Image: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars
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Let’s take a moment to honor esteemed queen and Drag Race royalty Latrice Royale. Heading into All Stars 4, Latrice’s name was one of if not the most exciting on the docket. Fan favorite isn’t strong enough; she is, as Valentina says, the Dearly Beloved. At the start of the season, the notion of Latrice being only the fourth queen out, of her being survived in the competition by not one, but two season 10 queens, would have been unthinkable. And yet here we are, and after “Jersey Justice,” while the elimination will undoubtedly be controversial, it feels earned. That’s a testament to the work put in by the remaining queens and a reflection of Latrice’s struggles this season, but more than anything, it’s a massive compliment to the writing and production team at Drag Race. The entirety of “Jersey Justice” is structured to get viewers to a place where Latrice going home feels not only reasonable, but perhaps inevitable. It’s no small task and the episode delivers, giving the season its most memorable installment yet.

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The episode begins with the queens still reeling from the Snatch Game. While they’re happy to be through it, their next maxi challenge, a group improv challenge, is not all that different. The queens will split into three teams and present cases on Jersey Justice, a Jersey Shore-themed daytime court show presided over by Michelle Visage. The queens choose their teams (Monét, Monique, and Latrice; Manila and Naomi; Trinity and Valentina) and quickly get to work. Monét’s all about the challenge, excited to dive into two familiar genres, Monique is stoked to be working with Monét and Latrice, and while Latrice is leery of Monét and Monique’s loud, interrupting style, she’s ready to recover from Snatch Game and show what she can do.

Elsewhere, Naomi is geeking out over getting to work with Manila, whom she’s looked up to since high school. Manila’s feeling very confident with the challenge and while she’s supportive of Naomi, her talking head understates just how well Naomi is doing this season. She may not have cracked the top two yet, but Naomi has been top 3 every episode yet and never dropped even as low as “safe.” There’s a Naomi winner narrative ready and waiting, but once again this episode, it gets benched in favor of more dramatic interpersonal drama. As for Trinity and Valentina, Valentina is still clearly a bit thrown from the Snatch Game elimination drama and struggling with her character’s voice. Trinity acts as her guide, helping her with her accent and character work. At this point, the producers are keeping their options open. Yes, Latrice could easily wind up in the bottom (foreshadowed by her lackluster engagement with Monique and Monét in rehearsal), but Valentina could easily pull Trinity down and put them in danger.

The episode dives right in with “Jersey Justice,” reveling in the gaudy trappings of Jersey Justice and Michelle Visage’s game turn as the judge. Manila and Naomi are up first and they nail their scene. Their looks are great and they work well together, leaving space for each other while staying entirely in character. Monique, Latrice, and Monét are second, with Monique and Latrice starting and Monét joining the scene partway through. Monique opens strong, but as the edit hinted at in their rehearsal, Latrice is disconnected from the heightened, loud, and trashy feel of the show and she does not respond well when challenged by Monique.

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Image: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

Monét enters and falls somewhere between Monique and Latrice, fitting in more comfortably in the scene than Latrice, but not quite matching Monique’s specificity. The scene devolves into a cake fight and later, a make-out session, but even with Latrice’s slow start and a clear attempt by the producers to sap energy from the scene via editing and talking heads, it’s fun. Last up are Trinity and Valentina. After their workroom setup, it’s a surprise when Valentina delivers a terrific, fully fleshed-out character and Trinity gives a solid, but somewhat scattered performance. The strongest queens in each sketch are Manila, Monique, and Valentina, but a case could easily be made for Naomi being in the top as well. That leaves Monét, Latrice, and Trinity in the bottom. For the first time this season, there is no clear loser, no obvious queen to eliminate. Which means things are about to get much more interesting.

In the workroom, preparing for the runway, there’s a clear disconnect between Latrice’s read of the challenge and the other queens’. She feels confident; Manila, Trinity, and Valentina think she may be bottom two. But as Trinity and Valentina both say, who would eliminate Latrice? She’s so popular—with the queens, but more importantly, with the fans—that no one would want to eliminate her. It’s the same conversation Trinity pulled Manila aside to have after Snatch Game, about Valentina’s rabid fan base. The queens’ actions on Drag Race follow them for years via the Drag Race community, and that goes double for All Star eliminations.

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On the runway, the theme is Swerves And Curves: Padded For The Gods, and once again, the queens deliver. In previous episodes, a fantastic runway may have pushed someone from in danger to safe (Manila’s silver look comes to mind, as does Monét’s boots look), but at this point, there’s no wiggle room. Everyone looks terrific. It’s not a surprise when Manila, who was the standout performer in Jersey Justice, is in the top, nor when Monique, in that fabulous “Alexander MooQueen”-inspired number, joins her. There’s a brief moment of excitement for both of them, but as soon as bottom queens Latrice and Monét are announced, that’s gone. Manila is immediately, visibly upset and worried for her dear friend, Latrice. Monique is in the unenviable position of eliminating a personal friend or a personal inspiration, both of whom were her partners in this challenge. There is no happy ending here. It’s high drama, executed incredibly well.

Image: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

The producers had a few options with “Jersey Justice.” They could have put Trinity in the bottom and Valentina in the top, and played on their pre-runway mirror conversation and last episode’s dramatic couch moment of sisterhood. They could have put Monique and Valentina in the top and Monét and Trinity in the bottom and had it be a lip sync battle of Drag Race besties fighting to save their friends. The material was there to support either of these narratives and likely a couple others, with a little creative editing and some sound cues. Instead, the campy, catty energy of the recent eliminations is set aside and the tears start falling immediately. Long-term fans of Drag Race know Latrice is capable of much more than she’s shown so far in All Stars 4. Yet the episode makes a strong case for Monét being just a bit better than her in this specific challenge.

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Neither of them is currently poised to make it to the finale, so is it better to save the queen who’s demonstrated more potential in the past (Latrice), or the queen who’s done just a little better this season (Monét)? Manila’s obviously going to save Latrice, but what is the right move for Monique personally, and what’s the smart move for her this season and for her longer-term career? There’s fodder for hours-long conversations here, and that’s exactly the conversations Drag Race fans will be having this weekend. Plus, while Manila and Latrice tearfully hug it out on the couch, Monét gets the awkward experience of realizing she’s not a sure thing should Monique win, the way she thought. Valentina’s utter willingness to throw Trinity aside in favor of Latrice gives tremendous weight to Latrice’s case, and underscores just how tough a call this is for Monique.

After an emotional deliberation (for everyone but Trinity, who will both endear herself to and alienate fans for her dry-eyed read of the situation), the stage is set for an epic lip sync, and Monique and Manila deliver on Tina Turner’s “The Bitch Is Back.” Manila’s lip sync is not quite up to her “How Will I Know” level, but it’s fierce, powerful, and fun. Monique, on the other hand, serves up Tina and does so while keeping her wig firmly in place through a ridiculous number of twirls, head flicks, and more. She’s strong, musical, and completely in the moment. And neither goes for an easy split or flip- they base their performances on the music, as more of the lip syncing queens should. In the end, Monique wins, as the narrative and suspense dictates she must, and her emotional reveal of Latrice’s name feels entirely genuine, and leaves viewers with a gut-punch for Latrice and a wave of relief for Monét at the same moment. It’s an odd feeling, and one of the most memorable and affecting All Stars eliminations yet. Latrice, who by the way looks gorgeous in her Swerves And Curves look, may be gone from All Stars, and may be gone too soon, but she’s much more than her tenure on All Stars 4. She’s an institution in the Drag Race community and her early elimination this season does nothing to negate that. And this may be the denial talking, but who knows: with those twists Ru promised in the premiere, she may very well be back.

Stray observations

  • Stacy Layne Matthews cameo! Stacy the court stenographer was definitely filmed separately from the rest of the courtroom scenes, but I don’t care. Her reactions were delightful and she was used in just the right moments. Here’s hoping she pops up more throughout the season.
  • Manila’s not the only queen working the social game. Valentina’s decision to create an entrance moment each day with a specific look and aesthetic is smart. Ru makes an impression each time he enters the workroom. It’s surprising it’s taken this long for one of the queens to follow suit (as it were). I will be shocked if this doesn’t catch on and become a staple of future queens’ approaches.
  • I loved having RuPaul outside of the court as the court reporter, and her runway look was fabulous.
  • The sound design and music has been excellent all season, adding texture and peppering in fun little jokes like the cowbell sting during Monique’s runway and the hits during Jersey Justice.
  • I really enjoyed Erica Ash as a guest judge. Valentina may not know her, but she’s a terrific actor who was one of the highlights of the fantastic and underseen Survivor’s Remorse. Highly, highly recommended. Zoë Kravitz is not the most memorable guest judge we’ve had this season, but she was a welcome presence on the panel and the ASMR gags were a hoot.

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