The latest RuPaul’s Drag Race proves that age is more than just a number. When the queens are asked to imitate the elderly in a performance-based challenge, they being to reflect on age, friendship, and queer history. And while the queens excel in this entertaining episode, the continued quick edit leaves certain beats clunky and confusing.
After sending Amethyst home, Salina announces that she is “awake” following her close call in the bottom two. On the other end of the spectrum, Luxx receives her laurels from the other queens and concurs with all the praise. Inadvertently, Luxx also sets the episode’s main conflict into motion when she questions Malaysia’s placement from last week. The remark elicits a strong reaction from Malaysia in confessional about being underestimated by the other queens in the competition. The energy carries over the next day when Mistress playfully prods Malaysia about her “drag delusion.” While Malaysia plays it off and offers to make the other queens’ outfits with her newfound sewing acumen, there is a residual tension.
The werkroom and challenge
RuPaul informs the cast that their challenge this week will be to form girl groups. This has become a rather standard Drag Race assignment over the years, finding its best success in the U.K. franchise. The twist this season, as indicated by RuPaul’s cardigan, is that they will be forming elderly girl groups. RuPaul reinforces the theme later by calling in the Pit Crew, which is composed of The Old Gays from TikTok. RuPaul allows the queens to form their own groups, which seems to produce no drama. The queens are less amicable when it comes to picking the genre of their song.
The queens must decide which of the three teams will be hip hop, metal, or country. (I’m going to capitalize these teams/genres going forward.) It becomes clear that all the queens gravitate toward Hip Hop and Metal, which provide the strongest comedic juxtaposition with the age bracket they must represent. As the teams announce their desired choice, the team of Jax, Anetra, Loosey, and Robin shrewdly select Hip Hop when the other two teams are in a deadlock over who gets to perform Metal. A tense back-and-forth unfolds between the other two teams. This kind of argument has become a fixture of Drag Race, see last season’s argument over the role of Saltine. However, this season’s fight is intensified by Malaysia’s presence. While half of the queens are less invested in the argument over Metal, it is Malaysia (and to a lesser extent Sasha) versus Luxx and Mistress. Even less than the actual genre of music, Malaysia and Sasha object to the sense of entitlement Mistress and Luxx present over their group getting to perform Metal. When there seems to be no way to reach an agreement, Marcia presents the idea of rock-paper-scissors or picking from a hat. The groups agree on the latter, which ends with Luxx selecting Country and Malaysia getting her desired Metal.
After reaching a detente over the genre, the queens move to write lyrics, record music, and choreograph their numbers. All of these complicated processes are compressed in the edit and give the effect of certain queens succeeding and others failing. In the latter, it appears as if Robin, Salina, and Aura are struggling in their respective groups. Robin appears hesitant as she meticulously goes over her lyrics. Salina, who was the most pleased with Country, laments about the genre not matching her persona. She finds it difficult to relate to the music. Finally, after Sasha, Spice, and Malaysia seem to excel in recording, the edit makes it appear as if Aura is having a much harder time. Likewise, the choreography sessions suggest that team Hip Hop is the least prepared while there is residual anger over the fight for Metal as the Country group continually throws shade during the rehearsal process.
Between rehearsal and showtime, the queens discuss age and history in the werkroom. Spice, one of the competition’s youngest queens, and Sasha, one of the competition’s most experienced queens, discuss age and queer history. Sasha, as an out and proud trans woman, views her age as a badge of honor. She sheds light on an interesting aspect of queer history in Hawaii concerning the harassment of trans women. The issue is just as important today as many politicians across the country are attempting to limit the rights of trans people and force them into the shadows. In light of history and current issues, Sasha gets emotional about the privilege of being on Drag Race as a way of showing a happy trans woman refusing to hide and living life authentically.
On the main stage each team, the Banjo Bitches, Rockin’ Old Gs, and Ol’ Dirty Bitches, excelled. All three gave committed and memorable performances. While the edit suggested that Salina, Aura, and Robin were struggling, it was not evident in their actual performances. After the judges went crazy for the first two teams there was a shift in response toward the Ol’ Dirty Bitches. Their performance, aside from a few minor issues, seemed great. However, the cutaway shots of RuPaul and the other judges were used to suggest that the Hip Hop group was unimpressive. However, at the end Megan Stalter loved their performance. Ultimately, it felt like a challenge in which the three teams were fairly evenly matched and the edit needed to prove there was a bottom team.
The category of “Tie-Dye To Die For” is one of those categories that permit each queen to simultaneously show off their personal style while also meeting the brief. With such a simple prompt, the category becomes a test of each queen’s ability to set themselves apart on the runway as well as a window into their individual taste level. Anetra opens the runway in a look true to her signature style. It is sleek and sexy, but, most importantly, the look is functional for her “stunt queen” drag. Jax represents another queen who is known for her high-energy performance. Likewise, her ensemble has a level of functionality. However, the combination of the bright orange bodysuit with the greenish-gray tie-dye pattern is unappealing. Furthermore, the sculpted hair feels disjoined from the look below the neck.
Loosey manages to strip the hippie vibes from tie-dye in favor of a Park Avenue look that matches her polished persona. Somewhere between ladylike and flower child, Robin’s look feels underwhelming. Without the tie-dye effect, the look has little visual interest. Mistress, on the other hand, is full of visual impact. The dramatic cape and crystalized shoulder detail elevate her tie-dye bodysuit. Again, the superb pageantry of her look complete with makeup and hair creates a winning ensemble. Equally impactful, Luxx’s look is modern and fashion-forward. The look takes the hippie association with tie-dye and makes it sexy with an emphasis on skin. The tie-dye effect on both the feathers and the wig shows her microscopic attention to detail. It must not hurt that the look is created by a designer who has also created a similar effect for RuPaul in the past.
Salina, who sometimes struggles on runways, concocts an aquatic look that feels like part of The Little Mermaid. It is dramatic and over-the-top but in a focused and composed way. Salina finally harnesses her style successfully for the runway. Marcia, who has had her own issues on the runway, fails to impress with tie-dye. The underwhelming look featured a redundant reference to The Brady Bunch that Marcia already made upon her entrance to the werkroom, but the greater failing is that it does not really read as tie-dye. The variations of red in her look are too similar, which weakens the impact. In wide shots, the blood drops simply do not look like tie-dye.
While Spice’s skirt is unique, the overall look feels like she’s done it before. Like the dolls she strives to mimic, her looks are feeling repetitive (even without Sugar). Her looks continue to lack variety, which may become an issue in future episodes. On the other hand, Aura takes a calculated risk that pays off. The judges are often hostile to more masculine presenting drag, but Aura’s look has such a strong point of view that it works. The dark tie-dye oversized suit with an exposed chest feels like something going down a Jean Paul Gautier runway. Sasha embraces a more traditional interpretation of tie-dye with an equally memorable result. Dripping in tie-day latex, Sasha’s look screams tie-dye in an instantly recognizable way. Likewise, Malaysia, who closes the runway, molds the tie-dye directive to her style of drag with a bright gown complete with feathered shoulders and a sculpted blonde beehive that evokes a modern-day Mae West. The perfectly corresponding makeup makes this look the epitome of high tie-dye glamor.
RuPaul enters the main stage in the mini-est Silver mini dress known to the world and a coifed platinum mullet. Joining RuPaul on the mainstage is Michelle, Ross, and special guest judge comedienne Meg Stalter. RuPaul quickly dismisses Loosey, Salina, Luxx, Marcia, Spice and Malaysia as safe, which leaves Anetra, Jax, Robin, Mistress, Sasha, and Aura on stage. Finally, the show reaches the point where there are an equal number of queens designated safe and those left for critique.
The judges initially praise Anetra for her look, lyrics, and performance energy before lacerating her with the cardinal sin of not remembering the lyrics during a lip sync. In a program that asks more and more of its performers and directives to turn it up a notch, Jax gets the unique critique of doing too much. The main criticism that the judges levy her way is that she stood out in the wrong way for a girl group challenge. Robin, Jax’s teammate, receives the inverse. Michelle describes Robin’s performance as “safe,” and the judges prod Robin about holding back and restraining herself. Robin describes the issue as her not being a “gambler” to which RuPaul argues that Drag Race is the time to swing big.
The initial critiques turn out to be negative, which must have relieved Mistress, Sasha, and Aura as the critiques typically feature a bottom three and a top three. They praise Mistress as the best of her group and RuPaul even takes an opportunity to chastise Marcia via Mistress about makeup. Sasha earns acclaim for her performance as well as her look. RuPaul reveals Sasha’s frontrunner status when she says “that’s how you play this game,” which also feels like a slight at her earlier comment to Robin. The critiques end with Aura, who has often faded into the background before this episode. The judges love both her look and her performance, which finally productively translates her over-the-top theatrics on the runway into a corresponding character. She has an emotional moment, which felt mangled by the abbreviated edit.
After the judges deliberate (all of which fell to the cutting room floor), the queens return to the stage. Sasha and Mistress are safe and RuPaul announces Aura as the winner. Interestingly, the bottom three represent a single team from the challenge. Of the three only Anetra is spared from the lip sync, leaving Jax and Robin to battle.
The lip sync
After receiving opposing critiques, Jax and Robin are an interesting duo to lip sync together. However, in the history of Drag Race lip syncs often reward rambunctious over restraint. As “In Your Room” by The Bangles begins there is no sense that the song is an advantage for either performer. They are evenly matched in many aspects and are very good performers. Jax and Robin capture the energy of the song and pepper in a good amount of choreography and stunts. The deciding issue is that though Robin does relax her usual regal composure in the performance, it just feels like Jax is having more fun with the song. The tragedy of Robin’s elimination is that she may have never embarrassed herself as she feared, she may leave with the regret of not taking more risks.
- I wish someone had done a To Die For reference for Tie-Dye To Die For. Imagine Marcia strutting down the runway in a pastel tie-dyed skirt suit and massive 1990s camcorder as Nicole Kidman.
- That was a mean edit of Marcia giving her resume line by line. It seems like she was clearly asked to describe her professional experience.
- Leland deserved more screen time.
- It felt like there might have been something between Sasha and Aura over choreography that was left unresolved.
- It was great that RuPaul’s skirt was so short that she had to adjust her arm movement for “may the best drag queen win.”
- I wonder how much the queens get to contribute to costumes for challenges like this. Who is making them? When are they making them? I need a behind-the-scenes featurette.
- While the costumes were impressive, the set design felt a little less thought out.
- Mistress is handling being at the top without an actual win very well.