“It’s a drag competition. If you’re not optimistic and having fun, then you’re not doing it right.”

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With those words, Max not only catapults up my list of favorites for the season, but manages to sum up one of the things that makes RuPaul’s Drag Race so special in the first place. It’s also a fitting beginning to an episode that’s heavy on the fun—totally random appearance by Moby, anyone?—but also on the cattiness. Following a premiere that, while still highly entertaining, skimped on the personality in favor of fashion, we got not much of the latter but plenty of the former… and unlike some of those faces, not all of it was pretty.

Whether admitting to “playing the game” by calling out queens they view as competition (hint: Ru’s pretty smart, buddy, so that’s maybe not going to work) or claiming a rival’s victory should have been yours, many of the show’s younger queens display mean streaks as sharpened as their glued-on talons, but one truly distinguished herself. Violet Chachki, come claim your prize, girl! You’ve won the award for earliest, most blatant play for the “villain of the season” role since season four’s Willam noticed several plus-size mannequins in the workroom and fervently wished that none of her competitors had diabetes.

Every season needs a few good villains, and the best fall into one of two categories: those who are in on the game, and those who are, well, not. Willam is the gold standard of the former camp, with a run that culminated in ejection from the show. Of the latter, there are several classic examples, including last season’s Laganja Estranja, whose total lack of self-awareness seemed to make her a victim in her own mind and slowly drove even her supporters away. It’s too early to tell which of these camps Violet might fall into, but this adamant declaration hints toward a Willam-esque approach:

Q: “Condragulations, girl! How did that feel?”

A: “I hate Michelle Visage.”

Record-scratch. Kudos to the editors for that epic footage of the other queens’ serving side-eye.

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This isn’t a “water off a duck’s back” situation. We’re talking about a queen who won the first challenge of the season, with only a very mild piece of criticism sent her way—mild, and totally valid. As Ginger Minj put it, “Of course Michelle is gonna judge you! It’s her job.”

Ginger deserves plenty of attention all on her own, and this week, she gets it. But first, it’s no-gender-associated mail-time! This week’s mini-challenge: air. It exists.

The producers skipped the traditional first “mild physical humiliation” challenge last week, but they make it up to us, as the pit crew aims leaf-blowers directly into the queens’ mouths. While totally useless, these challenges always result in at least a few gems. This was no exception, with Ginger and Trixie Mattel deservedly nabbing the win, and Katya, Max, and a weave-patting Jasmine also making excellent showings.

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Onto the maxi-challenge, in which the queens need to create a lip-synced flight safety presentation. Naturally.

Captains Ginger and Trixie divvy up the parts, and the results are charming as hell. Trixie’s team includes a few charisma-voids, and some of the girls have a total lack of rhythm. Ginger’s team has some scares of its own, though she leads them through it all admirably. In the end, however, most of the queens on both teams rise to the occasion. Violet’s skinny-waist schick works despite a kerfuffle with Pearl (another villain-hopeful) and Jasmine serves up that giant sunny personality of hers on a platter.

The clear standouts, however, are team captains Trixie and Ginger, Mrs. Kasha Davis and her scat (bless this show), and oxygen-junkie Max—though Trixie’s mysteriously denied a spot in the top. The bottom three contains no surprises, though, with Miss Fame coasting on pretty, Sasha Belle having some sort of wig mishap and basically nothing else notable happening, and Katya’s considerable charm barely covering for her jumbled words. Girl, just say watermelon.

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Ginger wins—rightfully so! Team Minj!—and it’s time to send somebody home.

So Sasha “I’ve studied this show so I know how to play” Belle goes up against Katya “I don’t need a nickname because I am clearly wonderful” Zamolodchikova in a lip-sync that doesn’t disappoint, but also doesn’t surprise. Sasha may not have studied the show’s lip-syncs as hard as she studied the cattiness, because she’s no match for the Slavic Siren’s unexpected dance chops. While her charisma and uniqueness have been obvious since the moment Katya’s cast interviews landed online, here she got a chance to show off her nerve and talent, leaping into splits, turning off the wacky in favor of the sexy, and, in her words, “trying to pound my vagina into the stage so hard that the building shakes.”

It’s appropriate that an episode filled with personality ends with victory for two of its most charismatic—and polished—competitors. Mean girls, you’re on notice. Last season’s champ may be the queen of mean, but she still found a way to make us love her.

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Stray observations:

  • “I’m pretty, and she looks like frickin’ John Goodman in a wig.”
  • “Y’all cuddle up a little too much for my comfort. I need an adult.” Bless.
  • “I feel kind of short and homeless standing next to you.” “Well, and rightfully so.” I always wonder how many of Ru’s bon mots were written for her and how many just spring to life from that marvelous brain. Let’s just imagine that Ru and Moby made that happen all by themselves.
  • Speaking of Moby, what a good sport. The glasses underneath the goggles just killed me.
  • “I’m not not a dancer, but I’m not a dancer.” “So, are you a dancer?”
  • “The other team, they look like Aryan Airlines.”
  • “You just described a Craigslist ad.”
  • “I can move my body in a compelling way. Usually it compels people to leave the room.” Katya, that’s right up there with BenDeLaCreme not knowing how to do a British accent. You’re not a dancer. Suuuuure.
  • Once Miss Fame started talking about her grandpa’s death, I thought for sure she was headed home. Girl, you’ve gotta save your personal stories for when you really need them. Like when you’re about to lose a lip-sync, for example.
  • Credit where it’s due: Kandy lost the beard. Echa pa’ lante, Ms. Ho.
  • The flight number may have been fun, but nothing will ever be as entertaining as listening to RuPaul laugh.
  • The runway’s a bit of a snore, though Katya’s floral ensemble is a total delight, but once we get to the judging, the charm of both the competitors and guest judges Olivia Newton-John and Drag Race superfan Jordin Sparks more than makes up for it.
  • “I love the Minj. Put a little ginger on that, I could eat it all day.”
  • Thanks to Oliver for letting me fill in! If he’s our resident Michelle Visage, then I am totally thrilled to be Jordin Sparks.

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