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RuPaul’s Drag Race Recap: Season 9, Episode 11, “Gayest Ball Ever”

Every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race comes to embody the personalities of its frontrunners.



RuPaul’s Drag Race Recap: Season 9, Episode 11, “Gayest Ball Ever”
Photo: VH1/Logo

Every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race comes to embody the personalities of its frontrunners. Season six ultimately developed some of Bianca Del Rio’s hectoring tone, which manifested itself most devastatingly in the unraveling of Laganja Estranja, who felt very attacked until she tearfully all but begged to be sent home. Season three turned into a Heathers/Mean Girls showdown between the Heathers and the Boogers, mostly due to the riveting arrogance of Raja, Delta Work, and Manila Luzon from the former group.

Now, following the departure of Nina Bo’nina I Can’t Believe It’s Not Brown, when the workroom is overwhelmed with an influx of legitimate oxygen, it’s especially clear that season nine of Drag Race is walking the path cleared lovingly by RuPaul’s Best Friend Racers, Shea Coulée and Sasha Velour. When it aired, the challenge that forced the queens to roast Michelle Visage felt odd and stilted. Following the results of tonight’s episode, it’s obvious that “RuPaul’s Roast” was a case of total spiritual misalignment—right down to the “Shantay, you stay” awarded to Alexis Michelle, queen of this year’s bitch edit, over the in-over-her-head sweetheart Farrah Moan.

It’s not like you can’t palpably feel the producers trying to find little cracks in the alliance between Sasha and Shea. As many on Reddit have already noted, Sasha has yet to win a challenge without sharing the prize with Shea. And even if she ain’t mad at that, she’s won some of the most wildly inappropriate prizes imaginable (a bald, vegan queen getting hair care products and a year’s worth of hamburgers?). And yet, Sasha’s stayed woke as can be, and Shea remains her biggest fan. What could possibly, finally come between them?

Well, we now know the answer isn’t puppets. Yes, the puppet-show mini-challenge returns. Unlike its close cousin, the “library is open” mini-challenge, this one’s always been more about good-natured ribbing than reading to filth, so it doesn’t stand in stark counterpoint to this season’s tone. In any case, the laughably not-random puppet assignments avoid forcing Shea and Sasha to impersonate the other. Instead, Trinity Taylor gets to hammer how Shea “does things in Chicago”—Katya fan thworp of approval to that one—and Alexis jumps on Sasha’s humanities-degree indulgences. Nothing Alexis mocks is exactly off the mark, but no queen has any less right to chide another one for being studied and theatrical than Alexis, and she alone bombs. Sasha twists the knife with a bemused “Uncanny.” Unclockable, bitch.

In irresistibly Ru fashion, the series follows up this Jim Henson’s Shade Babies vignette by challenging the queens to come up with three LGBTQ pride-friendly looks. That’s right, nothing like inviting five hungry and fierce competitors to feed on their own before making them frock up in “If you can’t love yourself, how’n the hell you gonna love somebody else?” couture. Categories are: Rainbow-She-Betta-Do (rainbow flag-inspired garb), Sexy Unicorns (unicorns that are also sexy), and Village People Eleganza Extravaganza (Village People insert drag lexicon white noise here).

Alexis decides she hasn’t been winning challenges lately because she hasn’t brought an editing eye to her special creations, meaning she’s fixing to simplify what’s already been proven simple. Shea, in her confessional interview, spills this hot T: “I feel like I could go to New York and throw a stone and hit five other queens that do exactly what she does.” Meanwhile, she’s tackling maybe the toughest Village People look to drag up of them all: the construction worker. But she explains to Ru, “I’m a big fan of British fashion: Vivienne Westwood, Burberry,” so you know she’s going to turn it out.

She and the other queens, though, first have to get through an “Oh, and there’s one more thing oh no wait you already knew about the choreographed opening number because Ru gives it to you every season” production number. And because she won the puppet mini-challenge, Sasha is tasked with doing, as Jamie Foxx’s Wanda used to call it, their choreogriffany. A-ha! Finally, Drag Race’s trusty, reliable method for piercing a pristine queen’s armor. Make her tell everyone else what to do with their bodies. Sasha brings legit ideas to the runway rehearsal—including a geometric effort that proves Sasha’s seen Robert Altman’s The Company—and that at least puts her one step ahead of most other contestants who’ve been put in this position before her.

It isn’t long before Alexis and Sasha, in particular, start breaking the chain of command. Which leads to some long-awaited workroom shadiness, including the following exchange that I absolutely died for:

Alexis: “Honestly…”
Peppermint: “Uh-oh, get ready girl!”

Alexis honestly just wants to honestly let Sasha know that she was outside of her comfort zone coming up with choreography, and that honestly that insecurity honestly came out in her failure to honestly step up and assume a leadership role. Shea steps in to re-contexualize what actually happened, but Alexis’s destructive criticism appears to finally achieve what the show’s producers have been striving for by momentarily driving a wedge between Shea and Sasha, who affirms that Shea was trying to usurp control just as flagrantly as Alexis but maybe didn’t realize it due to their proven sisterhood.

But just kidding. As soon as that flare-up powers down, it’s a swift return to the Shea and Sasha love-in. The choreographed opening number is adequate, which in the context of other similar efforts from past seasons means it’s a Tony-worthy endeavor. (Braxton, not Danza.) And Shea and Sasha serve up three looks that the judges eat up. The best line of the night comes from Michelle Visage, reacting to Sasha’s deconstructed rainbow look topped with a Dorothy Gale house perched atop her bald head: “I’m filing for Section Great.” And the best look of the night comes from Shea, whose Village People look is impeccable and fearless: thigh-high tube socks, a patchwork flannel cape, caution-yellow lipstick, and a hard hat perched atop an Erykah Badu turban.

The strength of that one look carries Shea past Sasha for a solo win, even though Michelle voices reservations over Shea’s rainbow look, which is chic as fuck but avoids primary and secondary colors in favor of Pantone’s deepest cuts. It fits a narrative to think the producers are trying to deliberately and consistently keep Sasha in second place, but to be Alexis honest, the episode is centered around that last Village People look, and there Shea slayed.

Alexis’s editing eye apparently decided that her rainbow look should consist of an eyesore jumpsuit filled with micro stripes, her sexy unicorn look should involve a simple beige bodysuit and cardboard hooves, and her Village People look should be indistinguishable from a Native American look aside from the bow and arrow perched as a fascinator. She tells Michelle she almost died stoning her turquoise bodice, but we’re in the point of the competition where the judges are honestly grading on achievement, not effort.

And, yet again, when Alexis is singled out by Shea and Sasha after Ru inevitably asks the queens who should go home this week, Alexis opts to not own up to her own failings but blame her competitors for not speaking up in the workroom leading up to the final challenge. “Shady whores.” Bitch, please. She’s so in the bottom two, and joined by Peppermint, who sells the garments even though they aren’t worth much, but hey, at least now we know what to wear to make Andie MacDowell want to meet us in Paris in the park at night.

And so it comes to be that the season that’s been forever struggling with its propensity for geniality comes to a climax in a lip synch pitting the talented but inconsistent queen who can’t seem to stop throwing her sisters under the bus against the ragtag but upbeat queen who’s quite factually impossible to dislike. And it’s a lip synch to “Macho Man,” which automatically gives transgender-identifying Peppermint carte blanche to embrace the duality at play in every level of this competition. And does she ever, wildly swinging her arms to the lyric “He has a funky walk” like George Jefferson. (The gender flips even emerge through Freudian slips, as when Michelle Visage mistakes Peppermint’s note-perfect interpolation of Janet Jackson’s hip-hop hieroglyphic arms from the “If” music video for MC Hammer.)

Alexis isn’t exactly whiffing it throughout the lip synch, but repeatedly the eye’s drawn to what’s going on behind her, as Shea and Sasha sway in perfect harmony like blissful Village Backup Dancers. It’s a room filled with conviviality, and Ru embraces it, sending home Alexis, the season’s last remaining malignant cell, to go stew about it. Honestly, sorry not sorry.

For more recaps of RuPaul’s Drag Race, click here.



Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.



Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.



Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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Who Killed My Father Is Heartbreaking but Prone to Pat Sociological Analysis

Édouard Louis’s latest is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts.



Who Killed My Father

Author Édouard Louis’s father has been an important figure in each of his previous works, even when he’s never seen or mostly at the periphery (as in The History of Violence). With his latest, Who Killed My Father, Louis finally turns to directly examining his most important, damaged relationship. Both in his previous books and interviews, Louis has repeatedly acknowledged this broken relationship, largely stemming from the author’s open homosexuality. Alongside this, Louis’s prior works have circled around a number of themes to which he returns here: the French political and working classes, the small-town prejudices that surrounded his upbringing and drove a closeted homosexual boy to escape to more cosmopolitan Paris, and the role of state power in producing social and physical illness.

With Who Killed My Father, Louis invites inevitable comparisons to Abdellah Taïa, another talented French writer who’s also gay and largely estranged from his place of origin, and also primarily an autobiographical novelist. Like Louis, Taïa incorporates his complicated relationship with a parent into several of his books. Taïa also connects that relationship, his writing, and his experience with the society he left behind in Morocco and the one he found in France. But what distinguishes his writing in, for example, Infidels or Salvation Army from that of Édouard Louis in Who Killed My Father is a strong sense of meaning. Taïa incorporates his relationship with his mother, M’Barka, to convey something more meaningful and developed.

Louis begins down this same road before clumsily inserting a political tract at the end of Who Killed My Father that doesn’t knit as effortlessly with parts one and two. The book situates Louis’s relationship with his father front and center as compared to his previous work. It’s clear that he’s exposing the painfulness of their relationship for the purpose of speaking about political power and its physical and social toll on those who don’t possess it, but Who Killed My Father stumbles in conveying its message adequately.

Louis’s account of his father’s suffering and violence toward those around him is both painful and sharp. Who Killed My Father is strongest when Louis is demonstrating his father’s most private acts of kindness, as when the father gives Louis a copy of Titanic for his birthday after trying to convince him to ask for a more “masculine” gift. After Louis realizes that his carefully planned tribute to the pop band Aqua at a family dinner has embarrassed his father, the man reassures Louis that “it’s nothing.” In the book’s first and strongest part, Louis expounds not only on the relationship with his father, but also excavates what might have made his father the man he grew up with. At one point, he recounts finding a photograph of his father in women’s clothes—undoubtedly some adolescent joke, but also inconceivable from the man who insisted to his son that men should never act like girls.

Regrettably, part one ends with a trite conclusion that says everything and nothing at the same time. In part two, the story attempts to braid together all the malignant threads of Louis’s family narrative. Louis recalls igniting a violent outburst between his father and older brother as a result of his mother shaming him for acting too much like a girl (“faggot” is what some others in the neighborhood more precisely call him). The insinuation hurts and angers him so much that he betrays his mother’s confidence on another family secret, setting loose a new wave of violence. Part two is short and important to moving Who Killed My Father toward some wider evaluation of the questions Louis begins the book with, but it ultimately fails to find its footing by pivoting in part three to an unearned polemic against the political classes.

Who Killed My Father is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate (except in brief moments of tenderness) through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts, but the book at its weakest when trying to ham-handedly force this narrative into some broad theorizing about power and society and structural violence. Part one aligned beautifully with a narrative of meaning more comparable to Taïa at his best. Unfortunately, the story quickly falls apart when Jacques Chirac is indicted for destroying Louis’s father’s body through changes in health care coverage. It’s not that the questions Louis ends with aren’t necessary and important ones; it’s that there’s so little threading the narrative together into anything cohesive. What was the point of the first two-thirds of the book? His father was cruel, occasionally loving, but never mind because the state is killing him? The life of the poor is one of abject powerlessness against an unremittingly powerful and callous “ruling class”?

Louis deserves credit for the attempt to tie it all together into some grander commentary on the political class and its ambivalence, but the conclusion is simultaneously glib and condescending. Perhaps Louis didn’t intend it, but the book’s conclusion drains away responsibility for the cruelty and bigotry of those like his father, and patronizes them as with a quick How could we expect any better of the noble, working poor? Is it the state’s or the ruling class’s subjugation of his father’s body that’s somehow also responsible for his inability to sympathize with gays or immigrants? Of course, the poor are subjugated by the rich and Louis has written more meaningfully about the implications of that relationship elsewhere. But in Who Killed My Father, he inadvertently demonstrates that the answer isn’t to sanctify them any more than it is to demonize them.

Édouard Louis’s Who Killed My Father is now available from New Directions.

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