RuPaul’s Drag Race Recap: What I See in My Crystal Ball

RuPaul’s Drag Race

The Crystal Ball
Season 15 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

RuPaul’s Drag Race

The Crystal Ball
Season 15 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Vulture; Photo: RuPaul’s Drag Race

If I may take a moment to praise season 15, a season I’ve been hard on pretty regularly in these reviews: this season has a real sense of momentum. It was announced this week that the season finale will be filming April 1 this year. Typically, the finale is filmed two weeks before it airs, right after the final pre-taped episode of the season. If that’s true, this season will either have a top three (unlikely) or have only one non-elimination episode, which hasn’t happened since season 11. After several extended seasons in a row, the speed at which they are eliminating girls feels a little breakneck. By this point, I’d fully expected the show to include at least one double save and it just… hasn’t happened. And the top eight feels like the right group (though I remain sad for my fallen, bitchy angel Irene DuBois). Going into next week, I’m not sure who is going to be eliminated, as all of the queens have shown strengths in at least one category, and it’s exciting.

Is it an equal playing field with an uncommonly talented group of queens overall? Not quite. Sasha and Mistress are, to my way of thinking, the only real contenders for the crown when you look at both track record and storyline. But this season’s group has about the same Charisma Uniqueness Nerve and Talent level as last year’s group, but while watching season 14 felt like trudging through mud due to its aversion to eliminating any queens, under any circumstances, season 15 has a quick pace. So yeah, the shortened episodes stink. Such is life. I’ve come to terms with it, and I’m excited for the extended episodes beginning March 10. But if there’s one thing the show can take forward for future seasons, it’s that this is, ultimately, a competition. Eliminations matter. That’s how we have stakes.

Take Salina, for example. That’s a queen who’s been feeling the heat recently. She hasn’t managed to break through to the top yet, and her successes have mostly come from lip syncing. Despite this, the judges really seem to like her personality, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up in the top for next week’s improv challenge. Last season, she probably could have calmly coasted through like Deja Skye, but now, with the threat of the girls who the judges actively dislike being gone, she’s feeling the pressure. Salina narrowly escapes elimination this week because Spice is an incompetent lip-syncer, but if she can’t step it up, she’s out the door. There are stakes.

Malaysia and Marcia x3, too, have got to step it up. Both queens have shown talent, but neither has shown the nerve to break through with something truly amazing. When the spotlight shines on them, both girls have the ability to perform, but they aren’t adept at forcing the spotlight to them when they aren’t already the focal points — a necessary skill for a Drag Race winner. Given that both are safe this week, I’d imagine they’re feeling the pressure. Their lack of wins at this point gives them a low shot at winning, which means they need to rally ASAP, and show not only talent (which everybody left has), but attention-grabbing, impossible-to-deny, unadulterated star quality. After all, if you don’t have star quality…

That the stakes are laid so bare this week is in large part due to the nature of the challenge. Sewing challenges are a good match for the shortened format, because the queens are left to their own devices for much of the challenge. While other episodes tend to be more process-based, sewing challenges allow for conversations to occur naturally. The challenge is the Crystal Ball, in celebration of the show’s 200th episode. The first two looks are Drag Race themed, a “Start Your Engines” racer look and a version of a previous ball challenge, and I’m over this level of self-referentiality. With season eight’s premiere, season 11’s premiere, and now this episode, we’ve had too many challenges dedicated to this kind of meta-iconography. It forces the queens into comparison with past queens’ work, where they often come up short given the iconic nature of their ghostly competitors. The challenge is called the Crystal Ball, and I would much prefer the show go in the other direction — forcing the girls to look into their proverbial crystal balls and deliver something that could symbolize drag’s future, rather than the show’s past.

Ru does walkthroughs this week, alongside Carson, which is always a welcome development. It gives them time to tell Spice about her issue with silhouettes, which has been a pressing issue for weeks now. Spice interprets this as meaning “more fabric,” which pretty much sums up the issue with Spice. She’s not a particularly creative queen, and she doesn’t have the performing skills to make up for it. What she does have is an incredibly distinct persona, more defined than any of the queens who left before her (sans Irene, RIP again), which has allowed her to skate by so far. But now that all the remaining queens have clear ideas of what their drag character is, Spice is even more obviously in over her head.

Mistress uses the Ru walkthrough to show, once again, why she’s a frontrunner. Everything can be a performance to Mistress. When I mentioned before that Malaysia and Marcia x3 don’t have the capacity to grab focus, look to this walkthrough for an example of what that looks like. She banters with Ru and Carson effortlessly, shading the other queens and delivering an encapsulation of her POV on the competition that is both competitive and endearing. She also handily delivers a storyline to producers with her “big girl fashion rights” campaign, ensuring that, if she delivers at about the same level as some of the skinnier girls, she will be the one who ends up in the top. And that’s exactly what happens.

One of the best moments of the episode comes from the girls (mainly Mistress, are we surprised?) needling Loosey about her annoyance at not ending up in the top for the acting challenge. Loosey’s been an interesting character this season — talented, competitive, able to control a room in a comedy challenge. In this interaction, I found her charming and willing to take the girls’ shit. She says in confessional that Mistress’s reads are partly aimed at getting in her head, but I don’t know why she thinks Mistress would bother when she gets in her head enough all on her own. What Loosey has unwisely set up is a situation in which the producers know that the more shit they throw on her, the more entertaining she becomes. I don’t see her going home anytime soon, but her potential frontrunner status has been voided by her storyline.

During the makeup portion, the queens recount their favorite moments from Drag Race seasons past. This is not particularly exciting, but by far the most endeared I’ve been to Spice all season is during her tribute to season one’s Angel in Denim, Rebecca Glasscock. Of course Spice loves Rebecca Glasscock. How did I not see this coming?! Great work, queen.

The first category is a salute to Ru’s racer fit that appears in the opening of each episode. The interpretations range pretty widely from “basically Ru’s outfit” to “this would be unidentifiable if I didn’t know the challenge beforehand.” The producers wisely put Mistress and Spice, two of the girls that hew closest to Ru’s original, toward the front of the line. Mistress wisely continues her “big girl in fashion” storyline through to the runway by emblazoning her suit with lines from every big girl from the show. My favorites are Delta’s “Pick me! Choose me!” and Madame LaQueer’s “Ewwwww.” Spice looks cute. Luxx should probably wear hip pads if she’s continuing to go for this level of high-femme drag because the proportions look unbalanced. Marcia x3 is cute, but her frill could go. Salina’s is the furthest from the original, but it’s her best look of the night. Malaysia is adorable. Loosey is also pretty far (for my taste) from the reference. Sasha is streamlined and stunning. Anetra’s bright green is also very far from the Ru version, but she looks absolutely stunning. Her thong is hot and fierce.

The next category is to bring a version of a previous ball. Salina and Loosey do the worst. Salina has real issues with understanding silhouettes, and Loosey not only doesn’t reference bags enough to seem like a Bag Ball girl, but she is very distinctly in a worse version of the dress that Gigi Goode sewed in the Werk Room for the Ball Ball. Anetra is also not great, in a look reminiscent of her tie-dye challenge look. The judges liked it then (which was insane), but they don’t like it now. Sasha’s weed-based Bag Ball look is a stunner.

The final runway looks are a collection of the sparkliest looks you ever did see — although some of the sparkly fabrics don’t quite read on TV as well, I think they did in person. Mistress uses one of those fabrics. Her gown is a marvel of construction, but there are certain moments when the fabric looks cheaper and flatter than it actually is. Spice doesn’t even manage to include more fabric. Same look is same. Marcia looks adorable, if not necessarily stunning, in her look. She needs to work on delivering something jaw-dropping, she hasn’t managed that on the runway yet. Malaysia is in a gown, and the gown category has big competition this week, and she can’t keep up with the big dogs. Salina, bless her heart, is wrinkly and baggy and again wears hair that is too flat. Loosey tries to camp up her gown by turning herself into a losing beauty pageant contestant, but the hemline should go to the floor and the “beauty pageant loser” storyline has been done better on this show. Luxx looks great, but this is one of those outfits that only the skinniest of queens could get away with. Sasha represents her home of Hawai’i with a look that makes her look like a coral goddess. It’s great, but she’s not my favorite on the runway. That would be Anetra, who serves up one of my favorite gowns that’s ever been made on the show. It’s stunning. The crystalized spine adds a glamorous edge, and the skirt looks professionally finished. It’s incredible.

Anetra, for what it’s worth, really comes into her own this week. After her episode one triumph, she faded into the background, but it looks like the editors smartly used last week as the breakout episode for her — not as a competitor, we’ve known that since “Walk that fucking duck,” but as a character. She’s given a lot of praise on the runway for her final look, but she also gets some notes that will be valuable for her arc moving forward. Michelle specifically calls out her Resting Bitch Face on the runway, which results in a funny moment that makes Anetra more endearing. Anetra’s star is rising.

But can it catch up with Sasha Colby’s? I’m not so sure of that. Anetra, despite winning the final category hands down, loses the episode to Sasha because the judges don’t like Anetra’s second look or her RBF. With Sasha, they love everything. They also manage to get a vulnerable moment out of her when Ru asks her about the House of Colby, and Sasha breaks down a little on stage. It’s a good time for Sasha to be getting some vulnerability. Her run on the show thus far has been flawlessly dominant — probably the best since Bianca Del Rio’s on season six, but if she wants to win, that’s the kind of vulnerability she’ll need to show. She’s the first queen to earn a second win this season, and that bodes poorly for the rest of these bitches. They all have more than a little catching up to do.

The lip sync is between Salina and Spice to Lil Nas X’s “That’s What I Want.” Salina’s dress doesn’t seem to allow her the mobility to give a full dance performance, so she dials it in and gives “Actress” instead. Spice gives what she always gives. You know. She goes home, it was time. Let’s see what the top eight has in store.

Also on Untucked 

•You may have noticed that I formatted this review so that I could give rundowns of every queen’s standing. Thank you, I know, very helpful. I’ve saved Luxx for the Untucked rundown, because that’s where she’s at her most… Luxx. This queen has had a spot in my assumed top four since the first week and, while I’m still betting on her, I’m less sure of it than I once was. Her obsession with her placements feels very young, though Loosey’s older than her and doing it too, and I wonder if it might get to her head at some point. It’s been a few weeks since she’s really stunned the judges, and while she has loads of raw talent, performances like last week’s Celine Dion lip sync indicate that she doesn’t quite have the total polish yet. In Untucked, she’s yet again annoyed about her placement, and while she manages to do it in a more charming manner than Loosey, her cockiness is becoming one note. She’s a confident, stunning queen, but she hasn’t shown much depth yet. I mean that in terms of vulnerability, yes, but also in terms of her talent — can Luxx give something that would surprise me? I’m not as sure as I once was. As the competition progresses, her greenness is showing, and while loads of green queens have made it to the top four (Adore, Chi Chi), I’m not sure if she’s open to growing.

•There’s a mini-challenge! Yay! But it’s the photobombing one. Boo. I prefer the mini-challenges where they have to make a quick look and write some dumb little copy about who they’re portraying. Few things on this show have made me laugh more than Katya’s Orange Is New Drag character claiming she went to prison for “Smuggling geese out of the Ukraine.”

•I would have loved to have seen Sasha’s Ru walkthrough, because we have yet to see her interact with Ru out of drag, given her lack of a walkthrough in the previous sewing challenge and the fact the she wasn’t shown filming the acting challenge. I still don’t have a handle on Ru’s dynamic with Sasha other than mutual respect.

Marcia x3 Makeup Watch: It’s bigger this week. Bad sign for Marcia that the judges/producers are more invested in putting Mistress in the top than completing the loop on Marcia’s makeup journey.

Trauma Makeup Corner: Continuing with it being Anetra’s breakout episode as a character, we get the fuller version of the story we heard partially in the sewing challenge Untucked. Despite being a cold-hearted bitch who doesn’t like the TMC, the segment got me a little.

•Predicted top four: Sasha, Mistress, Anetra, Luxx — confident about them in that order.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Recap: What I See in My Crystal Ball