Back and ready to slay
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

After weeks of build-up and fan speculation, the eliminated queens are back on All Stars 4, and it’s—well, it’s fine. “LaLaPaRUza” is a victim of overhype, with promos playing up Ru’s dramatic revocation of All Stars rules two episodes ago, after “Jersey Justice.” When this twist didn’t materialize until the final moments of “Roast In Peace,” it soured the end of that episode and put even greater stakes on a dramatic and exciting payoff here, one that fails to materialize. It’s disappointing to have such a blip of an episode halfway through an exciting and memorable season, and one that was building steam and momentum.

The concept of a mid-season lip-sync smackdown between eliminated queens is interesting. Had there been controversial, strategic, or personal eliminations, unjustly eliminated queens returning to seek revenge would have been very exciting. However, that hasn’t happened yet. Jasmine, Farrah, Gia, and even Latrice deserved to go home when they did. They’re strong queens, but the remaining competitors have dominated the season and it’s hard to imagine any of the eliminated queens (maaaaybe Latrice?) sticking it out for more than an episode should they manage to reclaim a spot in the competition. Why bring these queens back if they don’t have a shot at the finals? Why bring them back just to lose their lip-syncs and be eliminated all over again?

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The answer, of course, is drama and entertainment value, and “LaLaPaRUza” under-delivers on both. Jasmine, the queen with the most potential to surprise due to her early elimination, is practically a non-entity in the episode. She all but disappears after a couple talking heads. Gia hones in on Trinity for her patented Gia Gunn pot-stirring, but Trinity shuts her down, giving the episode some banter-filled exchanges, but little more. Gia also has a nice moment with Naomi (netting Naomi some airtime, at long last), but this exchange is reminiscent of her talk with Manila in “Snatch Game Of Love,” so it doesn’t particularly stand out. Also contending with a repetitive narrative is Farrah, who left with much more of a bang the first time, standing up to Gia and showing how she’d matured. Her mirror moment with Valentina feels like a step backward, one she has to take so she can then receive wisdom from Trinity as Trinity prepares her to go home with her chin held high. Farrah has come a long way, but she’s not going to beat any of these fierce queens in a Lip-sync For Your Life.

That leaves Latrice’s return to carry the dramatic weight of the entire episode. Had “Jersey Justice” not done such a terrific job of laying out the case for her elimination, there would have been plenty of fuel to sustain a Latrice versus Monique storyline. But it did. Latrice deserved to go home. Hearing her argue otherwise and speak with complete confidence that her return to the competition is a foregone conclusion writes checks the episode must cash to be successful. When her lip-sync is only fine, and not exceptional, the dramatic tension the episode spends half of its runtime building up fizzles. Her return to the show feels much less driven by her performance than the need for at least one eliminated queen to return, so the episode doesn’t feel like a complete retread.

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Naomi finally gets some screentime
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

“LaLaPaRUza” is split into two halves: The queens’ deliberations and preparations for their lip-syncs, and the runway and lip-syncs themselves. The first half of the episode starts entertainingly enough, with plenty of couch drama as both Monét and Manila reveal Valentina’s lipstick (more on this in the strays). Most of the queens play it cool, but Monique and Trinity are none too pleased to see the eliminated queens back. The next day, Ru details what will be happening: The eliminated queens will each choose one remaining queen to lip-sync against, to one of Ru’s songs. Manila and Monét are immune due to their “Roast In Peace” wins, and each victorious lip-syncer will join them back in the competition, regardless of their current status.

Ru’s announcement of LaLaPaRUza prompts the most genuine reaction of the entire season, Manila and Monét’s jump for joy at having immunity. Manila in particular has been incredibly calculated in her reactions all season. It’s fun to see such a genuine, unrehearsed moment. The other queens vary in their reactions. Trinity is game and raring to go. Valentina doesn’t seem particularly worried either, confident in her lip-syncing abilities. Monique is wary, though unshaken. Latrice will be coming for her, and she’s a force to be reckoned with, given the right song. Naomi is the least confident of the bunch. She’s yet to lip-sync this season, so her nerves are understandable. She’s in a precarious position, as the sole remaining queen without a win, and she’s ready to prove herself.

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Sitting pretty with immunity
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

After more anticipatory smack talk and some spectating from Manila and Monét, it’s time for the runway. Category is: LaLaPaRUza Eleganza. Manila and Monét have fun with this runway, as they needn’t worry about movement or stunts, but the other queens are focused on their lip-syncs. Trinity even comes out in a cloak, refusing to show her look. With that level of secrecy, the design needs to be next-level, and when Trinity does take off her cloak, her perfectly fine studded number feels anti-climactic.

It’s time for the lip-syncs, and up first is Jasmine. She didn’t get to choose her opponent, and it shows. No one wants to face Trinity, and while Jasmine gives a funny, game performance, the campy, silly “Peanut Butter” is better suited to Trinity’s, ahem, assets. Jasmine does respectably and it would have been interesting to see these two face off on a song that didn’t so clearly favor one of them, but Trinity is the definitive winner. Next up is Farrah, who chose to battle Valentina. Their song is “Kitty Girl,” and Farrah does well, going full sexy pop princess. However, Valentina puts together some solid dance moves before pivoting to comedy and once again, is the clear winner. Neither “Peanut Butter” nor “Kitty Girl” are that thrilling of lip-syncs. They’re both fairly one-note and no moments particularly stand out. That changes with “Adrenaline,” Gia’s lip-sync against Naomi.

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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

Gia opted for Naomi likely because both Trinity and Valentina have lip-sync wins this season; Naomi is the queen she was likeliest to knock out, and the likeliest to not be able to keep up with her dance moves. Fortunately for Naomi, they get the most pose-appropriate song of the episode, “Adrenaline,” and Naomi is able to counter Gia’s excellent dance breaks with back-breaking bends and poses, and a well-executed slide forward down the runway. It’s instantly memorable, a truly individual performance that sets Naomi apart from the tired and expected death drops and splits audiences have come to expect on Drag Race. Naomi serves face throughout, drama then comedy, and while Gia represents the House of Edwards with style, “turnting it out” in the words of Ru, she can’t keep up with Naomi.

That leaves Latrice and Monique for last, lip-syncing to “Sissy That Walk.” “This gonna be good…” Ru promises, but almost immediately, the editors cut away from Latrice and Monique to show the judges’ panel. It’s never a good sign when the editors feel the need to show the judges’ reactions, instead of letting the performances speak for themselves. It’s a lip-sync full of gimmicks. There are wig reveals on both sides, with first Latrice then Monique shedding their giant pageant hair for sleeker secondary looks. Both go for splits, Latrice again followed by Monique, and while they’re both clearly giving their all, why drop into splits on the lyric “Sissy that walk”? Monique at least themes her bright orange wig reveal to the “flame” lyric in the verse after she ditches her original wig. Latrice’s second wig is less visible and dramatic than her initial one. Monique also produces a fan and uses it well, adding drama after she throws away her shrug and before she peels off bits of her costume, working down to a much simpler, but still effective final look. Both queens dance their butts off, but Latrice twirls and high-kicks while Monique stomps the runway down, a much better fit for the song.

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Gooped and gagged, and celebrated by her fellow queens
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

Again, without a full episode of expectation and weeks of build-up, this would be an impressive performance. Compared to the other lip-syncs this season though, and to Gia and Naomi’s “Adrenaline,” it’s merely good, and certainly not worthy of a double save. Ru mines some quality drama by saving Latrice first, then faking out Monique before saving her as well. It’s a celebratory and exhilarating way to end the episode, but with Ru reinstating All Star rules, it’s hard not to leave “LaLaPaRUza” a bit frustrated. The queens are exactly where we left them after “Snatch Game Of Love.” The same lineup, the same general record, and the same strengths and weaknesses, with Latrice needing to step up and show that she deserves to still be in the competition. If she doesn’t come hard and deliver in a huge way in the next episode, she’s headed right back home again. Drag Race has yet to really nail the return of previously eliminated queens. Centering a full episode around a set of lip-syncs all but certain to maintain the status quo is not the answer. Hopefully they have a better set of twists up their sleeves for next time.

Stray observations

  • The mechanics of the challenges on Drag Race are clearly planned out well in advance. Monique’s strong performance in “Roast In Peace” didn’t matter, for example—the episode needed four queens in the bottom so that they’d have an equal number of eliminated queens and bottom queens. But why not allow Manila and MonĂ©t to eliminate Valentina, only to bring her right back the next week and make everyone lip-sync, five versus five? That would have given a needed jolt of drama to this episode.
  • I may not be on Team Latrice this episode, but she’s 100% right about one thing: We don’t talk about All Stars 1. Also, Latrice’s, “Bitch, I’m back” dance re-entering the workroom is amazing and I need a .gif immediately. I truly hope she breaks through to a new level next episode.
  • I’m really glad Farrah brings up how costly it was for her to return to Drag Race. All of these queens made major financial and time investments to be ready for All Stars 4, so to be sent home early and not be able to show off the rest of your looks (using the platform the series provides) must be gutting. At least the returning queens get to rock a couple more looks and show that they can all deliver solid to great lip-syncs.
  • Trinity’s talking head tuck puns and innuendos do not get old; hopefully she’ll keep them up all season.
  • Ru promises this episode, “After this week, everything is gonna change forever.” Those are big words, ones this episode doesn’t come close to fulfilling. It’s hard to overstate how much more satisfying this episode could have been without the unnecessary, artificial build-up.

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