RuPaul’s Drag Race
After a run of two truly fabulous episodes (minus one lip sync) in a mostly fine season, we end on an appropriately middling note. Because, let’s be honest here, this marks the true end of the season. Next week is the RuMix, which means it’s unlikely anybody in the top four goes home (despite what that “Next Time On” would lead us to believe). The episode will be filled to the brim with talent, certainly, but Drag Race’s penultimate episodes are typically staid affairs. The queens will talk with Ru, and the talks won’t be that informative, but they will be sweet. They will choreograph a number that will be well performed, but the quality will mostly be dependent on the song itself. Then, two weeks after that, we’ll have an overblown finale set in a ginormous theater in which the queens will not serve their best work of the season but will instead deliver varying levels of “serviceable.” And it’s fine — that’s what Drag Race is. But it’s also why I tend to savor this portion of the season, when they whittle the top eight or so down to the best group.
But even though this episode arrives in the glory section of the season, it’s a bit of a letdown. Part of that is the challenge. The makeover challenge is unique in the Drag Race continuum. For one, it’s a challenge with two primary goals, one of which is never really stated outright. The first, obvious part is the emotional connection. Drag Race wants its queens to be ambassadors of drag, and making people comfortable with the artform is a task that a winner of this show must take on — just this week, BenDeLaCreme was on The Daily Show explaining drag to an embarrassingly clueless and obtuse Al Franken. The ability to foster an emotional connection with the very idea of drag is a skill that is difficult to measure but important for these queens to develop. When queens get critiqued on this aspect of their makeover, the judging mostly sounds like gobbledygook. Still, it’s a worthwhile ask.
But the other aspect of this challenge, which doesn’t get discussed so much, is about visual branding. It’s about being able to synthesize all your style into a signature look and persona and then being able to apply that signature onto someone else. Can you teach a non-drag-queen not only how to be a drag queen but how to be a drag queen of your ilk? Is your makeup unique enough to be recognizable when put on someone else’s face? Basically, do you know your own brand well enough that you can remove yourself from it?
This is not a particularly interesting challenge with this group of queens. In retrospect, one of my chief complaints with this season is that the top performers all operate within a similar sphere of drag. They’re all going to deliver some type of classic drag glamour, and it will be high level if not inventive. Typically, that goes over well in this challenge. Queens like Trinity the Tuck or Jaida Essence Hall have won the makeover not for inventiveness but for pure polish. But it makes the whole thing much more fun when you have a wild card in the mix, a Sasha Velour or a Crystal Methyd whose drag style is just as well defined but whose final look reveals a newly birthed drag daughter doing something different from what they expected when they walked in for a “drag makeover.” This group of makeover subjects all got exactly what they came for — high glamor with lots of sex appeal — but taken as a whole, this was a generic group of drag daughters. If AI produced five drag queens, it would look something like this.
Looking at the season more broadly, that makes sense. As I said a few weeks back, this is a season about the idea of the drag queen. This far into a successful series, it makes sense that the show needed a season to reset. One way it’s done that by eliminating someone every week. Next season, even if there end up being double saves, there will be stakes because we can now safely return to the assumption that each week ends with an elimination. But it’s also reset in terms of expectations for the queens themselves. Last season’s top five included three queens who would’ve been considered the weirdest person in this year’s top group (Willow, Daya, Bosco). The weirdo was becoming the norm. This season, then, re-reifies what Drag Race wants in its queens: polish and glamour with a willingness to be stupid. That’s back to being the winning formula.
So that’s how we end up here with a top-five makeover challenge in which nobody does exceptionally badly but nobody does exceptionally well or (more important) exceptionally interestingly. Would I have built this particular season up to a penultimate challenge based on looks when the queens aren’t that distinct in look? I would not have! For what it’s worth, I wish we had an individual commercial-branding challenge thrown in there like the perfume or soda commercials from seasons five and 13, respectively. I would have liked to know what these queens would do in a challenge like that. Such is life!
From the moment the episode begins, we’re off to an inauspicious start. During the fallout, Loosey manages to hold herself together and not get mad at Luxx for calling her generic on last week’s runway. It’s just not the payoff I or anyone was hoping for given the level of focus this story line has been given over the past few weeks.
We move on to a mini-challenge straight out of Survivor in which the girls have to answer questions about who among them they think fits a bunch of categories, and the queens who scrounge up the most popular answers get a point. It’s fine — there’s not too much drama. I was hoping for “Everybody Loves Puppets.” Loosey wins, and good for her.
That means she gets to assign the queens their partners for the makeover challenge, which is to make over a bunch of teachers. I’m an easy mark for this one — my mom is a teacher in my small, rural hometown on a mountain in New England, and she would have pushed her fellow teachers into a well and left them there without Lassie to save them if it meant being on this show. (Her favorite queen is Raja.) So, yes, some of the conversations got to me. Specifically, Mistress’s conversation with her teacher got to me. Her newfound daughter is an art teacher who came out as queer relatively recently, and watching them connect with Mistress sharing how much it would have meant to her to have a queer teacher in her Texas school growing up is the kind of emotional moment this show is still so good at producing.
This is the second politically prescient week in a row, following a Rusical that discussed drag bans. Laying bare how necessary it is for young queer kids to have teachers who support them and are able to talk about queerness in the classroom was a great way to tackle something like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill without coming across as forced. Look, for all its annoying centrism and cheesiness, Drag Race is still a boundary-pushing show that has put more queer people (and Maddy Morphosis) on our TV screens than any program ever without turning the entirety of the queer community into saints or villains. When the show pulls off this kind of thing, it proves it still has the capability to tell inherently political stories just by sharing its contestants’ experiences. This week does that. Nice work, show.
Luxx doesn’t really get this. Looking back, we probably should have known Luxx would flop at the emotional component of this challenge. She’s an extremely competitive queen but also an extremely young one. Loosey gives her the biggest challenge of the week via an older partner who is also so white that, if she weren’t a teacher, I would wonder if she could even spell the word rhythm. Still, Luxx’s teacher has a huge personality, and if Luxx had taken the moment to slow down and really connect with her, I think she could have turned this into a winning week. Instead, she sees the challenge not in terms of branding or in terms of emotional connection but as a burden. We know Luxx can turn a look, but she just doesn’t have the maturity to see what the challenge is really asking of her.
Sasha, the motheriest queen of all, gets the easiest partner. She probably could have turned out any of the girls, but when they’re working on their runway walks together, it’s revealed she got the girl who knows who Leiomy is and loves her. I would venture a guess that half the audience reading this doesn’t know who Leiomy is, much less most of the drag daughters who walk through this show. (Seriously, though, check out some Leiomy.) Does/should this exempt Sasha from winning this week? I think it makes it both easier for her to be safe and harder for her to win, and reasonably so. Anyone could have done well paired with this girl.
On the runway, Sasha goes first, and I think she did a bang-up job on her girl. Her daughter’s makeup looks great, with an intensely bitch brow, and her body is padded to the gods. It’s interesting to see Sasha in extreme padding this week as a way of adding a family resemblance. I don’t love it! It’s so extreme that, in contrast to the slicked-back high pony and tropical-print dresses, it doesn’t feel so patently Sasha in the way I want for this challenge.
Loosey’s next. Aw, Loosey. She was probably going home this episode no matter what. For one, the challenge itself is stacked against her — compared to the other girls, the judges don’t like her signature aesthetic. When was the last time they gushed over a Loosey look? It might have just been episode one, when they were obsessed with her shaping. In terms of runway walk, Michelle critiques their connection onstage. This is what I mean by gobbledygook: It sounds like Michelle is just critiquing the vibe between Loosey and her drag daughter, who got along pretty well. What is true is that Loosey does a pretty piss-poor job of showing off that connection. They don’t have any bits planned. Loosey takes her jacket off, while her daughter keeps her jacket on. There’s a lack of fabulousness in Loosey’s drag this week, and it’s not the first time. The looks are fine, the makeup is fine. Everything is competent, nothing is exciting.
Mistress goes for the exact same look in different colors, which isn’t a bad route. The gowns are simple but effective, and they have probably the most intense routine on the stage with multiple staged moments. Her drag daughter looks great with a signature Mistress mug. On a polish level, though, it’s worth noting the things that don’t quite work. When the Brookses drag their feather boas while walking back, they aren’t doing it in the same way. Then, when they turn around and face the judges, they aren’t doing that in the same way either. There’s no way to know if that’s something she didn’t explain correctly or if the drag daughter had a few little hiccups, but either way, it comes down to Mistress, unfortunately. Make sure you can get it exactly right or simplify.
Luxx is bad. It is unequivocally true. The look she creates for her teacher has nothing to do with the Luxx persona. They don’t even look like queens who would perform at the same bars. Luxx had the biggest challenge this week, and she whiffed it. She looks great, and her daughter looks a damn sight like Jennifer Coolidge, which is hilarious. I would go to her teacher’s show first, for what it’s worth. But on the rubric set out, Luxx could not complete the challenge.
Anetra wins, and her looks are fine. She’s clearly a skilled seamstress, but am I wrong to be underwhelmed? I like my Anetra a little fiercer than this with just a little more edge. Going full showgirl is reasonable, and it clearly worked out for her, but I can’t shake a slight feeling of malaise. She gets raves for an arm foreskin, which, okay. Is it a winning arm foreskin? This week, yes.
To be clear, I am not against Anetra’s win. She’s approximately the best in the challenge. Anetra scoring her third win is also the first time I’ve considered that Sasha might not end up winning the crown. Anetra is clearly Ru’s favorite of the season — she received the “born to do drag” compliment last week, and Ru’s comments to her partner about Anetra’s star quality during their walk-through are effusive. Could Sasha end up losing the crown? I’m wondering.
Loosey and Luxx end up in the bottom two, Luxx for flopping the challenge and Loosey for being the least exciting queen left. The lipsync is to guest judge Hayley Kiyoko’s song “For the Girls,” and it becomes clear that these two are probably the worst two lip syncers left in the competition. Loosey either can’t lip-sync to this song or just gives up. It’s a poor effort. Luxx, meanwhile, gives all the effort left in her tiny little body. She dances like a wild woman but without much sense of the song. She never seems to be interpreting and instead just flings her body around the stage. But it’s enough. Loosey goes home, leaving us with a top four that is both talented and perhaps too similar. Next season, I hope we get a Utica.
Also on Untucked …
• Loosey makes it clear why she gave Luxx a tough partner. The girls quietly seethe but don’t end up screaming. The teachers come back and are pleasant to be around.
• Best runway comment in a while goes to Ru calling Loosey and her daughter “Barb and Star.” Of course Ru would love that movie. I expect a Barb and Star Go to Tuckahoe challenge in the near future, which I will hate because acting challenges are bad.
• Mistress and her daughter challenging Loosey and her daughter to a walk-off is good TV. Loosey’s daughter winning the walk off is also good TV. That kind of good-natured ribbing is one of the best things about these challenges.
• This is the first full-blown makeover challenge we’ve gotten since the seasons started filming during COVID. Welcome back, old friend! My gold standard for the makeover challenge, for what it’s worth, is still Manila’s jock makeover back on season three. They looked great, and he was a hoot.
• I’m ready to eat my words if one queen wins and another goes home next week, though I have no idea who it would be between Mistress and Luxx. Something’s telling me Mistress, but I do think Luxx loses a lip sync against any of the girls left in the competition.
• Ending the season with only one Mistress win is baffling.