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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

RuPaul’s Drag Race inches toward its finale with “Henny, I Shrunk The Drag Queens!”

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race inches toward its finale with “Henny, I Shrunk The Drag Queens!”
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Season 13, despite its talented cast, has had pacing problems. There’s been a clear set of front-runners for almost half the season and only Rosé has made any headway breaking into that group. As in most seasons, the producers have their favorites and these queens have consistently done well. However, when they have stumbled, they’ve never felt in particular jeopardy, giving the season an air of marking time until the top three. The best episodes of the season have distracted from this, keeping the laughs and moments of reflection rolling. Unfortunately, “Henny, I Shrunk The Drag Queens!” flounders, a pleasant but forgettable blip in the final run of the season.

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The episode begins with Symone shaken from her brush with elimination. While it seems clear as a viewer that she’s in no danger of going home before the finale, Symone doesn’t know that and she’s understandably thrown. Kandy, however, is thrilled to have her first win and the rest of the queens seem genuinely happy for her. This is a completely different energy than the late season dynamic in the earlier seasons of the show. Yes, these queens want to win, but they’re also thinking long-term. This season is the beginning of the next phase of their career, not the culmination of it, and them taking the long view has resulted in one of the show’s more congenial seasons.

The next day, the queens skip into the workroom, celebrating their top five status. Ru heads into the workroom in a gold flowered suit, blouse, and delightfully ridiculous glasses and moustache, and introduces the next challenge. No time for mini challenge silliness this episode, they’re heading right to the maxi. It’s another acting challenge, though one with a sci-fi twist. The queens will be acting against green screen and other special effects as they film, “Henny! I Shrunk The Drag Queens.” Ru walks them through the characters, which they’ll divvy up amongst themselves, and sends them off to work.

The queens read the script and right away, most have a character they’re drawn to. Olivia wants Ginger Ale, the dumb one; Rosé wants Brandy, the sarcastic one; and Mik wants Chardonnay, the whiny one. That leaves Dominique Perignon, the power-hungry villain, and Margarita, the smart one. Both Symone and Kandy want Dominique, putting them at an impasse. Rosé makes a crack about Elliott holding an audition and it’s immediately clear they won’t be resolving the issue that way. Eventually, a frustrated Symone relents, acknowledging that he’s a better fit for Margarita than Kandy is, and the queens start their read-through.

Once they’re done, it’s time to figure out their looks. As Rosé says, it’s late in the season and the queens are running out of drag. There’s also the green screen to consider—they can’t wear anything green and they can’t wear anything that shines or reflects light, as the green screen will be reflected in their outfits, causing that part of their body to be written over by the digital background. It’s not the most thrilling conversation and in a more exciting episode, this would have been cut, but it’s neat to see the queens engaging with this aspect of production. For most of the queens, this is a stumbling block to be overcome, but for Symone, it’s another stressor after days full of them. He heaps strain and expectation onto himself at the best of times and this latest difficulty is pushing him toward his breaking point.

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race inches toward its finale with “Henny, I Shrunk The Drag Queens!”
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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As the queens sort out their wardrobe, they’re interrupted by the RuMail siren and are treated to a happy surprise. They’re joined by Scarlett Johansson, via video call, who is there to chat and give out acting tips à la Anne Hathaway. This notes session is much drier than that one, alas, but there’s some solid advice in there and the queens are delighted when Colin Jost pops his head in to deliver a quick one-liner. After the call, the queens are energized and they start painting for the challenge.

At the green screen, the queens are met by Michelle and Carson, who will be directing them. They remind everyone to go even bigger than usual with their performances to make sure they read when they’re shrunk down. Winning performances are never subtle on Drag Race, so that’s saying something. The queens seem comfortable filming aside from Symone, who’s still in her head about her character. Much more game is Mik, who cracks the judges up with her big scene, an allergy attack prompted by a giant cat. Kandy has fun wielding the giant cat’s paw and Mik goes for broke, giving the editors plenty of material to work with.

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After filming, the queens return to the workroom and prepare for the runway. The reality of the next elimination is sinking in. They’ve all done well; making top five is no small feat. But the last cut, pre-finale—theoretically, though who knows what Drag Race has cooked up for the finale, given COVID restrictions—is the toughest of all and Symone in particular is struggling with the weight of expectation. He’s worried about letting down his drag family, the House of Avalon, and not living up to his drag sister Gigi Goode’s terrific season 12 performance. The stress of the competition has taken an increasing toll and he breaks down in his confessional, overwhelmed by anxiety and strain. Symone is an amazing queen and still a favorite to win, but again, that’s easy to say as a viewer. In the moment, during filming, there’s no way to know which way producers will spin your narrative and Symone is hyper aware of how little control he has over his edit and Drag Race story.

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race inches toward its finale with “Henny, I Shrunk The Drag Queens!”
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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After a pep talk from Kandy, the conversation pivots to representation and when the queens first saw someone they identified with on TV. Olivia gives some love to the 1997 ABC production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, and Mik talks about never having seen someone he identified with on TV. That dearth of representation set him back in his journey to understand and accept himself and he’s hopeful he can be that point of reference for someone else. The queens also talk about how important seeing a range of representation is, both of types of people and experiences, but also outcomes. As Kandy says, it’s not helpful to have representation if it’s only as victims and perps in crime procedurals. While this exchange may be Drag Race patting itself on the back, its role in showcasing queer performers and their stories, with queens from New York to L.A. to Symone’s Conway, Arkansas, cannot be denied.

On the runway, Ru walks out looking amazing in a sparkling silver, or maybe blue, dress and white hair, a welcome return to form. Michelle’s in light blue, with beautiful makeup and a gentle waved side part, Carson’s surprisingly subdued in a dark suit and pink pocket square, and joining the panel is special guest judge Cynthia Erivo, who looks chic in black with a beret and plenty of sparkle in her jewelry. Ru welcomes Cynthia, then introduces the runway. Category is: Haute Pocket.

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Symone comes out first, stomping the runway in a denim jumpsuit with a massive zipper and bright red wig. She’s made herself into a fashion doll, stuffed in a giant’s jeans pocket, and she looks great. Olivia goes for glamour, in a silvery dress with draped, off the shoulder sleeves that match her oversized, hip-accentuating pockets. She looks beautiful, in a lovely white wig, dangling earrings, and fantastic paint. Rosé has a more stylized look, a black and white ’60s Mod coat dress that she throws off to reveal a matching black and white dress made entirely of pockets. It’s not her best look—that’s either her vamp look from “Phenomenon” or her Beast Couture devil—but it’s a welcome change of pace. Much less successful is Kandy’s Japanese-inspired look, individual envelope-shaped pockets connected with yellow ribbon and a bulky top and sleeves. While Kandy is to be commended for going with a bolder concept, it doesn’t stand up to the rest of the queens’ looks. Last is Mik, who walks out in a long black wig and plain tan trench, then flashes it open to reveal pockets full of watches she’s selling and a gold mini dress covered in chains, watches, and other accessories. It’s another fantastic look from Mik, who along with Symone, continues to dominate the runway this season.

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race inches toward its finale with “Henny, I Shrunk The Drag Queens!”
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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With the queens assembled for critiques, Ru screens their film. It’s—well, it’s fine. It’s cute enough and there are some fun moments, but it’s way too long. There also isn’t that much separating the queens’ performances. Olivia is slightly off with some of her timing, but not significantly, and she does well with her biggest moments, including the Designing Women nod at the end. Kandy also suffers in comparison to Mik, Rosé, and Symone, but only because she’s in so little of the film. Symone definitely got the better side of her and Kandy’s fight over Dominique.

The judges’ critiques aren’t particularly illuminating. Symone’s worries turn out to have been for naught, and she once again is commended for her fabulous runway. Olivia is read for playing the same character she always does—a critique that could just as easily have been given to Symone, but wasn’t—and her runway, while complimented, is dinged for not being as blatantly pocket-centered as the other looks. Michelle and Cynthia love Rosé’s runway and they’re just as glowing about her performance. Kandy gets surprising feedback: Her performance was too sedate. The judges wanted her to go much bigger with Dominique, and her runway isn’t doing her any favors. As for Mik, they not only love her performance, but they gag over her runway, with Mik getting a coveted compliment from Ru.

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Before sending the queens back to Untucked, Ru asks them the question they must have known was coming: Who should go home? Everyone picks Olivia, except Olivia herself, who gives the impression she would choose herself as well, had she not sworn previously she wouldn’t. She eventually goes with Kandy, but it’s clear her heart isn’t in it. Olivia is a talented queen, but as the others all say, she still has growing to do. It’s not yet her time. After deliberations, Ru concurs: Rosé gets the win and the $5000 tip, Mik and Symone are safe, and Olivia and Kandy are up for elimination.

Illustration for article titled RuPaul’s Drag Race inches toward its finale with “Henny, I Shrunk The Drag Queens!”
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
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The lip-sync song is yet another fantastic pick, Cher’s “Strong Enough.” Both Olivia and Kandy are ready to fight for their place in the top four and they give it their all. Kandy goes for more comedy than Olivia, who stays pretty earnest throughout, but Kandy has to fight against her look, which holds her back. Olivia sparkles through the lip-sync and to these eyes, takes it. If Kandy were in a better look, it would be a different conversation. It doesn’t matter in the end, though, because Ru either sees something else in their performances or bases her choice on the queens’ potential in the finale. Kandy gets the shantay and Olivia is eliminated.

Olivia may be going home, but she does so with her head held high. She’s a strong contender for Miss Congeniality this season, she won two challenges, and she performed admirably in three lip-syncs. More significantly, she made top five on RuPaul’s Drag Race after only doing drag for a year and a half. That’s incredibly impressive. As for Kandy, she has her work cut out for her to contend with the rest of the queens. It remains to be seen whether season 13 will have a top four finale or follow season 12’s example with a top three. Either way, it’s shaping up to be a battle and depending on how the producers decide to structure the finale, it really could go a number of ways. Viewers have been waiting all season for the competition to heat up and with the finale around the corner, it finally is.

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Stray observations

  • Kandy stroking Rosé’s five-o’clock shadow, the accompanying sound, and everyone’s response, was hilarious.
  • I loved all the quotes and references in the film, from the Ru-K-O picture title card to Kandy’s Wicked Witch of the West moment. The Scarlett Johansson lines were disappointing, though.
  • At last we see the stealth diva moments Tina and the other queens have been referencing for Olivia.
  • I’m with Olivia- the Brandy Cinderella is the best Cinderella, thank you very much.
  • I would watch the crap out of Mrs. Columbo, starring Cher.
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