RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9 finally reached its potential last week with a hilarious, drama-filled episode with a jaw-dropping lip sync and elimination, and the show keeps the momentum going with this week’s makeover episode. It’s not on the same level as last week, but losing a frontrunner like Valentina has reminded the queens that any one of them could go home if they fuck up and forced them to be more serious about the competition. The bonds of sisterhood are weakening as the finale approaches, and the queens are focused on winning rather than helping each other out.
Except when it comes to Nina. She gets emotional support from the other queens a she’s feeling down after Valentina’s elimination, and when she decides to sew a garment for the runway, Shea helps her with the sewing machine. Nina struggles with depression and very intense insecurity, and that limits how far she’s able to get in this competition. This isn’t something she can just turn on and off, and no matter how much praise the other queens give her, she can’t stop doubting her ability. Nina’s competitors want to see her embrace her fierceness, but they’ve grown tired of giving her support that has no impact. For a moment it seemed liked Nina’s storyline was going to involve her discovering her self-confidence and finally believing in her talent, but her story is ultimately about how difficult it is to get out of that negative headspace when you’re in a high-stress situation that involves constant criticism.
The twist for this season’s makeover challenge is that the queens are making over members of the crew, so it’s a group of men that don’t do drag, but are very familiar with what it entails and are comfortable being in the work room. Sasha has the most pressure on her because she’s making over Duncan, the associate director that is basically in charge when RuPaul isn’t around, but she’s really excited to show a more playful side of her new drag sibling. Duncan tries to temper his enthusiasm and hold on to his seriousness, but it’s clear he’s having a great time working with Sasha and stepping into the contestants’ shoes. Sasha and Dunatella Velour have one of the strongest looks on the runway, and at the end of this episode, Sasha is the only queen left that hasn’t lip synced for her life.
The only siblings with a stronger family resemblance than Sasha and Dunatella are Trinity Taylor and Glittafa Dayz, who one-up the competition with a first-time tuck. Set P.A. Rizzo gets the most screen time out of drag, not just because he’s cute (although that’s probably part of it), but because he’s open to discussing his frustration with gender lines. He tells Trinity about his difficulty not fitting the traditional jock mold, and these conversations create an intimacy between the two of them that helps a lot when Trinity has to tape Rizzo’s genitals up between his legs. The tucking scene is one of the funniest moments of this season, and Trinity is a no-nonsense team leader that won’t be happy until she doesn’t see a bulge. They call her Trinity “The Tuck” Taylor for a reason, and her work pays off when Glittafa takes to the stage and pulls off her skirt to reveal a smooth crotch. The tuck is right, the hair, makeup, and costumes are on point, and they have the most complicated choreography for their lip sync performance, earning Trinity her third win.
The judges read Peppermint for costuming herself and Winter Green (camera operator Sarge) in clashing outfits, but it’s easy to forgive the fashion faux pas when the hair, makeup, and chemistry is so great. Winter Green actually overshadows her sister because she’s so excited and gung-ho with her performance, but that’s actually a good problem to have. It means that the partners had a rapport that motivated Winter Green to let herself be free and have fun, and I don’t think she would have been as thrilled if Peppermint didn’t do such a great job on her look. The judges name Winter Green the MVP of the challenge, and Peppermint deserves a lot of credit for making Winter Green feel beautiful up on the runway. You don’t get that feeling from all of the made over queens, and it’s a sign of good leadership that Winter Green performs as well as she does.
Nina works with art coordinator Aaron, who can see that Nina is struggling and shares his own experience with depression in hopes of getting her head in the game. Nina doesn’t sew, so it’s not a smart decision to create a new garment when there are so many other things to do with this challenge, and having this extra hurdle kills what little confidence Nina had left. Nina and Ariana Bo’Nina Brown’s runway looks are uninspired and messy, with the same silhouette Nina has used over and over again and makeup that doesn’t look good up close or far away. The face doesn’t go with the body, and overall it feels like Nina just gives up this week.
Tonight’s episode is Shea’s first fumble in the competition, and it’s a classic example of a queen focusing more on herself than her partner. We don’t see much of Shea interacting with P.A. Josh, and there are some basic problems that make Bae Coulée look very sloppy compared to her far more put together drag sister. The wig obscures Bae’s face, doesn’t cover her hair line in the back, and her bra straps are showing. Shea tries to fix the wig on the runway, but it’s too late by that point and the judges already have something to clock. Shea ends up lip syncing against Nina, and the personal drama between these two gives the lip sync some extra emotional weight.
As much as I would have liked to see Shea make it to the end without lip syncing, I’m happy we have the opportunity to see what she can do when she has to fight to stay in the competition. She makes an immediate connection with the music (Demi Lovato’s “Cool For The Summer,” an excellent lip sync song) that you can see in her entire body, and she doesn’t need any fancy tricks when she does such a good job channeling the energy of the song. Unfortunately, this lip sync is diminished by Nina’s resignation, and from the very start it looks like Nina has lost all drive to stay in the competition.
Given that this is Nina’s third time in the bottom and Shea’s first, I understand why she’s lost hope, but it’s always disappointing when a queen doesn’t put her heart into the lip sync. This is potentially the last chance to show off your talent on national TV, and even if you think there’s no chance of staying in the competition, you should give it your all and go out on a high note. Getting to that place is hard for Nina, and after a trying experience on this show, she’s ready to put an end to the stress and go home. Hopefully Nina’s time on Drag Race has helped her realize her remarkable talent, because she has so much more potential than she knows.
- Alexis Michelle is so stale. Her makeover look isn’t as lazy as Nina’s or as messy as Shea’s, but it’s really boring.
- The judges are having so much fun this week. Kesha and Zaldy are very excited to be there, and the whole group breaks into a laughing fit when Kesha tries to describe why she enjoys Winter Green’s face so much. Zaldy also has some very good critiques for both performance and fashion.
- Ru wears a Zaldy gown on the runway that is covered with her catchphrases translated into Japanese. It’s a very cool look.
- Glittafa Dayz is a fun drag name, but it would sound even better if her name was Glitta Fadayz.
- I love the rapidly edited montage of the lip sync routines each pair of queens performs. It gives the impression that these performances are all pretty lousy, but there’s enough solid material across six pairs that the editors can piece it together into something entertaining.
- “I’m over it, I’m over it, she needs to go home, no no no. (Pause.) I’m over it.”
- “Natalie Portman? She don’t really match with the Coulée brand.”
- “Are you telling me that I’m co-hosting next season? Fuck you, Michelle Visage!”
- Duncan: “We talked about over-intellectualizing things and letting that get in the way of just being free.” Ru: “How do you do that?” Duncan: “Drugs.”
- “You’re walking like Pearl now!”
- Trinity: “It’s like The Little Mermaid.” Rizzo: “Except she’s a big dude.”
- “To show support for all our crew members, (pulls up fake leg) I wore heels!”
- “The pain is real.”
- Ru: “What do you think you’re going to take from this experience?” Glittafa: “I’m gonna take this tape off.”
- “The nails scream: ‘I. Am. A. Slut.’”
- “Look, we’re intergalactic whores. Can we have some candy?”
- Ru: “Now Dunatella, there’s something that you’re doing that is strangely turning me on.” Dunatella: “I learned it from watching you, dear.”
- Michelle: “Shea’s was sloppy, this one was not sloppy.” Ross: “Well, Michelle knows sloppy.”
- “Silence! You’ve been no help at all.”
- “Your bunny look did not make the judges hoppy.”