RuPaul’s Drag Race Recap Season 9, Episode 4, "Good Morning Bitches"

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RuPaul’s Drag Race Recap: Season 9, Episode 4, "Good Morning Bitches"

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For whatever qualms longtime fans of RuPaul's Drag Race may have about season nine's streamlining, at least the challenges remain extraordinarily well placed. Or, as Phi Phi alleged in the embittered aftermath of All-Stars, the producers know exactly what they want and how to get it. Just as the queens are getting to that Real World zone where they've stopped being polite and started serving up realness, they're thrown into a morning-news-show challenge that forces them to slap a mealy grin on their simmering tensions. And it's more of a failure than a success, but in this context, bad TV makes for excellent TV. Or, at least, a train wreck comparable to Kathie Lee & Hoda.

Turns out, there’s no shortage of bad blood seething in the workroom, but the customary pre-credit revving of the emotional engines is given over mainly to the clash that anyone who watched last week’s Untucked is already familiar with: Aja versus Valentina. Aja, reeling from the head-to-toe read the judges handed her up-in-ash volcano look, condescended to the emerging prom queen with orange claws fully engaged, mocking the judges for cozying up to everything Valentina offered. “You’re perfect, you’re beautiful, you look like Linda Evangelista, you’re a model,” she sneered last week, her neck snapping like a Wacky Waving Tube Man affixed to a jet engine. Their dynamic would have a very Amber Atkins-Rebecca Ann Leeman vibe if Valentina weren’t so doggedly determined to take the high road (admirable for now, but she’s gonna have to stop relying on pretty at some point). Aja isn’t the only queen fed up with Valentina’s flawless report cards with less than a year under her mug, but she’s the only one with the nothing-to-lose moxie to voice it.

And so pearls are clutched when Aja, as one of the two captains for this week’s challenge alongside winning princess Trinity Taylor, chooses Valentina to be on her team first out of the gate. Almost as shocking: that the last one picked is episode-one winner Nina Bo’nina Banana Fofana Melissa Manchester Brown, though, at least in the edit, she’s been noodling about in the background a bit since that first triumph. Trinity makes it a point to double underline the insult by assuring Nina that she shouldn’t think of herself as last-picked…by explicitly pointing out that she was last-picked. Girl, the hapless shade of it all! While Nina efforts a game face, Eureka immediately gets to working on Trinity’s last good nerve, trampling over others, making directorial choices for the group, and petulantly sticking to Trinity’s “one-at-a-time” rehearsal rule about talking only when it serves her. Yes, bitch, we’ve achieved episode conflict #2.

Just as soon as Trinity’s group breaks into smaller groups to work in their designated pairs, conflict #3 rears its passive-aggressive head. Charlie Hides is paired with Cynthia Lee “CUCU!” Fontaine to be entertainment correspondents, and instantly micromanages each syllable coming from Cynthia Lee’s mouth. Charlie has, to an extent, defined her role in the competition around the sheer breadth of time she’s invested in her craft, and though odds seem likely her Dame Maggie Smith would’ve put any of the queens through the same Miss Jean Brodie wringer, the urge to get Cynthia Lee to stop talking like that understandably must’ve been overwhelming.

Whatever qualms fans may have about Drag Race's streamlining, the challenges remain well placed.

We don’t see any of Team Aja’s rehearsal time, as we cut straight to Ross Mathews’s floor director counting down to the live episode of Good Morning, Bitches. No one whiffs it, though the pairing of Aja and Valentina as enter-taint-ment reporters is a damp squib. Though they ‘taint misbehaving on set, they might have actually been better off tapping into their shared negative energy. Meanwhile, Shea Couleé and Sasha Velour run away with the show, turning their segment on how to use RuPaul chocolate bars in ordinary food items into an event of repressed-lesbian Jungle Fever sexuality, food-in-mouth blooper-reel fodder, and Lady and the Tramp-perverting physical comedy. They’re both cerebral queens, and use that to their advantage.

A channel-flip over and Trinity’s Not on Today is cruising toward Not on Any Day, darling. As anchors, Trinity and Peppermint have made the curious decision to play the scene as though a man’s come in between them, and Trinity’s frigidity reads as mannered, and a natural extension of the overdone control she exercised during rehearsals. Also carrying over is Charlie’s evil Mary Poppins attitude. So focused is she on the training wheels she’s put on Cynthia Lee’s cucu that her own performance falls apart. It gets worse when, thinking only of flaunting her professionalism, she swipes the anchors’ role by closing out the group’s Naya Rivera celebrity interview segment when the Teleprompter says “wrap,” ending the entire show in a way that leaves everyone else with a visible question mark over their heads. There’s no better way to ensure everyone on camera looks like a fool than to spell it out for the audience. Only Nina and Eureka survive this whole affair with their wits about them, with tested-but-true characterizations.

With the morning show behind them, the afternoon runway preparations allow the queens’ sprouting resentments to flourish. Or not. Aja admits to Valentina what everyone else already knows: that she’s shaken so much by failure that she sought to take it out on the queen who was soaring—and Valentina’s advice for Aja to focus on herself and for everyone to be kinder to each other would win her the Miss America tiara. Also calling for a cease fire are Charlie and Cynthia Lee. Charlie ruminates on the number of people she lost to AIDS, and how devastating it was for a demographic who frequently turns their friends into their family to suddenly lose them all. Charlie’s pain triggers Sasha, who, God bless her and that unibrow, is on the fast track to wearing out her welcome as Miss Wokest Queen In The Room. Sasha makes the drastic misstep of empathy-policing Eureka’s attitude toward eating disorders (which Valentina seemed about to reveal before being interrupted), not realizing that you can’t come at a big girl with #SkinnyBoyProblems, not when body dysmorphia is, from a cultural standpoint, the presumed price of admission. “Can I tell you the number of times people have looked at me and said, ‘Oh my God, you’re anorexic’?” No, bitch, no!

Sasha’s queensplaining belatedly ignites conflict #4, but the show hastens to a snoozy bedtime runway challenge that the less one says about, the better. The solitary standout is Nina Bo’nina Dia De Los Lil’ Kim Victoria’s Secret Muertos Brown, though her spontaneous crying during the judge’s critiques suggests she’s not currently in a place to hear positive reinforcement. Nina and Eureka receive great notices, but unfortunately for them, they’re on the losing show. (Their DIY counterparts on Good Morning, Bitches—Sasha and Shea—walk away with Ru’s condragulations this week.)

Peppermint’s personality alone saves her from the bottom two. As such, it’s the episode’s two control freaks who’re forced to lip-sync against each other. And even though Charlie stood alongside countless people fighting for their lives decades ago, it immediately becomes clear that he’s not going to put up a fight against Trinity, who flips, kicks, turns, and tears through Britney Spears’s “I Wanna Go” while a resolutely immobile Charlie, in effect, just wants to go. And despite Cynthia Lee’s upstage exhortations of “Charlie, come on!,” Charlie comes not. He goes, gentle into that good night. Go, Charlie, go.

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