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RuPaul's Drag Race finds its All Star supervillain

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Several of the queens returning for RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars 4 have received villain edits. Manila and her fellow Heathers came off as bullies in season three, Gia stirred the pot in season six, and by the season nine reunion, Valentina had worn through her fellow queens’ goodwill and got called out, most notably by Farrah. From their entrances, the queens of All Stars 4 have been all too aware of the opportunity the season presents for them to strengthen and perhaps rehab their brands, and most have been going out of their way to be personable, entertaining, and collaborative. Not everyone, however, and with “Super Girl Groups, Henny,” Gia declares herself the clear villain of the season.

The episode opens with a few kind words from the queens for Jasmine and some brief hand-wringing from Trinity over the emotional impact of eliminating someone. Monét, for one, is over it, and given BenDeLaCreme’s journey in season three, it’s nice to have a talking head counter to Trinity’s understandable guilt. “Super Girl Groups, Henny” kicks off in earnest with RuPaul announcing the episode’s main challenge. The queens will be forming two girl groups and writing and recording verses for each group’s original song, either “Don’t Funk It Up” or “Everybody Say Love.” As winners the previous episode, Trinity and Monique will be team captains, responsible for selecting the members of their girl groups and coordinating and choreographing the numbers. Both will need to feature the episode’s Artist In Residence, fan-favorite and season three alum Stacy Layne Matthews.

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The team selection process goes quickly, and predictably: Valentina and Monét are picked first, and Farrah and Gia are picked last. Farrah is well liked in the workroom, but she struggled in the premiere, and while Gia may have given a beautiful performance in the variety show, no one wants to work with her. It’s easy to see why: from practically the moment they sit down together, Gia derails the group, bringing up her pre-show falling out with Farrah. This wins her a sympathetic ear from a few of her teammates, but if Gia’s going to talk such a big game, she needs to deliver, and that does not happen when it’s time for their recording session with songwriters Leland and Freddy Scott.

While drama is percolating over on Team Trinity, Team Monique is running smoothly. Monét, a trained opera singer, has quite a reaction when Monique declares herself the best singer on their team, but otherwise, things go more or less swimmingly recording “Everybody Say Love.” “Don’t Funk It Up” has a few more hiccups. Gia’s vocals are rough and her lyrics prompt an irritated reaction from Latrice and pointed glances from several others. Manila has an even harder time, not engaging with her voice in the way Leland wants and ultimately getting the worst feedback of either group. Fortunately it’s not all bad news, and Valentina’s verse is a clear frontrunner.

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Next up is the dance rehearsal, and neither group comes out looking too good. Farrah is struggling and in desperate need of some help, but Monique doesn’t seem to understand what she needs, or isn’t willing to slow down and walk her through her steps. Team Trinity has the opposite problem, with too lax of team leadership from Trinity resulting in chaos through the rehearsal. Stacy Layne Matthews gives her two cents in talking heads and her take tracks with what we’ve seen. This group challenge is the All Stars’ first test of leadership, and neither Monique nor Trinity stepped up to the plate in the way the needed to.

Both teams have plenty to concern themselves with just getting ready for their performances, but that doesn’t stop Gia from whipping up some drama. It’s hard to overstate how terrible she is in this episode. She’s controlling, self-centered, dismissive, rude, disrespectful, the list goes on. It’s so over the top it’s hard to imagine she’s not actively performing villainy. If that’s the case, she’s a terrific actor—she doesn’t blink once. Farrah, on the other hand, comes out smelling like a rose. She’s mature, measured, and thoughtful in her responses, and refuses to give Gia the tears or outburst she seems to be looking for. It takes tremendous restraint to act as Farrah does here, and she will undoubtedly rise in the estimation of many viewers for her reactions this episode. She also stands up for herself, delivering an instant classic burn, “Some of us don’t have to force storylines to get their airtime.” Farrah’s spine and confidence makes this a triumphant moment, and between this and the rest of the queens’ reactions (Manila is living for the drama), the workroom back-and-forth makes for entertaining television.

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The girl group performances are less thrilling. In “Don’t Funk It Up,” Valentina shines, Latrice does well, Trinity is alright, and both Gia and Manila give poor performances. For “Everybody Say Love,” Monét and Naomi do well and Monique is less than stellar, but Farrah is completely out of her element. The runway looks are good across the board, as viewers expect from All Stars, based on the judges’ comments, the deliberations come almost entirely down to the girl group challenge. Valentina, Monét, and Naomi wind up in the top, thanks to their energetic and committed performances, while Manila, Monique, and Farrah are in the bottom. Farrah’s poor dancing is enough to earn her spot in the bottom, and Manila was surprisingly forgettable in her moments, but Monique’s placement in the bottom is a surprise, particularly over Gia. Perhaps Monique’s failure as leader factored in here, but if so, those comments were cut. She may have been messy, but she was at least interesting and had a decent vocal. Perhaps the judges got word of the drama simmering in the workroom and wanted to ensure Gia would stick around at least another episode.

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In the end, the judges crown Valentina and Monét winners and save Manila from elimination (likely thanks to her absolutely stunning, gorgeous gray runway look). As Valentina and Monét deliberate, things heat up once again in the workroom. Monique cannot believe her placement in the bottom and wants to immediately jump to pleading her case to Valentina and Monét, who want to bask for a bit in their win (Monét’s first win ever!). Monique speaks for many of the Drag Race fans as she spells out in her interview just how unsatisfying the All Stars Lip Sync For Your Legacy format is. She may not have appropriate awareness of the ways in which she contributed to her spot in the bottom, but she’s definitely fighting for her place in the workroom and based solely on their performances the last two episodes, it’s hard to imagine either Valentina or Monét saving Farrah over Monique. But then Gia walks over and manages to get the audience rooting for Farrah again by sucking up Farrah’s limited time to plead her case to Monét, apologizing for contributing to Farrah’s placement with her mind games. Again, Farrah’s maturity and restraint, and the honesty in her voice as she sighs and vents some of her frustration and anger toward Gia, is laudable.

Like the premiere, this lip sync is a battle, with both Valentina and Monét turning it out for Ariana Grande’s “Into You.” Monét is very good, focusing on sensuality and serving face, but Valentina’s dancing is a great fit for the song and just edges her out. If the queens keep this up, the All Stars 4 finale lip sync is going to be a barn burner! Valentina reveals her choice to go home, Farrah, and while it’s a shame to see her go, it’s a smart play by Valentina. She seems focused on righting her past mistakes and sending Monique home over Farrah would have put her right back into the villain camp. Gia is gleefully filling that role, and as far as Valentina’s concerned, she’s welcome to it. Valentina is much better off as the wiser, now humbled contender. And if she plays her cards right, she could easily ride this new approach all the way to the finals.

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Stray observations

  • What is up with Ru’s wig on the runway? Ross’ suit, on the other hand, is fabulous.
  • Michelle’s delivery of, “Manila? In a wedge?” is absolutely delightful.
  • Even better is Trinity: “Girl, it’s time for her to go.”
  • Neither guest judge makes much of an impression, but at least Ciara gets lots of love from the queens. Maybe Kacey Musgraves will get some attention the next time she’s on?
  • So far, no one appears to have snatched FakeAsFuck.com, but that feels like a clear branding opportunity for someone. Monique once again is the voice of the viewer as she steps in and speaks up for Farrah.
  • Monét gets props for her rapping in this episode. Check out her performance of “Strange Fruit” to see what she can do when she lets that basso profundo out.
  • Regardless of anything Gia did, Farrah has struggled on All Stars and she’s outpaced by the other queens here. However, she’s grown tremendously since season nine and had she waited a few more years to do All Stars, she may have been much more of a contender.
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