Drag Race has always been a political show, largely because RuPaul has been very open and insistent on the show making a connection between drag as a form of self-expression and drag as a reaction to the world and a rejection of its norms and practices. Ru framed her own career in “Call Me Mother” in terms of the span of presidential administrations since she became famous – removing any Republicans from the lyric (“From the Clintons to the Obamas“). Nancy Pelosi came in to the werk room to represent the resistance, tell the queens to remember their power and leave with Ru’s orders to continue to fight for them.
But political bromides, vague calls for resistance and not-so-subtle song lyrics were clearly not considered enough of a response to the political turmoil of the times so, it’s not surprising that the show took its simmering political subtext and made it text. To set the tone, a Rachel Maddow drag mini-challenge kicked things off, but it never really lived up to its potential and most of the queens flubbed it badly. Between this and the “trying to get into the club” mini-challenge of last week, it seems like this season’s mini-challenges are more like streamlined main challenges than the kind of drag-on-the-fly it normally represents.
Anyway, once that bit of awkwardness was dispensed with, it was on to the main event. It really was only a matter of time before the show took on the Trump presidency with all the drag power it can muster and a musical based on Grease featuring all the women in the Trump orbit has the potential to be a viciously on-point satire.
We’d like to say they really nailed it, but the material let them down. The songs were crowded, the lyrics muddy and sometimes hard to decipher. The problem with this lip-sync musicals is that asks the queens to do something that isn’t always that intuitive or easy to pull of when it comes to lip-syncing: it asks them to act and stay in character for the entire length of the musical, as opposed to a lip sync for your life, which requires no more than three minutes of free-styling and improvisation.
There are certain legendary drag artists like Lypsinka who have made extended lip sync pieces into high art, but most queens don’t have the skills to pull off one of these long-form character-based lip sync numbers, so there’s either a lot of over-the-top mugging or the queen fades into the background. Still, the challenge did what challenges are supposed to do: give certain queens a chance to shine.
Silky may be annoying as hell and her “I’m a Christian,” “I’m a Republican,” “I’m offended at being typecast as Oprah” werk room nonsense can all be dismissed as camera-hogging, but the bitch really did turn out a nearly perfect Oprah. The only ones who came close to her character work were Brooke Lynn as Ivana Trump and Nina West as Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but neither of them managed the star turn that Silky did. Silky tends to be over-praised and under-critiqued by the judges but she deserved to be recognized for her work this week.
Following up the Trump musical with an orange-themed runway was another minor stroke of genius, turning a needling insult against the president into a glittering fashion show. Once again, the frantic nature of the runway shooting style means screencaps just gave us orange smears so we’ll have to rely on some production stills here.
A’keria was only so-so as Stormy Daniels. Her runway look was good overall – and showed great body work – but the details looked a little janky to us.
Scarlett’s Betsy DeVos was funny. She’s better at the sketches and performing challenges than we might have thought. Her runway look was a stunner, mainly because of the gorgeous wig and face work.
She was perfect as Sarah Huckabee Sanders – Ru was right to praise Scarlett for the great job she did at casting this challenge – but we didn’t love her Hello Dolly drag. It’s old-school to the point of being incredibly stale.
We give Ariel a lot of credit for bouncing back after her rehearsal meltdown. She’s clearly not a natural performer and there was every reason to believe she was going to serve up a disaster on the main stage, but she did pretty well with it. It seemed a little strange to us that more wasn’t made of this in the “telling a story through editing” manner of reality television. She had a pretty triumphant moment but the show played it down. Having said that, it’s long past time for the judges to note that her looks each week are roughly identical, with just a change in color.
Plastique got completely lost in the challenge. Also: why did so many of these queens interpret the runway category as showgirl costumes? It made for a kind of boring runway with all the feathers and sequined bodysuits.
Shuga gave it her all as Hillary Clinton, although it was hard to decipher who she was playing without the lyrics telling us. Her runway look was a clever idea, but the execution left something to be desired.
Yvie’s drag is a little sloppy and had a home-made quality to it, but that tends to work well with her performance artist/club kid aesthetic – especially when she does such a great job at interpreting the runway category in a unique way.
Ra’Jah seriously needs to step her pussy up and stop worrying about what anyone else thinks of her. She totally tripped herself up by claiming she was a trained dancer only to have Brook Lynne pirouette in and make a fool of her. Stick to doing the work and stop pumping yourself up, girl. Her Omarosa was unrecognizable. The runway look is fun, but again, a little too showgirl for us.
This is good drag. Like we said, she may be annoying as hell and she may be securing more camera time than she deserves, but it would be a mistake to write Silky off as just another loud-mouthed attention whore. She’s got the goods. When she gets out of her bullshit, she can deliver them.
Credit to her for coming out of her shell, but to be blunt, she shouldn’t be on this show if she’s got any sort of shell at all. You have to know at this point what Drag Race is going to ask of its queens. She’s shy and has a limited understanding of American pop culture and politics. Those qualities alone made it hard to understand why she’s even here.
As much as we adore Vanjie, the judges were correct to point out the sameness of her runway looks. It’s a somewhat arbitrary critique, though, given how similar Ariel’s looks are from week to week.
Brooke Lynn is definitely the gal to beat in this game. The judges love her sense of style and her performing chops. We still think her drag is kind of harsh. The outfit’s great, but the face always looks a lot less pretty than it could be, given the raw material Brooke Lynn’s working with.
We’d like to say it was an epic lip sync, but to be perfectly blunt, it was an exercise in blandness. We’d have been happy if they’d both been sent home.
She seems very sweet and she managed to make history as the first Muslim drag queen on the show, but it was very clear there was a huge N deficit in her C.U.N.T. A shy, unsure drag queen is a drag queen who’s not ready for this competition.
A few more thoughts on this episode – including some disagreement on the win and some tea on the ho-mance – in today’s podcast:
[Stills: Tom and Lorenzo via VH1]