There comes a subconscious tipping point during every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race that defines how good or un-good that season is, and it’s the point where eliminations stop feeling like a relief and start feeling painful. The most stellar of seasons reach that point at least midway through; season eight never reached that point. Though the jury’s still out on where season nine will fall in the Drag Race canon, it seems difficult to deny that this particular moment has occurred well ahead of schedule.
Admittedly, the pain surrounding the eliminations of Eureka and Cynthia Lee Fontaine arguably revolved around the very physical pain of their medical conditions, and not because Twitter’s hashtags needed any more “cucu.” A few weeks ago, a then-winless Alexis Michelle was begging for the cast’s fat to get trimmed. This week, Trinity Taylor notes the amount of strong competition left in the room, and ain’t taking nothin’ for granted, henny! Even Nina Bo’nina Elizabeth Marie Hollingsworth Devereaux Brown, bolstered by some extra pep talk from Shea Couleé, her fairy confidence godmother, is starting to radiate the confidence that largely eluded her up to now. Like poor Valentina’s duct-taped Madonna nipples at the start of the episode, when it comes to future eliminations, there will be blood. Because by all appearances, season nine has reached “Phase 2: The Quickening”...er, “The Sickening.”
And you know who really knows it? Aja, the once and future Princess Disastah. Once again, the queens are put through the casting-call whims of a single queen. This time, Peppermint—who’s no doubt still, ahem, sifting for the earring she swallowed last week—attempts to avoid the same resentful shade Alexis endured when she cast the Kardashian clan for “Kardashian: The Musical,” giving everyone in the room a chance to say which roles they want for this week’s taping of the Tori Spelling-approved 9021-HO. (Yes, the queens are jumping into a time machine back to 1993…the year of Farrah Moan’s birth, a fact the goofy ditz chooses to point out even though she’s clearly on the bubble and needs all the workroom allies she can muster.)
Peppermint’s plan is a nice gesture, but no good weave goes unsnatched and no good deed goes unpunished. Aja instantly kicks up a dust storm over not getting either of the parts she identified on her wish list, even though she opened with, and I quote, “I kind of like all of them.” As a frigid Minnesotan, I’m intimately familiar with the tactic of opening with feigned magnanimity before saying what one truly wants, and trusting that everyone knows to only pay heed to the second part. But bitch, Aja’s from Brooklyn, and as a sister New Yorker, Peppermint decides to take Aja at her word.
Just as Alexis stepped in to take “Snoozy” from a reluctant Jaymes Mansfield, Shea offers to swap roles with Aja and tackle “Grandrea,” the senior class senior citizen. “Girl, you don’t have to, ’cause it’s not your detriment [sic],” Aja snaps back at Shea, and rather than let the passive-aggression turn into a black hole of shade, Peppermint lays down an executive order that Shea and Aja will switch roles, forcing Aja to lie in the petulant bed she’s made. And oh, doth the lady protest even after landing her preferred character. It all sets up a classic Drag Race teaching moment: the ability to take life’s unwanted curve balls and wave them away with a declarative tongue pop will reflect better on you than being handed exactly what you want and underwhelming everyone.
As it turns out, and despite comparatively lackadaisical direction from scene directors Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth and overweening workroom coaching from apparent ’90s revivalist Alexis, “underwhelming” is a word that applies to very few of the queens this week, despite some of the weakest maxi-challenge skit writing since Latrice Royale was forced to take the words “Get those nuts away from my face!” into her own hands (and neck). Seriously, bad enough that even current-day Goldie Hawn would’ve turned it down.
During the challenge, Nina rushes through her lines (can’t blame her) and seems to still be pulled into herself somehow, suggesting that even if she’d been given the chance to be Blac Chyna two weeks ago, she wouldn’t have sailed to a win as Shea did. Farrah takes considerable time to warm up but embodies the Cali aesthetic better than anyone, and her game seems notably upped by Trinity, playing her competitively pill-popping, upstaging Mommie Mess-est. (Side note: Baby Boy Trinity is shown in a photo with his grandmother, and back then he was bringing total Brian Littrell realness.) Sasha “National Thespian Society” Velour lands this week’s designated part most unlikely to succeed—a malt shop waitress who she plays as the grease-trap child of
Peppermint, assessing the role swap, said Aja was trading one of the biggest parts and would end up looking “like a bitch playing a bitch in the last scene.” Peppermint’s prediction only partially comes true, and unfortunately for Aja, the bitch she was in the workroom out-shadows the bitch she plays on camera. In fact, neither Aja nor Nina can find a way to make “bitch” work as a character concept. Annoyance? Petulance? Sure, but no bitchcraft. And in a week when almost everyone performed at or above par, and the runway looks were as uniformly stunning as you’d expect when you tell a room full of drag queens to tease out their biggest hair, that’s enough to put them both in the bottom two. Trinity takes the win, but it could’ve just as easily have been Shea, Valentina, Peppermint, or, via bonus verisimilitude points, even Farrah.
I deeply wish I felt what so many others have told me they felt watching Peppermint’s lip sync last week. Oh wait, I felt that mighty realness this week! We already knew Aja was capable of serving a fierce fucking LSFYL performance when she wrestled Bonnie Tyler to the ground, but the loss of that novelty factor is the only thing detracting from her efforts this week, dressed as albino dominatrix Helena Bonham Carter in what’s unquestionably her finest runway look to date. (Insert shade rattlesnake sound effect here.)
Sometimes song choice plays a larger than usual role, and had Aja been lip-synching to CeCe Peniston’s immortal “Finally” against near-the-bottom Sasha, whose big hair interpretation more or less rips Adrian Brody’s look from Summer of Sam, it’d be an open-and-shut case. Instead, Ru chooses to have Aja pit her bag of tricks against Nina, lip-synching for the very first time in a slinky leopard print jumpsuit, complete with feline cosplay contouring. What Aja accomplishes with contortions, Nina manages with just her cat eyes, and it’s three-syllable fie-ahr-sssss. Not consistently, but RuPaul has a history of siding with a queen who can translate a song’s essence through her face and not just her body. And it’s not like Nina even forces her to make that choice, not when she rounds out her performance with bitch-perfect, Boobs for Queens® breastplate-volleying ball voguing.
Capping it all off: a perfectly synchronized moment when both queens lay waaay back into CeCe’s growl, not once, but twice. It’s the most electrifying contest the runway’s seen so far this season—or last, and maybe even the one before that. Under normal circumstances, this is a “shantay, you both stay” slay fest. Unfortunately, both queens are working on the last good nerves of their own personal storylines, and the levels of goodwill just aren’t that deep. RuPaul, having pushed Nina from words to action to glorious results, gives her one more shot. And the other bitches better beware, because Peppermint clearly isn’t the only lip-sync assassin in this season’s stable.
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