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“So good luck, and by all means, fuck it up.”

That change to one of RuPaul’s many catchphrases on this series is the perfect encapsulation of the challenge a John Waters tribute poses for these queens. Polished and pretty isn’t going to score any points this week, and the contestants have to get messy if they really want to capture the spirit of Waters’ work. Some queens have no problem letting go of their inhibitions and getting sloppy, but others struggle to embrace the inner ugliness that makes Waters’ work with Divine so intriguing.

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“Divine Inspiration” presents another performance-based challenge, but, as the title suggests, it’s one of the season’s most inspired. Asking the queens to act out musical versions of three iconic John Waters scenes requires them to learn lines, sing, and create exaggerated characters with equally exaggerated looks, and like the show’s best challenges, it does this while exploring a big part of drag (and gay) history. Divine was America’s first drag superstar, and this is RuPaul’s opportunity to honor that legacy while spreading the gospel of John Waters to any viewers that are unfamiliar with his work. More importantly to this competition, it forces the queens to embrace a specific philosophy of drag that may not align with their own, testing their versatility and ability to follow direction.

The episode begins with the return of a fundamental RuPaul’s Drag Race mini-challenge as the queens visit the library to read their competitors, and it’s the usual hit-or-miss affair. Katya has the best delivery and cleverest reads, but Trixie Mattel wins the challenge in a clear attempt by Ru to make her a bigger competitor after her return. This season’s big bitch Violet lives up to her reputation in the library, but queens like Ginj, Kennedy, and Pearl underwhelm with their shade, although Pearl delivers a nice little twist by going after RuPaul. The most disappointing librarian is Fame, who delivers the unfunny, mean-spirited reads, and the best part of Fame’s session is Katya’s uncomfortable reactions.

The best thing about this entire episode is Katya, but she doesn’t win either challenge. Playing the mother to Kennedy’s bratty Dawn Davenport in “Cha Cha Heels,” Katya takes a bland character and interprets her through an exaggerated, filthy John Waters filter. Katya understands that the musical element allows her to push her performance even further than if it was a straight reenactment, and she amps up the craziness of the mother so that Kennedy’s frantic Dawn doesn’t overshadow her.

Kennedy and Katya’s scene is the most balanced of the screen tests, with both performers feeding off the overwhelming energy of the other. That’s not the case with Ginj and Trixie’s “Eggs,” which puts Ginj in the spotlight while Trixie operates largely in the background. Ginj does great work channeling Edith Massey in her performance and is able to hit all the notes while amplifying her character further and further, but Trixie is too concerned with sounding good, which puts a damper on her personality. She needs to ugly it up and take away the smooth edges. Ginj is clearly a trained singer with a talent for doing character voices, but Trixie doesn’t have that skill, or at least doesn’t show it. She wants to make sure the notes are there, but that immediately creates a sense of restriction that is far from John Waters’ style. Katya doesn’t worry about how she sounds, which frees her up to give a wild performance that can compete with a costar that has the juicier material.

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Violet, Pearl, and Fame have the most notorious John Waters scene for their “Poo” screen test, and as three of the queens that struggle most with performance, they have a hard time getting a good grip on the material. Fame overplays her devil Divine, Pearl underplays her angel Divine, and Violet plays a stiff but serviceable shit-eating Divine, but the big problem is that they fail to create any sort of the chemistry between the characters so it plays like three solo performances on the same set.

Pearl and Fame give the worst performances in the screen tests, and they also disappoint on the runway with looks that don’t meet the judges’ standards for “world’s ugliest dress.” Pearl admits that she feels cute in her flattering black-and-white number, and John Waters is not impressed at her inability to follow direction. Same goes for Miss Fame, who wears an oversized but elegant gown that doesn’t read especially ugly when paired with a pristine make-up job. If the challenge is ugly, sell ugly, and these two queens don’t get that. There are so many great directions to take this runway challenge, and putting out something that could be interpreted as “pretty” is definitely not one of them.

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Pearl and Fame’s partner Violet wows the judges by projecting glamour and confidence while wearing a truly horrendous clown suit ensemble, garnering comparisons to Lucille Ball in a potato sack. RuPaul thinks Violet has the ugliest dress of the night, but Katya’s knit frock is very tough competition. Paired with a ratty wig that looks like it’s survived decades of low-budget community theater productions, Katya’s dress summons a visceral reaction of disgust and delight, and it’s hard to imagine anyone pulling off that look. (Waters says that he can see the hippest girl in Brooklyn wearing Katya’s dress, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ugly.)

Serving up elderly church lady realness, Kennedy continues to show different sides of herself, and Waters applauds her ability to go from the old bitty she plays on the runway to the raging bitch she plays in the screen test. While Ginj’s dress is a garish color, it’s not that bad for a drag queen, but the strength of her performance in “Eggs” lands her the win, making her this season’s first queen to win three challenges. Like her partner, Trixie wears a dress that isn’t that bad for a drag queen, and would have been quite fashionable in the ’80s; Trixie is firmly in the middle ground this week, but she needs to do better than average if she’s going to stick around. She’s already done better than past returning queens by lasting through her first week back, so maybe Trixie has what it takes to get to the finale.

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Pearl and Fame face off in a lackluster lip sync to Demi Lovato’s “Really Don’t Care” that highlights both of their weaknesses as performers, but Pearl considerably outshines Fame, who makes no connection to the music. Pearl may not have great rhythm and doesn’t have a wide assortment of dance moves, but at least she commits to the lyrics and tries to depict emotions rather than just lip syncing words and slowly moving across the stage like Fame, who sashays away after consistently disappointing the judges. Pearl owns the space and the song, which is appropriate considering how much of Fame’s ammunition against Pearl comes from her “too cool for season 7” attitude. Pearl really doesn’t care until it’s time for her to care, but she’s going to need to put a lot more effort in if she finds herself lip syncing against one of this season’s fiercer performers.

Stray observations:

  • RuPaul’s outdoes herself on the runway this week with a dress that shows her naked and riding a panther. It’s like she’s wearing a blacklight poster of herself, which is amazing.
  • I love the sporadic moments when Michelle Visage sings.
  • The beard is a very good look for Lucian Piane. His original music for this series continues to be horrible, though.
  • I bet Pearl read RuPaul in the library but it wasn’t very good so the editors cut it.
  • Demi Lovato is excited to be here, but she’s nowhere near as excited as Ariana Grande was.
  • “You can smell the resentment in the room just as much as you can smell Violet’s B.O.
  • “I love Steven Spielberg!”
  • “Pearl: Now that you’ve come out of your shell, maybe you can use that as a butt pad?”
  • “Violet Chachki: You keep straining those corsets girl, soon your waist size will be smaller than your IQ.”
  • “Miss Fame: you’re such a talented make up artist. I have never met anybody who’s able to shove their head so far up their own ass without smudging their eyeliner.”
  • “Trixie Mattel: haute couture? More like haute glue.”
  • “Ginger Minj: Girl, did you ever save Carol Ann from the poltergeist in the TV?”
  • “John Waters has a filthy, twisted, delinquent sense of humor. He’s my hero.”
  • Trixie: “We’re gonna top our own expectations of ourselves.” Ginj: “Neither of us have ever topped anything before!”
  • “Take that criticism and apply it as much as you apply glitter to your eyelid, girl.”
  • “You’re an idiot.”
  • “I prefer the scat-egory category.”
  • “If Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio barely survived a meth lab explosion, and then she was cast in a porno musical of Raggedy Ann.” Katya continues to offer the best descriptions of her runway looks.
  • “Knitter, please!”
  • “It’s not like the pride flag. It’s like the shame flag.”
  • “Her clown posse’s on fire.”
  • “You need ugly lessons!”
  • “Clearly the struggle is real.”
  • “Your Divine performance was a little B.M.: barely memorable.”

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