RuPaul's Drag Race Delivers Season 9's Defining Episode
There are glorious successes, and a uniquely memorable failure.
I'm calling it now: more than the Gaga segment and more than whatever is yet to come, this is the episode that will define Season 9 of RuPaul's Drag Race. We get a dizzying high and a face-cracking low, and I don't know how we could want more.
Wipe That Mirror, Gurl
And to think we begin so simply! Everybody whines in their favorite Farrah voice to honor their fallen sister, and Nina stretches out her victimhood narrative by reiterating a claim from last week's Untucked that she's heard people whispering about her when they think she can't hear. Except really, she's heard people talking about something rather vague and just decided it's about her. That makes me really sad for her, and it makes me wonder what happened in her life to make her so needlessly paranoid.
Shea, by the way, is the target for Nina's suspicions, despite Shea's being Nina's most obvious and vocal friend. Perhaps this is how Nina's insecurity controls her: she subconsciously destroys relationships with people close to her in order to spare herself preemptively from the betrayal she's convinced is coming. She ruins it with Shea before Shea can ruin it with her. I hope I'm wrong.
At least Shea is still having fun, like when she snatches Trinity's wig:
After cackling about this good-natured shade, Trinity spills some cold-blooded tea. She interviews that the "filler bitches" are falling off left and right, and I only mention this because I'm not sure anyone with Trinity's particular lips and ass should be coming for anyone else's filler.
Fly That Plane, Hooker! (Wait...Wrong Kind Of Pilot)
Valentina interviews that she's definitely going to win this season, and we see a long take of her blowing her nails with confidence.
There may be some ironic foreshadowing here, or there may not. Up to you to decide.
Before Ru arrives, we get a great series of burns between Shea and Trinity, and it's clear the remaining girls (minus Nina the Persecuted) are getting along really well. It's fun to watch, and it makes me want to have a cocktail with them.
When Ru enters, he announces this week's challenge: the girls must write and star in their own television pilots. I assume this is also how Netflix runs its pilot season, complete with tucking.
The queens are told to pick their own teams -- two groups of two, and one group of three. Shea and Sasha immediately run for each other, no doubt remembering that they kicked ass when they teamed up in the talk show challenge. Trinity, Alexis, and Peppermint form a triad, though Pep interviews that she was initially headed for Shea and Sasha. Politeness, however, kept her from brushing off Alexis and Trinity.
Meanwhile, Nina and Valentina end up together because they're the only ones still standing there. Rather than clocking that she's partnered with one of the season's frontrunners, Nina immediately perceives this as further proof that nobody wants or loves her. Do you think your attitude has anything to do with your isolation, honey? No? Oh...cool.
Writing Scripts (On Unscripted TV)
The pilot planning phase breaks down as you'd expect, but it's still fun to watch. Sasha and Shea immediately click, and they hit on the premise of playing mismatched buddy cops. Sasha is especially excited because her cop is going to be Russian, and she's been waiting to play a Russian character. Pardon me while I fantasize about her and Katya joining forces for a Russkie Revue.
Meanwhile, Alexis obviously becomes the problem child of her group, since she's so blinded by her own fear of failure that she can't read the room. Peppermint wants to do the voiceovers for their show, which features Trinity as a queer-positive nun trying to counsel two homophobic mothers about their gay sons. Alexis argues that SHE has to do the voiceovers because, after the roast, she has a lot to prove. I can see her point, but after last week's Elphaba-not-Elphaba fiasco, I'm losing patience with her. And also with her inability to laugh at herself. Girl, if you didn't make doing the voiceovers sound so goddamned serious, maybe Peppermint would give them to you. But lest you think that Pep is okay with this drama-queen foolishness, she has a facial expression for you to consider:
Then we get to Nina and Valentina, who are just a dragon's breath mess. Please allow the following quote from Valentina to explain how organized and thoughtful their process is:
Rehearse Has The Word "Hearse" In It, So You Know Somebody's Dying Up There
Michelle and Carson are on hand to direct the rehearsals, and they start with the trio. All the ladies look great. Pep notes that Alexis looks like "Kathleen Motherfuckin' Turner," and she is right.
But if you look at that photo, you can tell that ALEXIS is giving a note to the DIRECTORS. She wants to make sure everyone feels comfortable with Pep's line readings during the voiceovers for their show Mary, Mother Of Gay. And I don't even think she's being shady -- not intentionally. I think Alexis is going into control-freak mode because she's so worried she won't stand out. But while she's crisply telling everyone what to do, she forgets to make noticeable character choices, and thus fades into the background during the actual performance. HOW PLEASANT.
By contrast, when Trinity is given a note to make her nun bigger as she tells the fearful mothers to love their gay sons, she immediately and perfectly adjusts. That's how you do it, y'all.
Next up is Sasha and Shea's show, Teets And Asky, which owes an obvious debt to Dyke And Fats. But that's a good thing! One more of these and we can have a wheel series called Krazy Kops. Maybe the third one can be about a pair of go-hard narcs who get busted down to crossing guards after they break too many rules. Only they treat the kids from McConnell Elementary with the same tough attitude. And what will happen when a drug dealer's son enrolls in third grade? Find out next week on Stopp And Goh!
Anyway! Shea-sha are fantastic, particularly after Carson gives them great advice for their voiceovers. It involves his impression of the MovieFone guy.
But then OH MY GOD we get to rehearsals for Nina And Tina, in which two hookers decide to change their lives by learning to be drag queens and competing on Drag Race. Valentina and Nina arrive WITHOUT A SCRIPT. They just make it all up on the spot. And while they do find some funny moments, it's all very flaccid and messy and uncute. NEXT.
This Week In Special Messages
Blessed be the Lord! This week, the "special message" is actually a pocket history of the club kid aesthetic. That's because "club kid couture" is the runway theme, so as they put their insane looks together, the girls discuss where the style came from. This is very interesting and not the slightest bit mawkish, so it's a welcome change from the other things we've been hearing in this slot all season.
A few stray thoughts:
- If Project Runway had a club kid challenge instead of an avant-garde challenge, the results would be much more avant-garde. When I look at what these queens have devised, I wish that one PR contestant could be half this insane.
- Sasha pegs the club kid aesthetic to the 90s, which is certainly when it broke through in America, but I'm glad she also acknowledges Leigh Bowery, who was so influential in England in the '80s. Boy George was inspired by Bowery, which means that Boy George was basically the first superstar club kid.
Stomp The Runway
Before we get to the runway, let me acknowledge how great Carson looks:
The hair! They eye makeup! The jacket with a patch that says "Leave Me Alone"! It's everything.
Also, the guest judge next to Carson is former QVC hostess Lisa Robertson, who randomly went to a small religious college in my hometown. I wonder if we ever passed each other in the Little Debbie Factory Store! The other guest host is Noah Galvin, of the recently cancelled sitcom The Real O'Neals and also of that notorious Vulture interview.
But enough of that. Let's get to these flawless runway looks. Because my god, I'm on fire in the spirit!
First up is Sasha in this gorgeous clown-freak ensemble...
...which is made better by her face-face-face. And speaking of face, Shea's is entirely obscured...
...by a sickening collection of glued-on features. Love.
Then there's Nina and her terrifying pink skull makeup...
...followed by Valentina's mysterious matador...
...followed by Trinity's walking sex nightmare...
...and even though Trinity professed being scared of this assignment, I'd say she nails it.
As does Peppermint, who's look is so goddamned brilliant (and "on brand," as Noah Galvin says) that I basically cannot handle it.
Finally, Alexis comes through with spot-on hair and makeup and a bodysuit that shows off her figure like we haven't seen her show it off before.
And there we have it, y'all. A thrilling collection of looks that, for me, are high art. Amen and amen.
The pilots play out just as the rehearsals suggested they would: Shea-sha and Trinity/Alexis/Peppermint are funny as hell. The best dialogue comes from Teets And Asky, when Teets (Shea) tells Asky (Sasha) that she cannot wear shoulderpads. Asky asks, "How else can I make myself look like strong woman?" And Teets replies, "Vote, bitch!" HAHAHAHA.
Meanwhile, Nina and Valentina's piece is just awful. Completely unfocused and confused, like the last sketch on SNL when they got an athlete to host.
Judging And Kvetching
Shea and Sasha are immediately declared the champions, and of the remaining girls, Peppermint and Trinity are praised and dismissed. Alexis is read for her bossy attitude and for her runway look, which is deemed excellent from the neck up and boring from the neck down. In turn, Alexis tries to say she wrote her team's entire pilot, which is why she didn't have time to be interesting. People shut that mess down for the bullshit it is, and if Nina and Valentina hadn't sucked so hard, Alexis would definitely be lip syncing.
But Nina and Valentina DID suck that hard. So they ARE lip syncing.
Lip Sync For Your Life
OR ARE THEY? When the girls begin performing to Ariana Grande's "Greedy," Valentina leaves her mask on. SHE LEAVES. HER MASK. ON. It confuses the judges...
And finally RuPaul halts the lip sync. SHE HALTS IT. She then orders Valentina to remove the mask. And Valenina says she doesn't want to. WHAT IN THE EVER-LOVING HELL?!?
Before long, Valentina complies, so the lip sync starts again. And then it all becomes clear: Miss Lady doesn't know her words. And now we're at a Willam-level flame-out, where you draw so much attention to your failure that it becomes a weird triumph. Because I will never forget this shit.
Meanwhile, Nina is actually slaying her performance, and it's kind of horrifying to see this skeleton getting so funky.
Nina stays, because how could Valentina possibly survive this train wreck? I was convinced she was headed for the top three, but lord, how things have changed. Her lack of experience has caught up with her, but I stand by my assessment of her enormous gifts. I expect her to come back on All-Stars and slay.
Most Watchable Moment
This is more than a "moment," but you must watch both the runway and the lip sync. They're gonna go down in Drag Race herstory.