RuPaul’s Drag Race Recap: Size Matters

RuPaul’s Drag Race

Two Queens, One Joke
Season 15 Episode 11
Editor’s Rating 5 stars

RuPaul’s Drag Race

Two Queens, One Joke
Season 15 Episode 11
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: Vulture; Photo: RuPaul’s Drag Race

BITCH! Go off! The last three or so minutes of this week’s Drag Race are some of the most thrilling moments I’ve seen on TV in a long time. I left my first watch of the episode gasping for air. We’ll get into that lipsync later, but I need to get my emotions out first, because I think I might burst otherwise. Glorious content. Season-defining work, honestly.

And the episode leading up to it? Also really great stuff. It felt like the entire season took a giant leap forward with this episode, leaving the doldrums of a previously middling season behind and moving into an exciting home stretch. There’s a few reasons for that change, most obviously that the episodes are finally longer. Yes, following a season defined not by the drama in the episodes but by the high-stakes drama of network programming decisions, we are finally back to 90 minutes. The early days of Drag Race (seasons one through eight, specifically) could deliver 60-minute episodes that were fully composed, satiating little gems. Clearly that is no longer the case. This is now a show that needs the full 90 minutes, and the breathing room allotted to this episode is a relief.

Still, that extra time would feel like a waste if the story wasn’t good. For all that I and everybody else have complained about the shortened episode time, this episode would be good no matter its run-time. We get story in spades, with every queen’s narrative entertainingly moved forward, the performances are solid (if not groundbreaking), and the critiques are worthwhile.

We begin the episode in earnest with a back-and-forth at the Werk Room table between Loosey and Luxx over Loosey’s baby bump in her Beyoncé look. Luxx says Loosey should have had a bigger baby bump, Loosey says Beyoncé wasn’t that far along in her pregnancy. Luxx is correct, but that’s neither here nor there with these two — they’ll argue anyway. They’re two queens defined largely by their ambition and, depending on where you fall with either, their confidence/cockiness. They’re also in the exact same spot in the competition: The judges clearly like them, but they haven’t gotten a win in a while, so if they want to make it to the end, they’ve got to get the excitement back on their side.

We get a mini-challenge this week, which is fun. It’s a Vogue Ball, which the show hasn’t used as a challenge since season one, though they use ballroom, and Paris Is Burning in particular, for inspiration all the time. It’s particularly amusing to see the queens asked to vogue after the online discourse this season over Anetra performing what ballroom legend Leiomy would refer to as “noguing.” Not gonna wade into those waters, as I simply do not have the expertise. I will say that it sure seems like we got noguing across the board here, starting from the moment that RuPaul says “death drop” instead of “dip.” Still, as just a moment of television it’s fun, and it’s nice to see another mini-challenge. Luxx is perfectly okay, while Marcia x3 and Loosey are impressively white. If I never see Marcia do a coffee grinder again, it will be too soon. Salina flops, literally. Sasha gives great stunts and is probably the most exciting. Mistress is goddamn hilarious, working the floor and throwing shade with no words. Her geriatric dip is a bit played out by now, though, must be said. Seen it. To my way of seeing things, Anetra gives the closest approximation to each of the five elements of vogue (catwalk, hand performance, spins and dips, duckwalks, and floor performance), even though she isn’t the most exciting. I might have given it to Mistress on wit alone, but Anetra wins.

The challenge is stand-up, and the seven queens are put into pairs, which means, if you do the math, that one queen will end up alone. That’s clearly a disadvantage, but also there have been loads of queens forced to do stand-up solo. This season isn’t exactly packed to the rafters with comedy queens, and at least two girls who are kind of cannon fodder (Salina and Marcia x3) are still in the competition, so it’s probably worthwhile to give them some training wheels for this challenge. They’re a good group, but I don’t think they’re quite as strong as the girls in, say, season 12, who had to do solo shows. Plus pairing them up provides drama, which is good because this is a reality competition show. In a glorious ode to corporate sponsorship, they are divided into groups by pulling Bubly sparkling water out of a cooler. I’m certainly craving a refreshing seltzer right now — how about you?

My co-worker Jesse David Fox once told me that he sees Drag Race production similarly to a magic show: You don’t know where the trick is, and you can certainly tell that you’re being manipulated in some way, but since the end result works out, it’s all okay. That’s how I feel about the pairings this week — I’m not sure how it happened, but the girls are paired up perfectly. Salina chooses the one non-matching seltzer, but rather than making her be on her own, she gets to choose a partner, thus leaving someone else out in the cold. She wisely chooses the effervescent and naturally funny Mistress, which makes Marcia x3 our solo performer. Despite the difficulty that comes with being the only solo queen, this is a perfectly fair challenge for Marcia, a queen who’s been blending into the background far too much. She’s made it this far on theater talent without ever managing the gag-worthy moments that drag is built for. Giving her a challenge like this, where she cannot coast, is exactly the test of her talents that the show should be throwing her way.

Sasha and Anetra, two queens who are naturally funny but not exactly comedy geniuses, are paired up with Anetra getting an unfortunate extra challenge when she gets a splitting headache. Salina and Mistress, big personalities who will need a bit of polish to make it through the challenge (Salina more so), are working together. And then there’s Loosey and Luxx, whose combined energies create a tornado of ambition and self-confidence that would register as a statewide emergency in several flyover states. Ali Wong is the guest judge-coach this week, and she gives all the queens pretty solid tips. She teaches Marcia how to milk her jokes, tells Luxx to make her punch lines easier to understand on a basic auditory level, coaches Salina on tightening up her story, and nixes all of Anetra’s material. Good stuff! Having enough time to see longer coaching sessions with every group really makes a difference.

When the actual challenge comes around, I wouldn’t say anyone delivers an iconic performance in the vein of, say, Bianca or Bimini’s stand-up or Jinkx or Manila’s All-Stars roasts, but that’s pretty par for the course. Unless you’re at the level of an actual comedian, which, let’s be honest, the queens rarely are, it’s more about having solid-enough jokes while setting the audience at ease with a natural performance. Marcia begins the set, and while she semi-fulfills the first part of that rubric (her jokes are okay), her nerves get the best of her. She never feels like a comfortable onstage presence. It’s not historically bad like Laganja telling an old woman that her vagina is dry or Blair flipping through the pages or Farrah doing … what she did. Instead, she’s off-putting. Marcia was given a “step up or get out” challenge this week, and she got out. Even her look makes her seem like a scared little girl.

Loosey and Luxx deliver by far the most natural set of the bunch. I laughed a few times, but I was more impressed by their clear command of the stage, easy rapport, and well-drawn personas. These two queens working together, especially following their earlier argument, might have turned sour very easily, but it’s a testament to their dedication to winning that they get along without a hitch. Also, not for nothing, they both pull off just about perfect drag for the challenge — interesting enough to draw attention but never pulling focus. (Luxx’s lace is pretty shiny, though. Just saying.)

Sasha and Anetra deliver the bomb of the night. They lead with the fact that they’re stoners but drop that characterization immediately, which makes the whole section feel like it’s for naught. The jokes just aren’t funny, barring one Sasha section where she describes Michelle’s balls. Also both of these queens’ drag is not to the level that it usually is. Sasha’s natural hair is sticking out the back of her wig, which looks messy in a way that I should not have to worry about — particularly this far into the competition, particularly with a pageant queen, particularly with Sasha. Meanwhile, Anetra’s dedication to booties will be my undoing. Last week, I noted that Sasha was due for a fall from grace. This is it; let’s hope it doesn’t last.

The final group is Salina and Mistress. Surprisingly, Salina is the much stronger member of the duo. She really takes Ali Wong’s advice, giving a story that is both funny and clean (in terms of polish. It is very much not clean in terms of content). Last week, I assumed she was the next to go, and this week she surprised me. Now, I still think she’s the next to go, but I won’t be surprised anymore if she does manage to turn it out. Mistress is comfortable onstage, but her pacing is really off. This is two weeks in a row where Mistress hasn’t killed in a challenge I expected her to breeze through. In terms of stage looks, though, Mistress looks great while Salina looks bad. Looking bad can be fine in a comedy challenge if there’s a point to it, but there’s no reason her character should look this rough. It’s unintentional, and at this point, queens should be in control of how they are perceived.

The runway category is “Rip Her to Shreds.” I don’t like Marcia’s pageant queen look at all. The judges note that Loosey just did a similar thing a few weeks back, and I would note that I said that Loosey’s look didn’t feel new even then. Also, if you’re going to do an archetypal character with feminine beauty, you should have boobs on. I’m not opposed to queens who don’t wear body on principle, but it should reflect the rest of your look. Marcia just looks incomplete. Loosey’s freaky look is fun! It’s a good time for her to break out of glamour again. Luxx does an homage to Ru’s Wee Wee Pole era of drag, and, though it’s a bit of sucking up, I’m fine with that. She looks great, and Luxx, with all her confidence and the way she carries herself like a star, really is reminiscent of a young Ru. Sasha’s denim and diamonds look is probably my favorite of the week. Not much to say about it other than she looks stunning. Anetra gives another version of the showgirl drag she typically gives. It’s polished, but, and this is admittedly unfair, I hate the color palette. Salina gives a touching tribute to her mother, portraying an immigrant crossing the border, but the unfortunate truth is that the drag is not up to the level of the story. Mistress has her best proportions yet. She points to Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Mugler, Moschino, and Texas drag as her inspirations, but I’d add one more: Miss Piggy, which is one of the highest compliments I can give.

The longer run-time blesses us with the first judges’ deliberation we’ve gotten since the premiere, and I’ve really been missing it. The runway critiques are good, but I am so glad we didn’t miss RuPaul making the very worthwhile point that Marcia is making it through based on her theater training, not her drag skills. It’s also during the judges’ critiques that it becomes clear that, while Loosey is a slightly more polished performer, there’s way more excitement about Luxx. They end up getting a dual win this week, which is good because I like this show and I don’t want Loosey to go off the rails and burn the place down. Still, I think she’s more vulnerable than her late-stage win might suggest. TS Madison says that Sasha might be resting on pretty, which is kind of a mean critique for someone who’s won three challenges but also puts Sasha into position for a potential comeback. She was never going to make it through an entire season unscathed.

Finally, we arrive at the lipsync. Sasha’s “Michelle has big balls” jokes exempt her from the bottom two, leaving Marcia and Anetra. Marcia’s there at least partly owing to an accumulation of safes, while Anetra’s there solely for flopping this week. Still, I think it’s to Anetra’s benefit that she’s in the bottom. Instead of ending the episode with poor critiques and a downward trajectory, she ends it by giving one of the best lipsyncs we’ve seen on the show in a very long time.

The song is “Boss Bitch,” by Doja Cat, which is a great pick: both funny and fierce. It’s probably my favorite lipsync of the season, because, while the Sasha x Anetra lipsync was more evenly matched, this song is much better than that Fifth Harmony joint, and the stakes feel higher because it’s ending the episode and the loser goes home instead of moving on to the next round. Marcia, to her credit, holds her own, but Anetra still duckwalks her ass. The flying leap over Marcia, the sharp movements, the jump back into an upward-facing split — it’s all great. If Anetra lipsyncs her way to the top four, I’m all for it.

Also on Untucked

Untucked is low on drama this week, which is something of a disappointment. Marcia never really gets mad. Instead, we get two family messages: From Mistress’s drag mom and from Salina’s family. It’s very sweet. Ali Wong is also there, which, sure.

• Trauma Makeup Corner is back this week with Mistress telling the story of her relationship with her biological mother. We’ve been skipping the TMC in recent weeks, which is for the best. Her story hits much harder because there hasn’t been a deluge of trauma each week.

• That Marcia makeup story line never really went anywhere, huh?

• We’re in the best part of any given season right now — when the queens are all pretty solid and it’s getting increasingly competitive. Salina is very lucky to have made it to the top six, by my estimation, but she’s definitely not an unwelcome presence. I can’t imagine she’ll be able to beat out any of the other queens for a spot in the top five, much less top four. Still, wouldn’t it be exciting if she did?

• Top four predictions: At this point, Sasha, Mistress, and Luxx are all pretty much locks, though Mistress has been trending downward in recent weeks. With this win, Loosey should probably round out that group, but I’m still not sure. I don’t have much faith in her lipsyncing skills and, unless they throw Sasha in the bottom with her, I don’t think anyone could kick out Anetra. I’m going to stick with Anetra, but with trepidation.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Recap: Size Matters