After watching RuPaul’s Drag Race for eight seasons, it’s easy to forget just how strange this series is to the casual observer. The show makes regular appearances on E!’s The Soup because it is always willing to embrace absurdity as it toys with gender illusion, and this week’s episode takes it to another level as the queens perform bizarre dance numbers done up as half male, half female. It’s weird, but is it that much weirder than a draq queen political debate? Or an airplane safety video variety show? Maybe. Seeing two half-drag queens dancing the Charleston before twerking is pretty damn weird, but it’s moments like that that make me love this show.

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“Prancing Queens” is entertaining, but it’s light on drama, a lot of which feels very manufactured. It’s also an episode that makes me wonder about the logistics of the competition, particularly regarding wardrobe. I know that the queens are given a list of runway challenges that they should be prepared for with regards to bringing their own items (I’m not sure if they know about construction challenges), was this gender-binary look one of them? These looks also match the style of dance, so did the queens know that there would be a dancing challenge eventually? Or were they given outfits this week that they then modified?

I wish the episode spent more time on the specifics of this challenge, because if the queens don’t make their own hybrid outfits, then why does Trixie complain that Ginj doesn’t have sewing talent? Ginj is the source of most of the drama this week, but I’m just not buying it. Ginj is a musical theater performer and costume designer when she’s not in drag, which makes me seriously doubt her claims that she can’t sew or dance. Even if she’s not the greatest seamstress or dancer, she must have a basic knowledge of both to excel in either of those occupations, which makes me think that Ginj is projecting an illusion of weakness to give herself an obstacle because she’s doing so well in the competition.

Ginj has the most wins, but she’s also been in the bottom twice now, which is a difficult feat to accomplish. She shows vulnerability by failing, and it has the judges eating out of her hand. It’s very possible that Ginj is legitimately struggling with these elements of the competition, but it’s also possible that she’s playing the game on a more advanced level than the rest of the group, controlling her narrative and throwing herself in the bottom with complete confidence that she’ll demolish anyone that lip syncs against her. It’s a risky strategy, but the rewards are plentiful as Ginj gets through each challenge and gains more dimension in the judges’ eyes by struggling. But is the struggle real?

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Trixie doesn’t want to be overshadowed by Ginj during their Country Robot routine, but that’s exactly what happens throughout the episode. Trixie doesn’t have the obstacles that Ginj has, so she loses the spotlight to someone that is creating a more captivating story for the cameras. All of Trixie’s attention is on doing well in the challenge, which is important, but not the only thing contestants need to think about. Trixie needs to dig a little deeper to really show the judges the thing that makes her special, because there’s not much behind her over-the-top appearance. Because she missed all those weeks of the competition, Trixie hasn’t had as many opportunities to show the judges and the viewers her personality, so she needs to focus as much on that as learning dance steps.

Consciously or not, Ginj is engaging with the competition more intensely because she has this fear of looking like a mix of Honey Boo Boo and Rosie O’Donnell on the dance floor. Ginj is able to expose all these insecurities and anxieties when the judges comment on her performance, which gives her a big fat “VULNERABILITY” stamp for this week’s episode. The judges love that, especially when it’s followed by a strong, focused display of power like Ginj’s lip sync of Robin S.’s “Show Me Love”. She makes a tight connection to the lyrics while Trixie frantically tries to impress the judges with dance moves, losing the intent of the song in her flailing. Capturing the emotion of the music will always trump flashy choreography (best case scenario is a queen delivering both), and Ginj sashays to safety by giving the judges a performance that is cool and collected, but also sexy and passionate.

Violet is another queen that has jumped between the top and bottom of the competition, and at the start of this episode, the other contestants are convinced that she can’t do anything more than sickening runway fashion. Violet’s look is incredibly polished and she radiates attitude when she models, but she’s not familiar with reading lines or singing lyrics, so she often stumbles with the performance aspect of the competition. That changes this week as she dances the Tango Vogue with Katya, showing a control of her body and sense of rhythm that likely comes from her background as an aerialist. She impresses the judges with her extension and precision on the dance floor, and her chemistry with Katya leads the pair to a win.

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Katya and Violet are the strongest queens on both the dance floor and the runway, succeeding the latter department by playing up the distinction between male and female halves. Most of the queens give themselves facial hair to make the man stick out more, but Violet makes the boldest choice with a curled mustache, and Katya makes a big personality shift when she jumps from male to female. Katya and Trixie are the two contestants that have the most fun with the two different sides of their looks, but they can’t compete with the visual force of Violet.

This win comes at the perfect time for Violet, who has been having trouble getting out of the “fashion bitch” box she put herself in with her behavior at the start of the season. There was a moment in Untucked a few weeks back when Violet had a sad realization that she’s a bitch, and ever since then, she’s tried to show a nicer side without losing her edge. She’s not necessarily nice, which is a good thing because this series doesn’t have much in the way of cattiness between competitors. RuPaul’s Drag Race thrives when there’s a bit of nastiness in the mix, and Violet provides that while consistently delivering high fashion beauty. She’s man/woman, good/bad, and ugly/pretty all in one package, so it only makes sense that she would win an episode all about dualities.

Stray observations:

  • Pearl has a very good week, although I may just be distracted by how fine boy-Pearl looks with some facial hair. Also: “flassez-da” has serious catchphrase potential. She needs to start making T-shirts now.
  • The judges are a little hard on Kennedy considering she danced her routine pretty well and did a flip, but I can see how they would want more character from her.
  • I have a strong nostalgic connection to Robin S.’s “Show Me Love” because my sisters used to get together with some of the other kids in the neighborhood and dance to songs on the radio, which included “Show Me Love,” along with other early ’90s gay classics like Dee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart” and Salt N’ Pepa’s “Whatta Man.” Those are some of my earliest memories, so I have a strong attachment to all those songs.
  • I love Rachael Harris’ awe-struck face when RuPaul pulls of the bottom half of her dress. You can tell she is thrilled by this experience.
  • Alyssa Milano had her daughter and sadly her name is not RuPaula Chachki Milano. (It’s Elizabella Dylan Bugliari.)
  • The inevitable .gif of male Katya giving a goofy thumbs up is going to get a lot of play in the near future.
  • “I can forgive her, but I’ll never forget.”
  • “You know what’s real? The struggle.”
  • “When times get tough, I just breathe through my nose.”
  • “The secret to success is being God’s favorite. Shhhh.”
  • “What ‘s the best part about being married to a sociopath? The constant threat of danger keeps you so thin.”
  • “The winner is…Kelly Mantle!”
  • “Goodness! That’s Peaches and Herb!”
  • “I’m feeling like a Spanish prostitute. And then bam! Pablo.”
  • “I nailed the look, but what else is new?”
  • “On one side I’m giving you flamenco flapper, and on the other side I’m giving you her abusive boyfriend.” Katya continues to rock her runway descriptions.

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