CLÁUDIO ALVES: After weeks of epic-length write-ups, here we have an episode that feels poised to be taken care of quick and dirty. It’s the return of the LaLaPaRUza, a lipsync tournament to the death – in total, there are eight battles to consider and little else to examine. The 40-minute edit means there’s no time to indulge in whatever’s not part of the face-off, including any inkling of storyline development. Still, it’s an exciting chapter with a heartbreaking conclusion, one frustrating twist, and a slew of fabulous queens. Did you have fun?
NICK TAYLOR: In the words of Dorothea Fields, yes and no…
Offing a talented queen I loved that the judges and the producers haven’t been excited for stings for me personally, but it just feels counterproductive that both of these tournaments have vanquished lip sync assassins. I would like this better if we’d gotten rid of a queen who can’t lip sync, and it was frustrating to see some performers skate by because their competition was worse (where have you gone, double sashay?).
The twist felt bad, the entertainment value was real, and the lack of any real narrative development held it back from the heights of last season’s high-stakes redemption arc. Momentary squabbles about who got saved and who was expected to flop might hold up, and I hope the new knowledge of who can perform and who can’t will affect the queen’s assessments of each other going forward. But this feels like a YouTube playlist got turned into a Drag Race episode, and the joys of the best performances are muddier ever so slightly by the aftertaste. Am I being too harsh?
CLÁUDIO: No, I’ve read similar things from the online fanbase. It seems my positive reaction is in the minority, honestly.
As someone who always looks at this series more as a showcase for talented individuals than a vehicle for reality TV narratives, there’s something appealing about the no-nonsense structure of this episode but I agree it can feel brisk and muddy, making even the greatest heights register as anti-climatic. Also, I completely get that the end result of all this was rather sad. Moreover, it hinges on a previous-round verdict from the judges I strongly disagree with. More on that later.
But let’s tackle this mess in episode order. First up, we open with Spice declaring this the start of her top era (hilariously wrong) and Loosey’s continued anger at not being in the top last week. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting annoyed by this LaDuca hissy fit. Mistress is right – there’s a lot of delusion going around.
NICK: Very delusional! Especially when Loosey’s done quite well, given how spread out the winners have been so far. It’s just petulant, and as Mistress says, it’s all the worse because she’s not owning it. Very Alexis Michelle. Spice’s insistence on her top era, on the other hand, is fully laughable. I wish her happy-go-lucky attitude was backed up by something resembling Loosey’s competitive edge, let alone the talent to match her remaining competition.
Ru walks into the werkroom and announces this week’s main challenge is going to be a LaLaPaRUZa Lip Sync Smackdown, seemingly turning last season’s redemptive punishment into a tentative new mainstay. We get only a few minutes of the queens buzzing around in excitement. Mistress identifies Sasha Colby and Anetra as the queens no one wants to go up against, while pegging Loosey, Marcia Marcia Marcia, and Spice as the easiest targets (ie – all the white girls). The words are barely out of her mouth before RuPaul struts the runway. There’s no guest judge, but weirdly, only the hilarious Ross Mathews reps the guest judges. It’s a lonely threesome on the panel as the queens emerge, ready for a fight.
I’ll say this for the queens: I liked their outfits. Last season’s queens mainly dressed for the challenge, and these girls had a lot more personality in their battle costumes. This is probably Spice’s best runway, and I was especially taken with Mistress and Jax.
CLÁUDIO: They did look great. My favorite was Turmeric, weirdly enough, while Sasha served another expected slay. I co-sign your praise for Mistress and Jax, and even have some goodwill left to mention that Luxx worked the shit out of a simplistic outfit that looked like the white version of what Margot Robbie wears in Babylon’s first act.
Sadly, all my goodwill disappears once I come face to face with Marcia Marcia Marcia. Apologies for the harshness, but I can’t with this queen’s chosen aesthetic, in all its preppy rigidity. It’s not even the issue of her makeup alone – it’s proficient without ever reaching for greatness, solid, basic. Marcia tripled’s mug is like a Ron Howard movie.
And yet, that kind of mean judgment is what leads Malaysia Babydoll Foxx to pick Marcia as her opponent – a disastrous decision. The cubed queen may not serve looks, but she has Broadway-ready performance chops, weaponizing her BFA in musical theater all throughout their battle to Anitta’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” Even my Marcia hater ass couldn’t deny her talent at this decisive moment, and she deserves a standing ovation for gagging the girls so savagely.
NICK: What did Malaysia expect! What did any of the queens expect! Marcia’s choreographed two challenges already, the slayage was undeniable. My Monet X Change comparison from a few episodes ago is now backed up by some sick lip syncing chops. Malaysia did herself no favors by trying to out-dance Marcia, turning into an imitation Kennedy Davenport in the process. Marcia sauntered back to the werkroom with Malaysia’s fallen earring as a badge of honor on her chest, and the defeated queen takes her place in the wings.
Loosey’s ball is picked next, and the strategist extraordinaire selects Spice as her opponent. Spice picks Joan Jett’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)”, and the resulting lip sync is a goddamn bust. If the ultimate loser of this challenge has the blessing/curse of duking it out against this season’s best performers, Spice’s matches are worthy of double sashays. Loosey’s stiff physicality kills her comedic lunges completely, and Spice is embarrassingly hopeless at navigating the kind of edgy song her merek is built around. Ru declares Loosey safe, but it would have been funnier to watch her blow a gasket and go for another round.
CLÁUDIO: The best part of this round was looking at Bruno and his balls. The moment Loosey’s name was selected, everyone knew she’d go for Star Anise, and it paid off. Nevertheless, like you, I was disappointed by their performance and would have been fine with a double sashay, especially when other performances down the line deserved a double win. It was a waste of an amazing song.
It would have been fun to see Loosey deal with the psychological pressure of Mustard beating her, though I guess we got a taste of that when nobody praises her performance back in the werkroom. You can see it rattles the bitch. Moreover, when it comes to cocky queens getting a reality check, Luxx takes the cake.
She’s the next selected, choosing to go against Salina EsTitties. We get the sense that Miss Noir London thought her adversary would go for a dance-heavy song, but, instead, the Latina queen goes for the lone ballad – Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” This is the first of four songs making their return to the Drag Race stage during this episode, having been the final lipsync for Canada Season 2. Back then, all contestants gave themselves over to the melodrama of the tune, but Salina has a trick up her sleeve. She goes for humor, timing every gag perfectly while Luxx fades into the background. It’s a decisive victory, methinks.
NICK: I would disagree on Luxx getting a reality check, if only because I don’t believe she thought she lost. Otherwise, I agree with everything you said. Salina killed it. I appreciate her ability to earnestly connect to the song while making it funny. Loosey was the only other queen who really tried being funny, which means Ms. EsTitties was the only one who did it successfully.
Mistress is up next, and she smartly picks Jax. Sure, the judges like Jax the least of the swirly-twirly girls left, but there’s some of Mistress’s Machiavellian streak here. She rightly speculates Jax will select Taylor Dayne’s “Tell It To My Heart” as her lip sync song. It’s the episode’s second RuPrisal, as it was previously used in All-Stars season 2. Much like Alyssa Edwards and Detox, Jax and Mistress take different approaches to the song. Where Jax meets the song with her trademark emotiveness and beat-for-beat ballroom choreography, Mistress goes for pure star charisma, getting inside the groove and hiding a glittery reveal underneath her tear-away. The surviving queens predict Jax won the lipsync, but Mistress is dubbed the victor and is pissed no one’s happy to see her. I might have given them a double shantay, but in truth, I can’t say saving Mistress over my beloved Jax was a bad call.
CLÁUDIO: Jax was quite good, showing off her acrobatic skills in beat to the song. However, you’re right when you mention Mistress’s charisma. She’s a veritable explosion of star magnetism, embodying the song with her face and finding ways to have fun with it along the way. Jax looks like she’s fighting for her life, but her opponent exudes the air of someone who’s there to have a good time and entertain the house down. Projecting a sense of pleasure from within the performance is a skill I always appreciate in a drag queen – it’s what makes Manila such a great lipsyncer – so I was bound to pick Mistress as my winner. All that and her titty choreography was sheer perfection. We know Mama Ru loves good boob-ography – it won Yara Sofia the AS6 Talent Show!
Next comes the match we’ve been waiting for, the battle of the titans that is season 15 winner Sasha Colby vs. Anetra. You can feel the tension in the air and taste the anticipation, even before the song is selected. Still, since I always get to introduce Mother Colby, why don’t you do the honors this time?
NICK: Oh these bitches dance the fucking stage down. They know the stakes, they know each other, and they know themselves, which means they’re going to take Fifth Harmony’s “I’m in Love with a Monster” and perform the hell out of it. Somehow the maximal physicality and hair-flipping translates to zero stunts from both queens. Sasha’s makeup application vogue and twerking to the final beats of the song makes hers a decisive win for me, but she and Anetra are beyond magnetic.
CLÁUDIO: They are tremendous, taking over that stage like primordial storms of sensuality and fierceness. It’s the season’s best lip-syc, from Sasha’s hairography to Anetra’s sublime physicality, which wavers between showgirl grace and Mortal Kombat intensity. I can’t wait to watch Sasha lip-sync for the crown in the finale – I’m sure it’ll be a major gag. Right now, she’s the worthy winner of this titanic face-off, but a double shantay would have been justified too. Honestly, it feels unfair that Anetra gets pushed to the next round with this level of artistry while Loosey is safe because she was a skosh less incompetent than Coriander.
Speaking of Miss Cardamom and incompetency, Malaysia gets her ball picked at the start of the tournament’s second round. This time, she goes for her adopted drag daughter, correctly surmising that Paprika is the weakest link among the remaining queens. While her instincts aren’t wrong, Cinnamon has a secret advantage – the twink knows Mama Foxx doesn’t know the words to Camila Cabello’s “Don’t Go Yet,” so that’s her song choice. However, as it soon becomes apparent, neither bitch can remember the lyrics. Rather than devising an assassination, Saffron has produced a lip-sync suicide. It’s bad to the point of hilarity, great TV but a terrible performance. Give them both the boot!
NICK: It’s a murder-suicide. There’s something truly depressing to watch two queens spend half their time flailing onstage like this knowing the trio waiting in the wings would’ve sent them packing. It’s by far the worst show of the night, and I’m a bit surprised the sheer incompetence of it all doesn’t land both of them in the final hot seat. But in the end, Malaysia is declared the winner and is sent back to the werkroom, where she’s immediately questioned by Marcia about why she picked her to lip sync against. Malaysia’s moment of victory is snapped away under murmured explanations about how the choice wasn’t because she thought Marcia would suck (lol).
The last round of the semi-finals is a threeway between Anetra, Jax, and Luxx Noir London, all of whom kick, flip, bend, and snap their way through “The Right Stuff” by Vanessa Williams. This is the third RuPrisal (trademark) of the evening, and will forever be most notorious as the season 3 premiere lipsync, when Venus D-Lite tried to throttle Shangela onstage. It’s an impressive display, but a chaotic one, with the already-compromised editing forced to cram three queens taking functionally identical approaches to this song into its restricted runtime. This isn’t a bad showing by any means, but it’s the one I oddly have the least to say about.
They all did well – I think Anetra and Jax both showed better than Luxx, but in the end the season’s reigning fashionista is seemingly teleported directly into the werkroom. She too has a funny/awkward encounter with the bitch who beat her, and Ms. EsTitties will not allow her any room to think the judging was wrong. Which means Anetra, Jax, and Spice are poised to fight to the death . . . . or are they????
CLÁUDIO: I think Anetra handily won that three-way smackdown, finding levels to the performance by starting with some ground choreo before gradually getting up to her usual high acrobatics. Jax was also good, but she missed lyrics, while Luxx was fine but never as exciting as her opponents. Choosing her as the winner feels like a production move, forcing their preferred storyline to play out.
That becomes obvious when we get to the grand finale, with three bitches left and a sudden twist. Bruno will pick one final ball, and the queen whose name’s on it will have the opportunity to save an adversary. Anetra’s ball it is, and she chooses to spare Chili Pepper, justifying her choice by saying she wants a challenge, implying it would feel unfair to combat the season’s worst remaining lip-syncer. On the one hand, I commend the decision because watching Bergamot flop again would have been very boring. On the other hand, it’s bullshit.
Anyway, the fandom seems to love Anetra’s argumentation, the low-key shade against Cumin, and the perceived kindness of it all. Whatever!
So, Anetra and Jax perform to CeCe Peniston’s “Finally,” a fabulous tune we previously saw when Aja and Nina Bo’nina Brown performed against each other. Watching these artists desperately hold on to their place in the competition is one hell of a show, reminding me of what it feels like to watch the end of a long match between master athletes. It’s like Murray vs del Potro at the 2016 Olympics, the screen exudes exhaustion making the final triumph all the sweeter. That doesn’t mean saying goodbye to the loser is any easier.
NICK: I can understand Anetra’s choice, which might resonate better if we’d learned more about her by now or if Spice had been doing remotely better at any point this season. Picking Jax for the final battle shows Anetra as a bitch who believes in fighting her weight class to the bitter end (I don’t get the perceived kindness of it at all), but it’s very bullshit that Jax is left holding the short end of the straw because of it. I don’t disagree with Anetra winning and Jax being sent home, but they shouldn’t have been in this position to begin with. Also, imagine getting sent home to the same song that took out your drag mom when she first competed. So rude!
But as with season 14’s Bosco vs Jasmine climax, the finale lip sync is one of the night’s best. For all their agility and emotionality, Anetra and Jax’s performances are evidently tinged with desperate exhaustion, and this effort somehow reverberates with the joy of the song itself instead of working against it. It’s a damn good show, and even if I’m sad Jax had to say goodbye, she’s leaving with a damn good body of work under her belt. May her All-Stars glow-up be unstoppable.
Anetra enters the werkroom triumphant and sweaty to the utter joy of her competitors. With no winner to the episode and a new appreciation for the queen’s lip syncing prowess, I’m very curious how they’ll size each other up going forward. Do Loosey and Malaysia have any chance of winning now? Will Salina be the new lip sync assassin? Is Spice going home next episode (please)? Can anyone vanquish Sasha Colby?