “Steal the show” might be a stretch, but Denali is fun as hell as a Russian bot rocker chick and earns her top placement along with Gottmik. Underrated no longer.
I don’t think anyone is having a more chaotic run than Kandy. One week she’s nearly punching out Tamisha, the next she’s everybody’s bestie. She’s sky high, then she’s lip syncing. Unfortunately for Kandy, this week is the latter. For someone who went viral in the premiere for a stellar lip sync, Kandy has been whiffing these performance challenges. But Kandy’s strengths lie in her charisma and attitude, and neither of those qualities translates to technical choreography. And for Kandy Muse of all people to not steal the show playing a slutty version of the LinkedIn app lipsyncing to some Charli XCX–style hyperpop song? Something is VERY wrong. On the runway, Kandy looks beautiful in her recreation of Beyoncé’s “Hold Up” look, but she omits the equally iconic baseball bat (which feels like a big oversight). The judges ultimately cut Tina a break for carrying so much of the show, and Kandy lands in the bottom.
The gag of the week. I can’t put it better than RuPaul: “Symone, this week you didn’t get overshadowed. You forgot to shine.” It’s shocking to see Symone dim herself this week in a way we’ve never seen from her before. Ross is right: Every time the camera finds its way to Symone, it feels like she’s apologizing. She shrinks in the recording studio, in the performance she hides behind her oversized sunglasses, and when her verse is finally over, you can feel her relief. Symone stuns as usual on the runway in a neon-yellow Versace fur with a wig and boots to match, but it’s not enough to save her from the bottom two. In the lip sync, however, Symone shines bright. It’s pure charisma and star quality as she commands the stage with none of the performing gimmicks that we’ve come to associate with a Drag Race lip sync. Symone shows us that, stumbling aside, she’s a one-of-a-kind queen who won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
I found the lip sync this week (to Fifth Harmony’s “BO$$”) quite thrilling. Symone in particular nails every beat, and I gave her the edge to win this one. However, the judges are still craving Kandy. The queen is filled with nothing but surprises, and they just can’t resist seeing what she’ll pull out of her hat next week. And neither can I. Winning Snatch Game? Burning down the studio lot? Anything is possible when it comes to Kandy, and we won’t want to miss it. The lip sync is a great cap to a successful episode that sets this season back on track. Rosé picking up a win tightens the race for top four, and this lip sync leaves Symone feeling a little vulnerable. Let’s see how these girls fare in the crucible of Snatch Game.