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A RuPaul's Drag Race Ball Delivers 15 Runway Looks And Nearly As Many Face Cracks

Plus: puppets!

RuPaul throws her annual ball, and in terms of creative potential, this year's themes are light years beyond "executive realness." And before we we even get to the parade of fierce looks, we get the puppet challenge! Let us raise our hands in praise.

Wipe That Mirror, Gurl

Not much to see here. Just know that, in her lipstick message, Nina hopes that Shea has a hard timing cleaning off the mirror. Well-played, hooker.

Everybody Loves Puppets!

Oh yes, gurl. I love the puppet mini-challenge, and I'm grateful it wasn't sacrificed to VH1's draconian insistence on maximizing advertising airtime at the expense of content. (Note: I don't actually know that VH1 is insisting on this, but I choose to direct my anger at the network anyway.)

But whatever! The point is, the puppets are back. First up, Shea drags up a Peppermint puppet...

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...or is that Pep-uppet? The read is decent, if only because Shea nails Pep's boisterous laugh. Watching a puppet throw its head back and scream is always a good time.

Then comes Sasha, with a hand up Puppet Trinity's juicy ass.

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Sasha does a funny Southern accent for her Trinity doll, and they have a good back and forth about Trinity's sex life. The puppet admits that she loves "horse play" (when you have sex with Nina Bo'Nina Brown), "couch play" (when you have sex with Nina's padding), and "jelly play" (when someone has sex with Trinity's jiggly body).

Not so good, sadly, is Alexis's puppet reading of Sasha.

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Alexis starts with a decent joke about Sasha's academic vocabulary, but from there, she just dies on the vine with weird cracks about Sasha wearing crowns. Remember a few weeks ago, when Alexis seemed sharp and funny?

Meanwhile, Trinity does decent work with Shea, with particular care given to her jacked teeth...

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...while Peppermint starts with some funny stuff about Alexis being a loud and bossy musical theatre queen...

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...and closes by painting her puppet green.

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Like a goddamned boss.

These Girls Have Balls

Sasha wins the puppet challenge, and then Ru announces that this week's challenge will be her annual ball. The queens have to design looks for three different themes: Rainbow-She-Betta-Do (meaning a Pride Flag look); Sexy Unicorn; and Village People Eleganza Extravaganza. For the Village People looks, the queens are provided with basic materials that suit each character (Native American, cop, construction worker, leather biker, and cowboy) and then tasked with turning the masculine archetype into a feminine archetype. When you think about how the Village People were basically drag kings, playing up super-butch personae while singing super-queer disco hits, this is some next-level metatheatricality. Naturally, I am living.

Once the girls get to work, Peppermint and Alexis both seem to be in trouble. Can Pep do halfway decent construction for her Village People biker look? And can Alexis overcome her pedestrian fashion sense? Her decision to apply tons of turquoise beads to a bodice would suggest that she can't. But she CAN let us know how hard she's working on said bodice. I'd like to remind her that Project Runway has seen MANY designers get eliminated for working really hard on a bad idea. There are no As for effort in the top five, gurl!

But you know who does get an A? RuPaul! Because when he announces that the queens will open the ball with a choreographed rhythmic gymnastics performance, he does moves like this:

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COME THROUGH, YOU GOLD MEDAL BITCH! After this thrilling display, Ru announces that, as the winner of the puppet challenge, Sasha will be choreographing said routine.

The Rhythm Method

Are you surprised to learn that the choreography session is a bit of a disaster? Alexis and Shea both steamroll everyone with ideas, while Sasha gets visibly frustrated that no one will listen to her. Plus, everybody's ribbons keep getting tangled, which makes you appreciate how hard an actual rhythmic gymnast must work to keep that thing looking beautiful.

Back in the workroom, errrrbody has something to say about the rehearsal, and Sasha even calls out her girl Shea for being a Bossy Betty. Oops!

Stomp The Runway

First up, RuPaul looks glorious in this wig and gown:

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After dazzling us, she introduces our guest judges: supermodel Joan Smalls and, of all people, Andie MacDowell. Did you know that MacDowell recently spent three seasons starring on a TV show as a municipal court judge in a fictional part of Washington state? It's true!.

We spend a brief moment with the rhythmic gymnastics performance, which actually turns out pretty well. Please note Sasha's Dorothy Hamill hairdo.

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Then comes the runway presentation. On the show, it's divided by theme, but I'm going to go queen by queen, assessing all their looks at once.

Let's start with the pits, which have been dug quite deep by Alexis Michelle. Her rainbow look is cute, and her mug is beat well...

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...but homegirl really has no fashion ideas. This is SUPER-literal. Ditto her unicorn look...

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...and her basic-bitch, blue-beaded bodice.

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As Michelle will later say -- and as I suggested before -- it doesn't matter how hard you work if you're working on a mistake.

Peppermint doesn't do much better, frankly. Are you kidding me with this blowsy rainbow mess?

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And please don't come for me with this ill-fitting unicorn look, which Pep even acknowledges is poorly contoured to her body:

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And finally, there's her Village Person biker mama:

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Reader, there is not ONE JUDGE who clocks Peppermint's terrible makeup, which makes her look like she has a five o'clock shadow. And this is the most predictable dominatrix ensemble you could ever hope to see. Peppermint does sell it with her performance, though. You can always count on Pep to have fun.

Meanwhile, the middle of the pack belongs to Trinity. She gets read for the low-key energy of this rainbow look...

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...but while I admit it's not jaw-dropping, I don't really mind it. It's cute. And so is this unicorn creation...

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...though the appeal lies mostly in Trinity's "happy hooker" face. All this gets swept away, however, by her Village Person cop...

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...which is somehow both WAY too much and exactly the right amount. This is what judges mean, I think, when they tell reality show contestants to turn things up a notch. All the details are massive (including that hair), but they're all in proportion with each other. I'm not sure you can teach this kind of taste.

But can you teach Shea what a goddamned rainbow is?

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This look is fire, but it's clearly something that Shea had lying around and decided to shoehorn into the ball. For me, that brings her down a letter grade. I'm also not in love with her straightforward unicorn...

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...but that's mostly because I think "unicorn" is a stupid theme. What's not stupid, however, is Shea's fashion glamor explosion as a Village Person construction worker:

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That skirt made out of flannel shirts! That yellow lipstick that perfectly matches her hard hat! One billion times yes. It's so smart and so well executed, and I would definitely hire Shea to drywall my rumpus room.

But who am I kidding? While Shea might be a princess, Sasha is this runway's queen. To begin, her runway look involves a thrilling revelation:

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A tiny house with a rainbow flag! Who would've thought?!?!?
Sasha also turns out a glorious unicorn:

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That blood-tipped horn and surprising color palette may not scream "sexy" like the brief demanded, but who cares? This look is a light in my darkness.

And so is this Village Person cowboy:

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Walk, walk, fashion baby! Sasha is just everything this week.

Judging And Kvetching

Despite Sasha's overall excellence, however, the judges give the win to Shea. They say it's because Sasha's looks are more "fashion," while a ball is supposed to deliver "high fantasy." Which...is not how I remember Paris Is Burning, but I'm admittedly no expert. I can also see how Shea's looks -- including the not-rainbow body-paint experience -- are more surreal. So if that's the criterion, then I accept the ruling.

Trinity gets read, but her cop look saves her, which puts Pep and Alexis in the bottom two.

Oh, and along the way, Ru asks the queens whom they think should be sent home. Sasha and Shea say Alexis, and Alexis interviews that they're horrible whores for not alerting her to the subpar quality of her looks. IT IS NOT THEIR JOB TO DO THAT, LITTLE MISSY.

Alexis and Trinity cite Pep for elimination, and Pep cites Trinity, saying Trinity is her biggest competition. Which seems weird to say, with Sasha and Shea standing right there.

Lip Sync For Your Life

The girls lip sync to the Village People's "Macho Man," which marks a rare appearance by a male vocalist in the lip sync (RuPaul excepted). However, perhaps I shouldn't call it a competition, because just as she did with that legendary performance of Madonna's "Music," Peppermint once again unleashes a hurricane.

While Alexis gives it her all, she remains fairly dead behind the eyes. Peppermint, meanwhile, does everything. At one point, she rips off her wig to reveal a "macho butch" wig underneath, which is so appropriate for the song that I'll forgive the aping of Roxxxy's well-known trick. But more importantly, Peppermint gives you EYES.

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Her face is just so vibrant! And let's not sleep on her use of the key choreography from Janet Jackson's "If" video:

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To reference Janet, please go to 3:09 in the song's official video. That shit is HOT.

Equally scorching is Pep's interpretation of the "Macho Man" lyric about having a "funky walk":

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She could teach a class.

Naturally, Peppermint stays, while Alexis sashays away. I feel for Alexis, because I could see her getting more and more swamped by her own limitations. But she did indeed win two challenges, so I'll honor her for that. Meanwhile, if Peppermint ends up in the bottom next week, I pray for whomever lip syncs against her. These skills could get her to the top three.

Most Watchable Moment

I'm giving the gold medal to Sasha's runway looks, but really, you shouldn't miss Pep's lip sync, either.

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