It’s Conflict Hour on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and it’s time to pick sides! Fresh off last week’s testy Untucked—which the queens seem to think was much more dramatic than the previous week’s Untucked, which is absolutely silly—we’ve got two major battles to hash out. One has a clear-cut winner, while the other is a little messy!
First, we have the case of Goode v. Closet, as Heidi N. Closet pushes back against Gigi Goode for critiquing her makeup during Untucked. Gigi’s point is that the queens complaining about being in the bottom weren’t listening to the judges, and Heidi not responding to their notes about her makeup week-after-week were part of the problem. Heidi’s defence is that the only week she got a note about her makeup was week 1, with Nicki Minaj, and she’s never complained about being in the bottom. Which is literally all correct!
Gigi chose the incorrect target in Untucked, and spoke incorrectly about Heidi’s experience on the show. Moreover, Heidi’s makeup has improved, and while Gigi tries to note that, she’s dug such a deep hole that Heidi’s not particularly willing to listen to her. While Heidi may be sensitive in her response to Gigi, and Gigi does apologize, Heidi is in the right on the facts, and I don’t blame her for wanting to be in her feelings about Gigi’s unprovoked shot at her for a while. I offer a summary judgment in favour of Ms. Closet.
The case of Von’Du v. Cox and Pie, on the other hand, is much thornier. Widow’s frustration comes from Jackie Cox and (to a lesser extent) Sherry Pie criticizing the underperforming girls for not being prepared for Snatch Game, when she insists she was prepared—it’s just tough to keep it together during showtime. Moreover, she notes, Jackie and Sherry are inevitably going to falter on another challenge, and she wants them to feel as dragged as she felt by them in Untucked. What makes this tough for Widow is that both Jackie and Sherry immediately apologize—and without condition or excuse, like Gigi makes—and Widow says they’re “backtracking bitches” in her confessional. She’s allowed to not accept the apology, but doubting the authenticity of it feels misjudged.
These unresolved issues set the stage for a very tense Rusical episode of Drag Race, one in which the queens perform very well, but conflict colours everything. It’s a very good episode, if a bit dubious in some of its judging decisions at the end.
Widow’s problem with the apology, and the other queens en masse at this point, is she perceives them to be fake. This connects to Brita and others’ loud mourning of Aiden Zhane at the start of the episode, as they pretend they’re sad that she’s gone. “I love Aiden,” Brita says as she wipes Aiden’s lipstick message off the mirror. “I’m proud of that bitch.” Both Widow and Heidi call that out as obviously false, since Brita spent most of the start of the competition repeatedly dragging Aiden in Untucked.
I don’t personally think this group of queens is as fake as Widow does, but I do think they’re conflict-averse in a way that is frustrating. Gigi moaning that she’s “so over this day” because of her issue with Heidi—on the same day that she won Snatch Game, I’ll remind you is a red flag to me. If Heidi expressing why she was upset is so distressing that it can knock you out of your good mood, that speaks to a desire to maintain an inauthentic positive vibe rather than addressing problems between you and your sisters. And as Gigi says later in the episode, she does consider this group a family. “Families fight,” she says, and she’s right! But families also don’t always neatly make up right away.
So while it’s not particularly friendly or sisterly of Widow to say she hopes Jackie fails in the dancing challenge as, spoiler alert, she does—it is real. And as she notes in Untucked (and a friend from Kansas City confirmed to me) in Kansas City, Widow keeps it real. She will speak her mind and let you know how she feels. Personally, as a fan of this show, I will always prefer that kind of queen over someone who can’t dig their heels in and stand their ground. Unfortunately for Widow, I think I’m in the minority on that one. I do think this is likely the proper start of Widow’s villain edit, though there have been signs for a few weeks that it was coming.
The Rusical challenge this week is an unauthorized Madonna Rusical, very much in line with the unauthorized Cher Rusical from Season 10. That one was a notoriously dismal affair, with weak songs and sub-standard choreography. The Madonna Rusical, on the other hand, is an absolute thrill, with bops inspired by Madonna’s own, and killer dance moves that nearly everyone nails. I somewhat question the wisdom of yet another Madonna task after two previous Night of 1000 Madonna runway challenges—we still haven’t had a Janet Jackson-inspired challenge or Rihanna-inspired runway—but considering she’s head judge Michelle Visage’s favourite, and close to Ru’s heart, I get it.
The top three in the challenge are Jan, finally getting critiqued after weeks of wanting to be, as well as two-time winner Gigi Goode and perpetual underdog Crystal Methyd. Crystal seems to be a just-happy-to-be-recognized situation, as while she is a lot of fun in the challenge (and turns a great, campy look for the Night of 1000 Michelle Visages runway), her singing is rough, and she doesn’t make as big of an impression as the other two. Still, after weeks of her getting bad critiques, it’s nice to see Crystal on the upswing.
Jan is a pro the whole episode, nailing her recording session with Michelle and slaying the choreography session. Her performance starts the challenge on the right note, as she dances her heart out and lip syncs flawlessly to her own terrific vocals. By all accounts, this is her episode to win. She loves musical theatre, she loves Rusicals and she smashes the entire challenge. Her Michelle runway is great, too, a tribute to her Glamazonian Airways look. The girls tell Jan she’s definitely won in Untucked, and you can tell Jan agrees.
Which is why she’s utterly devastated when Gigi wins instead, picking up her third victory of the season. She is the fastest queen to hit three wins, edging out Bob the Drag Queen’s record from Season 8. And honestly, it’s hard to argue with the result. I personally would’ve given Jan the win, but I’m a fan of spreading the wealth. Gigi’s performance as the Unapologetic Madonna is loaded with star power, and she kills both the choreography and the vocals. Jan looks visibly upset with the result. (Widow compared Jan’s face crack to that of a discovered serial killer—a wild analogy.) I wonder if this will make Jan turn heel next week.
The lowest scores go to Brita and Jackie, who are genuinely the two worst of the challenge, and Heidi, who is probably third-to-last but so significantly above the other two that it shouldn’t be a discussion. However, the judges come for Heidi not putting enough of Madonna in the performance, which is just bullshitty enough of a critique that what comes next shouldn’t be a surprise: Heidi is placed in the bottom over Jackie. Still, she doesn’t have much to worry about: Brita is on her third lip sync, and it’s rare that someone survives three trips to the bottom.
If you feel in some way like we’ve been watching the same results for five weeks, there’s a reason why: Every time Sherry Pie won a challenge, Nicky Doll lip synced for her life. Every time Gigi Goode won a challenge, Brita lip synced for her life. I’m actually not bored with this season—it’s not my favourite, but there’s some genuinely good drama and character conflicts—but I do think it’s gotten incredibly monotonous in terms of the results. The reason why we’re not seeing much from queens like Jan, or Jaida Essence Hall (who I just mentioned by full name because she’s so uninvolved this episode that I haven’t had to talk about her yet), is because queens like Gigi, Crystal and Brita are taking up so much of the oxygen. Sherry would be too, if she weren’t being edited out because of her disqualification.
Part of me is still hopeful that some other queens can start pulling out wins, and that the rest of this season can feel fresher than it has been so far. Brita going home in the lip sync to Madonna’s “Burning Up”—a very fair loss to a hard-fighting Heidi — is a good sign we might see more of the other girls, at least. She cannot possibly be at the bottom once again next week, which frees up a spot for someone else to be critiqued. But for the time being, I’m going to focus more on the interpersonal dynamics and less on the game this season. When there’s an obvious result ahead—and I think we can all agree Gigi’s inevitable win is as obvious as they come—all you can do is enjoy the ride on the way there.
🎉 Very glad to see Jamal Sims back, who has been a terrific choreographer and personality throughout Drag Race’s many seasons, but largely was replaced by Todrick Hall at a certain point. Considering Todrick did the vastly inferior “Cher: The Unauthorized Rusical,” I think Jamal has once again proven his dominance.
🎉 Jan hosts her own Rusical parties, where she and her friends watch every Rusical from every season. To which I say: She chooses to do this? She chooses to watch the Cher Rusical? To quote All Stars 2’s Tatianna: “We all make choices, but that was a choice.”
🎉 Speaking of Jan, I absolutely cannot with her calling the shift in the group’s dynamic as a “Jansition.” I feel very Regina George to Jan’s Gretchen Wieners, and I want her to stop trying to make “Jansition” happen.
🎉 With “Burning Up,” Madonna joins the five-LSFYL-songs club with Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Ariana Grande (if you count her “Bang Bang” feature). We’ll see if someone breaks that tie later this season or in All Stars 5!
🎉 She may be thriving in the competition and with fans, but something tells me the theatre gays are not going to love Gigi not knowing who Patti LuPone is!
🎉 This is a very cute episode for Michelle Visage throughout, as she eagerly coaches the queens through their recordings and looks genuinely surprised and delighted that the runway is a tribute to her.
🎉 Model Winnie Harlow and Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are both decent as guest judges: Their critiques are solid, if standard, and they can’t quite keep up the resident judges’ banter during the runway segment. But where AOC absolutely thrives is in her connections to the other queens. She has a beautiful moment on the runway with Jackie, connecting over the discrimination Jackie’s mom has faced as a Persian woman—that is a real tearjerker. Then, when she heads into Untucked, she offers great, genuine platitudes to the queens, calling them “patriots” in a bit that made me tear up. What a hero, and what an amazing get for Drag Race.
🎉 Speaking of judges… where’s Ross Mathews? Granted, there’s not a giant disparity between his and Carson Kressley’s appearances this season—Carson’s been in five episodes to Ross’ three. But they both appeared in Episode 3, meaning Carson has only missed two appearances this season, while Ross has missed four. And three of those came the last three weeks. I don’t see the “Next Time On” preview when I get press screeners, so it’s entirely possible he’s back next week without issue. But after spending most of Season 11 wondering where Carson was, I’m starting to get deja vu.
🎉 Ru’s dominatrix runway look is one of the best things he’s ever worn on the show. What an absolute serve.
🎉 “What if I’m the trade of the season?”: No one else is doing it like Heidi in the confessionals this season. The fact that she’s equally funny on the runway—what’s in the middle of her bun wig? “Hairspray and desperation”—is a credit to her. She needs no rehearsal! She’s that funny!
🎉 We got so far into this episode without a DeBarge reference and accompanying “Rhythm of the Night” sample, and then Ru had to go and ruin it during critiques. That sound you hear is yet another royalty check hitting El DeBarge and Diane Warren’s bank accounts.