The question of who’s got your back is at the heart of this week’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and it nearly gets lost amid an otherwise curiously early-season ball challenge that probably sets the new record for the most runway lewks in Drag Race herstory. Ru’s franchise has, from the very beginning, established that no queen can really make it without a solid support system, even if it comes in the form of a highly engineered reality TV series on the prowl for tissue-clutching moments of emotional vulnerability. Queens who’ve been subject to self-sabotage have seen their stars rise with a reintroduction to the camaraderie of the workroom. Queens who’ve refused to pay testament have found themselves in the midst of a bitch edit faster than you can say “Shante, you stay…for the editors’ manufactured drama.”
And so it is that “The Last Ball on Earth” opens with Monique Heart feeling some type of way about her teammate Mayhem Miller, who she believes threw her under the bus as they were getting critiques on the main stage following last week’s dating app commercial challenge. Mayhem flubs through Lashawn Beyond’s immortal catchphrase, almost landing it: “This is not about RuPaul’s Friend Race.” And Monique, who’s still acting like the victim of a gaslighting from the judges, quotes the Bible: “What’s done in the dark will be brought to light, Mother Darling.” Must be from the Book of Ruth Pointer.
The mini-challenge this week is worthy of standing alongside season two’s windblown Civil War shoot or season five’s water-tank fantasia. Each of the queens has to mimic a celebrity photobomb, which leads to Monique grabbing Nick Jonas’s bom bidi bom, Blair St. Clair flashing the paparazzi next to Beyoncé at the Met Gala, and Kameron Michaels holding an “I’m with Stupid” sign behind Donald Trump as the president looks straight into the solar eclipse. As that last gag suggests, Ru’s feeling political this week, and beyond wearing a suit that, in its sheer ugliness, looks just about like what any normcore person would presume The Vixen means when she says “political art” is her style of drag. The maxi-challenge is predicated on the double-underlined fact that global warming is going to kill us all. It’s the Last Ball on Earth, and the categories are: “Alaskan Winter Realness,” with beach bod-bearing bikinis; “Miami Summer Realness,” serving up fur and all else to keep the South Beach frostbite at bay; and “Martian Extravaganza Eleganza,” for the first ball stomp on Mars. Forget Paris, the whole world is burning!
As the queens frantically work to assemble 33—count ’em, 33!—runway outfits, the theme of support systems in the world of drag emerges, like Sharon Needles and Phi-Phi O’Hara, in full angel-devil garb. In the category of angel is last week’s winner, Asia O’Hara, who, as a full-time costume designer who’s already wowed the judges with her outside-the-box Tweety Bird look, everyone expects to have this week’s challenge all sewn up. Rather than presage another victory lap, Asia’s workroom footage shows her helping a number of girls thread their bobbins, make difficult fabrics work for their couture, and get into various lumpen rough drafts to see if they’ll ultimately fit. (The editors, somewhat predictably, give Eureka busting out of her zipper some extra screen time.) Anyone who doesn’t already see the storm clouds brewing has never watched this show before.
The flipside of Asia’s portrait of drag support comes from Miz Cracker, clocking in on this week’s rivalry storyline by, out of nowhere, asking Aquaria to answer for nebulous rumors that she has a sugar daddy. Rather than fling an Absolut cocktail in Miz Cracker’s mug and declare “I don’t have a sugar daddy. I’ve never had a sugar daddy. If I wanted a sugar daddy, yes I could probably go out and get one, because I am—what?—sickening! You could never have a sugar daddy because you are not that kind of girl,” Aquaria flatly retorts that she doesn’t, and that anyone who thinks she does is wrongly assuming that, just because she looks like a million bucks, that must mean someone out there is playing the Norman Blachford to Aquaria’s Andrew Cunanan.
More time than usual is understandably spent in the workroom this week, but all I could remember by the end of the episode was Monét X Change trying, in vain, to convince Monique and Asia that British accents used to be closer to American accents hundreds of years ago, and it wasn’t the American pilgrims who lost theirs after skipping the pond. Monique and Asia are beside themselves—“Booboo, no, Booboo! You know that the Queen of England sent them over here!”—but the research is actually on Monét’s side. Anyway, this is the sort of linguistics lesson I expect (and crave) from a show that made a catchphrase of “She done already done had hers’s!”
On the runway, there are truly more outfits than can be catalogued, and it takes a full 15 minutes just to get through them. But the look that truly tops them all is Ru’s own—her head fully encased in jellybean-colored fabric save for her ponytail and a pair of big, cherry-red lips. I won’t even begin to try to pick out the night’s highlights and lowlights, as the onslaught ends up making it seem a lot like most of the selections are clumping together in the middle of the pack. That being said, and no tea no shade, if anyone’s going to be accused of having a sugar daddy among this season’s girls, I’m surprised no one’s leveling the charge against Kameron Michaels. After last week’s Maleficent-inspired feathered raven outfit and three equally rich-rich-anybody-rich looks this time around, Kameron’s edit is starting to feel like a whistle past the graveyard. Or, if you prefer, like the reaction the hottest dude at a C-minus gay bar sometimes gets, with the rest of the room pretending to be too good for the guy because he instantly makes the room feel insecure.
In the end, Asia’s looks are routinely dismissed as humdrum. She’s told, even if her heart was in the right place, that she should’ve spent less time helping everyone else out and more helping herself. Similarly, Monét should have spent less time spelling out the history of the Queen’s English and more figuring out how to make her expensive but rigid vinyl fabric work. Asia gets a “bless your heart” pass, and Monét is the one who has to face off in a Lip Sync for Your Life against her fellow New York queen Dusty Ray Bottoms, who clearly hasn’t connected anything with the judges except for dots. And what a lip sync it is, one that calls to mind how season four’s Dida Ritz made the cameras even forget The Princess was on the same stage. Like that LSFYL, it doesn’t even matter how good or bad Dusty Ray Bottoms is (though she is caught at one point doing The Hammer, which is forever NaGL). Monét plugs into the song—Nicki Minaj’s “Pound the Alarm”—in a way that gives both her and the house life, at one point flawlessly interpreting the song’s fake-out drop with an abortive split leap. It’s her stage, and the rest of us are just holding up dollar bills (and cut-up sponges) from the floor below.
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