RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE: SEASON 12, EPISODE 9 – “CHOICES 2020”

political-shock-rupauls-drag-race-s12e9I can’t tell if it’s just that phase of quarantine where literally anything sends me into wild fits of rage, or if we have truly reached maximum RuPaul. Either way, yes, Vaginameatagingerminj, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

The 3.5-hour Drag Race marathon included a 90-minute celeb edition (see our review/recap here), Untucked and, of course, our original recipe Race with all our squirrel-friends. By the time I watched it all, she already done had hourses.

That’s why I think, despite three strong weeks (Droop, Rusical and Snatch), and even despite Jeff Goldblum’s irresistible charms, last night’s episode left me wanting.

Or maybe it’s just really difficult to watch anyone talk about how they’re disengaged from politics at a time when we are literally fighting for our lives under the most inept, soulless White House administration of all time, and the GOP continues to pack courts with conservative justices and meddle with elections to ensure they stay in power. Or maybe it just needed more dick jokes. Who can say? Either way, this felt like a pitstop in the larger Race.

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I almost would have preferred the mini-challenge be the main challenge. Instead, the gals got in (surprisingly good) kitty cat quick drag and gave us twisted cat characters in the werk room. You know ya boy was first in line to see CATS in theaters (before they digitally-corrected the fur; I had to see it in its rawest, most grotesque form).

It’s something so ripe for parody, and it leverages what the show does best: the absurd. Painted as kitties, dressed in catsuits, the ladies rolled around an oversized litter box, scratching post and collection of gigantic of cat toys. Everyone lets loose and has a good time, but Jackie’s Eartha Kitt-inspired puss tickles Ru in just the right way.

The sheer stupidity of the short character improvs goes down much smoother than when the show tried to get serious … and then immediately punished any queen with any political gravitas in their presentation. This week, the queens are tasked with showcasing their political points in a debate moderated by the delightful duo of Rachel Bloom and Jeff Goldblum.

Before they even get to the mainstage, there is cause for concern. Frontrunner Gigi, for example, cops to avoiding politics and the economy because they stress her out. Widow also seems adrift, but that’s sort of been her general vibe for a while now. Both Crystal and Heidi heed the advice of Ru and guest Raven to keep it simple and silly, but Jaida and Jackie appear to be the best set up for success — just for very different reasons. Jackie is politically-minded and aware, but Jaida opts to lean into her lack of experience, combative attitude and scathing one-liners. (Hey, if it can win the White House … )

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Under the bright lights of the debate stage, it’s clear which approach worked best. Jaida dominated the stage with great timing and the perfect response to whatever was thrown her way. Heidi and Crystal rely on their natural charms and personalities for delightful results. Gigi’s lack of political knowledge hampers her ability to nail the specificity she would need for another one of the workaround parodies she relies on to compensate when a challenge doesn’t fall into her natural wheelhouse.

Goode’s debate was Badde, but not nearly as much of a dud as Jackie and Widow. Ms. Cox comes armed with a “Secret Canadian” character in her pocket. (Tune in next week for RuPaul’s Secret Canadian Drag Race, right after Drag RaceUntuckedAll StarsCelebrity Drag RaceThe Masked Drag QueenThe Great British Tucking Show …) It’s a one-note joke, and it doesn’t take long for the judges to tire of hearing it.

Still one note is one more note than any “joke” from Widow. The Lady Von Du du not understand the assignment. Instead of crafting a kooky character, she tries to play it straight. (Or as straight as a mock drag queen debate can be?) If ever there were a moment for Trinity the Tuck’s “Where are the jokes?” GIF, it’s now.

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It’s a star-spangled runway, and all the ladies deliver, as Bloom and Goldblum (what, was Troye Sivan unavailable?) join the judges’ dais. They’re rightfully smitten with Heidi and eventual winner Jaida for blending character work and point of view. Crystal gets points for personality. Gigi’s poorly defined performance is attributed to her lack of familiarity with the target of her parody. (Generous, but OK.)

That leaves Widow and Jackie in the bottom. Yes, Widow was a no-brainer before the gals were even out of their black wedding runway looks. (She started the episode — if not the last few — already defeated.) However, it was surprising to see Jackie flop so hard, considering how this challenge seems like something she’d be adroit at.

What makes the bottom two lip sync especially emotional are the outfits. Widow looks her season best in a Black Panthers homage that surges with power and pride. Meanwhile, Jackie is in a red and white striped caftan with a dark blue hijab adorned with 50 silver stars. They’re performing to Katy Perry’s “Firework,” a song that, despite any intellectual gripes or personal taste, I can’t resist being moved by.

I’m not alone, either, because Jeff Goldblum is actually crying by the end of the lip sync. I know that sounds silly, but think about what we’re watching: Two queer artists, two people of color, fighting for their actual American Dream, dressed as iconic representations of not only their individual culture, but the unique pieces that make up the tapestry of America. Damnit. I’m crying again.

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It’s a great, emotional lip sync that’s all heart. It’s relatively stunt-free, gag-free. Just two folks performing the absolute hell out of this number.

In a vacuum, I, once again, would have considered a double-save, if only to stop Jeff Goldblum from crying. But! Widow’s really fallen off steadily for a few weeks, and it felt time for her to go. My heart breaks a little for the Kansas City queen who is clearly immensely talented, but just seems like she’s not ready for the kind of challenges this competition throws at you OFF camera (the stress, the self-sabotage). That’s not a knock on her character, but something that should be considered by producers when crafting a contest that challenges competitors but also supports their growth.

Not to get too political.

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Let’s see where the ladies stand ahead of next week’s makeover challenge in our rankings below!

  1. It was a rocky week for Gigi, no doubt, but she’s earned enough good(e) will the past few eps to have a little humanizing stumble. The grace period won’t extend another week, but something tells me she’s going to ace the makeover. I loved her Revolutionary runway, of course, but Gigi killing it on the runway is a given. She’s still out ahead of the pack without a clear challenger. (Or at least one that hasn’t been disqualified and subsequently — and rightfully — scrubbed from the season.)
  2. Jaida is rising at a great time in the competition. She managed to slip under the radar in the comedy- and acting-heavy challenges, but she always turns it out on the runway. She’s also got a razor tongue, which she used to great effect this week. She had hands down the best lines of the night (“I don’t debate, I argue;” “I’d like to retattle the retittle to the rebuttal;” and, of course, “Look over there!”) Jaida came into this season knowing she’s a star. As the field has winnowed down, I’m having a tougher time arguing. I would love to see Jaida slay the final music video, and I can only imagine what sort of incredible creations she has in store for later runways. This was her week through and through, and it was well-earned.
  3. There are a lot of things about Heidi that says she can’t win this season. She’s too unpolished, too unfamiliar with the sort of zeitgeisty, gay, pop-culture fascinations that are necessary to exchange bon mots with the other queens. Maybe people don’t take her seriously, because of her accent or genuine sweetness. However, if you step back, I don’t think anyone left, not even Gigi, has as high of a ceiling as Heidi. Out of the remaining queens, she’d be the one I’d be most excited to see win this one. I don’t know if she will, or if I can justify it using the Ru-bric (pun intended) that’s been established over the last dozen seasons, but she’s got IT. She has personality and charisma and charm and likability that can’t be taught. With the right access and resources, anyone can have beautiful clothes. (Taste, I know, is not as easy to come by.) Heidi just has something you can’t learn, and she doesn’t even realize it. That’s what makes her so amenable to feedback and quick to implement notes. That’s going to accelerate her growth as an artist a lot faster.
  4. Jackie reminds me, in a way, of BenDeLaCreme during season six. She’s good, she’s got a point of view, but sometimes the vision in her head doesn’t quite match up in practice. She put all her œufs in that one Canadian basket, so when it didn’t pan out, she cracked. (Hey-o!) She looked gorgeous on the runway, but I wish she rehearsed a better elevator pitch. The presentation became a little convoluted, about religion but not really religion, but more about representation, the travel ban … Jeff Goldblum’s incredibly inelegant (being extremely generous) aside about homophobia and misogyny in Islam was way too complex to even attempt to address in this arena, but it felt like the wheels were coming off her explanation even before that. It might be the edit’s fault, but I had a hard time being moved, because I had a hard time following. In a way, her lip sync performance conveyed much more than her explanation to the judges. Still, Jackie is a great advocate and another interesting perspective on the queer community.
  5. Crystal continues to climb. She’s the wildcard for me now. She could go home next week, or she could make it to the end. It all sort of depends on her ability to continue to take her schtick and keep it catered to the assignment. She was so funny during the mini-challenge, I actually thought she deserved the win more. It just felt like a more original character with a little bit more variety in jokes. She was smart in her handling of the debate challenge, even if she seemed to just be shooting for safe. On the runway, she had the weakest lewk, but it wasn’t too egregious.
  6. I sort of already spilled a lot on Widow, but her fate was truly sealed when she backtalked the judges. RuPaul has this weird libertarian, “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” mentality, which served him well through the years, but lacks a lot of nuance and understanding that Ru is sometimes quick to dismiss as just the illusions of the “ego” or whatever. Personally, it feels like it flattens the world a bit and narrowly frames success. Yes, Widow could have taken some earlier stumbles in stride, instead of internalizing it. But that’s not the kind of skill someone can just learn to turn on and off in the middle of a high-stakes competition. It do take nerve, but it takes care, too.

How would you rank the queens?

SOURCE: TOWLEROAD

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