This is an all-time classic episode of Drag Race, with a difficult marketing maxi-challenge, a stunning runway theme, and a helping of drama (if you like that sort of thing) (and I don’t).
This episode’s feather-themed runway is one of the strongest themes in the history of the show. The majority of these looks would be winners against any other runway lineup, and a two of them will probably go down as a pair of the most memorable looks in Drag Race history.
Behind the scenes in Untucked, the queens get into a serious discussion of Drag Race and race when Aquaria suddenly turns timid after coming for The Vixen’s borrowed red wig. The debate isn’t that Aquaria’s argument is valid (and it’s not, really), but that their confrontation is the perfect model of how white queens never get the blame when it comes to drag drama while queens of color get vilified for clapping back.
Vixen really appeals to me here as a queen who understands the tragedy that playing the game her way – which includes calling out bullshit where she sees it – is going to earn her hate just because of the color of her skin. A white queen with the same strategy would be an all-time fan favorite, but she will inevitably go down as a more divisive contestant.
Yet, instead of playing the coquette, she chooses to lean into her personality. That recontextualizes her “here to fight” entrance line. It’s not that Vixen is mean or messy. It’s that she is unequivocally herself, and she’s not going to back down from that.
I have zero interest in the petty side of Drag Race, which means a contestant who is “here to fight” is a total turnoff for me no matter the color of her skin. Yet, I’m conscious enough of my implicit bias to understand that I can be quicker to dismiss a black queen who is being messy even without intending to be racist. Just because I love Bob, Shangela, and Chi Chi doesn’t mean I don’t have my own racism to confront.
By contrast, Aquaria now looks extra-bad for her equally deliberate confrontational nature from these past three episodes. She’s a brainy queen who knows exactly what she’s doing whens she provokes Vixen or Cracker, but she also knows she can squeak by on the power of being an easily-forgivable pretty white queen.
Wow – that got heavy pretty fast! Let’s get light as a feather with this stunning runway and another week of major shake-ups in the rankings compared to the previous rundown.
Start your engines, readers. And may the best woman … win!
1. Asia O’Hara
Asia O’Hara notched a major win for a minor performance this episode, which seems to tip her as an early producer favorite. I can’t be too mad about it, since I love Asia and she was memorable in this episode, but there was definitely some rigga morris involved in the results.
Asia’s performance in the “Buttrface” app commercial was sillier than it was good. She’s supposed to look mega-ugly, but sells it almost entirely with messy make-up and a goofy face rather than going truly ugly like Aquaria. What are the beige streaks on her face supposed to be, exactly? Is she really “ugly” just because she holds her chin awkwardly the entire time? And, are we giving full credit for pausing awkwardly in the middle of our lines now?
It seems unfair that Asia got a pass for these weaknesses while Yuhua’s stilted-but-creepy performance was labeled as “pretty, but with some dots.” It goes to show just how subjective the challenge judging can be when this performance gets as much notice as the members of Team Blair.
Then, Asia garners runway notice with a feather poncho in the style of Tweety Bird. It’s a hilarious and instantly-memorable concept, but against some of the “best in drag” moments from this runway it hardly seems worthy of a win over Blair or Cracker. It’s safe with a hearty chuckle, at best – but, we all know that few things count more on this show than making Ru laugh.
With this performance (or, more accurately, the reaction to this performance), Asia feels like our first lock-up for the top three of the season. Of course, we’ve seen early favorites falter before when they hit Ball Challenges or Snatch Game, but right now Asia feels like a completely different brand of pageant queen than we’ve seen before.
2. Miz Cracker
Miz Cracker managed to be funny without completely pulling focus in her group, and she delivered a beautiful bluebird look on the runway.
Cracker made a surprisingly effective comedy duo with the typically overpowering Eureka in her team’s “End of Days” commercial. Her editorial perspective not only remained intact, but influenced the tone of the entire skit while not overpowering Eureka’s literal slapstick or Blair’s doe-eyed innocence. It was not as much as a stand-out as some of this week’s other top performances, but it was on the high side of safe.
On the runway, Cracker hatched a lovely, blue feathered, caged bird look that hews a bit closely to her scaly blue entrance dress. The look is stunning shade of cobalt set off by clever gold cages on her hips. Much like her performance in the challenge, it’s not necessarily “all-time-great,” but it’s definitely good.
We’ve now had three episodes of nearly flawless performance from Cracker, yet I’m still not convinced RuPaul would really bring this “Barbie on Bath Salts” to the finale. After Trixie’s All Stars win is Ru finally realizing the value of latching onto a meme queen earlier rather than later? And, can Cracker really keep this level of high drag up for ten more weeks of competition?
3. Blair St. Claire
Blair St. Claire stepped up in this episode with a strong showing of her comedic chops and an unusual display of feathers on her gown. I’d say she was the undisputed winner of the week, except for the fact that she didn’t actually win!
Blair’s app commercial performance was perfection – even moreso considering she was the leader of the well-organized “End of Days” team. She could have easily been upstaged by Cracker and Eureka mugging in the background, but she managed to hold focus even with a less silly performance. We’ve seen a lot of queens totally fail at playing the straight man (HA!) in these challenges, but Blair sets herself up for the risk and then slays.
Blair’s runway dress is… unusual? There’s really no other way to describe it. Most feather garments tend to use feathers the way a bird would, rooting the shaft of the feather on the garment so it flaps in the wind. Blair’s golden dress is more covered in feathers – like a feather patten on wallpaper. It seems to be a strategic choice to make up for not having enough feathers to cover her entire garment. It worked for me because of the brilliant white-on-gold color palette and the perkier fit of her garment compared to last week.
With three highly-placing weeks in a row, it’s starting to seem like Blair is less of a Farrah Moan and more of a Valentina – a ruthlessly prepared young queen who has truly cracked the code of the show and arrived without a single weak spot. Given her strength as a performer, designer, and team player, she’s starting to seem like one of the queens to beat this season.
4. The Vixen
The Vixen took the unglamorous role as a doomsday-prepping crazy person in the “End of Days” commercial, but more than made up for it with the best peacock feather feature I’ve ever seen.
Vixen was the most forgettable queen in her commercial, but that’s not a bad thing despite a skeptical edit during the team’s rehearsal. Just as Vixen commits hard to being a fighter, there was nothing tentative about her “The End Is Near” protestor in this clip. We’ve seen so many queens fail on these background roles, but Vixen makes it work.
On the runway Vixen turns out her most high-gloss look yet with an asymmetrical peacock gown. Her massive skirt of peacock feathers really sold the plumage fantasy, as did her dancerly swirling on the runway. It’s the first time I haven’t simply got “BOY” from her lanky frame.
In voiceover, she makes a good point about peacocks being the drag queens of birds, with the males putting on one of nature’s most ostentatious displays. I could have done without the sequined peacock on the bodice, which is a bit like having an embroidered cow on the back of your cool leather jacket.
Despite my distaste for drama, it’s impossible to deny that Vixen is putting together a memorable run on this show. So many past rabble rousers have used their aggression to mask deficiencies or vulnerabilities, as both Phi Phi and Roxxxy confessed after their bitchy trips to the top three. Vixen is the rare queen who seems to have her own house mostly in check (aside from her edges) before she comes for everyone else. And, for that matter, she doesn’t actually come for anyone else – she just claps back effectively!
5. Monét X Change
Monet X Change proved for a third week in a row that she’s a natural-born star on the stage, but she had the unfortunate luck to be handicapped by delivering a near neighbor to last week’s runway in this week’s feather challenge.
While Monet’s “Buttrface” team was as lumpy as her odd-body padding in the challenge, Monet delivered as the no-nonsense pretty narrator with a lumpy body. While some of the performance felt a bit similar to what she showed in last week’s PharmaRusical, it was still amusing. Despite the comparisons to her good friend Bob The Drag Queen, Monet brings something distinct and brainy to her performances compared to Bob’s voracious scenery chewing.
On the runway, Monét delivered a lovely midriff-baring red feather gown that has two things in common with last week’s look. First, there’s the red. I think this is as close as a color match as you can get between feathers and rhinestones!
Second, there’s the body. I don’t mean this as a read on her natural body type and I don’t have a single problem with queens that don’t cinch, but… there’s no denying that Monét’s proportions are a little off in this gown just as they’ve been the past two weeks. She just doesn’t have a waist! The result is a somewhat round silhouette where all the weight of your gaze goes right to her middle.
That doesn’t stop her from being beautiful or prevent her garments from being lovely! Honestly, this is still a high impact look. However, in terms of being a runway queen, she could use a minor tune-up to increase her visual impact. It would help if she wore outfits with shoulder pads, padded out her hips in a more exaggerated fashion, or even just wore a bigger chest or larger hair.
With this as Monet’s third week without a critique, it’s hard to know just where she stands in the competition. She’s got natural star power, but are the judges living for her runway looks at all? I guess we’re about to find out with next week being a ball challenge!
6. Kameron Michaels
Kameron Michaels delivered a charming performance that was panned by the judges, but she’s easily saved by one of the most striking runway looks in Drag Race history.
I think the somewhat reserved Kameron bit off more than she could chew in her “Fibstr” commercial, doubling as both the narrator and as one of the lying lady.
While Kameron’s fibber was flat, her bland, smiling narrator was perfectly suited to this sort of ad – she nailed it. I don’t understand how Kameron’s inability to ham it up translated to Michelle panning her by saying “Acting isn’t really your thing.” Yet, she brought the same vanilla performance to her shady dater, which made both seem weaker. She probably shouldn’t have doubled up on roles.
On the runway… I don’t even know where to begin.
Kameron was serving high budget Final Fantasy villain, like Disney’s Maleficent with her glamor turned up to 11. She somehow made an entire body cutout work, because the negative space of nude illusion implied the curvy shape of her body inside of a massive silhouette that was mostly black feathers. Her plumed wings rested on her elbows, so that putting her hands on her hip gave them the illusion of being flapped – a brilliant mechanic. And, her gold-flecked makeup was stunning. This runway goes right into my all-time hall of fame next to Trixie’s bearded angel and Detox’s Vinyl Girl With The Pearl Earring.
Despite her performance critiques, Kameron generated a lot of excitement for her run in this episode by turning out such a next-level runway look. Of course, we’ve seen runway monsters get slayed early on in the past (Acid Betty, you were robbed!). Can Kameron step up her performance chops to last past the midway point? Luckily, she probably has next week in the bag, as it’s a three-looks-in-one challenge!
7. Mayhem Miller
Mayhem Miller faded into the background on Monique’s “Fibstr” team, barely scoring a second of airtime in the final cut. Her runway probably should have saved her from the bottom two, I think we are all thankful we got to see her deliverable an all-time great lip sync to Hole’s legendary “Celebrity Skin.”
For all of the hype that preceded Mayhem into this competition, she seems like a fairly reserved queen. She’s definitely tops at turning looks, as this bold, chest-baring runway attests (although I wasn’t a fan of the dowdy nude panel on the back). Yet, she cannot even assert herself against the unpushy combination of Kameron and Dusty as her teammates.
Mayhem’s crash in the “Fibstr” skit was just bad strategy – not only on Monique’s part, but on the whole team’s. The reveal of Kameron’s beach babe to be Mayhem simply didn’t make sense. It would have been more effective for Mayhem to have delivered Kameron’s entire monologue hidden behind a menu in the restaurant (where she could have easily read the lines).
While it’s easy to lay this problem at Monique’s feet as the team leader, it’s just as much on Mayhem for not coming with a character or concept. She can complain all she wants about being railroaded (c.f. Untucked), but if you contribute nothing you get nothing.
Or, in Monique’s words: “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”
This feels a lot like the traditional “wake up call” edit that underperforming queens get early in their seasons to turn them into bloodthirsty competitors. The question is if Mayhem can overcome her genial, agreeable nature to go as hard at every challenge as she did at this lip sync.
8. Monique Heart
Monique Heart’s app performance was just okay, but she saved herself with a stunning runway look.
Monique seems like she could be a level-headed team leader in most situations, but after getting read on the runway last week she’s feeling urgency to stand out. That leads her to pick a team of slightly more-reserved queens for team “Fibstr” in the hopes that her personality will rule the day. Monique does well in listening to their concerns (though Mayhem would not agree), but they don’t bring many laughs to the challenge.
A shady edit tries to make Monique’s self-direction out to be kooky, but there’s no denying she brought focus and intent to the challenge. Her punchlines don’t land too hard in the final cut, but she’s magnetic on camera in the ad just as much as she is on the rest of the show.
On the runway, Monique is back to Week 1 form with a breathtaking gold-feathered white cloak over a simple white dress. Or, as I like to think of it, her “Phoenix in the White Hot Room” look. It’s a stunner, as is her trademark bold makeup look. If she had been even an ounce more amusing in the challenge (or if her team hadn’t had such a pervasive structure problem with the Kameron>Mayhem reveal), I’m sure this could have squeaked into top contention in the judging.
It’s a tragedy that a queen as memorable as Monique is being done dirty by the editing and the judges. It’s like they are gaslighting her into being increasingly crazy in her challenges by withholding feedback until they finally have the chance dismiss her for being “too much.”
Aquaria was completely forgettable in this challenge, but she turned in a basic and glamorous runway look that speaks well for her makeup skills.
There’s no denying Aquaria is a team player for the “Buttrface” app. She had no hesitation in going incredibly ugly for the commercial – the only complete success of the “ugly” trio on her team. She gets the look right, but none of her bits were memorable.
Aquaria finally makes a minor mark on the runway with a low-key lovely take on Alouette. She’s a delicate golden bird who has been felled by a pair of arrows. It’s a clever take that tells a story without her fashion literally screaming “I’m a bird! Caw! Caw!”
Aquaria has been virtually invisible thus far in the competition and has proven to be only an adequate performer these past two weeks. Is this an editing slow burn so we don’t get too tired of her too early? Or, is Aquaria really just looks and nothing more?
10. Eureka O’Hara
Eureka O’Hara managed to steal a few scenes, but she was out-performed by other members of her team and unfairly praised for a border-line hideous runway as the show forces a “bounce back” narrative after she nearly crashed and burned last week.
Eureka’s pushy, loudmouth tendencies are somewhat mitigated by the “End of Days” team (or, at least, we’re not shown them) as she meets her match in loudness and slapstick in Miz Cracker. The two of them produce a lot of the best bits in this episode, including rolling around on the ground mauling each other. Eureka also does fine on her own, despite relying a bit heavily on “big girl” jokes to land her solo punchlines.
I hated Eureka’s runway. I just cannot enjoy such a massive, shapeless, low-contrast grown on her full figure. Her crow feather ensemble sucked up light, making it look shapeless, and she killed its silhouette with a feather bolero jacket that turned her into a giant greasy-looking lump on the runway. It erased all of her curves and makes her look like a floating head on a giant blob of body.
Putting Eureka in the top group here gives her some narrative momentum, but I don’t know that I believe we’ve suddenly found some magically motivated “here to fight” Eureka. This week feels like the same old big-mouthed, broad comedy version of her we already know and begrudgingly love, and in a cast this strong that’s not going to be enough to make it to the finale.
11. Dusty Ray Bottoms
Dusty Ray Bottoms might have delivered the best (and funniest) acting performance of the week, which saves her from lip syncing due to a historically messy runway look.
Dusty played a multiple-personality single lady searching for love on “Fibstr” while restrained to her bed in an institution. It was the broadest comedy played by anyone short of Asia this week, and Dusty absolutely nailed it with tons of nuance. It’s easy to play crazy, but it’s hard to play crazy well and with specificity. That’s what she does here. It’s incredibly impressive – as much so as Blair stealing the show as the straight-woman of her team’s performance.
If Dusty had come through with anything other than a worst-ever runway she could have easily been the winner of the week. Unfortunately, her look is a disaster on at least two different fronts.
From a shape and structure perspective, Dusty’s dress is a mess. It’s a corset accentuated with feathers in all the wrong places. Giant feather circles around the boobs. Massive feathered hips but a bare ass. Every single placement and proportion choice on this garment goes haywire. I feel like the same garment could have been improved one hundred fold by putting the boob circles on her butt and ripping the hip feathers off to use as wings.
Then, from a color perspective, it feels like her outfit is in a fight with itself. White, green, and gold isn’t such a bad combination, but then why does she have blue lips and red hair?! And why wear weird-looking white eyebrows when she doesn’t have a single feather on her? It looks like all of the colors were randomly assigned.
If we were coming off of this challenge onto another performance challenge, I’d have Dusty ranked much higher. However, going from this fashion fail to a ball challenge puts her at serious risk. Plus, getting her big backstory in this episode means she’s at risk from an editing perspective, too – if she doesn’t kickstart a new plot, her entire story has been told! I love Dusty, but she’s in danger.
Sashay Away… Yuhua Hamasaki
While I agree that Yuhua is probably the next-weakest queen in this cast, I’m a little puzzled by the critiques that lead to her exit.
Yuhua’s dress was… great. It does everything right that Eureka (and even Monét) did wrong. It pulls in at the waist and has a slit to break up the blackness and give it shape, and she adds contrast with her red hair. I think she needed an additional red element to pull it together (maybe her wrist cuffs), but it’s a strong, glamorous look that could easily be worn out of the context of a feather runway.
(I think the negative reception to her look combined with Acid Betty’s unjust elimination proves that the judges just are not into birds attached with poles.)
Unfortunately, Yuhua’s “Buttrface” performance isn’t much more stilted than her “Buttrface” teammates, but she doesn’t notch any sight gags like Asia and Aquaria do. She ends up in the bottom two, where she was obliterated in the “Celebrity Skin” lip sync by an enraged Mayhem.