Maybe we’re reading too much into it, but we got a sense that this episode and its challenge felt a little patched together at the last minute somehow. We’re well into the post-lockdown episodes at this point, but this episode, while as entertaining as any good Drag Race episode can be, had a very low-key sort of vibe to it that felt like everyone in front of and behind the camera were still feeling a bit wobbly. Maybe it’s because the challenge didn’t require any performing or rehearsal. More likely it’s because we’re at that point when the final girls can practically taste their inevitable placement and the so-called filler girls need to be checked off and kicked out in order for the competition to heat up again.
Sorry if that sounds shady, but it’s not like the queens were subtle this week. Sister and Ellie were both more or less informed that everyone’s waiting for them to go. We don’t know what it is about the UK queens – especially this lot – but they have a real knack for being utter bitches to each other while still coming off charming. Granted, that’s the heart of what “shade” actually is, but even so. We sometimes think these queens get away with saying stuff that American queens would get lambasted for. Then again, poor Sister’s been at the receiving end of a metric shit-tonne of online fandom backlash, so maybe not everyone finds the UK shade as charming as we do.
Having said all of that, it’s no surprise that there were few clunkers or disasters in the Library challenge. Every single one of these bitches can read a bitch for filth. We had a feeling Sister was going to win this one. We also had a feeling that her win almost definitely assured she’d be in the bottom at the end of the episode. We like her, but both she and Ellie have a tendency to talk a big game without always showing results to back it up. Which is, of course, why the other girls are openly counting down the minutes until they’re both gone.
Despite feeling that the episode was a bit thrown together, we have absolutely no problem at all with a good DIY drag challenge. As we and so many other fans and commenters have noted over the years, Drag Race has shifted from a drag competition to a variety show with high-end costumes and production values in which a cash prize is handed out at the end of the season. It’s a career-making machine; not only for drag queens, but for the designers who make their living at the top of the drag costume game. There’s a tendency to assume – as in the case of Project Runway and the idea that fashion designers are supposed to be good with a sewing machine – that DIY drag, or “make-do drag,” as we like to call it, is the “true” form of drag, but that’s not entirely correct.
Going back well over a century, there have been drag balls and drag pageants, requiring their participants to show up in the very best in ladies’ evening wear or stage costume design that money or skill can acquire. From cabaret stars and show girls, to strippers and even sex workers, there has been a customer base for fashion and costumes designed for drag queens and trans women in entertainment going back deep into the history of the art form. It’s not wrong that Drag Race has settled on a pageant-like insistence on highly polished and flawlessly executed drag. It is a contest, after all. Both drag pageants and drag balls have always handed out prizes based on how perfectly a lewk was executed. The shame of it is that Drag Race’s runaway worldwide success – which we have always suspected took its producers and host a bit by surprise – has ostensibly mainstreamed only the most high-end and glamorous forms of drag, with little opportunity to reward the scary queens or the punk queens or the rough queens who have traditionally always been a big part of the art. Not to be too obvious in our shilling, but in the writing of our book on drag history and queer culture, we made it a point to highlight and uphold those countless queens in the history of drag who made do with whatever God, fate, or the universe dropped in their line of sight; an endless Pride parade of Marshas or Sylvias, making art out of what they could pull together themselves, rather than relying on a costume budget on par with a Las Vegas performer.
This isn’t necessarily a “truer” form of drag, but it is by far the most commonly executed form, when you take into account the legions of drag queens who have been entertaining their little corners of queerdom for the past century. These are the queens who ply their trade after learning how to sew, how to source the cheapest fabrics with the most stage impact, how to style and store each hard-won wig; where to find women’s pumps in a men’s size 10 – and for a good portion of history how to buy such things (as well as bras and corsets and hosiery) without getting arrested or institutionalized. There wouldn’t be a hierarchy of high-end drag performers without the history of all those journeywomen queens who kept the art alive.
Always a pleasure to see Raven again, but we think it’s somewhat interesting how pointed her usage is for the UK production. On a practical level, it makes sense to bring her in, since she’s part of the production as Ru’s makeup artist. But Ru rather pointedly uses her as an example to the UK queens as to the level of polish she expects to see. Raven isn’t there so much to coach and advise (although she’s fine at both) as she is to be a walking example of the level of drag Ru wants these girls to execute. Having said that, her advice to Lawrence about his eye makeup was so dead-on. Zeroed in on exactly the one thing that’s a little off about her beat.
We think the results of the challenge were fairly good across the board, but in terms of the technical skills of drag, it showed you who have always been the frontrunners and it gave Ellie the boost in stature she needed at just the right moment.
Was Tayce just unable to admit that she didn’t finish her costume? Because we have a hard time looking at that and believing she thought that was enough at this point in the competition. Her face looks amazing and she had part of a good idea for her costume, but there’s clearly no bottom half. We liked Lawrence’s look and we’re not entirely sure why the judges placed it in the bottom. Sure, it’s a bit overdesigned, but it’s impressively executed and he stuck to the superhero theme; one of the few who did.
There was no question A’Whora had this one all wrapped up. We just feel bad that Sister never got a chance to read her for copying her face makeup from the premiere. We love Bimini and we think she may take the whole thing, but there are times when we think the judges get a little dazzled by how fucking cool she is. This was honestly a bit of a mess. A Westwoodian mess, to be sure. Pulled off with aplomb, of course. But still a mess.
Ellie nailed it to the wall, let’s be honest. Technically, it was all well done, but in terms of creating a theme and a character, she blew all of the other girls out of the water. We still find it unlikely she’ll make it to the finals, but she definitely reminded the judges not to count her out. Sister’s look was an utter mess. We’d been charmed by her wit and weirdness but we kind of hit the wall on her inability to process any critiques from the judges. It’s sort like the Ginny Lemon situation. If you’re not here to do anything the judges ask you to do and to smile and declare how much you love everything about yourself, well good for you. But at some point, you’ve gotta go, honey.
There was the formality of a lip sync, for consistency’s sake. But at no point did we have any doubt about the outcome here.
Good for her if she felt uplifting herself was more important than changing or listening. We hope she got something out of it aside from fandom grief. We just think this was a pretty clearly on-point decision by the judges. Time to tighten things up and let the real competitors battle it out.
Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, a New York Times “New and Notable” pick, praised by The Washington Post “because the world needs authenticity in its stories,” and chosen as one of the Best Books of 2020 by NPR is on sale wherever fine books are sold!
[Photo Credit: WOW via Tom and Lorenzo]