A salute, darlings! Not to that old dead bitch Lady Bunny, but to the RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars producers! And also to Manila Luzon, the craftiest bitch to play this game in a long-ass time.
But before we get to all that, we feel the need to reiterate something we’ve been saying since practically Day One of this show: It’s a variety TV show/drag revue first, reality TV competition … not even second. Probably somewhere like tenth, after “promotional venue for Ru,” “promotional venue for Michelle Visage,” “promotional venue for every single queen,” and a whole bunch of others we can’t think of right now. Our point? There were SHENANIGANS AFOOT but we honestly don’t even see how they matter.
First, the setup for the roast was perfect. And these sorts of challenges always throw even the best queens off their games. Second, it couldn’t have come at a better time in the season, because Miss Manila is handing the producers storylines left and right. Part of this truly is crafty on her part and part of it may just come down to how early-season queens see the game vs. how latter-season queens do. In the annals of reality competition villainy, sending a competitor home because they’re a threat to you (over someone who’s clearly doing badly) doesn’t exactly rate as the scandal some of these gals were trying to make it out to be. Especially since Manila wasn’t being shady or dishonest about her intentions in any way. If anything, she’s been admirably open about how she’s thinking, which leads us to believe her confusion regarding the cold shoulder she was getting was probably somewhat genuine. But all of these queens are pretty damn good at understanding how the reality game works by now, which means we tend to think a lot of the “How very dare that bitch” sentiments going on were just more queens securing more camera time for themselves. Kudos to everyone involved for playing the game so masterfully and kudos to the producers and Ru for, we suspect, seeing what was going on and deciding to fuck with them all a little.
But before we get to that, let’s assess these bitches. First, the main challenge performances.
She was sharp, funny, biting and smooth. Pretty much everything we’d have expected from her. We were a bit surprised she wound up in the top two, though.
Here’s where things like the roast challenge and a lot of backstage drama can combine to take a queen down. Trinity’s been a force from the moment she strolled through the werk room door but her performance was extremely disappointing and a bit of a surprise, given her quick wit. Worse, her look wasn’t really all that great. She has such a sense of theatricality to her drag looks that it was a major letdown to see her serving something so generic.
HIGHLARIOUS. The titty-bouncing got a bit broad and overdone, but the verbal barrage and the style of delivery were perfect. We would have thought she’d place in the top two with this one, since it seemed to only be bested by Manila’s smooth take, but it’s possible the somewhat janky drag didn’t help her.
Oof. Girl, you’re pretty and you’re cute and you’re super-charming, but that’s not gonna get you to win this thing.
Ditto Valentina, except she’s turning out to be COMPLETELY delusional about how she’s doing so far.
All of the queens come back to All-Stars with better costumes and a more polished drag, but Manila’s been a Drag Race alum for longer than any of them and we tend to think it shows. Can’t take a thing away from Trinity’s drag which is world-class and super-polished, but Manila’s been coming out in a lot of really well-designed character-based or wit-based costumes (hear our thoughts on her rejected “period dress” in this week’s podcast) that have been serving her really well. This was the best costume of all of them, not just because it was fabulous and polished, but because the umbrella offered a unique take and an opportunity for a gag (in the joking sense, not the drag sense).
Easily one of his best looks ever – and curiously similar to Monique’s entrance look from the first episode. We’re starting to see how he wound up in the top. He and Manila were the only ones whose roast challenges actually worked and who managed to bring their A Game to the main stage. Monique’s performance was better, but her runway wasn’t.
Ru gave one of the highest compliments we’ve ever heard him give to one of the queens, calling this the absolute top level of drag, but we can’t really see any reason to argue with him. The design of the look isn’t necessarily jaw-dropping but the execution is world-class.
Pointing out that her feathers were made out of mini-blinds was kind of a bitchy thing for Michelle to do, although we guess we can understand the point being made. Many of the other girls are coming out in high-level flawless drag. Monique’s drag is better than it was, but it’s routinely overshadowed by the others. And we’re sorry, but her makeup is all over the place from look to look.
What a great look, head to toe. Honestly, it might have won her the challenge had she not fucked up the roast (and if the producers had opted to play the game straight instead of fucking with it). It may be our favorite Naomi Smalls look of all time.
The bloom is starting to come off the rose with this one. Everyone’s starting to notice that she only has one face and seems to be a bit delusional about how well she’s doing. This looks is a perfect example of both. It’s very pretty, but it’s not quite the gag (in the drag sense, not the joking sense) that she described it as – not compared to some of the other looks these bitches were bringing to the main stage.
But Manila’s serving up a flawless look after having given a near-flawless performance and in the middle of handing the producers all sorts of drama. It was easy to see why she wound up in the top two.
Now, if things had proceeded normally from the first few frosty moments of this episode, we suspect there would have been a different sort of drama circling this lip sync. But Manila and Monet made up in the werk room, so Ru and the producers said “Fuck it” and put EVERYONE on the chopping block, just to turn the screws on these queens a little bit more. It was a blatantly unfair twist designed to get the queens at their most tense, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Manila and Monet essentially teamed up to produce one of the more joyfully friendly lip syncs the show’s ever had. Not only that, but they each did a fairly perfect job of it. What was already unfair was becoming somewhat untenable, especially since there was still one more twist up Ru’s sleeve.
So, instead of putting Manila through another questionable elimination decision, Ru knocked the table over.
Knowing that this was all waiting in the werk room. Obviously, this part was planned, but everything leading up to it had a slightly haphazard feel to it. Twists on twists on twists. We suppose we should be upset about it all, but we simply never view this show the same way we would, say, Project Runway. These queens play their parts well, but they’re all in on it.
Now the real drama’s going to come next week when not only do the eliminated queens get to confront the ones who let them go, but Manila and Monet are going to have to reveal which of the four queens they chose to send home. Girl, it’s about to get a MESS up in here.
[Stills: Tom and Lorenzo via VH1]
Friday Leftovers for the Week of January 6th, 2019 – Part Two Next Post:
Meghan Markle Embraces the Rainbow!