Last week, the tides of Drag Race Season 16 took a turn: The bottom-dwellers scored a group win! The top queens were up for elimination! One of the season’s erstwhile star performers ended up in the bottom two! One of the star characters went home! It was all topsy-turvy, and very exciting to watch.
This episode, we get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Those queens who ended up winning last week? Yeah, that didn’t do much to change their trajectory. Geneva and Mhi’ya end up in the bottom two and Megami continues her safe streak, now with one blip. And Q is back on top, finally scoring her challenge win. If anybody’s trajectory actually did shift this episode, it could be Dawn, who finally scored a top placement, but that was mostly just a matter of time.
This is all fine, but it’s a little concerning that we’re just six episodes in (and that’s counting the double premiere as two episodes) and the rest of the season already feels predictable. Potential spoilers Mirage and Amanda went home in rather bombastic ways, which was great TV, but now we’re left with more than a few queens who are just waiting around to go home until Plasma, Nymphia, Sapphira, Q, Plane, and Dawn inevitably make it to the top six. Now, could Megami or Xunami or Morphine kick into high gear and suddenly pose a threat? Possibly! Honestly, I would like to see it. I’m not a stickler about the show being a “real competition,” whatever that means — it’s always just been a showcase for drag talent with a competition element grafted on — but I am a stickler for it being exciting. A predetermined top group can be exciting if the challenges and storylines are worthwhile. Season four, for example, had an all but decided top group basically minutes into the first episode, but those top queens played that season to the hilt. This episode did not give me faith in that happening again. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly the most blah episode of the season thus far.
Part of that is the challenge. This early in the competition, a sewing challenge is pretty much the only way to get the queens to work solo, but it’s a bit dull seeing them do something that we already know whether they can do or not. There’s some fun in the added component of them having to do branding, but it might be a bit early for that: Branding is a conceptual task for these queens, and before Snatch Game, it’s really more about just figuring out who has basic skills. The results bear out that way: queens who can sew end up doing well, queens who can’t falter, and the branding is more of a cute extra than anything legitimately informative about their abilities. So the episode’s stakes mostly still revolve around who can put together a concept and outfit without the help of a designer, and here’s the thing: We already knew that. This certainly doesn’t spell disaster for the season, it’s just that, for the first time, I felt like Carrie Bradshaw asking myself: “What if this season… is about to be boring?”
We get off to an inauspicious start, when all the queens opt out of the episode’s opening conflict. On the couch, Xunami again chooses not to fight with Q after Q rather randomly added that Xunami should go home on the runway last week. If Xunami was her mother, she would have Q on the floor and crying. (It does not appear to be very difficult to make Q cry.) Then Plane Jane announces she’s turning over a new leaf and will not be mean anymore, which we cannot expect to last, given that she’s still half-shady this episode, but I don’t like my Plane operating at anything less than full capacity.
We do get a mini-challenge for the second week in a row, this one sponsored by the country of Spain. The concept of “Spain,” on this show, means one thing: Charo. I have no real opinions on the contents of the mini-challenge itself, but I am happy to see their return — the show has a full 90 minutes, so it might as well use them.
The main challenge, which I’ve already alluded to, is a combination branding and sewing challenge in which the girls have to construct a look for themselves and an identical look for a doll. Ru introduces it as a branding, sewing, and “storytelling” challenge. What I can surmise based on the girls’ work at the end of the episode is that they are supposed to create the two aforementioned looks, but also decide on a name for their line of dolls (which can just be their name), a special-edition doll concept, and both create and read a Mad Libs-y script for themselves on the mainstage. Things I think could have made this episode more interesting: Seeing the process behind any part of the challenge other than the sewing, including recording the script.
The sewing segments are cute enough. The girls are onto Nymphia’s whole “woe is me, I’m just a clown” schtick, seeing as she has two challenge wins. Plasma lets Plane have some of the fabric she is using. Plane then gets annoyed when Plasma lets Geneva have some of the same fabric after Geneva has to scrap her outfit because it is ugly. Plane gossips with Xunami about Sapphira potentially needing to use her immunity potion, and the show tries to play it like Sapphira hears her and is mad/insecure about it. For what it’s worth, I think that, if Sapphira actually heard Plane, the show would have some footage of it.
The guest judge is Law Roach, whose name both Ru and Morphine pronounce as “L’Roche” at the beginning of the episode. But no, it is in fact pronounced “Law Roach.” Took them long enough to book Law on this show. It’s an overdone sentiment about guest judges but, truly: If L’Roche was booked as a permanent judge, I would be overjoyed. He’s done permanent judge spots before, and he’s not afraid to give real, usable critiques and/or just read a queen when needed.
On to the looks: Xunami remains a fashionable queen whose style decreases immediately when she needs to sew for herself. I do not like her cummerbund thing. I do like when she says her doll’s unique qualities include “wearing pants.” Sapphira looks good enough in her opera look, but the sheerness of the dress below the knee isn’t particularly opera-drag elegant. Also, her print looks good on her, but is way too clunky on her doll because she can’t size it down. Plasma’s headscarf idea is good, but not using a bobby pin to keep said headscarf up is bad. Ru is right that the comedy in her script is forced and off-putting. Plane’s monologue is great, and the “aquatic edition” bit is perfectly doll-like. If you look at the challenge in Ru’s laid-out terms (a combination of sewing, branding, and storytelling), she’s in the top two of the week. Nymphia aces the sewing portion, though that hair is the worst she’s worn yet. She unfortunately also makes the catastrophic decision to make the bow on her dress and the bow on her doll out of different colored fabrics. Girl.
Morphine’s version of taking Michelle’s “you are more than a BBL” critique last week is to still reference her BBL, but only show the sides of her ass. Great stuff. Miami has a lot of drag-persona fodder not yet fully explored on Drag Race, and I’m glad to see her using it. How else would we get one long coke nail on the runway? Mhi’ya gets a lot of critiques this week, but the biggest one is left on the table: she doesn’t yet know how to tell a story through drag. Her monologue is just fun facts about Mhi’ya (She is energetic! She loves to flip and travel the world!), and her outfit is unspecific. Megami remains solidly safe. Geneva’s “Everything is bigger and Texas, but also I am dainty, but also I do still live in Texas” schtick is… hard to follow. And her outfit is ugly.
Judging by Ru’s stated metrics, Dawn does the best this week. Intergalactic Dawn makes perfect sense from both a storytelling and branding perspective. The outfit? Very cute with clear high fashion inspirations. Still, Q takes it this week on the strength of her design abilities. I think she’s a solid third place. The simple fact is that I still don’t know what Q’s drag character is — the persona she’s built on the show is based solely around her very impressive skill set, not her character. After this challenge, I have no clearer idea about how Q, the drag queen, is separate from Q out of drag. For a branding challenge, that’s disqualifying.
Sapphira ends up using her immunity potion this week, for probably no reason. It’s the first crack we’ve seen in her confidence. I hope it’s not a trend that continues because I love Sapphira, but it’s probably the best story moment we get all episode. When she does inevitably end up in the bottom some week and doesn’t have the immunity potion to save her? Oh baby, the drama.
Geneva and Mhi’ya end up lip syncing to one of my favorite songs of all time: Janet Jackson’s “Control.” Mhi’ya flips all around the stage like we knew she could, displaying an impressive musicality in those flips at the same time. And so, finally, it’s time for Geneva to sashay away, after her fourth lip sync in the five episodes she was in. Even though the first one was a reward, she’d have to pull some crazy stuff out of her ass to surprise anyone at this point. Bye queen, we’ll miss you, but it’s time to get this show into high gear.
• It’s a cute enough Untucked. Law coming backstage was the first time this season I thought it was a worthwhile endeavor to have a guest judge interact with all the girls. The difference? Even the safe girls were dying to be critiqued by Miss Roach. You can’t say that for Iconic Pop.
• Obsessed with Sapphira’s fake glasses that are too small for her head in boy drag.
• Geneva on the runway: “Spread butter on your bread, and not your legs. [Points.] Just kidding. [Points again.] But for real.”
• Trauma Makeup Corner: Both Q and Plane get segments this week. It’s probably time for me to reiterate: These stories are not inherently bad TV, nor do I dislike seeing them portrayed on my queer programming. They are actively important. The issue is that the formulaic nature in which they are doled out routinely dulls their impact and renders them bland. In my watch group, they are referred to as “Talking time.”
• Predicted Top Four: Plane, Nymphia, and Sapphira seem locked in. Despite her being in the top, I’m weakening on my Dawn stance — if Ru was in love with her, I think she would have eked out a win this week. Q, despite my protestations, is looking stronger by the day, unless they have a Rusical with lots of dancing planned for the endgame.
• Gay Thoughts from Straight People: My co-worker Jesse David Fox (who is a straight man that says “partner”) wrote me this incredible screed: “There is an idea in screenwriting that an ending should feel surprising yet inevitable. And I believe the best reality contest edit is able to achieve this. However, often you see shows really tip the scale towards inevitable. Top Chef does this a lot, where you can predict the winner and loser based on who gets a little package about their life at home. This is valuable, I think, for Top Chef, because you cannot taste the food. It is not like a singing competition where you can hear the singing. It is interesting for Drag Race to have such transparent winner/loser editing and I wonder if it is because it is trying to appeal to an audience at home that has no knowledge/experience with the art of drag.”