Greetings from your friendly neighborhood TV critic! There’s some good drag in this episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars: decent performances, good-to-great looks, a very entertaining lip-sync, and Silky Nutmeg Ganache bellowing “YOU SURE?” at RuPaul after Ru told her to sashay away. I make this distinction because while there’s good drag in this episode, the episode itself is, uh, not good. If you’re looking for a review of the drag, there’s some of that too, but I am a drag fan* who is also a TV critic, and not the other way around. The drag fan enjoyed the drag. The TV critic has some thoughts.
All Stars has always been about production gimmicks, and they haven’t always worked. The behind-the-mirror reveal in AS2 is a top-tier reality TV moment; on the other end of the spectrum you’ll find a moment best described as “all of season one right up until Juju and Raven weep-synced to Robyn together.” This season’s big production gimmick doesn’t land in between those two extremes as it does straddle them, with one potato shoe in the realm of the marvelous and one in the pits. But “The Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve And Talent Monologues”** pushes the Lip-Sync Smackdown in the direction of the bad potato shoe. It was a hell of a stunt, but wow, was the execution botched.
The issue is one of placement. Much (too much, probably) of last week’s review centered on the same issue. Situating the Smackdown so close to the finale negatively impacted the season even before it occurred; the long, long, long, long buildup to the GWaG rendered an otherwise entertaining season repetitive and anticlimactic at least once an episode. Then the episode itself happened, and it was a hoot. Lip syncs as far as the eye can see, with the added bonus of sitting in as four great queens watched their sisters tear shit up. But the aftermath has more in common with what came before than with the Smackdown itself.
Since the beginning of the season, we’ve known how every episode would win — an exit interrupted by Ru’s face on the teevee, telling the queen it’s not over yet. The circumstances are very different, but here, the vibe is the same: there’s an inevitable end. This is an episode where everyone, Trinity included, just sits around waiting for Trinity’s elimination.
The Smackdown isn’t the only thing that drains this episode of momentum and energy. Nearly all the queens have voted consistently for the queen with the iffiest track record to head home; that makes it all but certain that the eliminated queen will be either Trinity or Eureka. And even before Eureka wins the challenge, this episode makes it very clear that Eureka ain’t going anywhere. She’s got momentum, as far as the edit is concerned.
Thus, the episode becomes less about showcasing the charisma/uniqueness/etc. of the queens and more about the producers desperately seeking any opportunity to manufacture suspense. Maybe Eureka’s taking a risk by being folksy and personable and telling a funny story! (She’s not.) Maybe Ra’Jah pausing for a brief moment in her monologue will mean she’s going home! (It doesn’t.) Maybe Ginger is over-rehearsed! (Nope.) Maybe Alec Mapa hates Kylie because her Gaga was bad a zillion years ago! (No one hates Kylie, Kylie is incredible.)
Ooh, and there’s a tie! Maybe two queens will go home! No, not so much.
But the placement of the GWaG is a much bigger issue. All Stars always ends with a top four. By placing the returning contestant gimmick immediately after the field narrows to four queens, the show essentially guarantees a cruel twist. Either someone who earned a spot in the top four loses that slot, or someone who fought their way back in turns right around and heads home. And since Eureka’s edit makes her final-four status all but certain, the only actual suspense comes from wondering whether or not Trinity can get herself one last win.
Eureka tells Trinity that it’s as if the latter has already given up, and that’s true, to a certain extent. But it’s not so much that Trinity has checked out. It’s that even Trinity knows there’s really only one way this can end. It’s not so much “The Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve And Talent Monologues” as it is “An Elegy For Trinity K. Bonet, Who Is In The top 4.5, Dammit.”
As for the challenge itself: Meh. All five of these queens are personable, charming, and intelligent, but to pull off that kind of performance requires a lot of preparation and experience. If you’re improvising, it takes discipline. If you’re writing and memorizing, that’s a very different but no less daunting challenge. Most damningly, not even the episode itself seems all that interested in the challenge. The coaching is an afterthought. The actual creative process: footage not found. It’s just suddenly time for the mainstage, with a pit-stop so Eureka can tell Trinity how much the jokey-flirty stuff has meant to them***.
And the performances? Fine. Ginger’s is the best written, Eureka’s the liveliest, and Kylie’s the most relaxed but no one fails. No one dominates, either. It’s just... a thing they all do while waiting for someone to announce that Trinity is going home.
The runway category, at least, is a winner. Kylie’s ketchup-and-mustard-stained look is cute, but somewhat underwhelming compared to the others. The judges love Eureka’s windblown Cinderella look, though it’s a little familiar. Trinity’s beautiful gown is more fashion than faux pas. Ginger and Ra’Jah both absolutely slay the runway, with Ginger “burning” herself repeatedly with her niftily smoking curling iron**** and Ra’Jah selling the shit out of her just-barged-into-my-dressing-room dress, one of my favorite runway looks of the season.
And that’s it. Not even the tie Ru doles out to Eureka and assassin Jaida Essence Hall makes the ending any less certain. Bring on the new top four, where we’ll have some actual suspense.
And au revoir, Trinity K. Bonet, forever in the top 4.5 of this season of All Stars. Hope you get that Vegas residency, girl.
* — I suspect this is something we may have in common, dear reader. If so, please go see drag in your community! And tip the queens well! And tell me about your favorite local queens in the comments! This Chicagoan is currently greatly enamored of Kalli Mauri, Abhijeet, and Kara Mel DVille, among others.
** — Honestly can’t believe it took this many seasons of the show to get to a Vagina Monologues challenge and honestly a little shocked that they didn’t bring Eve Ensler in to coach and/or judge.
*** — A lovely moment, but wow, did Eureka really need to start saying their goodbyes that early?
**** — Ginger, tell the truth: Did you just hide a cigarette in there?
- Kate’s Corner: “After the excitement Silky and the rest of the queens brought to the Game Within the Game, this episode is a bit of a letdown. Eureka earned her spot in the finale, but it still hurt to see Trinity go home after believing she’d clinched the top four. It would have hurt to see any of the original final four go home. The queens did pretty well in their monologues and the runway was solid, but after the bombast of the previous episode and the aforementioned bitter pill swallowed gracefully by Trinity, All Stars 6 will need a powerhouse finale to end the season on a memorable, satisfying note.”
- Untucked: Remember that one time Trinity wrote down her own name and then forgot?