Well, last night’s episode was certainly… something. Don’t get me wrong; it was a cute episode that, despite some racial characteristic undertones, was salvaged by one good, and two great performances.
But first, let’s talk about the returning queen…
… after we first talk about the mini challenge, where Ru had the girls drag out judge’s’ robes in quick drag (in a subtle nod to who should be on the Supreme Court, no doubt). And the win goes to Naomi, but the real win is for us enjoying this fun mini-challenge.
And now, without further ado, we present an object lesson in the principle of Occam’s razor…
…with the return of the first eliminated queen Naysha Lopez. As much fun as it was predicting that a former queen would return ala Shangela in Season 3, or that Ru had a stunt double hidden away (which, given the rabid nature of the Drag Race fandom – *cough cough* Reddit *cough cough* – would have been impossible to hide), it makes sense that she would bring Naysha back into the fold. As for Ru’s reasoning, let us pay attention to this quote from an interview she recently did for The Daily Beast:
“I have a simple answer for that,” RuPaul says. “Because the show’s called RuPaul’s Motherfucking Drag Race, bitch. I get to do whatever the fuck I want.” Cackling with glee, Ru goes on: “We’ll leave it at that. Because I fucking wanted to. Boom.”
To celebrate, RuPaul throws the girls their first real acting challenge: to film the pilot of RuCo’s Empire. In two teams; they have to tell the story of RuCo Records’ terminally ill founder Rucious (our Mr. Charles) trying to decide who should get control of the family business: his lover Vanilla Wafer (Kim Chi / Naomi Smalls), his business-minded child Macaroon (Acid Betty / Robbie Turner), his oppressed gay child Ginger Snapp (Derrick Berry / Cynthia Lee Fontaine), his ratchet child Shortbread (Naysha Lopez / Chi Chi Devane), or his estranged – and recently paroled – wife Chocolate Chip Cookie (Thorgy Thor / Bob The Drag Queen).
To help direct the scenes, Ru called in a ringer; namely hip hop and R&B legend Faith Evans (a.k.a. Mrs. Biggie Smalls). On the one hand it was cute to see Ms. Evans get into the spirit of things and it’s good to see Ru work with the girls. On the other hand, it was kind of painful (especially with Naysha’s team since all of the African American queens are on Naomi’s team) to see Ru push all the performances to stereotype, even in the name of comedy, is awkward in the light of day. Given that Empire itself has been critiqued for pushing less than flattering African American stereotypes, it just upped the queasy factor. But then again, to quote the man in charge, “… the show’s called RuPaul’s Motherfucking Drag Race, bitch. I get to do whatever the fuck I want.”
Comes the dawn and Ru, Michelle, and Carson are joined on the judges panel by Ms. Evans and Empire cast member Tasha Smith for Roller Girl Realness. And the runway is brilliant because it’s awkward as hell in the good way!
And because Ru slayed all of those hoes on wheels!
Scene 1: Team Naysha
Acid Betty, Derrick Barry, Kim Chi, Thorgy Thor, Naysha Lopez
Overall, the team was not that bad. Give credit where it’s due, it was smart for Naysha to switch the roles around for Kim and Thorgy, because Kim as Chocolate Chip Cookie would have landed her in the bottom. Granted, she wasn’t great as Vanilla Wafer, but she was cute, funny, and took direction well. In fact, as an ensemble they worked well together; even in spite of Derrick’s milquetoast performance as Ginger Snap. And Acid Betty made the schtick of Macaroon’s split personality worked thanks to committing to it.
But this team was anchored by Thorgy’s inspired turn as Chocolate Chip Cookie. Smartly, she eased up the ghetto ease and took more of a Jersey mafia wife approach to the role but committed to all of the comedy and stole the scene from her competitors (and looked good while doing it – that indirect homage to The Nanny and Married to the Mob looked amazing on her). Thorgy, and to a slightly lesser extent Betty, eased up on the stereotypes and came in with big personalities out of the gate that sold their performances.
As for the runway, Naysha looked cute in “Oliva Newton John in Xanadu,” but it didn’t go far enough. Though it felt plain in comparison, I lived for Thorgy’s 70s realness, especially since she sold the character on the runway. Derrick’s look was cute but the socks made her feet look odd with this confection of a look. Kim’s look was once again glorious. And while Betty was good in the challenge, this runway look was spectacular and vaulted her into the top three.
Scene 2: Team Naomi
Naomi Smalls, Bob the Drag Queen, Chi Chi DeVayne, Cynthia Lee Fontaine, Robbie Turner
Clearly this was the better team in my book. Not because they were better actors, but because they worked better together and were able to latch onto the stereotypical nature of the material. Of course, since all of the African Americans in the show were on the same team, they were able to make the material work. It’s worth noting that the two non-African Americans were the ones having the most problems with the material; which was not surprising for Cynthia, but was very much so for Robbie given her theatrical background.
And then there’s Bob. She didn’t just slay – she murdered this challenge. Her ad libs, while never getting in the way of the script, were hilarious and took the material to a new level. Every detail of her work – from the look to the delivery to her ad-libbed bits where she stole the shoes – was a collection of inspired choice. While Thorgy’s performance managed to massage the cliches of the role into something that was within her wheelhouse, Bob’s performance leapt headfirst into them and blew them apart.
As for the runway looks, Naomi looked dreamy in her pseudo-boudoir look though it was so not appropriate for roller-skating. While I loved Bob’s idea of a Transformer look, I’m kind of glad that she went with this Tron-robot look to cover up her poor skating skills. I actually was feeling Cynthia’s Barbara Mandrell-inspired look, till we went below the waist, which was a mess. Chi Chi was serving Roll Bounce realness, but the outfit looked better in repose than it did in motion, where it showed off her masculine mid-section. And while I liked Robbie’s look a lot (which helped by being the only person really comfortable on the roller skates), that 1940s hair and makeup did not work (the hair was less Farrah Fawcett and more Joan Crawford).
So, Bob rightfully wins (though good on you Miss Thorgy), and Cynthia and Robbie wound up in the bottom two. And while I could cry foul as frankly Derrick should have been in there instead of Robbie. But then they launched into the disco remix of Faith Evans’ “Mesmerized” and gave the ladies their choice of performing in heels or wheels. Cynthia chose heels, Robbie chose wheels, and while both ladies delivered considerably better than last week Robbie owned that stage. Unfortunately, it meant that we had to say goodbye to that lovable cuckoo Cynthia Lee Fontaine…
… and her cucu, mis amores!
– I owe a BIG apology to Thorgy. When I first saw the photos and the Meet The Queens, I initially thought of her as cannon fodder, but now I am LIVING for everything she is throwing at us. I don’t know if she can go all the way, but I would love to see her make it at the very least to Top Five. And that truly sucks about her family and her mother’s passing.
– Speaking of queens I owe apologies to, I do apologize for writing of Naomi as well. When I first saw her, my initial fear was that she was going to be all looks and that’s it; or as I scoffed “Tyra Sanchez 2.0” (and that was not meant as a compliment!). That being said, she has displayed better performance instincts than I thought she would have in the last two challenges. Plus, she’s the only one to make any reference in her look to her corresponding Empire character (which was helped by the fact that she has a similar facial structure to Grace Gealey who plays Anika and can pull off that look without blinking).
– When Tasha Smith came after Robbie for all of her excuses, I started cheering!
– Now that we’ve had roller skates, can we go all in on a Xanadu-themed challenge? Maybe for All Stars 2? But, do it only if you can get Olivia Newton John back to judge again.
– “Fake ass Dominique Deveraux!” I don’t know if this was a scripted line, or if it was one of Bob’s throwaway lines, but I. Fell. Out. Especially since it was a spin on the famous “Fake ass Lena Horne” line from Empire. And while I’m on the subject of dear Ms. Deveraux, could we have the real one (better known as entertainment legend Diahann Carroll) as a guest judge? Better yet, go all in and do a Dynasty-style catfight challenge, and bring in Joan Collins as the other guest judge.
– Michelle, darling, that gold metallic glitter lip is not your friend. It looks like you’ve been orally gratifying a fake Oscar.
– “What’s the best hand to slap a ho with?” Bob asks the hard-hitting questions. (The answer is, according to Ms. Evans, the left.)
– One strike against Bob though: When she delivered the line “Before we drink alcohol, we say grace,” I was expecting her to recreate this iconic moment…
– “Be you but don’t be you. Give us less but more!” Carson sums up, once and for all, the winning formula for any reality television competition.
– “Why you all gaggin’? I bring it to you every episode!”
And now…The Shade Tree Speaks….
Points go as follows: 1 for the Mini Challenge win, 4 for the Main Challenge win, 3 for Second Place (which I’m giving to Thorgy since her performance was the stronger between her and Betty), 2 for Third Place, 1 for all of the Safe Girls, 0 for Bottom Three, -1 for “Shante! You Stay,” and -2 for “Sashay. Away.”
And we have front runners, and it is an odd situation. Chi Chi is in the lead, but is tied with Betty, who has been in the top three for the past three challenges. Bob is in second, but Thorgy is tied with her. Kim is third, but Naomi has tied with her with no wins. And the only reason Derrick is floating in the middle is because she hasn’t been in the bottom two… yet…
NEXT TIME: Let’s get into the New Wave aspect of Ru’s past with live singing, and Debbie Harry!!!
And finally, I leave you with Ms. Thor and Ms. The Drag Queen getting their Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth on…
Photo & Video Credits: Logo TV / World Of Wonder, Chad Sell