I wasn’t planning on covering tonight’s episode of RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race because I’m buried in deadlines for a huge stack of superhero comic book reviews. As I started watching, it became difficult to cope with the idea that I wouldn’t be recapping an episode that combines two of my favorite things in the world, and then the bottom two queens lip-synced to Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” which is pretty much my third favorite thing in the world. Like the wave of bats that flew before a young Bruce Wayne after the death of his parents, it was a sign that I needed to cover this week’s episode, or risk something truly horrible happening in the future. If I didn’t write about Firecrotch and Lactasia, my Uncle Ben would be shot, and I just can’t live with that guilt right now.
This week, the queens have to create superhero/villain alter egos for themselves, meaning they have to design comic book costumes and come up with origin stories and mission statements for their alternate personalities. But before they get to that, it’s time for some daytime drag humiliation as the queens prove whether or not they have the balls to be in the Hall of Fame by shooting some hoops. As they play a variation on HORSE called FISH, we get to see the masculine side of these queens come out, highlighted by the fact that their 10-minute drag has them all looking like horrible male hookers. Rujubee defeats Shad, and their prize is that they get to call home. Jujubee calls her boyfriend, Raven calls her mom, and everyone gets emotional.
After a quick recap of RuPaul’s insane superhero flick Starrbooty (now available on Netflix!), the queens get their superhero challenge. The winners will be immortalized in a Dynamite comic, which is a legitimate comic book publisher, so kudos to RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race! The challenge makes Chad go way over-the-top into raunchy territory, coming up with the superheroine Firepussy who is in charge of vaginal rejuvenations. She’ll have red pubic hairs that peek out from under her costume, and it will be hilarious or really gross. Shannel wants to create Black Diamondique, the “stealer” of the rarest black diamonds in the world. Chad is reminded of when Jiggly took the magazine challenge too seriously last season and got sent home, and suggests that Shannel take a different approach. “Maybe your tits put out my fire, and that’s my weakness?” It says something when that is not even close to the best line in this episode. RuPaul tells them that they should probably go a little bit more family friendly, and they do rein it in, at least as much as two extravagant queens like Shad can.
Rujubee aren’t doing much better, and they come up with a convoluted sci-fi origin story for their characters that has something to do with the dark side of their home planet Solaris and tanning. Jujubee’s hero goes by the name of Melanina, and Raven is the evil So.Phia Fierce (SPF), but RuPaul thinks that it’s all a bit too complicated. The queens are going to have to simplify and do some major tweaking, but not before Ru drops the other shoe, telling them that they have to choreograph a routine to the latest Lucian Piane masterpiece “Good Versus Evil,” and that the pair in the bottom will have to lip sync against each other to determine who goes home. Cue the drama! Shannel takes over the choreography session with her Elvis-kick style of dance, but Chad manages to step in before Rujubee rips Shannel’s head off. The super-bitch side of Shannel that was prevalent in season 1 comes back this week, but she’s no match for Raven’s claws. When Shannel mentions that she would have been in the top three in her season if she didn’t choose to leave, Raven asks, “Do you think if Ru didn’t want you to go she would have let you go?” That’s some Grade A shade right there.
After an adequately choreographed routine to a godawful song, we get our introduction to the superheroes and villains of RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race. Chadissa Michaels/Firecrotch from Little Cooch, Arkansas, was a worker at the Sugar Walls factory who found herself covered in decontaminant that gave her powers of vaginal rejuvenation (power phrase: “Don’t hesitate! Vaginal rejuvenate!”). Her arch nemesis is Shannel Suits/Lactasia from Nipple Junction, Tennessee (best location ever?), shot with radiation while working at her hospital job that infused her brain with magnetic lactation abilities (power phrase: “Ariolas activate; hard nipples lactate!”). Jujubee/Melanina was shot to Earth during a solar eclipse, becoming a bronze goddess (power phrase: “No T, no shade!”). Her enemy is Raven/So.Phia Fierce, whose planet was shot to Earth during a solar eclipse, causing her to lose all pigment in her skin (power phrase: “Throw me shade, bitch!”).
One team clearly put more thought into their backstory, mission statement, and power set, and Chad’s insistence on going big ends up paying off for his team. As ridiculous as their stories are, Chad and Shannel try to bring more layers, and the general simplicity of Rujubee’s characters is what brings their team down. From a costume point of view, Michelle points out that what we’re seeing here is the difference between the old school and new school of superheroes. (I don’t know if Michelle is a big comic book fan, but the confidence with which she discusses this week’s challenge leads me to believe she’s got some major love for superheroes.) Shad’s costumes are busy and cartoonishly exaggerated, while Rujubee goes for sleeker, more functional costumes. Santino has problems with Jujubee’s silver-and-white bodysuit, but Michelle defends it, saying that it’s very Marvel Comics. (She’s very right, it’s basically Kitty Pryde’s current costume in Ultimate X-Men).
This week’s guest judges are Wendy McLendon-Covey of Bridesmaids and Reno 911! and Elvira, and these women take their jobs very seriously. I can’t remember the last time the panel was so passionately divided, and the judges have a full set of pros and cons for each team. Getting in the mindset of a studio executive, Wendy says that she appreciates the narrative of Rujubee, but is more interested in the marketing and merchandising possibilities with Shad. Wendy takes this so seriously that her seriousness goes over the edge and becomes hilarious again, and Elvira is equally concerned with picking the queens that deserve to win. It’s interesting that their discussion is actually a major debate in the world of superheroes right now. How far should comic book publishers go in making their characters reflect their more realistic film counterparts? Take a character like Hawkeye, who had a silly but signature purple costume that has become a utilitarian leather outfit with sunglasses after he appeared in The Avengers. Rujubee’s costumes would work on film without looking too cheesy, but there’s no way that the red feathers and metal spikes of Shad’s outfits won’t look cheap on camera. But this isn’t a competition for movie superheroes, it’s for comic book superheroes, and Shad’s is the exact kind of flamboyant style that dominated superhero comics for decades. Chad is serving up sexy Silver Age, and Shannel looks like she stepped right off a Rob Liefeld page and onto the runway. Meanwhile, Jujubee has a bright pink wig, and Raven has a weird plastic mask thing. When Shad shantays to safety, it’s deserved, and sets the stage for one devastating lip-sync.
I was expecting an amazing lip-sync showdown from Raven and Jujubee, but once Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” starts playing, both queens completely break down. As much as I would have liked to see the queens dance this song out, the overwhelming emotion of this lip-sync makes it one of Drag Race’s finest. It’s the perfect song for these two queens to sing at this moment, too. The dynamic on stage is so strange, with both queens wanting to stay but not wanting the other to go, and that chemistry combined with the song’s lyrics creates a unique experience. They’re basically just crying and standing around, although when they sing “I’m spinning around in circles,” Raven grabs Jujubee’s hands and tries a sad little spin. There might have been tears between Chad and Shannel if they were in the bottom, but their professionalism also might have kept their emotions in check.
Jujubee makes a bit more of an effort to move around the stage, but it almost feels like Raven is transferring her strength to her partner. After the intense lip sync, Jujubee begins to hyperventilate but is calmed down by Raven, and that sense of sisterhood is what this show is all about. When RuPaul tells them that they’re both shantaying to safety, it doesn’t even seem like a cop out because they just showed so much vulnerability in the lip sync. (Based on performance, I think Raven would have gone home.) It doesn’t feel like a cop out even though this is the second time this show has pulled this move this year, after pitting Phi Phi and Sharon Needles against each other after a paired challenge, then sending neither of them home when Willam was disqualified. RuPaul knows what her viewers want, and no one wants to see Rujubee go home, but deep down, we all secretly want to see Raven and Jujubee duke it out in the lip-sync. Next week is the All Stars finale, which will apparently incorporate some kind of Twitter voting element, although Ru doesn’t actually say that those votes will have any outcome on the winner. Here’s hoping this season continues the upward swing of the last two episodes as it heads to its conclusion.
- Lookie here, hunties, the trailer for RuPaul’s Drag Race season five is serving up a pantheon of fish and fierce. I cannot wait.
- Ju loves randomly licking thing: her cups in Untucked, Raven on the basketball court.
- This week’s material was provided by Leg Avenue. (Ooooh!)
- Raven calls his mom to tell her about the Silver Lounge with all this great furniture from Form Décor, said with a huge smirk. Good for Raven, he knows how to get camera time.
- Raven loves the Evil Queen from Snow White; here’s her doing the character at Showgirls:
- Shannel always identified with villains. Big surprise there.
- Dear Chad: Quit it with the Hunger Games references. We get it, you really like those books.
- Ru is serving up Julie Newmar realness with her feline alter ego tonight, while Michelle Visage and her Jersey necklace are looking almost normal tonight. (Her breasts continue to pull focus.)
- I’ll let you commenters discuss Untucked, but I will say I am so happy we finally got to Shannel yelling, “I have got a yeast infection of life!”
- “Wonder Twin powers, dragtivate!”
- “This is like my worst nightmare: sports and day drag.”
- “I feel like Peg Bundy on steroids.” A perfect description of Shannel’s basketball look, from Shannel.
- “I’m giving ’em Kareema Abdula Jabarra realness-ah.”
- “Ohhh, intense, that’s what you call it…”
- “Oh, I can’t wait to do it with you.”
- RuPaul: “Call FEMA because her cooch is on fire!” Michelle: “They won’t show up.” Look at Drag Race, gettin’ all political.
- “I look old and fat on camera, I don’t know what to tell you” Wendy McLendon-Covey is amazing.
- “Your backstory was a little loose, and left us hanging.” Ha. Droopy vaginas.
- Rujubee post lip sync: “You look so pretty.” “No, you look you so pretty.” “You’re so pretty.” “No, you’re so pretty.” (sob) (weep) (sob)
- “I want fried chicken now.”