We lost Katya for this? “And The Rest Is Drag” is a total drag of an episode, losing the energy and character that makes this series so enjoyable and replacing it with sob stories and bitterness as the queens get ready to head into the finale. Sob stories and bitterness are pretty par for the course at this point in the competition, but usually there’s a big personality in the cast that provides some balance. Katya was that personality this season, the one season 7 queen that constantly exuded charisma, compassion, and wit, and her absence is strongly felt this week, especially in the cutaway interviews.

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What makes Katya’s elimination even more disappointing is that the judges eliminate Kennedy this week even though she performs better in the main challenge. The queens are filming RuPaul’s “Born Naked” music video, and they have to perform choreography and play three different characters in a scene, with the eliminated queen having her take cut from the final video. The queens then hit the runway in their best drag before a four-way lip sync to “Born Naked,” and Kennedy’s only weak spot is the acting. She has a lot of trouble reading lines and creating different characters, but her dancing is on point, her runway look is spectacularly over-the-top, and she fares well in the lip sync. If the judges send Kennedy home when she’s doing well, why couldn’t they have just sent her home last week and kept Katya, who offered much more to the viewing experience even if she wasn’t as polished a queen.

Ginj and Kennedy call themselves the “Bitter Old Lady Brigade,” and the key word there is “bitter.” They look down on “Pretty Girls” Pearl and Violet because they have fun, which is apparently the primary indicator of unprofessionalism, and the Brigade has made its main goal tearing down Violet, who is clearly the main competition. Ginj tries to shake Violet’s confidence before she has her one-on-one chat with RuPaul, and when the queens are getting ready for on the runway, both Bitter Old Ladies gang up on Violet by telling her she doesn’t have the experience to be America’s Next Drag Superstar.

But what Ginj and Kennedy don’t realize is that Violet already thinks of herself as America’s Current Drag Superstar, so she has nothing to lose in this competition. She’s just going to enjoy the fact that she’s in the top four and not stress out because she’s made everything work up to this point and has only become a fiercer competitor. When RuPaul asks Violet how far she saw herself going in the competition, Violet isn’t shy with her response: “Oh, the winner. The crown, girl!”

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Ru admires that fearless confidence, but Ginj and Kennedy are intimidated by it, so they try to make it look like a bad thing. When RuPaul asks the queens why they should win this competition, Ginj and Kennedy are the only two that use this time to say why others shouldn’t win, and it makes them comes across as very desperate. Kennedy’s attack of Violet is likely what gets her sent home, because if Ru wanted to know which queens didn’t deserve the crown, she would say so. Ginj is guilty as well, but the judges don’t penalize her because she charms them with humor.

Violet is the only queen who doesn’t break into tears this episode, and it’s refreshing to see her interact with RuPaul and the judges and simply flaunt her greatness instead of broadcasting the trauma of her past. Violet’s sister got most of the attention growing up because of her personal issues, so Violet had to be her own support system, her own cheerleader and her own shoulder to cry on. It doesn’t sound like Violet had a very difficult life, just a lonely one, which would explain why she’s so prickly with others. But when she realizes her role as the season’s big bitch, Violet immediately tries to change her behavior to something closer to who she really is in those quiets moments when she’s alone.

The big lesson Violet has learned in this competition is that first impressions matter, and Ginj and Kennedy are using their first impressions of Violet against her even though she’s dramatically grown since she first walked into the workroom. Ginj says that Violet has the shortest temper of anyone she’s ever met, but Violet is totally calm when the Bitter Old Ladies gang up on her before going on the runway. She’s learning from this experience, and even if Violet doesn’t win the crown, her time on this series is going to have a big impact on how she conducts herself around others in the professional drag scene.

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For a person that loves to talk about her weaknesses, Ginj really needs to check her ego. At the beginning of the episode she says that no one on the series has ever been able to sing or act like her, and it’s a lofty statement that makes me even more dubious of her actions in this episode. I’ve already talked about how Ginj’s musical theater resume debunks her claims that she can’t dance or sew, and her claim of acting excellence makes me question how much of her performance this week is genuine. She cries when she tells RuPaul about how her father abandoned her family when she was a teenager and she hasn’t had a relationship with him since, and I want to believe that this is real emotion, but I just can’t tell anymore with Ginj. Everything feels very calculated with her at this point, and that prevents her from exhibiting truly raw emotions.

Kennedy’s story about her dying father and taking care of her sister with Down’s Syndrome details the specifics of the struggle that is very real to her, and you can really feel the weight of all this on Kennedy’s spirit when she’s talking to RuPaul. It’s the most sympathetic Kennedy has been all season, but any good will she gains during that scene is lost when she becomes a bully toward Violet. If Kennedy had a more positive response to Ru’s question on the runway, it’s very possible that she would have shantayed into the finale, but she ends up sabotaging herself by taking a shadier approach.

Arguments have been made that Pearl is only in this competition because her attractiveness out of drag is a draw to the show’s significant gay male audience, but there have been sexy men on this show that didn’t last as long as Pearl. Ru’s attraction to Pearl comes from her sensing the damaged soul underneath Pearl’s fla-say-dah personality, and during their conversation, Pearl makes vague allusions to a traumatic period in her childhood that had a dramatic impact on her personality and worldview. She doesn’t get into specifics, but she clearly suffered some kind of abuse that she’s still coming to grips with, and when she’s asked to give advice to her younger self on the runway, Pearl starts sobbing when she thinks about that period in her life.

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Pearl’s outpouring of emotion is the most devastating of the three queens that break down this week, and sharing that with RuPaul and the judges is likely what takes her to the finale. Pearl’s not that great a performer and her runway look this week really suffers from her lack of padding, but she’s given Ru a canvas to work on and create something better over the course of the competition. Ru loves transforming semi-busted young queens into stars, and Pearl has definitely grown over the course of the competition, even though her talents have been exaggerated by the judges. She’s a fine queen, but I don’t see the same star power Ru does.

RuPaul’s Drag Race is far more enjoyable when the producers are accentuating drama that is already there instead of manufacturing it, and a lot of the conversations intended to build tension this week come across as very staged. It’s possible that these are legitimate conversations and these people are just stiff on camera in that moment, but it plays like contestants delivering set-up lines to get specific responses. I don’t like being able to see the strings, and this season’s top four isn’t strong enough to hide the artifice going on behind the scenes.

The biggest problem with this episode is that it’s another final competition episode with four queens instead of three, which means the individual contestants don’t get as much time in the spotlight. It looks like the “live” season finale isn’t going away any time soon, and it has led to RuPaul doing a final four instead of a final three, which is just messy. Because there are four queens, we only see small snippets of their footage from the music video, making it incredibly difficult to judge their performances. A four-person lip sync is fun when its two pairs, but four individuals lip syncing is chaotic and unfocused; nobody comes out on top because there’s so much happening on stage, so everyone gets lost in the madness. We’ll find out who wins it all in two weeks, but this episode doesn’t do much to build anticipation for the finale.

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Stray observations:

  • Did any commenters check out Drag Con this weekend? If so, tell me about it! It looked like a lot of fun.
  • I hope next season has fewer scripted challenges and gives the queens more opportunities to show off their individual personality through their performances.
  • Evidence that Pearl is around for her dreamy boy appearance: she’s the only queen that gets a cutaway interview during the lip sync, showing her out of drag for a moment while the rest of the queens only get voiceovers.
  • Charlize Theron’s make-up in Mad Max made me think of Ginj’s black spray.
  • “If you need me you know where to find me: the dumpster out back.”
  • “Are you hungry? I’m juicing now, you know.”
  • “PEARL SMASH!”
  • “Ugh, these queens, come on. Don’t they know a bobby pin when they see one?”
  • “Pearl is doing really well pilled out. (Glare.) (Glare.)”
  • “Gotta take my car to the car wash.”
  • “I’ve never seen that child before in my life.”
  • “Stoner stripper so high she just wants the dollar she doesn’t care about anything else.”

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