We are currently in the doldrums of Drag Race, during which critical rivalries are formed and the wheat of the competition is separated from the chaff, giving fans characters to root for and against while casting off the riffraff. It’s critical to the gameplay, but lord almighty can it get dull.
However, Ru and producers do seem to realize that watching drag queens glue Kush balls to corsets for an hour is not exactly scintillating, and therefore harkened back to early, more bizarro days of Drag Race with the mini-challenge—a truly deranged “Save the Bees” dance-off that found the queens twerking in hastily thrown together honeybee couture in order to raise awareness for both conservation efforts and the brand of hairspray that sponsored the challenge.
Amid some depraved “No Rain” homage, including Ru’s own oddly stiff dancing, it became clear that editors have read the room and finally decided to mostly ditch the Sherry Pie footage. While each of the other queens got a good 10-15 seconds of screentime backflipping, death dropping, linoleum humping to honor the honeybee, Sherry Pie got about half a second of clumsy ballet posing before the shot cut to all the other bedraggled bees encircling and obscuring her with their own feeble ballet postures as if she were the classmate who accidentally soiled herself during the spring kindergarten recital. And that was basically all we saw of Sherry Pie save for a few seconds on the runway.
The workroom challenge, wherein the queens were made to create ball looks from sports balls, ostensibly just so everyone could make jokes about testicles, was mostly a good time to freshen one’s Absolute Cocktail in the privacy of our self-isolation Interior Illusions lounges, save two things. The first is that Jaida’s singing while she sewed put me very much in the mind of two other queens who annoyed their way to infamy by singing in the workroom: The Other Tyra and Willam. Jaida is stunningly gorgeous, practiced, and lowkey pissing off the other queens right now, which makes me think she’s in this for the long haul and producers are using the sewing challenge to sew the seeds of future discord.
Another subplot carried over from last week is Brita’s rapid decline in confidence. She seemed to come into the competition under the assumption that her standing in New York would make her a natural competitor. But what Ross said of Rock M. Sakura’s tetherball ball couture—“If she did that in the club, people would go crazy for it”—points to a truth too many queens seem to forget in the workroom. The television is not the club, and different rules apply. Brita stumbled over the challenge, unsure of how to make her character stand out without the help of a costume designer and a booze-soaked audience that comes looking to be entertained. She chose to project that insecurity onto Aiden, who seemed likewise stumped and seemed to hope that she could avoid accusations of bad taste by creating a bland bodice covered in black and white cotton balls that indicated no taste at all, good or bad.
The categories were Title IX lady baller realness, basketball wives, and literal ball gowns, but the real star wasn’t anything worn on the runway; it was the addition of guest judge Leslie Jones, who brought some of the infectious audience excitement of a live drag show to the stage, yelling encouragement to the queens on the runway and causing even Ru and Michelle to break their staunch judges’ solemnity to giggle at her obvious delight. During the runway, I half expected her to pull out a roll of one-dollar bills and start tipping, which I would have very much enjoyed. A recording of Jones whispering “Dramatic music” should heretofore be played before every subsequent lip-synch as a reminder of how lovely Leslie Jones was as a judge.
In other judge news, after last week’s brief foray into leotard territory, Ru is back to full-length ball gowns on the runway, and those reflective purple sequins coupled with her chartreuse rhinestone chandelier earrings resembling clumps of crystalized seaweed gave some real Ursula the sea witch vibes, which are always welcome.
On the runway, Nicky reminded us why she’s still here with a quarterback-meets-Beyond Thunderdome Title IX look, bird of paradise baller’s wife realness, and a high-fashion Kush-ball jellyfish garment that made even Michelle sing the praises of a corset and panty. Meanwhile, Gigi Goode, who rightfully won the challenge, remained Nicky’s strongest challenger in the fashion queen competition. Her Heather’s croquet look and playful gum-ballgown left no room for criticism. In the final third of the competition, there’s only going to be room for one of these very similar fashion queens, and I worry that Gigi’s bigger personality is going to overshadow Nicky when most other years she would be a standout. Nicky’s confessionals alone—where her annoyance at producers constantly pointing out her accent is on full display—could be its own show.
Another winner, to me at least, was Widow Von’Du, for the way she seems to be quietly, yet consistently revolutionizing expectations for padding and body shapes. While most queens, no matter their body type, tend to cinch themselves into rib-distorting territory in order to create a painful-looking hourglass figure, Widow is beautifully building out her top and lower halves, creating a naturally smaller waist that doesn’t look painful. When so many past critiques involved encouraging queens to nip in their “hog bodies,” Widow is using her space in a way that is shapely, interesting, and fashion-forward. No one has mentioned this approach yet (except for Widow herself in Episode One), but it’s a small runway revolution that I hope becomes as drag-standard as the wig reveal in years to come.
One ugly issue from seasons past currently rearing its threadbare head on the Drag Race runway is the fact that rural queens don’t seem to have brought as many clothes as the other contestants. While Aiden’s first look, A League of Their Own tribute, was praised by judges who ultimately had issues with her ball gown look, that outfit was also a fairly simple, most likely store-bought dress. I foresee this causing problems in the future, much like it did for Chi Chi in an earlier season—last week, Aiden basically wore an oversized sweater accessorized with Goody barrettes down the runway. Likewise, Heidi’s runway looks, while declared safe, also seemed like they might be right off the rack. Not that I’m mad at it, some of my favorite queens have come with little more than a Richard Nixon crop top and a tube of black lipstick (Sharon) or a box of their grandma’s ugliest hats (Jinkx, who absolutely did the most with those awful hats). But I do wonder how long before Michelle says she wants to “see something more,” from queens who most likely didn’t bring that much more. It remains to be seen how much of a chance Heidi and Aiden realistically have in the days of trunks full of premade couture and competitors who seem to have found quite a bit more money to spend on the competition than queens from early seasons if all those sparkling new veneers are any indication.
But ultimately, Aiden was safe despite being in the bottom three alongside Brita and Rock M. Sakura—Brita for inadvertently and inexpertly channeling Cornacia, and Rock M. for going a bit too balls to the wall with her runway look. Brita seemed baffled at her spot on the bottom and is most likely going to take it out on Aiden next week, as their dynamic has all the elements of a Roxxxy Andrews/Jinkx Monsoon situation. On the runway, Brita even lip-synchs like a bully, physically blocking the judges from seeing Rock M. Sakura’s performance with her body, which isn’t against the rules but is poor form. The strategy, along with Rock M.’s awkward struggle against her own hoop skirt, was effective, as bullying sometimes is on the show. Rock M. went home and Brita lives to project her insecurities onto Aiden another day.
The real loser of Drag Race week four was the color yellow, so badly represented in both Brita’s disaster of a pineapple look and the sad mustard Rock M. Sakura served in her lady baller look. The winners of this episode were Leslie Jones’s enthusiasm, an ebullient reminder of what it is like to sit on the front row of Micky’s Monday night drag show, and Nicky Doll’s signature confession-booth eye roll, which continues to undulate itself closer to my heart with every revolution.