A great Drag Race ball has several requirements. The fashion must be fierce and creative, the unconventional material must be challenging, and at least a few of the queens must take some risks, resulting in striking looks, for better or worse. Throw in a fun mini-challenge, some crackling interpersonal drama, and a strong lip-sync, and you have one hell of an episode. “The Bag Ball” may not have the fireworks of the show’s best entries, but it delivers across the board with strong showings from the queens, compelling interpersonal dynamics, and the blend of whimsical silliness, thoughtful reflection, and unabashed fun that makes Drag Race sing.
“RuPaulmark Channel” delivered a decisive first elimination—Denali’s lip-sync still lives rent-free in this viewer’s brain—and emotions are high as the queens return to the workroom. Kandy reiterates her opinion that Elliott belonged in the bottom, rather than Denali or LaLa, and dubs Symone the queen to beat. Tired of Kandy passing judgment, Tamisha interrupts her. Not only does she not appreciate Kandy dismissing her and the others as potential threats, Kandy equating her opinion with the judges’ reads as arrogance to her, and she has no patience for it. The other queens stay out of the fray, but lines are drawn and neither Kandy nor Tamisha seem the type to back down easily.
The next day, RuPaul enters the workroom, sporting a black and white tux, and introduces the mini challenge. The queens will have 20 minutes to get into quick baby drag, then they’ll need to dance their diapered butts off in Baby Got Back. Mini challenges are always a delight on Drag Race, and this is no exception. The queens look ridiculous and fully embrace the silliness of the challenge, none more so than LaLa. She goes full diaper, pacifier, and bonnet, then pulls out decidedly age-inappropriate moves, twerking her way through her dance break. Ru commends the entire cast, but awards the win to LaLa, along with the prize, a $2500 gift card from FierceQueen.com.
The episode keeps the mini challenge short, however, because it’s time for the ball challenge. Ru announces the theme, The Bag Ball. First category is: Mixed Bag. The queens can serve whatever look they like, as long as it connects in some punny way to bags. Second category is: Money Bags. Executive, boss bitch realness. For the third category, the queens will need to create new, high-fashion looks, using materials made available to them in the workroom. Those materials? Bags. Shopping bags, sleeping bags, gift bags, bean bags, and more. They’ll have access to sewing machines—and glue guns—but only so much time, so they’ll have to get creative to serve up runway-ready looks.
The queens get to work, with varying levels of enthusiasm. After all the well-earned hype around Symone this season, the revelation that he doesn’t know how to sew is a shock. Who goes on Drag Race without at least knowing how to make a basic garment? Most of the queens are completely in their element, though. Tamisha and Utica make their looks and Rosé, Elliott, Tina, Olivia, and Gottmik are all comfortable sewing—Mik even went to fashion school. The verdict is out on Denali, but Kandy, LaLa, and Joey are the novices in the room, along with Symone.
After Kandy’s smack talk, Elliott enjoys the looks of concern coming from the non-sewing delegation, particularly Kandy. LaLa gets an assist from Utica with the sewing machine, but quickly runs into trouble and winds up breaking it. Kandy gravitates towards the book bags and goes for a first day of school look, something colorful, youthful, and flirty. He positions and styles the bags into a skirt, rather than deconstructing them. It’s a smart move and one that more of the non-sewers would be wise to emulate. Mik tries to talk Symone through his design woes, but while Symone may be insecure, LaLa is the queen who’s actually struggling. When the sewing machine dies, LaLa switches to hot gluing small paper bags together to make a kind of corset, only to realize that he doesn’t have enough bags to make a complete garment. Instead of pivoting to plan C, he offers up a prayer—“Lord, bitch…” an all-timer of a confessional moment—and decides to stick with his look.
Ru comes in to chat with the queens and as he so often does, he brings the topic around to their inner saboteurs. Kandy delightfully undercuts Ru, though, not following the conversation remotely, and the episode moves along. Utica and Mik look to be on track, but both LaLa and Joey seem less confident, with LaLa relying on selling his garments by delivering “the LaLa experience.” Ru heads out, but not before revealing that the queens will need to accessorize their second looks with a Coach clutch. After a quick throw to the Coach creative director for a plug of their new Coach Create service, and an obligatory Bob the Drag Queen reference, Ru gives “the RuPaul experience” on his way out the door.
The next day, the queens settle in to paint and the conversation quickly moves—with some prompting—to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Kandy and Symone talk about how important protesting is to them, with Symone sharing the trauma that comes with reliving violence like George Floyd’s murder over and over again. LaLa also shares how affected he was in particular by the killing of Rayshard Brooks, which happened only minutes from LaLa’s house. Tamisha, Tina, and Olivia discuss the need for visibility for the trans rights movement, the dangers faced by transgender people, and in particular the danger to Black transgender people. Yes, it can feel rote when Drag Race’s plaintive Important Topic scoring comes in and the mirror talk suddenly turns serious. But these are necessary discussions and conversations like these are an essential part of the show. Twerking babies and calls for racial justice sit comfortably side by side on Drag Race, and hopefully they always will.
On the runway, Ru has her first merely good look of the season, a bright pink ruffled cocktail dress with black accessories and a blonde wig. Michelle’s in animal print, Carson in a shiny blue suit, and the fantastic Nicole Byer is back again to guest judge, in purple sequins and absolutely adorable hair. It’s time for the Bag Ball!
Category one: Mixed Bag
Denali looks great in her airbag-inspired crash dummy look. Joey is less successful with her IV bag look. She’s a combination patient with an IV and slutty nurse and… Eve? It’s confusing and ultimately a miss. LaLa makes more of an impression as a bag of bones, in a black dress with a brown drawstring bag at the base and bleached bones scattered across her look. Elliott’s premise is simple—dollar store gift bag—but she nails the execution. Tamisha’s look is surprisingly restrained. Her concept, an old bag (referencing herself, 30 years down the line), is fun, but while her walk is great, she’s in a flat gray wig, a white pantsuit, and a red blouse with statement jewelry and a cane. Full points for performance, but the look is forgettable. Symone’s first look is much more drag, playing with “fun bags.” She’s in a glamorous pageant gown, but sporting absurdly large, balloon breasts. The proportions are spot on and she makes a meal of her walk, taking the look to the next level when she pops both balloons before leaving.
Olivia’s pink punching bag look is fun and would have landed much better had Symone not beaten her to it in “Condragulations.” A clear standout of the round is Mik, as a body bag. She opens up a clear plastic covering to show herself mid-autopsy, with intestines dangling down and swaying as she walks. It’s creative and very drag—her rib cage is stoned, naturally—and completely different from the rest of the looks. Rosé is next, embracing her Scottish roots as bagpipes. She looks great in a tartan dress with pipes sticking out and framing her body from one wrist to the next, up across her arms and shoulders. Tina has fun as a brown bag, stumbling down the runway swigging from a bottle and with an assortment of discarded beverages making up the base of her dress. Kandy puts on a show as a bag of tricks, in a white rabbit top and black pencil skirt. She pulls an extending staff and a magic wand out of her bag before flipping it into a sequined cape for her stroll back. It’s cute and effective. More chic, though, is Utica as a doggie bag. She goes full French poodle, keeping to black and white components and a fantastic poodle-puff wig. This is Utica’s preferred blend of camp and comedy with a stylish twist, and she nails it.
Category two: Money Bags
Denali again looks good as a Cruella de Vil-inspired fashion editor. In a lesser ball, this would stand out. Here, it’s solid. Joey ditches her category one wig and puts on a red blazer, black top and pants, and accessorizes with an eyepatch. She looks good, but again, it’s only okay. LaLa is much more fashionable in a multicolored animal print dress with a tight skirt, peplum, and flounce at the neck. She opts for a bald head with bold, dangling earrings, and she looks fabulous. Like Joey, Elliott goes with bright red, a 1980s power suit with platinum hair. In this group, it’s very safe. Tamisha’s look is again more understated, a white jacket and black pencil skirt with green accents, while Symone’s is over the top, a shiny pink suit with thigh cut-outs and a dramatic, oversized collar. She looks great.
Olivia’s look is lovely, but again more restrained, a blue suit with a beautifully lined cape that matches her tie. Mik demolishes her, and the rest of the competition, with a black and white Swarovski crystal pinstripe suit. It’s fashion, it moves, and it’s the clear winner of the category. Rosé unfortunately has to follow her, and in another black and white ensemble, a tribute to Bette Midler in Big Business. It’s cute, it’s fun, it just doesn’t have Mik’s wow factor. The black and white trend continues with Tina, who looks terrific in a stoned houndstooth ensemble. This is her best look, and another standout of the round. Kandy goes a different way with her look. She’s in a pink bra and panty with a pink blazer, money wig, and giant money stogie. Last is Utica, in another stylish ensemble, this one inspired by Chicago. She’s in black and gold, her blazer and mini skirt accentuating her long legs and the fringe at her waist and shoulders giving the look plenty of movement.
Category three: 100% Bag Drag
Denali looks terrific, a play on a Mexican sugar skull. It’s creative, fun, and well made. Joey’s look is not bad, a black and white dress with plenty of structure and volume. It has issues, but given her shaky sewing skills, it could be a lot worse. LaLa, on the other hand, is a disaster. She literally glued paper bags together into rectangles and glued those to a corset. She’s doing her best to sell it, and her face looks great, but it’s a contender for the worst look in Drag Race herstory. Next to LaLa, Elliott’s pink and white bra, wrap skirt, and coat is high fashion. It’s only okay, but it’s well made and certainly impressive given the time and material constraints. Tamisha’s look is clunkier, but alright. She has a good use of color, but the combination of her heavy shoulder piece and thick necklace put her look out of balance. Symone’s red and white bikini top and skirt combo is cute, but underwhelming.
Olivia’s also in a bra and high-waisted panty, though with shoulder pieces, but the material is reflective, alternating between stylish and garish depending on how the light hits it. Gottmik goes more minimalist, with a strappy black and silver ensemble. She’s serving rocker chic and while it’s only alright to this viewer, the judges love it. Rosé also wears silver, in a futuristic robot look with a spinning half-orb waist accessory over a silver bra and panty. She twirls down the runway and looks great. Tina stomps the runway next, confident in her red dress with yellow suspenders. She looks good, and is one of the few whose look doesn’t scream “unconventional materials challenge.” Kandy’s schoolgirl design is cute and creative. Next to the sewers’ looks it’s rough, but it’s not bad for a non-sewer. Utica is last, and this is her category. She looks fantastic, somehow crafting a distinct silhouette out of sleeping bags. Her colorful alien snow queen robe is beautiful and she sells the crap out of it. There are some other strong looks this category, but round three goes to Utica.
While it would be great to see the queens all get feedback, particularly given their hard work this episode, there just isn’t time for that. Ru quickly sends the safe queens off: Denali, Elliott, Symone, Olivia, Tina, and Kandy. That leaves Joey, LaLa, and Tamisha in the bottom and Mik, Rosé, and Utica in the top. The judges are rather kind with their feedback—they could have read some of these queens for filth, and in an earlier season, might have. They gently point out the weaknesses in some of their looks while acknowledging what does work and lauding the top three queens. It’s clear pretty quickly what will happen and after deliberations, Mik is declared the winner, just beating out Utica for the $5000 cash tip, and Joey and LaLa are in the bottom.
Season 13 continues its trend of strong lip-sync songs with Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” and Joey and LaLa get right to work. LaLa’s garment starts falling apart almost immediately, but she doesn’t let it faze her. Joey has some good ideas, like throwing out some bills at the chorus, but each time she makes a move, LaLa one-ups her, snatching those bills up off the ground and sticking them in her waistband. Joey plays with her long pony, LaLa puts her pink fuzzy bag back on her head as a wig. Joey goes to the ground, LaLa pops into a seamless split right behind her, timed to the music. Joey put up a fight—this was no Denali versus Kahmora situation—but LaLa is still the clear winner, and Ru tells her to shantay. Joey served some good looks this season and certainly won over a fair share of Drag Race fans, but given the judges’ limited patience for a key part of her aesthetic, her hair, it’s not surprising that she’s one of the first queens eliminated. As for the episode overall, if season 13 continues to deliver to this level on fashion, personality, and performance, viewers are in for a treat.
- I appreciated getting some more context on LaLa and Tamisha’s connection. Tamisha did put LaLa into drag for the first time, but LaLa waited several years before getting into drag more seriously on his own. So Tamisha is LaLa’s drag mom, technically, but LaLa’s not part of the House of Iman.
- Joey, when the judges read more meaning and levels into your look, go with it! Poison IV is much better than what you actually did.
- Aiden who? Congratulations to LaLa on the worst Drag Race look in recent memory, and for how completely she sold it down the runway and in the lip-sync. We’ll be talking about that bag look for years.
- Tamisha didn’t have the best looks for the ball, but I don’t care. It’s hard to overstate how much having a queen like Tamisha in the cast contributes to the season. His decades-long connection with drag, and this episode, ballroom culture, is a perfect gateway into conversations that previous seasons have mostly kept at a distance.
- Speaking of, I loved the mini ball Tamisha threw. It’s great to see direct shout-outs to legends like Willi Ninja and Leiomy Maldonado, and props to LaLa, Denali, and Joey for getting in on the fun.