Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars
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In the finale for the fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars, much fuss is made over a cartwheel. It lasts for what feels like a long, long time. The four finalists complete their cartwheels, or don’t, and it’s funny (listening to Trinity cackle especially so). And that’s it, almost. And then someone biffs a cartwheel in the final moments, and you might think, “Wow, they really brought it back around, huh? That’s some solid editing.”

But no, the cartwheels don’t matter. Not much of it does, really. “Super Queen” sees a reasonably solid top four do reasonably solid work. What happens right up until the end makes sense, and even the end does, in a way. Yet it’s all more like an exercise, a rehearsal for something that probably won’t matter anyway. These are super queens, that’s a goddamn fact. They deserve a better ending than this.

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Early on, when Trinity says, “I think some twist is coming. I don’t know what, but bitch, it ain’t over,” it doesn’t feel prophetic. It’s someone who’s watched and been on the show underlining how things often work; All Stars in particular has become a bit of a twist factory, with twists ranging from great (the eliminated queens appear behind the mirror the first time, the initial institution of All Stars rules) to the terrible (teams, choosing the finalists by committee) with plenty in between. The episode itself hints at this past, pulling a ludicrous gotcha in having the previous winners turn up and pretend to be serving as the final judges, as the eliminated queens did in the last All Stars season.

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Yet no twist arrives, good or ill, that actually matters, nothing that changes the game the queens or playing or alters their strategy or approach. The twist, when it arrives, lands with a thud—albeit one that can’t help but make you happy for those who benefit. It’s an example of Drag Race manufacturing surprise, rather than offering the queens an opportunity to create surprise. It smacks of producer interference, and even if it ultimately feels at least a little bit fair, it’s far from satisfying. And here’s why: That money was ready to go. The two crowns and two scepters were ready to go. There were always going to be two, and that makes it impossible to justify that tie.

We’ll return to the big ending, which aims to be (and probably succeeds at being) the most memorable moment of the episode. But what comes before is at least marginally more successful, closely following the formula of previous finales, but doing so with a breezy, cheery energy. After Trinity explains her choice to eliminate Latrice and the whole gang geeks out about being the final four, Monet asks Monique to reveal the lipstick she chose. And hey, here’s a twist that works: Monique, with a world-class straight face, hints that she chose Monet, begins to apologize with just the right amount of petulant defiance, and pulls out Latrice’s lipstick. (It’s Monique’s best acting challenge ever.)

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The next morning Ru shows up, in an all-time-great Klein Epstein Parker suit and crown brooch in place of a tie, to tell them about the traditional write-a-verse-do-a-video challenge. The song: “Super Queen,” the season’s runway jam. The queens discuss their verses-to-be in the first instance of what will become a bit of a pattern: What seems likely to be one of those great, juicy Drag Race chats becomes something pleasant and instantly forgettable. Monet wants to list her superpowers and then “tie it to the game, which is really fierce,” and then she and Monique discuss how cool it would be to become the “highly melanated” top two (glad to know Monique is also a Janelle Monae fan). Trinity and Naomi then chat, and it’s just as pleasant but even emptier. That conversation centers on Trinity’s nerves about choreography, which may be true, but is also a classic means of lowering expectations. The second she starts talking about how rough choreography is for her, it’s obvious that she’ll do well—well, that, and the fact that Trinity almost always does well.

Screenshot: VH1

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The choreography session (also known as the cartwheel show) is entertaining enough. There’s a lot of chatter about Naomi’s lifts, which do nicely showcase her legs but are otherwise pretty underwhelming. Trinity struggles to learn her choreography, sort of, but remains collected and confident, even when she’s joking about the struggle. Monet nails everything, and Monique, as mentioned above, can’t do a cartwheel. Only Trinity gets the cutesy music of doom, but as it happens, they all do just fine.

First, however, they do What’s The T?, and as with the workroom conversations, they’re mostly pretty lightweight. Monet, in true Ru fashion, plugs her one-woman show, Call Me By Monet (nailed it, Monet!) Trinity gets praised, as they all do. Naomi gets called “gorgeous and young,” and fishes for a compliment she knows she’ll get. And Monique tells more about her story, startling Ru and Michelle by revealing that she headed up a pray-the-gay-away group before coming out, and also mentioning that she weighed 300 lbs. at the time. That last one is the exception that proves the rule. As Monique talks about coming out in March and starting drag seven months later, Ru and Michelle hang on her words, illustrating what these conversations have the potential to be.

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After the aforementioned tête-à-tête with the previous winners, featuring a winning cameo from Alaska’s “TEAM KATYA” umbrella, the queens get ready for the video. They’re all nervous, but excited, almost giddy—except Monique, who describes her feelings as “tender.” Then it’s time for the video, which again, is totally fine. Nobody blows it, even a little, and absolutely no one does a cartwheels. Monet comes out on top, but everybody looks good, Trinity especially so. The verses, on the other hand, are no “Read U Wrote U”: None are as good as the Alaska/Katya/Detox verses, and none as entertainingly bad as Roxxxy’s.

Ru, in a long sparkly dress, welcomes the “just the family” judges, including Michelle (looking fabulous) and Ross, Carson, and Todrick Hall (all in great jackets, Todrick in a turtleneck one could probably do without). As always during finales, the critique portion of the proceedings consists of roughly 70 percent praise, 20 percent rumination on the journey, 5 percent puns, 5 percent critique. To be fair, however, there’s very little to criticize when it comes to the runway looks. Monet’s gorgeous purple gown looks lovely paired with her blonde dreadlock updo, and her face is fabulous. Monique’s black gown looks a little unfinished, as many of her looks do, but she works the hell out of it. Naomi, unsurprisingly, absolutely stuns in a Louis Vuitton-inspired mesh and taffeta situation with a great reveal. And Trinity wears one of my favorite Drag Race looks ever, a gorgeous sculpted confection that’s pure elegance until she tears away a piece and reveals that the cups of her dress are teacups. It’s divine.

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After some spirited deliberation—which includes Carson declaring that he, like most of the internet, is a Scorpio who has not yet forgiven Naomi for eliminating Manila—the top two queens are ruvealed. Anyone paying attention in the deliberations will not be surprised to see Monet and Trinity facing off, and a spirited lip sync sees Trinity giving her all in slightly (and surprisingly) sloppy fashion, while Money begins with a lot of subdued poise, eventually building to something equal parts fierce and wacky.

Screenshot: VH1

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And here’s the thing: It’s not a tie, that lip sync. Monet wins, if only because of that fateful cartwheel. Yet the tie in the end could almost have worked. Thanks to Manila’s absence, it’s pretty clear that Trinity won the season; Monet wins the lip sync and probably the episode (though Trin wins the runway). A tie could work. But because it’s pre-meditated, because it is ready to go, it doesn’t feel sincere. In the first season of Drag Race, RuPaul had to choose between two frontrunners for the title (eventual winner Bebe Zahara “Rrrrra-ka-ta-ti-ti-ta-ta” Benet and Ongina) and played at having to leave the judges’ table to go backstage and feel some feelings about it. Artificial? Yes. But it told a story.

The only story this twist tells is that, at some point, the powers that be decided this was the way to go. Maybe it was the potential of having Manila And Latrice in the top. Maybe they liked the idea of that Monique-Monet top two. Maybe they just thought it would be the newest facecrack of the century. But in reality, it has simply opened up two deserving winners to loads of unearned criticism, and Monet in particular is likely to hear over and over again that she only won because the show didn’t want to award a fourth white queen in a row. (Unfair and untrue, Monet had an excellent season, a very strong episode, and in this writer’s opinion, won the lip-sync.)

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I’m glad they both get their money (and their Fierce Drag Jewels Dot Com). Two worthy winners. But still, it’s a disappointing end to an uneven season. Monet and Trinity deserve better. The show can do better. Let’s hope it figures out how to have its twists and make them good by the next time All Stars rolls around.

Stray observations

  • Bring back Alyssa Edwards as guest choreographer.
  • “We are down to the nitty gritty itty bitty titty.”
  • “Can I have a stunt double, bitch?”
  • “Girl, take it easy, none of us have had sex in forever.”
  • “Drink tickets included?”
  • “The only rule we’re breaking today is we’re bring hard liquor into the workroom before 10 a.m., okay?!”
  • “Everyone’s comparing their dicks, and I’m the shortest one in the room, and that never happens.”
  • “All will be... Ruvealed.”
  • “Oh, she’s gonna take the train home.”
  • “Dress by Vivianne Wedgwood.”
  • “She’s using the good china.”
  • “I don’t know if it’s a god, if it’s a sea slug, whoever it is.”
  • “I’m just... fucking grateful.” “Fucking grateful.”
  • Kate Kulzick will be back for Drag Race proper. Vanjie!

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