The trial of the United States of Drag vs. Aiden Zhane is called to order. All rise!
Doesn’t this week’s RuPaul’s Drag Race feel like a prosecution? From the word ‘go,’ rural Georgian queen Aiden is under attack this episode, with the queens saying she deserved to be in the bottom two last week.
Never mind that, ahem, I agree—although they think she should’ve been there over Brita, not Rock M. Sakura, which is some wild behaviour—but the aggression toward Aiden feels misplaced. Aiden didn’t keep herself out of the bottom two; RuPaul did that. But of course, blaming RuPaul on RuPaul’s Drag Race feels ill-advised. So Aiden is on trial instead! And I guess I’ve conscripted myself into being her defence attorney.
Look, I think Aiden deserved to go home last week, too. And I generally agree with Widow Von’Du, who responds to Heidi N. Closet saying she sees “a fire” in Aiden with the incredibly pithy “You see a candle.” I don’t get the raves about Aiden’s X-factor or spunk; I’ve frankly mostly found her to be a dour presence this season, with too-simple drag that pales in comparison to most of her competition. But I gotta admit: I like that she has the other girls panini-pressed.
Ultimately, I’m a firm believer that on Drag Race, you need to keep your eyes on your own paper. It’s why I grew tired of Yvie Oddly constantly sticking her nose in other people’s business last season, and was thrilled when she finally put her head down and executed an incredible final five rap verse. I had a similar problem with Trinity the Tuck (Taylor nevermore) in All Stars 4, as she constantly concerned herself with what elimination procedure was morally correct. I want these queens to focus on themselves, and the amount of energy being wasted on Aiden feels at this point like an exercise in futility. If Ru’s feeling Aiden, there’s not much the other queens can do besides focusing on their own damn work. This goes double for Brita, who seems to take her bottom two trip as a chance to blame everyone else besides herself.
The main challenge (and only challenge, no mini) this week is the first proper acting task of the season, after the improv challenge in Week 3. The queens are assigned roles in “Gay’s Anatomy,” a play on Grey’s Anatomy that pokes a lot of fun at that show’s longevity, absurd plot devices, and haphazard treatment of beloved characters. It’s actually a pretty good sketch in terms of Drag Race acting challenges, if a long one.
My main issue is that the roles are remarkably imbalanced, with Jackie Cox, Brita, Jan and the dreaded Sherry Pie getting most of the screen time. Heidi and Crystal Methyd only get one segment at the end of the challenge, while Nicky Doll gets remarkably short shrift as a baby. (Making matters worse: She gave herself the role, as she and Gigi Goode are assigned casting duty.) So it’s not a real surprise when Heidi and Nicky wind up in the bottom two. What is surprising is how strong the performances are across the board—you get the feeling those two wound up there largely by default, and in Heidi’s case, because of her runway.
The capes runway is a bit of a mixed bag, with some queens turning out iconic looks (Gigi Goode’s Troop Beverly Hills design is jaw-dropping) and others failing to impress (Nicky pulls her cape reveal too early). Heidi’s is the worst of the set, looking like two entirely different costume elements—a black catsuit and a rainbow Bob Mackie wing—slammed together.
We barely get to see some of the looks, though, as Ru pulls perhaps my least favourite trick on Drag Race and declares an entire top six, quickly announcing Sherry wins (congratulations to the Trevor Project on an additional $5,000 donation) and shuffling the rest of them off-stage. I loathe this because it allows Ru to arbitrarily declare a winner without even trying to defend it. Here I am, working overtime in my defence of Aiden Zhane, and the judge just rendered a summary judgment!
The judgment is in Aiden’s favour, however, as Aiden is declared one of the tops of the week. To be frank, this is dubious: Her Mae West-inspired ghost character is a pretty pale performance (pun 100 percent intended), and while I don’t think it deserved bottom two by any measure, I can’t really argue for it as a winner. The bottom five instead are Crystal (who is showered with praise and never really feels threatened), Jaida Essence Hall (basically same), and our true bottom three: Brita, Heidi and Nicky.
Things get ugly in Untucked, and I know I rarely talk about the after-show in these recaps, but I think it’s important this week. Brita regrets having to name one of her fellow queens in Ru’s routine “Who should go home tonight and why?” round of Russian Roulette. Her point, as anyone and their mother could see coming, is that she wishes she could’ve named Aiden instead. And so we go through all the points about why Aiden sucks once more.
After Brita rants at length about Aiden’s weaknesses as a competitor, Aiden finally wakes up and takes the girls to task for repeatedly dragging her. The others largely try to pretend this isn’t true, with a surprisingly too-hot Jaida really coming for Aiden, but Heidi angrily shuts the girls down for their buffoonery.
Aiden is safe, she notes, and there’s nothing to be done about that. (Making all of this funnier in a fairly dark way is that Jan has been assigned to hit the giant Shade Button prompt in the corner whenever someone says something shady, and thus stands at the ready through all of this.)
Again, I’m not going to argue Aiden deserves to still be in this competition, nor that she even acquits herself particularly well in this Untucked. She castigates the girls for caring about her performance, and Nicky rightfully notes that of course they care, because they’re going home instead of her. But I still think Aiden is being wrongfully blamed, and the other girls are coming for her too hard because they can’t express their frustrations with Ru.
When the queens reemerge on the mainstage, Heidi and Nicky are left to lip sync for their lives to Kim Petras’ “Heart to Break,” a choice I’m sure will engender no passionate feelings about the artist in question! It’s a pretty lacklustre battle, with Heidi clearly doing better than Nicky (who drops words all over the place) but not serving it the way I expected her to after her “I’m That Bitch” verse. It’s a clear win for the Remsur queen against the French queen, who takes her defeat admirably.
Next week, we head into Snatch Game, and the playing field seems untenable with both Brita and Aiden still in the game. It feels inevitable that one will go—or, if they don’t, that someone more deserving will pay the price. I’m hopeful we’re headed toward peace in Season 12 soon. We need all the calm we can get these days!
🌟 There’s a part in the challenge filming where Carson Kressley calls “Cut!” and Gigi doesn’t quite stop her line in time, and just says “Nipples!” It’s so random, and nonetheless, it makes me giggle like I’m 13 years old.
🌟 “Motherfucking Sherry Pie.” Co-signed, Widow.
🌟 “I think Jan would trade if she had her boy brows.” Heidi continues to be the naturally funniest queen of the set. She’s very Alyssa Edwardian in that way: Not always great at the challenges that require scripted comedy, but excelling when left to her own humour.
🌟 Speaking of the Remsur queen, this week’s new name for Heidi is “Heidi N. Seeki.” Not your best, Ru!
🌟 Other Ru notes this week: Loved the “Nurse First” reference in the RuMail, hated the repeated references to Crystal’s “DeBarge” mullet. They’re getting their money’s worth out of that “Rhythm of the Night” sample, huh?
🌟 Ru to Widow upon hearing she was dissatisfied with her part: “You wanted to play Blac Chyna, is that right?” Miss you, Nina Bo’nina Brown!
🌟 Normani looks absolutely gorgeous, and “Bustier you stay!” is a god-tier runway callout, but I admit she’s a little flat as a guest judge. It may just be because we’re coming off Leslie Jones, who was in a whole separate league giving criticism and in enthusiasm for the show. But I wish we could’ve saved Normani for a little later, on an episode with another guest, and gotten the “Motivation” lip sync we richly deserve in the process.
🌟 I fully screamed at the hospital in the sketch being named the “Lady Bunny Memorial Hospital.” And I screamed again upon seeing Dahlia Sin in a broccoli costume getting wheeled in as a patient!
🌟 One more Heidi-ism for the road: “Overall she delivered. Literally, ‘cause she was pregnant. If that doesn’t make it in, that’s a problem! That was gold.” How could you not love her?
🌟 While we’re all social distancing, come kiki with me! I’m hosting an afternoon of questions, comments and discuss all things Drag Race! Sashay over to Xtra’s Facebook page on Friday at 4 p.m. EST to join the fun. Here’s what happened in yesterday’s stream: