CLÁUDIO ALVES: I knew they were bluffing! – cpn

CLÁUDIO ALVES: I knew they were bluffing! Apologies for starting this RuCap at the end of the episode, but there was no other way this episode could end but with the whole top four moving to the finale. All that talk of a final elimination was always a baldfaced lie, a mere attempt at adding stakes to an episode with none. Whatever faint redundancy this chapter might exemplify, it’s inconsequential in the face of these bitches’ collective serve. But maybe I’m exaggerating, too drunk in affection to think straight.

NICK TAYLOR: As the one of us who dared to believe that RuPaul would actually send a queen home this episode, I’m really happy I was wrong…

 

This was a joyous tribute to our top four, all of whom emerge as distinct talents in their own right and the strongest quartet Drag Race has had since season 9. You and I and everyone we know have been enthusiastically banging the Sasha Colby drum, but any of them would be a tremendous winner, not to mention the bitch to beat for All-Stars. The show’s adoration is palpable. No, not everyone performed at equal heights this week, but it’s clear why they’re all here.

But enough gushing! Let’s get into the episode proper, as the girls return to the werkroom following Loosey’s elimination. No one’s mourning Loosey, but everyone recognizes her fierceness in the competition. Even so, they’re more psyched about making it to the final four. Victory’s almost within grasp. Almost! And then…

CLÁUDIO: And then, the mother of all mothers arrives with terrible news. A stripe-suited RuPaul says this episode will have one final elimination, the season’s last maxi-challenge being the traditional RuMix. This year’s song is “Blame It on the Edit,” a shady little tune that pokes fun at the contestants who got buried by the show and have called out the reality TV editing behind their bad image. Before the recording, however, there are new verses to pen, and each queen is invited to join Ru and Michelle for a Tic Tac lunch. Everyone in the werkroom is confident as they develop their bitchtracks, but none more so than Luxx. Feeling like she’s done enough, the baby of the group takes a nap right there in the middle of the writing session.

 

NICK: It’s a bold move! Mistress senses some danger of delusion behind all that Luxxfidence, especially when any mistake could send a bitch home.

This is all we get of the queens working on their verses, after which we proceed to the Tic Tac lunches. First up is the Sasha Colby meet-and-greet, which does the best job of digging into her extensive pre-show reputation while going to some pretty harrowing places in Sasha’s life. She talks about her anxiety and need for approval from others to the point she was scared being a frontrunner would turn the other queens against her. There’s a lot of family trauma behind Sasha’s feelings, and expressing them takes a lot out of her. Even so, she’s tremendously proud of the person she’s become, and specifically, the person drag unequivocally allowed her to be.

CLÁUDIO: This was the first time in the episode I could feel the show trying to make me cry, but there’s no denying the impact of Sasha’s words. The conversation allows us to see beyond the perfection, digging into the darkness underneath, the earth from which beauty blossoms. And yet, like with all these 60-minute episodes, there are modulations of tone throughout, including a pretty funny moment when Sasha seems lost for words when trying to answer Ru and Michelle’s inquiries about her struggles during the competition. Sasha’s vulnerability is internal and not reflected in any serious stumble. Or, in Mama’s parlance, she’s got her inner saboteur under control but is self-aware enough to acknowledge its existence. She feels like a winner already.

Anetra’s Tic Tac convo offers more melancholic introspection as she explores the contrasts between her quiet self and the drag persona that struts the stage every week. Once again, we’re reminded of drag’s power. It’s both a vehicle for expression and an art form that serves the artist as much as their audience. They also talk about the bitch’s incredible lipsync skills, with Michelle declaring the Anetra vs. Marcia showdown as her favorite in the show’s history.

 

NICK: As well she should! It’s fun to see a judge basically fangirling at one of their contestants, and Anetra’s fully earned it. Learning she used to be a Mormon does explain her hotness, as well as the reserved nature she’s slowly peeled back over the course of the season. Where the scope of Sasha’s interview focuses more on her life before Drag Race, Anetra gets about 50/50 for each, and it’s a striking reminder of how well she’s done even in moments of punitive failure, as with her lipsync against Marcia.The vulnerability you highlighted in Sasha has been present in Anetra more than in any other queen this season. When she tells RuPaul winning Drag Race would make it feel like everything she’s gone through would be worth it, you can sense the weight behind her declaration.

Where Anetra started off a bit shy, Mistress came out the gate ready to speak her mind, and can you believe her outspoken attitude is the first thing Michelle asks her about? I’ve set up a false dichotomy in that first sentence, because, just like Anetra and Sasha, Mistress says her candor is a direct result of the self-empowerment she achieved through her drag, in stark contrast with who she was growing up and who her family wanted her to be. It’s a sad triptych, and Mistress can’t help choking up about it, but nothing can keep her from her top three era. She’s tremendously proud of her drag family, and wants to make them proud as much as she wants to stay true to herself in the competition, no matter whose heads she butts up against in the process.

CLÁUDIO: As a trio, Sasha-Anetra-Mistress brings shattering stories of family strife, queer people forced to find their voice and identity in spite of what their blood saw in them. It’s sad, but it also forces the idea of drag as salvation at a time when American legislators of the conservative persuasion are transfixed by the idea of criminalizing it. Quietly, this episode sends a clear message that such a thing isn’t just an attack on an art, a livelihood, but an attack against queerness itself and the whole community. Still, there’s time for a joke at the end of Mistress’ convo, revealing that Ru was well aware of the Texan queens’ thieving tendencies.

Outside the show, at Roscoe’s, the bitch has also revealed she stole a bunch of stuff, including a piece of the werkroom wall! And Anetra helped!! Mistress Isabelle Brooks? Mistress Congeniality? Mistress Kleptomania is more like it.

NICK: Shady, hairy, and a thief. Good for her.

 

Luxx, unlike the rest of the top four, gets to hold up her history and artistry as evidence of how she’s gained her unshakeable confidence via her family life. First, Michelle praises her as a fellow New Jerseyan before asking her where she grew up and where she went to school, and the two of them get to gag Ru when Luxx says she went to the Cicely Tyson School for Performing Arts. Luxx credits her family, in particular her relationship with her parents, for inspiring this insane level of self-determination. Much like when Ru and Luxx bonded over the Wee-wee Pole runway, it’s a moving scene between a pioneering artist of one generation who sees a blazing up-and-comer with their own voice benefiting immensely from a level of support previously unimaginable to drag artists.

CLÁUDIO: Sometimes, it can feel like Drag Race overemphasizes queer pain when discussing its contestants’ backstories. Then again, it loves to highlight joy and progress when given the chance. Luxx’s interview is a beautiful counterpoint to the other three, showing a way forward that’s not paved with suffering and resilience, but familial support, juvenile exhuberance given a chance to grow, to thrive. On a shallower note, it’s always great to see Cicely Tyson blessing the TV, the photos they chose making me yearn for a queen willing to emulate her red carpet glamour on the runway. On a hornier note, Luxx’s dad is FIIIINEEEE…wow.

 

Speaking of hotness, as we move from Tic Tac lunches to a music video shoot, the queens get a chance to dazzle in a Janet Jackson-inspired space age set. They all look good, with Luxx’s wig serving Mothman realness, Mistress a shattered stained glass window and Anetra looking like an intergalactic slut. However, Sasha is on another level in breathtaking Barb Wire drag, so fierce she’s making some queers question their sexuality. “Am I a lesbian?” wonders Anetra, watching from the sidelines — honestly, same.

NICK: Yes. Obviously. Moving on. The queens are directed by Michelle Visage and choreographed by Miguel Zarate. Almost immediately Mistress struggles with the choreo, lagging a few beats behind and stone-faced as she tries to catch up. No one’s thrilled when she says her outfit is restricting her mobility, but she responds well to Michelle’s direction about giving attitude even if the movements are limited.

Anetra has a bit of trouble herself, but it’s more about the queen trying to fit herself to someone else’s dance moves. She kills it, but Luxx and Sasha are positioned as the clear standouts of the session. They learn the choreography the fastest and commit wholeheartedly to the techo-sensuality of it.

 

Unlike the fake out “Wigloose!” rehearsals, the show’s playing these gradations of success pretty straight for the audience. And all of them seem gagged that the half-hour of rehearsal ends with them shooting the fucking music video. How much of this episode takes place in one day of shooting?

Following this, the queens walk into the werkroom for the last time to get ready for their final runways. There’s not a ton of conversation about the rehearsals, aside from being exhausted at the work schedule and excited about how the video turned out. Instead, they trade first impressions and share how their opinions of each other have changed over the season. The love and admiration is palpable, and they seem as aware as anyone else is what a group of bad bitches they are. No matter who makes the top three, these queens constitute an incredible final four.

CLÁUDIO: Yes, they are, even if Luxx looks like a plastic jellyfish as she prepares to snatch her face up with tape. I’ll miss these girls heartfelt conversations while looking deranged in the middle of the makeup process. Not that there’s much seriousness in this passage, as the gals are just having fun, going as far as reminiscing about all the season’s gates. Shocker – Luxx is involved in all the drama. Still, Mistress is the likelier to sell merch with the phrase, since she sure loves herself some gates, eras, and the much-talked about drag delusion.

As we leave the werkroom for the last time this season, Ru welcomes the audience to the main stage looking like a shimmering vision. Mama looks marvelous in her metallic gown, while Michelle is serving cunt dressed in black with a bold red lip. Ross is there. But where is Carson or, more importantly, TS Madison?

NICK: I want to know how many disco balls Ru skinned for that dress. Michelle’s the best dressed of the judge’s table, and she arguably looks the best she has all season. Gorgeous. Truly, where are the other judges! I like TS the best and miss her the most, but why not bring them all in for this family affair! Is the judge’s table not big enough for all five of them? Where are they!!! What we do have, at least, is four excellent drag queens, dressed in the category of Drag Excellence.

 

First up is Anetra, wearing maybe my favorite thing she’s worn all season. It’s absolutely the best wig. From head to toe, it’s such a dazzling combination of curves and points, with the blue velvet complimented so beautifully by the silvers and whites. Fantastic jewelry, the face is beat, and she made it herself! Bitch!! Way to close on a high note.

CLÁUDIO: She looks stunning from head to ankle since, hidden by the skirt’s hem, Anetra’s wearing those ugly black boots that don’t go with anything. Anyway, it’s a great outfit that plays on an angular silhouette, matching a sculptural wig that must be a Koji Ichikawa creation with spiky pagoda shoulders. Love the lesbian manicure vibe with two nailless fingers and three taloned ones, but wish the point where skirt meets bodice wasn’t so blunt. It’s a minor nitpick.

 

Luxx Noir London is next and, like Anetra, her ensemble is stunning with one small flaw. That wigline is too obvious, framing her face in an attractive manner. Wearing that braided style is always tough, with the lace scalp hard to camouflage, but there must be a way to make it look better than this. Apart from that, she looks gorgeous, mixing her young queen modernity with pageant jewelry and an old-school presentation.

NICK: This is not my favorite Luxx look, I’ll say that. The hair is great aside from the lace front issue but I’m not sure I enjoy her dress. The asymmetries and varied cuts just read like a lot of styles sewn into the same garment, though maybe I’m just not fashion forward enough for it.

 

Let’s get the one caveat out of the way here too: I do not love the back. The lacing of this corset-like closure looks tight enough to make me scared it’ll pop, adding undue tension to this otherwise immaculate outfit. That being said, I love everything else about it. Sasha pulls off a culturally specific tribute that also looks truly otherworldly, from the orchids in her hair to the Saturn rings on her arms. It’s one thing to strut like you’re ready for the crown, but Sasha’s look proudly declares she knows she will not be lip synching, and I think that’s beautiful.

CLÁUDIO: I do like to imagine a lipsync where Mother Colby throws those bracelets, weaponising her fashion and turning the smackdown into a literal fight for your life. Anyway, bloodthirstiness aside, I agree with pretty much everything you said. I would add that the back of the skirt could also do with a little more fabric, maybe a train. In any case, she looks goddess-like, vaguely alien but beautiful nonetheless. The mug is stamped, that wig a work of art.

 

Last, but certainly not least, we have Mistress Isabelle Brooks rocking the old-school pageant style like nobody’s business. The craftsmanship in her gown’s construction is mind-boggling, making leopard print out of what look like two tons of beading. It moves beautifully, even if you can feel the garment’s weight through the screen. While I’m glad she returned to the exaggerated cut-crease for this top-four runway, I’m not sure the eyeshadow works with the golden hues present in the outfit.

NICK: I am in awe of Mistress’s runway, which she guesstimates clocks in around 60 lbs and still moves with unbelievably fluidity. How on earth did she get that print on the beads?

After this, all four queens arrive on the stage to see the final cut of “Blame It On the Edit”, which turns out to be a pretty solid bop. It’s not “Catwalk”, but the beat’s good and the “Scream” space setting for the music video gives it some extra oomph. I know we both talked about it while we watched it, but damn I wish we got to see the girls walk the runway in the costumes they wear for their solo verses. Everyone looks excellent.

 

Anetra’s verse is the most basic of the four, though it’s nice to see her spiked biker helmet on top of some zero-suit Samus bodysuit. Luxx stands out for giving herself the opportunity to really sing, along with rapping her lyrics. It’s the best musical showcase of the bunch, and the white leather corset and boots pop even harder than the beat. Sasha wins the challenge the minute we see her alien getup, though it helps that she knows exactly how to maneuver around the camera like she’s sending a message to all Earthlings that this is Sasha Colby’s Drag Race. And what a fantastic verse to boot. Mistress’s rap is serving hard “Detox in the AS2 finale” in the best way, giving so much face and attitude her deficiencies with the choreo barely matter.

CLÁUDIO: Nobody’s bad, but it’s clear who the top two bitches are based on the video. Sasha, in particular, screams winner from the moment her extraterrestrial self appears, a perfect juxtaposition to the Pamela Anderson getup. She can serve body sexual and otherworldly beauty. I kinda wish the other queens had used this opportunity to show the range of their aesthetic like Mother Colby did, but it’s hard to care when their efforts are so superlative. In other words, every queen in the top four has ample reason to feel proud of themselves.

That feeling of love, of sheer accomplishment, is infectious and it affects the judges too. I wonder if the vibe would have been this positive if Marcia, who Ru seemed to dislike on some level, had made it to the finale. In any case, this is a tight race for the top, both in the eyes of the audience and the people in charge of choosing a winner.

NICK: The sense of appreciation, of recognizing what makes each queen so special at the levels of their artistry and as human beings, is one of the most sincere tributes I’ve seen Drag Race bestow upon its contestants. Ru going down the line to tell them they’re anointed somehow feels sincere, rather than hyperbolic or hollow, and the queens themselves are genuinely moved. It’s not like contestants no longer leave the show with negative or complicated reactions to their treatment, either on set or from the edit, but in moments like these I really appreciate how much the judge’s panels have provided such a higher baseline of support rather than the gratuitous, self-satisfied meanness of the earliest seasons.

 

But there’s one more person who the queens still have to testify to: themselves. Ru whips out the toddler-aged pictures of each queen and asks what they would say to their baby gay selves. Everyone cries when they talk to their portraits. Everyone cries hearing each other’s stories. Their baby pictures are adorable. Thank god we didn’t have to see Sasha Colby get deadnamed. I don’t have a ton to say about this, but Christ were my eyes watery.

CLÁUDIO: I’ll just reiterate what I said about the contrast between Luxx and the other queens, how her story serves as counterpoint and a glimmer of hope for the future. May everyone have a family as supportive as the Noir London clan. When Mistress said “you’ll never have that relationship you dream about with your family,” it was hard not to ache for her.

After the crying session, in and out of the screen, we move to the judge’s deliberations. In the end, Sasha is declared the winner and Luxx is safe. Anetra and Mistress, however, must lip sync to save themselves, a first for the Texan queen and a second bottom placement for the Vegas showgirl. Before we get into their smackdown, I’d just like to review the stats regarding wins and placements. After last episode, Sasha and Anetra seemed to be on the same level, with three wins each, but now Mother Colby has four and not one single bottom two placement – something only ever achieved by Gigi Goode. Moreover, Sasha hasn’t lost a single lipsync, unlike Anetra. Luxx counts two victories, and Mistress only one. Personally, I wish they were more balanced wins-wise, but what do you think?

NICK: Would Anetra vs Jax in the LaLaPaRuZa count as a bottom placement? I bitched a few weeks ago about how little wealth-spreading there was this season, and I still hold true to that sentiment. Sixteen contestants, and only seven queens won a maxi or mini challenge. Among this top four, my personal winners each episode would probably end up with a similar spread to what the judges deliberated, but it’s still surprising to see how ahead Sasha is statistically. And I hate being the bitch who goes by the altar of stats, especially since the show itself has held to them less when crowning a winner. The last two queens to win four challenges didn’t take the crown.

Now for the lipsync, to “When Love Takes Over” David Guetta and Kelly Rowlands.

 

Is it the best lipsync of the season? No, but it’s a pretty fun time, and they both tackle it with a lot of exuberance for two bitches on the cusp of not winning $200k. Double shantay worthy? Marcia might say no. But as long as they’re gonna fake us out about a top three, we might as well get a show out of it.

CLÁUDIO: It’s a fine smackdown, though it’s obvious Anetra bested Mistress. Now, for fairness, one must concede that the Texan queen could barely move in her gown and she still served face like an opera prima donna. All in all, it was the only low point in a smashing hour, adding a taste of perfunctoriness to the fun. At least I can safely say expectations are high going to the finale. Judging by the girls’ social tempat presence, the reunion might also be a blast, full of drama and cunt. However, I’m most interested in seeing how some of the dolls have evolved their drag in the months since recording, especially regarding such green queens as Amethyst or Marcia. They might have completely different aesthetics by the time they strut their stuff in the last episode.

What are you most excited for, Nick?

NICK: I’m excited for the evolved styles and flaunting of hot bitch shit. I’m excited for whoever wins, because all four of them deserve it. I’m curious about who will win Miss Congeniality, since so many of the queens seem like they got along real well with each other. In other words, I’m ready to have a good time, since the odds of real disappointment are low as fuck.

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