RuPaul's Drag Race: “Frenemies”
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RuPaul's Drag Race: “Frenemies”

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RuPaul's Drag Race

“Frenemies”

Season 4, Episode 8
A

RuPaul's Drag Race

“Frenemies”

Season 4, Episode 8

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Has there ever been a more tragic figure on RuPaul’s Drag Race than Willam Belli? Not tragic in the torn-up drag queen way, but tragic in the classical sense: a hero outdone by one essential flaw in her makeup (and not the Estée Lauder kind). For Willam, that fundamental weakness is her pride, a characteristic that has made her stand out in the competition for better and worse. Her chutzpah comes in handy when it comes to talking herself up and making the other queens feel like shit, but when she doesn’t deliver, her self-praise comes back to bite her toned behind. This week, Willam delivers in spades, but the consequences of her hubris finally land, and she’s eliminated for breaking the rules of the competition. What rules? You’re going to have to wait for the reunion special to get that scoop.

Willam is a fascinating character study; her attitude reminds me of Val Cherish on The Comeback. She puts on a face for the camera, but can’t (or doesn’t want to) take it off. That face has its nose in the air, looking down on everyone else in the competition, and Willam gladly puts himself above the others, even when it comes to the rules of their contract. The episode and Untucked don’t give any answers about Willam’s misconduct, but based on the other queens’ reactions, I’m going to guess it’s something drug-related. That’s founded on nothing but Willam’s comments on the Gay Pimpin podcast, where she discusses her affinity for marijuana (which she has a medical license for) among other things.

The most logical explanation would be pills, which would be easiest to sneak on and use during a reality competition and would also induce vomiting when mixed with a stream of Absolut vodka. She could just be nervous/drunk on the stage, but based on Latrice’s “something was up” comment and Willam’s low energy before getting on the runway, it’s very possible that there was something more than fish in her system. Whatever rule Willam broke, it’s still sad to see her leave, and stray observations are an emptier place without her wit. She was just starting to break through her stony façade, revealing the vulnerable, lonely person underneath.

When the queens reminisce about their drag families back home, Willam begins to talk about how much she wishes she had that support system. Willam didn’t come up through the club scene, instead finding fame through television and film work. It brings more exposure, but there are less people to enjoy it with. Willam doesn’t like sharing the spotlight, and she’s certainly not looking to make any sisters when she’s performing. She’s always focusing on herself, and that makes her partnering work suffer. While practicing her duet with Latrice Royale, Willam can’t get out of her own head, and she becomes even more insular before they get on the runway. Once the spotlights come up, Willam blossoms, and her duet is easily the best, although it’s one of the bitterest victories this series has ever seen.

The season’s two biggest storylines come to their high points this week, as Willam’s grandstanding catches up with her while the rivalry between Phi Phi and Sharon grows to a glorious climax: a lip-sync for your life to “It’s Raining Men… The Sequel” by RuPaul and Martha Wash. How is this possible? Last week, these two were in the top; how could they fall so low? Simple: They have to work together. This week’s minichallenge makes each queen take a lie detector test, the results of which are used to pair them up with the queen they are least similar to. The losing team has to lip sync against each other, so the only way for a queen to save herself is to keep her partner afloat.

The lie detector portion of “Frenemies” is that delicious kind of cheese you can only get from Drag Race, with Ru delighting in asking the queens if they sleep naked and if they’d kai kai with other cast members. The results are telling, especially Sharon’s revelations that she’d chow down on some Phish tacos, but this is a minichallenge where everyone loses. The archnemeses are paired up, and cocky Willam is partnered with Latrice, who is anxious to give her a thick slice of humble pie. Middle ground players Chad and Dida form a team that’s aggressively average, and while they end up with strong chemistry on stage, Chad’s description of their voices as “two dead cats” is remarkably accurate.

This year’s singing challenge (oh God, no) has the girls perform a nightclub duet as frenemies in the vein of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, given a song written by frequent RuPaul collaborator Lucian Piane that will make you never want to hear the phrase “I do it so much better” ever again. Like all the singing challenges on this show, you will want to cover your ears and perhaps have something soft nearby to punch when the queens practice their numbers. The lack of vocal talent between Chad and Dida results in lots of semi-melodic rumbling, but the other two groups each have a member that is a “singer.” Those queens tend to be the most insufferable, and while Latrice succeeds in cooling down Willam, Phi Phi proves to be as obnoxious as ever.

Sharon and Phi Phi’s partnership is doomed from the start, and man, is it fun to watch those two at each other’s throats. Sharon once again comes across as the bigger queen this episode, focusing first on giving the judges what they want and typically only attacking Phi Phi when provoked. After last episode’s critique, Sharon understands that she’s going to have to put some of the spooky back on the shelf, and she delivers exactly what Michelle was looking for last week (glamour) without sacrificing Sharon. Meanwhile, Phi Phi goes way over the top, putting her Lady Gaga act through a Disney princess filter for painful results. The two can’t work together to create any sort of schtick, and they end up standing next to each other, singing insults in disastrous harmonies.

Willam and Latrice don’t go for any fancy vocal flourishes, relying on some good ole slapstick and sex appeal to nail the comedy of their routine. It’s a true partnership, with Latrice benefiting from Willam’s focus on the physical by being put in a corset showcasing her curves and swerves while Willam finally learns to play well with others. They’re the winners, but the spoils will only go to one of them. Chad and Dida are safe, leaving Sharon and Phi Phi in the bottom for a fantastic lip sync that showcases the major differences between the two queens.

Phi Phi doesn’t care about making a connection with her viewer when performing; she just wants to show off everything she can do. She’s possessed by the spirit of Milan in the lip sync, and switches into overdrive to throw out everything in her bag of tricks in a frantic series of dance moves. Phi Phi’s heels come off early along with her wig, while Sharon keeps it together for the entire performance. Sharon tries to capture the tone of the song, presenting a cheeky, playful rendition that gives us a more youthful image of her than we’re used to seeing. I would have sent Phi Phi home, but ultimately, the losing queen’s demise comes from within. At the end of the episode, RuPaul tells the remaining queens: “Let this be a warning to all of you: In the race to becoming America’s next drag superstar, sometimes a queen’s worst enemy can be herself.” It’s a perfect ending to the episode, and a valuable lesson to learn from the tragedy of Willam Belli.

Stray observations:

  • Let’s all have a big round of applause for the brilliant, beautiful Genevieve Koski, whose recap last week gave me insecurity issues that would put Jiggly Caliente to shame. We hear your requests for a finale live-chat, we’ll see what we can do.
  • I want to be part of a “Jesus is a biscuit, let him sop you up” parade.
  • These queens really want to kai kai with Latrice Royale.
  • Jennifer Tilly and Pamela Anderson are the guest judges this week, and they both bring boobs while Tilly brings strong judging too. Anderson is very happy to be there, even if she feels unqualified, but her Untucked visit with the queens is nowhere near as engaging as Kelly Osbourne’s.  
  • Michelle’s combo of lightning bolt earrings, DIVA necklace, and giant tits is such a great contrast to the free-flowing beauty of RuPaul’s jade Japanese realness.
  • “She's just a squeaky princess that needs to get hit in the head with a two by four.”
  • “I’m getting to like Phi Phi a little more, but now it’s just upgraded to hate.”
  • “They’re Versayce.” We’ll miss you, Willam!
  • Willam: “Your tone seems very pointed right now.” Long pause. Dida: “That’s that.” Willam: *BURP*. Someone get this show an editing Emmy.

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