RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars is all about spotlighting familiar faces from this series, and tonight’s episode features the most exciting return of them all. Yes, the moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here: LIL’ POUNDCAKE IS BACK! Alaska introduced her and Lineysha Sparx’s puppet daughter to the world in season 5’s “Draggle Rock,” and Lil’ Poundcake immediately won the hearts of the Drag Race community with her unforgettable catchphrase (“You’re not my real dad and you never will be”) and her frank confessions (“Lil’ Pound Cake enjoys riding dirty, and being a straight-up motherfuckin’ dick pig”). I was hoping that Alaska would celebrate her legacy by bringing Lil’ Poundcake back in All Stars, but I didn’t expect it to happen as part of Alaska’s most dramatic runway look.

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The main challenge of “Drag Movie Shequels” has the queens pairing up to perform some truly awful “shequels” to Showgirls, Thelma & Louise, and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, and Alaska is the only queen that can actually make the lousy material funny. The writing is so bad in these scenes that it makes me wonder if the writers are creating intentionally horrible material so the queens have a bigger challenge in making it funny, because these are some painfully shitty shequels. Roxxxy and Phi Phi’s “Showsquirrels” is the worst of the bunch, and while the judges say Phi Phi’s strength on screen makes Roxxxy look even weaker by comparison, I’d argue that Roxxxy’s strained, unfunny performance makes Phi Phi’s mediocre acting look serviceable.

Nearly everyone fares poorly in this acting challenge, and even though Detox and Katya know their lines and deliver them passionately, they struggle to mine laughs from the dialogue. I know these scenes aren’t supposed to be high art, but I’m not expecting Meryl Streep levels of performance talent. I’m expecting RuPaul-guesting-on-a-’90s-sitcom levels of performance talent, and Alaska is the only queen I would call back if this were an audition for Sabrina The Teenage Witch. Nicole Scherzinger says Alaska is the “Dustin Hoffman of, like, queens for acting,” and she’s on a completely different level than the rest of the queens when it comes to portraying a cartoonish character that doesn’t look forced and plays naturally on screen.

Alaska’s Bette Davis impression in “Wha’ Ha’ Happened To Baby JJ” is gleefully maniacal but also controlled and specific. She has the focus and energy that is missing in Alyssa’s performance, and it’s a surprise to see Alyssa step back into a Joan Crawford role and lose all the vitality she had in the Snatch Game. Her character is supposed to be frail, but there’s a difference between frail and empty. Alyssa’s dead-eyed, soft-spoken character is more prop than person, and Alaska’s performance is all the more impressive considering how little she gets from her scene partner.

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Inspired by Violet Chachki’s two-in-one jumpsuit reveal from the season 7 premiere, this week’s runway challenge has the queens wearing outfits that transform into other looks. (It also makes you remember just how great of a runway model Violet is; her two-in-one reveal in her very first episode is smoother than everybody’s transformations this week, and they’ve all done this before.) The runway is easily the highlight of “Drag Movie Shequels,” and not just because it’s when Lil’ Poundcake shows up. Two-in-one outfits are really cool, and even if the look isn’t all that great, the transformation process is so fun that it detracts from any flaws.

Take Alyssa Edwards: RuPaul generously mentions the Lacroix pouf when Alyssa walks out, but it looks more like she’s wearing a tattered sequined garbage bag clipped at her shoulders. That first outfit doesn’t look very good, but it’s only there for a short while to conceal the cameras that sell her second look. The lights in Ginj’s costume didn’t read last week, but there’s no way to miss the flashes of Alyssa’s cameras. She delivers the exact kind of over-the-top fashion I want to see from drag queens of this caliber, but the transformation isn’t as surprising or exciting as other contestants. It’s obvious that Alyssa’s first outfit is there to hide the second instead of being its own distinct look, whereas Alaska’s funereal first outfit presents a vastly different character and aesthetic than Lil’ Poundcake. (Alaska’s first look also looks like a garbage bag, but garbage bag chic is part of her established style.)

I like to believe that Alaska’s first look is what Lil’ Poundcake’s soul looks like, an ominous, sullen mass of darkness that is forced into bright pageant gowns and make-up that make her hate the world even more. Alaska and Katya are the only two queens that use their transformations to tell little stories, with Alaska summoning Lil’ Poundcake from the fabric abyss while Katya tells the tale of a ’60s-style starlet who ditches her ginchy old look to becomes Satan’s plaything. Katya’s look is fun, but the make-up reveal plays a bigger part than the clothing reveal, which is underwhelming compared to other queens. Alaska makes huge changes all around, and the intensity of the contrast between her two looks is a big reason why she’s in the top tonight.

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Another other big reason is the performance of Lil’ Poundcake, and Alaska embodies all of the characters’ disdain for pageantry in her facial expressions and body language. Lil’ Poundcake does not enjoy being on that runway and she wants the entire world to know, throwing up her middle fingers to constantly remind everyone that Lil’ Poundcake doesn’t care what you think about her. The make-up plays a key part in projecting that IDGAF attitude, and it becomes an extremely valuable asset in Alaska’s lip sync against Phi Phi to Cheryl Lynn’s disco classic “Got To Be Real.” Alaska’s commitment to her character is what wins her the episode and another $10,000, and getting back into Lil’ Poundcake mode for the lip sync is the best decision she could have made.

Alaska begins the lip sync by dropping to the ground with a pout on the first hit of the bass drum, reluctant to get into the groove until she glares at Phi Phi from across the stage. “Who’s this bitch?” is what that look says, and Lil’ Poundcake gets up off the floor and starts to move, giving Phi Phi a judgmental scan as she passes her on stage. She’s sized up the competition, and she knows she can take her out. Once again, Alaska is telling a story, and that sets her apart from Phi Phi, who captures the spirit of the music in her dancing and lip syncing but doesn’t go the extra distance to give the judges something different. Lil’ Poundcake has a delightful narrative arc in this episode; she’s not down to play the Drag Race game when she first appears on the runway, but once it becomes a one-on-one showdown, Lil’ Poundcake goes hard so she can savor her opponent’s defeat.

While on the topic of narrative arcs, let’s talk about Phi Phi’s this season. She comes back on the show in hopes of redeeming herself in the eyes of Drag Race fans that turned on her because of her behavior in season 4, but she’s fallen right back into the same habits, manipulating others for her benefit (she got Roxxxy to doubt her Sophia Vergara Snatch Game decision and switch acting roles this week) and taking things too personally because she’s worried about her standing in the competition. She will not shut up about Alyssa changing the game with her elimination of Ginj last week, and it just makes Phi Phi look insecure and panicked. She’s overly grateful when she’s named one of the top queens and RuPaul can sense the desperation in Phi Phi’s reaction.

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Alaska decides to let the judges’ comments determine which of the bottom three queens she sends home when she wins the lip sync, and Alyssa’s negative critiques for both her performance and her runway look give her the lowest standing this week. In terms of entertainment value, Roxxxy is definitely not up to par with Katya and Alyssa this season, but her runway look this week gets a lot of praise that makes up for her disappointing acting.

It’s sad to see Alyssa go after she had such a memorable episode last week, but then RuPaul drops one hell of a cliffhanger to create loads of anticipation for the next episode. You know something fishy is going on when the queens go back to the workroom, and in the middle of Phi Phi’s whining, the mirror lights up to reveal the eliminated queens, ready for the revenge that has been teased for weeks. “Drag Race Shequels” was just the calm before the storm, and I can’t wait to see what kind of drama this show cooks up by pitting eliminated queens against the remaining contestants.

Stray observations

  • Detox’s runway appearance is straight-up yellowface considering she’s painted her face to look Asian, and the judges have a lot of fun indulging the Asian stereotyping. It’s not a good look for anyone involved.
  • Phi Phi’s runway look is inspired by Belle at the beginning and end of Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, and I appreciate that she’s finding ways to keep an element of cosplay in her outfits.
  • I always get a kick out of seeing Victoria “PorkChop” Parker pop up on this show. I love that RuPaul won’t let viewers forget the first queen to ever get eliminated from this series.
  • RuPaul looks amazing channeling ’40s Hollywood glamour on the runway tonight.
  • As a kid I thought it was hilarious to yell, “You can’t tell me what to do, you’re not even my real mom!” at people for fun, so I feel a really deep connection with Lil’ Poundcake.
  • The Untucked-style segment feels especially forced in this episode, particularly the interviews between Alaska and the bottom queens. Nobody’s into it.
    Acting challenge facepalms: Alyssa’s inability to sing “doo dah” in “Camptown Races,” Roxxxy thinking a sash is called a “shaw.”
  • “Rigur Morris.”
  • “I’m giving you full hellfire, Sharon Tate fantasy. It’s Rosemary’s babushka and I feel (demonic voice) amazing.”
  • “Not tonight, Satan! Not tonight.”
  • “Kodak mammaries.”
  • “I guess you don’t…Nomi.” God that line is so bad.
  • Ru: “Anything you want to say?” Alaska: “You’re not my real mom and you never will be.”

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