Last year’s RuPaul’s Drag Race reunion was the best episode of the season, a welcome return of the panelist-discussion format that went away after season three. At that point, the show opted to switch to a pre-taped finale in front of a live audience, in order to avoid winner leaks. But which of the queens ultimately wins is of far less dramatic importance to me than watching Ru and her girls tie up some of the loose ends of the show’s interpersonal dynamics. What’s changed since taping the program? How have the queens’ relationships flourished or foundered outside of the hothouse environment of the show’s shooting schedule? What’s their booking rate these days? Miss Vanjie for president? If it hadn’t been for the old reunion format’s return last season, “She looks like Linda Evangelista” Aja wouldn’t have been allowed to point out it’s not really reading someone, per se, when it’s “aggressively complimenting.”
This year’s reunion episode didn’t have to reach as high a bar to achieve “best of the season” status, but nonetheless, it does…provided you don’t count any installments of Untucked. That’s in major part because it reestablishes, for better or worse but once and for all, The Vixen as the engine driving season 10. As with last season, RuPaul orchestrates the trip down memory lane as a rundown of oppositional forces.
Miss Vanjie vs. Anyone Who Chooses to Stand in Her Way: Did I just say The Vixen was the engine driving the season? My mistake. The spirit of Vanjie hung in the workroom all season long, like voices from Carol Anne’s TV set in Poltergeist, bidding the queens to come into the light emanating from Vanessa Vanjie Mateo’s star power. Her Beetlejuice-addictive nom de plume was on everyone’s lips (even Andrew Garfield’s), as a whiplash-inducing montage makes clear. Vanjie says that she wasn’t thinking anything when she tragicomically repeated her name before reverse-stomping the catwalk, as she was so shell-shocked to be the first one eliminated. Being a resourceful hero of our times, she made sure that she got as many bookings as she could before the episode aired, figuring her 15 minutes would be up once she left the competition. From scraping the bottom to dodging cookies of love in Colorado and jokingly demurring a guest spot in a Lil’ Kim video, it’s been a ride and a half. WINNER: Say it three times with me.
Monique Heart vs. The Curse of Valentina: Last season, Valentina’s shocking inability to remember any of the words to Ariana Grande’s “Greedy” was an epic, season-altering flub that set a new gag standard. The kind of mistake that only has to happen once, ensuring no future queen ever gets laissez-faire about learning the lyrics. Or not. Monique Heart’s Snatch Game impersonation of Maxine Waters began and ended with a solitary, stolen catchphrase (“reclaiming my time”) and she had even fewer words when it came to lip-syncing Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Cut to the Feeling,” possibly the biggest instant gay classic of the last few years. Unforgivable but, as she points out, did she give up before the song ended? WINNER: AZLyrics.
The Vixen vs. “We’re Out of Jiffy Pop”: The other girls came prepared with literal bags of popcorn for when it came time for RuPaul to re-litigate the miles of scorched earth representing The Vixen’s own Trail of Tears. They didn’t pack enough. Garbage bags would’ve been necessary for the dumpster fire that ensued when it became clear that, for all the words she spits, “contrition” just ain’t in her vocabulary. And why should it? Like she stresses, when the subject turns once again to Eureka’s “poking the bear” incident on Untucked, where is the fairness in everyone telling The Vixen how to react when no one bothers to offer advice on how Eureka should act?
The Vixen clings to her self-perception of never starting fights but never walking away from them either. But by this point, many months after the season’s other episodes were shot, Ru’s clearly lost her patience. The tragedy of The Vixen is that she has a very important lesson to share; any viewer who at any point in the season dismissed her as just an angry, shit-stirring irritant is part of the problem. But the rightest one in the room proves herself once again the one most capable of instantly losing the room. And when it becomes even clearer that RuPaul isn’t about to let her get away with the latter part, insisting that in every situation she has the choice whether to engage or count to 10, The Vixen leaves the room.
Literally, she gets up and walks off the set, never to return again, handing Ru the last word on a silver platter. And Ru runs with it while Asia O’Hara’s ugly cry spreads to her vocal cords. Asia, you recall, was the one who finally “got through” to The Vixen right before she was told to sashay away, and is visibly upset by the fact that no one tried to bring The Vixen back on set. Ru shuts it all down, yelling about how she came from the same goddamned place as The Vixen: white people hated her because she was black; black people hated her because she was gay; gay people hated her because she was femme. At a certain point, Ru instructs, some people will bring you to a place where you have no choice but to admit that there’s nothing you can do to help them. Putting them on national TV for an opportunity for Drag Race’s notoriously reactionary fan base to reflect that angry energy back at them, though, is another story entirely. WINNER: Every pearl waiting to be clutched.
Queens vs. God’s Problem Children: Dusty Ray Bottoms’s contributions to the reunion (including a risky as hell To Catch a Predator read aimed at sexual assault survivor Blair St. Clair) earn her the “most improved standing compared to the rest of the season” trophy of the bunch. Even though her makeup more than faintly resembles oral herpes. And she gets the biggest cry as she again talks about her family’s inability to accept her homosexuality to the point of seeking the services of an exorcist. Even Ru’s well-worn observation that gay people are frequently given the chance to choose their own families is no match for Dusty’s equally true and heartbreaking claim that there’s no substitute for your parents’ validation. Monique, meanwhile, gets dusty even while claiming that she accepts and cherishes the idea of a higher power—“Jesus, or whatever”—and Monét X Change gets a “Praise Him” from Ru when she says she’s still singing in Thursday choir practice in drag. WINNER: The Holy Trinity…Taylor, that is, not the triune God.
Kameron Michaels vs. Getting Thrown Under The Valentina Bus: It wasn’t until the reunion episode last year when it truly emerged that the pristine Valentina we saw throughout the season wasn’t actually the same person the rest of the girls saw behind the scenes. When Monique asks Kameron, who has in typical fashion not said but two words the entire episode thus far, where was the love, you can already see Kameron’s smile slipping a notch or two. She pageants the house down with her “I was intimidated by the rest of you” defense, but dear Dusty is the one who calls the Stepford queen as she sees it. Dusty says, “I practically had to sit on your lap” to get so much as a hi from Kameron. “I’m sure some girls feel that…I don’t have a close relationship,” she starts, and instantly the other queen’s hands go up. The mask falls off entirely when Ru asks the other queens which of the top four most deserves to win. With each mention of Aquaria, Eureka, and Asia, with nary a mention of the fourth contender to be found, Kameron’s fate is sealed. As Bette sang, “You got to have friends.”
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