I know gay bars everywhere have to fill their valuable Thursday cocktail time, and that VH1 probably feels some level of responsibility to make sure that lasts as long as possible. But seriously, for a show that once could pride itself on whip-crack pacing, the “new normal” 90-minute episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race are starting to really put the “drag” in Drag Race. But at the same time, the fact that VH1’s strategy of maximalism has also resurrected Untucked from its recent YouTube ghettoization practically makes it all worth the effort. Because The Vixen’s performance in Untucked thus far is damned close to turning what most would call bonus material into must-see TV. And at the risk of making the main show feel like the background material.
But for the sake of outlining said background, at the start of this week’s main episode, “Tap That App,” Aquaria unwisely decides to call out The Vixen for using someone else’s wig during last week’s challenge, stipulating that you can’t really call it “your best drag” if it’s not all yours. Which isn’t just catty but also untrue. There have been plenty of examples of queens lending their competition a helping hand in the workroom and being rewarded for it; Bianca Del Rio basically served as season six’s ersatz, tough-love house mother and stole the damned crown. But the show has also frequently stressed the thin line between helping a sister out and giving her the opportunity to steal your thunder. Not that that’s Aquaria’s strategy. She seems to be throwing rocks at the hornet’s nest just to force everyone else to scatter in every direction. More on the damage control in a bit.
This week’s mini-challenge saw RuPaul forcing her girls to shill for Ru’s $37 candy bars before the whole inventory reaches its expiration date. Shameless though it is, at least it gives her the opportunity to make some of the younger queens like Aquaria and Blair St. Clair recreate Calvin Klein’s infamously pedo-curious rec-room campaign that made waves before they were even born. Blair earns points with an awkward, impromptu tap dance, and Monét X Change starts popping off in an Irish accent apropos of nothing. Both are declared winners, along with Monique Heart, whose breastplate is far less BoobsForQueens.com and far more Jim Henson Company. The three ensuing teams are told by an adenoidal Ru, who’s clearly battling a cold this week, that they’re going to be writing and shooting commercials for incredibly specific dating apps. And after last week’s prescription-drug challenge disaster, swipe right on this challenge.
Monét X Change’s team gets the app Madam ButtrFace, and they make the choice to not just get ugly, but UGLY for their art. Aquaria, who had so many words to say about The Vixen using someone else’s wig, takes nearly all the prosthetic noses for her own face, leaving Yuhua Yamasaki with none. Not that Yuhua seems comfortable, shadily speckling her face with Dusty Ray Bottoms’s dots and ignoring the workroom’s repeated warnings that she’s painting herself too pretty. Meanwhile, Blair St. Clair’s team works on End of Days, a “post-apopalopic” app for finding someone, anyone, after the bomb drops. She’s got the most theater queen-ish roster of them all, and Miz Cracker and Eureka keep it good and loud, while The Vixen curiously doesn’t. Last and (ultimately) least, Team Monique Heart gets Fibstr, the dating app that embraces Catfishing as our new normal. All the queens on the team play against their strengths so much that Monique, who’s deep in the throes of getting the judges-aren’t-getting-it-underrated-queen edit, could’ve legitimately argued that they were taking the hidden-identity elements of their app to a higher, meta level. Kameron Michaels decides she can no longer just stand around and look hunky anymore, and Mayhem Miller gives her enough rope to hang the both of them.
The Vixen’s refusal to be quiet dovetails off Mayhem’s own ill-advised choice to take one for her team.
Lucky for Kameron, her feathered runway look is jaw-dropping enough to keep her from landing in the bottom two. And lucky for team captain Monique, Ru arbitrarily decides that everyone will be judged individually instead of as teams, otherwise her train-wreck commercial would’ve been enough to automatically put her up for elimination. On the other end of the spectrum, Asia O’Hara squeaks past Eureka and Blair for the win, thanks to her ability to pull focus without saying a single word holding an ugly face in the commercial, and her truly visionary runway look, which blends Looney Tunes’s Tweety Bird with Gossamer. Her magnificence manages to outshine even guest judges Courtney Love and Nico Tortorella, bisexual hunk voted most likely to deeply disappoint gay men everywhere by marrying a woman.
The real drama, though, happens between Aquaria and The Vixen, both safe and among the first group of girls to go backstage for Untucked. Aquaria, in all her 21 years of life on Earth, clearly has yet to understand the importance of choosing her battles. The Vixen, on the other hand, understands virtually everything about the world and how it really works.
Anyone who thinks Drag Race doesn’t properly grapple with identity politics and representation would do well to watch how swiftly and mercilessly The Vixen explains just how easy it is for queens like Aquaria to stir things up and come away smelling like roses, and how queens like The Vixen will be penalized just for defending themselves. “You say something, I say something, you start crying. You have created a narrative of I am an angry black woman who’s scared off the scared white girl,” she reads. “Doesn’t matter how you do it. When you get super defensive and say that I’m negative, when I’m just responding to what you brought to me, that will always read to these [points at cameras] as a race issue.” And the realization that the deck is pre-stacked in her favor sends Aquaria into tears of embarrassment (and, yes, tears for show), to which The Vixen deliciously responds, “I can’t with these fucking tears. It’s just so gross.” That it is, even though Monique is also not wrong for pointing out that The Vixen is hindering “her blessing” by focusing on her perceptions of the optics on display. This isn’t popcorn.gif fodder. This is culturally relevant truth in feather-ruffled disguise.
The Vixen’s refusal to be quiet in the face of attacks dovetails off Mayhem’s own ill-advised choice to take one for her team, and she winds up in the bottom with Yuhua. The two get assigned Hole’s “Celebrity Skin,” to Courtney Love’s visible almost-delight, and Mayhem’s choice to wear Sharon Needles’s white contact lenses makes instant sense. She may have temporarily lost her voice shooting the commercial, but she immediately claims it back lip-syncing for her life. And she tears both her feathers and the house down to, hopefully, stand alongside The Vixen in refusing to stay quiet.
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