It’s been a long ramp up, but competitive Drag Race is finally here. The Winners’ Circle and B Squad have met up, drama has been fomented, and by the end of the episode, a new hierarchy has emerged. These may not be the most memorable sketches in Drag Race herstory, but the episode’s loving embrace of Hallmark Channel holiday movie camp is endearing and serves as a worthy canvas for the queens to play with. It’s no “Gay’s Anatomy,” but “RuPaulmark Channel” is still a lot of fun.
The episode begins with the Winners’ Circle waiting in the workroom, ready to intimidate the B Squad as they return from the main stage. They’re all set for a showdown—Kandy’s cowboy hat is a particularly on-point flourish—and they decide to have Elliott hide behind a screen to allow for a dramatic reveal. The Circle puts their game faces on, staring daggers into the Squad as they stroll in. Some are more welcoming than others, but the tone quickly turns shady when Tina asks after Elliott. Rather than acknowledging how arbitrary the vote was, the Squad reaches for thin justifications. Elliott, initially excited to get one up on the queens who eliminated her, looks genuinely hurt when Kahmora and Joey critique her drag behind her back. Tamisha stays quiet, cannily taking everything in, and she’s not surprised when Elliott walks out from behind the screen. Rosé looks positively charmed, enjoying the drama of it all. Elliott makes a Tati-style Choice to push back at Tamisha, of all people, but after a few more barbs, the queens acknowledge the tension in the room and move on, ready to de-drag and call it a night.
The next day, the queens skip into the workroom, excited to start the season proper. After a quick poll of the queens’ relationship statuses, RuPaul walks in wearing a fantastic plum and gold suit and black pussy bow top. Ru warns the queens that the kid gloves are off: There will be an elimination this episode, one that sticks. With 13 queens to juggle, the producers skip the mini challenge and head straight to the maxi challenge. Ru has split the queens into three groups and they’ll each be filming a trailer for a different Hallmark Channel-style holiday movie. The groups are: Denali, Elliott, Kahmora, and Olivia, starring in the Valentine’s Day-themed Misery Love’s Company; LaLa, Rosé, Symone, and Utica, starring in the Flag Day-themed God Loves Flags; and Gottmik, Joey, Kandy, Tamisha, and Tina, starring in the April Fools’ Day-themed April Fool’s Rush In. A quick plug for wig provider Wigs and Grace, and they’re off.
Riding high from his challenge win, Denali takes on the title role in his group’s sketch. He has no experience with scripted acting—a big ol’ red flag—but wants to prove himself. Kahmora looks skeptical for his Chicago sister, but no one else wants the lead, so Denali gets his way. Elliott follows suit and snaps up Cupie, the airhead. Over in his group, Kandy acts decisively, taking Whoopi Cushion, a broad comedic side character. The rest of the group raises an eyebrow at his lack of collaboration, but go along with it nonetheless. As the queens start rehearsing, the Tina vs. Rosé rivalry hinted at previously rears its head. Tina is getting into character, camping it up, and Rosé takes note. He’s decided Tina is his main competition and he broadens his performance to match Tina’s energy. They’re acting as much for each other as their actual groups and the jockeying is already tiring, but if past acting challenges are any indication, both have the right idea. Bigger is better on Drag Race.
Ru heads into the workroom and speaks with each team, advising them to take a quick look at the other scripts. Like the TV movies they’re inspired by, these RuPaulmark Channel future classics are all of a type—they’re blatant rip-offs—and it’ll be up to the queens to make their iteration stand out from the others’. This is a neat twist on the show’s typical acting challenges, embracing formula and setting up the queens in direct competition with each other. To stay safe, the queens just need to be the best at their role, either lead or supporting. The edit skips right over the Valentine’s Day group—never a good sign—and the Flag Day group seems mostly in order. The April Fools’ Day group is the most uneven. Tamisha will need to improve his Cher impression and quickly, and Joey doesn’t even get an exchange with Ru. He’ll be quickly lost among these queens if he’s not careful.
The next day, the queens head to shoot their trailers, directed by Ross. The April Fools’ Day group starts strong, with Tina nailing her Mommie Dearest moment and Tamisha finding her inner Cher. Kandy hits her mark and goes big, just what the character needs, but Joey struggles. Her grandmother character doesn’t have any specificity and she’s not playing to the cameras at all. The Flag Day group is next. Rosé gets her first glimpse of Symone in her element and immediately clocks her as a competitor. Forget Tina, she needs to keep up with Symone. Less of a threat are Utica and LaLa. Utica can’t remember her few lines and LaLa is flatter than even Kahmora’s tree. She’s awkward and withdrawn, the opposite of what the sketch requires. Kahmora’s group has its fair share of problems as well. Denali is in way over her head as Misery Love and while Olivia is charming as the grandmother, she’s only in so much of the sketch. Elliott doesn’t pop as dramatically as Kandy in her supporting comedic role, but next to Kahmora and Denali, she’s great. Each group has high and low points, but with editing, the queens should mostly be fine.
The next day, the queens head into the workroom to paint for the runway and viewers are introduced to what looks to be the start of a season 13 Rolaskatox style mini-clique, with Tina and Mik helping Kandy finish sewing his runway look. The three have bonded over their similar sense of humor and love of shade. Then as the queens paint, Symone talks about his first time in drag, which was his high school prom. Symone’s principal recognized him and waved him into the school to celebrate with his friends, shooing him past a vice principal who didn’t recognize him. This moment of grace and support from a person in authority in Symone’s young life had a profound effect on him and it’s great to see that celebrated.
The conversation moves to which of the queens have dated women and Tamisha shares that he has three biological children. The Circle’s reaction is just as much fun as the Squad’s was in “Phenomenon.” Tamisha gives some more context and shares that it took him a while to realize he was gay. After his relationship with his youngest’s mother fell apart, one of Tamisha’s gay friends took him out to a club to share his world with him and Tamisha had, as he says, an “a-ha moment.” He started doing drag not long after, at age 20. His drag name, Tamisha, comes from his eldest biological daughter, which elicits “Aww”s all around. Pairing Symone’s story of being confident in drag in high school with Tamisha’s more winding road to drag is a lovely reminder of the diversity of experience among drag performers, both on- and offstage. After some more bonding, with queens quoting both Tamisha and Symone’s recent verses and the legendary Ms. Julia Sugarbaker, they finish painting and head to the runway.
As has become standard this season, the judges all look fantastic. Ru and Michelle look particularly great, Ru in an olive gown with copper hair and Michelle in a white plaid suit with her streak curled and pinned to the side. Ru welcomes former RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race contestant Loni Love to the judging panel and introduces the runway. Category is: Trains For Days. First out is Denali, who goes full Carnival in a bright, feathered leotard with big structured shoulders, a tall, colorful Mohawk wig, and a massive ostrich feather train. Inspired by Quetzalcoatl and the quetzal bird, she looks absolutely amazing. Olivia’s look is more Baroque, with a tall white wig, buttoned up coat dress and long train in lavender and gold, and a lavender ruffled neck piece and boots to match. It’s fun to see her connecting her runway to her passion for music. Elliott channels Glenn Close and Meryl Streep for her look, a white lace bodysuit with a white studded belt, massive white ruffled tulle train, and tall blonde bob. Kahmora’s train may not be as extravagant as the others’, but she more than makes up for that with the detail of her look. She’s in a gold gown with twin dragon heads as shoulder pieces and golden scales covering her dress, connecting into a dragon tail train in the back.
Symone makes an impression in a different way, going with a pared back baby blue and light pink corset and jumpsuit. The star of the look is her do-rag, which flows elegantly into a long train. It’s creative, soft and feminine, and completely original. She will be hard to top. LaLa doesn’t manage it, though she also looks great. She’s in snakeskin, with a long belted coat over a bodysuit and thigh-high boots. Instead of a wig, she’s wearing a balaclava, adding to the snake-like appearance, and she sheds her initial train to reveal a second, more streamlined train underneath. Utica’s look is again, very different. Referencing the classic The Carol Burnett Show sketch “Went With The Wind!,” Utica is in a light purple hoop dress complete with curtain rod and pull tie belt. Rosé’s look is similar to Elliott’s, a true blue pantsuit with striking white lapels and a tall white curled Mohawk with a giant blue tulle train.
Gottmik goes comparatively minimal with her look. She’s in showgirl drag with blue and pink fabric streaming from her wrists, waist, and back and carrying a bedazzled leaf blower to provide some wind effects and fun. Tina adds another layer to the category with her powder blue and red train conductor look. She uses white tulle to give some movement and pairs it with a train track to make her train. Joey took the judges’ wig comments last episode to heart and wears a bright red braid for this runway, paired with a black ensemble with a giant mouth on the back with purple lips, white teeth, and a gigantic studded red tongue train. It’s fun and certainly a step up from some of her other looks. Next is Kandy, in a red corset with lush red velvet draped in front and back as a partial skirt. She also has a longer red train—the fabric Tina and Gottmik helped her with—but compared to the other queens, her look is a underwhelming. Last is Tamisha, in a hot pink bodysuit and train. She looks good, but her ensemble doesn’t have the impact of some of the others’, or her dress from the previous episode.
The first trailer screened is Misery Love’s Company. Denali is better than she seemed while filming, but she underperforms the material. Olivia is good in her supporting role and Elliott is just the right kind of ditzy stupid for her Cupid character, but Kahmora is as rough as expected. Next is God Loves Flags. Symone is immediately much better than Denali in the lead role, though LaLa is shaky in her supporting role. Utica is solid as the grandmother, but Rosé does much more with a similarly small part, matching Symone’s energy. The last trailer is April Fool’s Rush In. Gottmik is securely between Denali and Symone in the lead role, having fun with it but not as comfortable as Symone. Tina is very good as the evil boss, but Joey is easily the weakest of the three grannies. Kandy’s supporting character doesn’t make much sense, but she’s entertaining and happily, Tamisha’s fortuneteller comes through the edit alright, delightfully campy and silly. None of the trailers are particularly strong overall, but a few performers definitely stand out: Symone, Rosé, Tina, and despite being rough around the edges, Kandy.
Ru quickly sends the safe queens off to Untucked: Elliott, Olivia, Utica, Joey, Gottmik, Tina, and Tamisha. That leaves Denali, Kahmora, and LaLa in the bottom and Symone, Rosé, and Kandy in the top. It’s surprising to see Denali in the bottom, particularly when Joey is safe, but though the judges love her look, they make a good point that Denali failed to center her sketch. Kahmora is similarly praised for her look, but is in trouble due to her limited performance. Symone gets raves for both her look and her performance and seems a shoo-in for the win. LaLa has a harder time, though the judges again love her look. Her performance was too internal and withdrawn. She needs to let her personality shine through, and soon. Rosé is the first to get a mediocre review on her look, but the judges commend her on bringing so much life and personality to a stationary character. Last is Kandy, who is read by Michelle for her visible undergarments and her look overall. She more than made up for that with her performance, though, which the judges love.
After deliberations, Symone is declared the winner and LaLa, Rosé, and Kandy are all safe. That leaves Denali and Kahmora in the bottom, lip-syncing to Crystal Waters’ “100% Pure Love.” It’s quite a fall for Denali, but she’s ready to fight. Denali ditches her glorious plumage as the music starts, but Kahmora has no such luck. Her tail doesn’t detach and she’s hampered by her restrictive dress throughout the lip-sync. Denali gets the judges engaged right away, playing off the changes in the music with her dancing and having fun with the song. Kahmora tries to serve face, but particularly with limited mobility, she knows Denali has her beat. It’s no surprise when Denali gets the shantay. Kahmora may be headed home, but she’s made quite an impression in her first three episodes. Imagine what she’s capable of, should she choose to step into drag in a more regular way, expanding beyond her current twice a month schedule and getting more comfortable letting audiences behind her glamorous façade. For the rest of the queens, the competition is finally underway. One queen down, eight or so eliminations to go.
- It seems unfair to let the Winners’ Circle name the other group, but B Squad is much better than Pork Chop Queens, so I’m going with it.
- It’s strange that there’s no time given to LaLa and Tamisha’s reactions upon seeing each other in the workroom, seeing as Tamisha is LaLa’s drag mother.
- Olivia laughs about Kahmora being in full drag body for her green screen work, but it made sense to me. It’s not surprising that padding would help her get into character. Actors do much stranger things to help center themselves for a scene.
- I’m a bigger fan of “Went With The Wind!” than most, but Utica’s look didn’t do much for me. It’s a fun reference, but Utica didn’t do anything with it. His mugging when Ru asked him whether he’s smoked marijuana, on the other hand, was delightful. If he can bring that energy to future performances, he’ll do much better.