RuPaul’s Drag Race has had a middling season 9, but it ends the competition with four very strong queens that all deliver something different. Peppermint is the oldest and most traditional queen, a New York City legend that may not have the sharpest fashion sense, but always turns it out in performance. Trinity Taylor is a pageant girl that has shown a lot more versatility than that label suggests, and she’s emerged as one of the season’s funniest queens, both in performance and in the workroom. Sasha Velour is the most conceptual thinker of the bunch, and she’s managed to show the judges her intelligence while also delivering the entertainment they want to see. Shea Coulée is the most well-rounded competitor this season with stunning fashion and a talent for all aspects of performance, and with the most wins under her belt (two solo wins and two team wins with Sasha), she’s the frontrunner to win at this point.

The season 9 final four episode takes a cue from All Stars 2 and has the queens write and record a verse for RuPaul’s “Category Is,” which they then perform for the judges with a number choreographed by Todrick Hall. This is a departure from the usual music video filming that has been the norm for the final four, and I like that this is a more challenging test of the queens’ performance skills and creativity. Todrick doesn’t take it easy with them, and his high expectations force the queens to give stronger performances. The final product is really fun and very well staged, but the contestants have to work hard to reach that point. And they do the work. Everyone knows that they need to turn it out or they’re going home, and even though there are plenty of stumbles in rehearsal, everyone brings it when it’s time to perform for the judges.

Peppermint has already released an album so she’s very comfortable in a recording studio, and she has no problem getting her verse on tape. Shea has a few hiccups because of the ambition of her rapid-fire lyrics, but she eventually gets in a groove and hits the beats that she needs to. Sasha decides to go for more of a spoken word sound, and it’s a smart move even if it’s the easiest course of action. It’s better to perform something simple and do it well than challenge yourself and fail, and Sasha understands her strengths and plays to those. Trinity has the most difficulty with the recording session, and her lack of rhythm is a problem for both her verse and her dancing. She has trouble hitting the beat when she needs to, and for most of the rehearsal process, it looks like Trinity is getting a loser’s edit.

The queens also sit down for a chat on Ru and Michelle’s What’s The T? podcast, and most of these conversations focus on the challenges the queens have had to face and their regrets and anxieties. Shea is the only queen whose interview doesn’t take a sad turn, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because it distinguishes her from the other queens and presents her in a more cheerful light, but her story also doesn’t have the emotional weight as some of her competitors. Peppermint’s identity as a trans woman hasn’t come up too often this season, but it’s a major topic of conversation when she talks to Ru and Michelle. The relationship between the drag community and the trans community has been fraught in the past, and Peppermint’s ascent in the competition helps bridge those two groups together. It’s great to hear Peppermint open up about the difficulty of being a trans woman and a drag queen, and Ru and Michelle want her to know that she shouldn’t put herself in any box if it’s not true to who she is.

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Sasha and Trinity both talk about loved ones they’ve lost during their What’s The T? appearances, and it sheds a light on how tragedy has shaped both of them. Sasha wishes that she had been more open with her late mother about drag and shown her more of the artistry that goes into what she does, and she’s lucky that she has a father who has embraced her drag persona and is a big fan. Trinity had a much tenser relationship with the grandparents who raised her, and their disapproval came from her simply being gay. She had a falling out with her grandmother while she was taking care of her, and Trinity’s willingness to share the hardships of her past makes it easy to connect with her on an emotional level. Trinity has had to deal with a lot of pain in her life (including the devastating shooting at Pulse, her local nightclub), but she’s persevered and overcome it and made a name for herself as a fierce, compelling drag queen.

Everyone does strong work performing their verses, but Shea has the most impressive showing because she has the highest level of difficulty and nails it. She wrote a challenging verse and let Todrick give her complex choreography because she has the dance skill to do it, and there’s no contest when it comes to who does the best job. That said, everyone does really well, and it’s clear that everyone practiced their lip syncing and choreography a lot to make sure that they don’t disappoint the judges. The song performances are far more exciting than the runway looks, but the final runway tends to be one of the more disappointing of any given season. This is supposed to be when the queens do the drag that is most representative of who they are, but these usually end up being pretty boring looks that don’t offer much that is new because the queens have already done looks that are very similar.

Peppermint is the queen that does something different from what came before, but the shape of her dress is awkward and it doesn’t scream Peppermint at first glance. On the flip side, Sasha’s look is so Sasha that it feels like something we’ve already seen from her, from the dress to the accessories to the crown on her head. Shea’s look is far from her best, and the strapless bra on her bodice looks really weird in motion. Trinity has the best runway look, but it’s pretty standard sparkly pageant wear. We’ve seen all of these queens do more creative looks, and part of me wishes that the order of the challenges was changed so that the ball was the final episode of the competition, giving us the most remarkable garments at the end.

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I hate that the final four lip sync together, which is always a mess and doesn’t give a good impression of the quality of the performances. The lip sync ends up losing all stakes because the viewer can’t determine who is performing well and who isn’t, and I would really like to see the show get rid of the top four lip sync so that there’s more suspense in the final moments of the competition. I’d much rather have two winners named for the finale and then have the other two compete for the last spot, which intensifies the competition and brings much more focus to the presentation of the lip sync. As is, there’s no way of really determining who did best in the lip sync, so when Ru says that no one is going home, it’s a twist that isn’t earned.

I like all four of the queens enough that I’m not mad that they all make it through to the finale, but I also don’t think this is the kind of exemplary season that merits all four queens getting to the end. If I had to eliminate a queen this week, it would probably be Peppermint, who has won the least amount of challenges, been in the bottom more than the rest of the queens, and had the most lackluster runway look. It would be easier to accept this twist if I was wowed all season, but it ends up feeling like a cop-out when I’m expecting one last burst of drama at the end of a season that could really use it.

Stray observations

  • The Squatty Potty product placement in this episode is hilarious, especially Shea’s excitement when she’s given one.
  • Seeing Sasha with hair in old photos is really weird. It’s like a completely different person. Same with Trinity before plastic surgery, but that’s a more dramatic change.
  • I really like the tradition of the final queens passing on a message to their younger selves. Seeing images of the queens as children is always fun, and I feel like these messages are always heartfelt, even with the performative element. The queens want to show the judges one last burst of emotion, and I believe that they would be overwhelmed by their feelings at this late point in the competition.
  • Seeing Ru’s promo dress on camera really draws attention to how much it looks like Naomi Smalls’ look for the Book Ball last season.
  • Peppermint wears the same wig on the runway that she wore for the roast, and I really would have liked to see her style it differently.
  • Trinity’s childhood picture is so wonderfully gay I cackled when I saw it.
  • Peppermint: “All of us are hungry for that crown, so I may have to resort to…other means. I don’t know what that means. It sounds shady.” Producer: “It did sound a little Tonya Harding.”
  • Trinity: “Well I don’t sing, so I don’t know really know what you’re gonna call this.” Sasha: “Barnyard noises?”
  • “The problem with Trinity is her rhythm game is a little delayed. I feel like I’m always watching her on Skype.”
  • “I’m gonna have to do some Showgirls shit. Throw some pearls down so she can, like, fall and bust her face.” I feel like this isn’t the first time someone has referenced this specific Showgirls moment on this show. Can any commenters with better memories than me confirm that?
  • “Recording sensations Peppermint, Sasha, Shea, and Trinity. Or, as I like to call them: Seduction 2: Electric Boogaloo.”
  • “I hate when I fall asleep on the bus!”
  • “Back chains?!”
  • “Just between us four tops, let’s talk about the top four.”

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