Episode 9 of Drag Race stalls the competition

RuPaul's Drag Race Season 14 Episode 9

We need a DragCon Panel about not having DragCon Panel episodes on Drag Race.

Remember “The Song That Never Ends”? High camp ventriloquist Shari Lewis and her puppet Lamb Chop spent decades singing this cloying little tune to adoring children and annoyed adults alike, and it’s been stuck in my head since Friday’s episode. It reminds me a lot of Drag Race itself: Something that started as a naive and hopeful project, cycled into an unceasing product just because. It’s tickling when something fun refuses to conclude, but after a while, one does need to move on. At least watching Shari Lewis, you knew there would be at least one Chop.

After last week’s dud of an episode, I thought this week would pick up the pace as we race towards the finale. I was wrong.

Our mini-challenge has the girls posing in front of a green screen to “photobomb” photos of male celebs. Willow wins the challenge by channeling a “washed up Mary Lou Retton” riding Jake Gyllenhaal’s dog. As her reward, she gets to assemble her team for the main challenge.

This week is perhaps one of my least favorite challenges to recently enter the mix — The DragCon Panel. Since RuPaul launched DragCon in 2015, he has always found a way to work advertisements into the show, including staging mock panels like the ones focused on men we saw this week. It’s a mostly schizophrenic challenge, assigned to the queens as somewhere between a stand-up, talk show, and advertising. They must hit the serious notes and quickly rebound to camp. As the panel challenge has persisted through the seasons, the emphasis on being entertaining has increased, often at the expense of being educational or interesting.

RuPaul's Drag Race Season 14 Episode 9
VH1 (Screenshot)

Jasmine Kennedie says it best when she describes the challenge (slash, my daily life) as “a talking challenge.” Ru wants to know: Can you talk well? Can you listen fine? Are you comfortable airing your trauma? Can you couch any serious critique in humor to not upset centrist viewers and executives?

Each panel takes a slightly different approach to talking about Men. Willow’s chosen group has DeJa Sky as a moderator, with Lady Camden and Angie. Their approach is a little more muted than you’d expect from this group, probably because they want to earnestly address and celebrate fatherhood and dating, particularly Willow’s perspective on dating and disability which may have been the one time we were onto something really informative, but we’re too soon yanked back by the yuk yuks.

Fortunately, there are some good jokes. With Bosco as the irreverent moderator of group two, Daya, Jasmine, and Jorgeous have a cheekier approach to male privilege and toxic masculinity. But what starts strong ends weak, as the other queens are unable to keep up with Bosco’s wit and exemplary hosting skills.

This week’s Shoulder Pads Runway doesn’t offer nearly as much girth to gag us. DeJa tackles the runway competition right out the gate with a fabulous Post-Big Business Chanel-inspired look. The judges rightly praise her for her courteous moderation skills and to-the-brief runway, and is justifiably safe. Bosco’s neon Morton’s Salt Power Ranger ensemble, alongside the smarts she displayed in the challenge, earned her a well-deserved win.

Our bottom two queens this week – Jasmine, the chatterbox breaking out her of transgender chrysalis, and Jorgeous, the petite knockout and judges’ pet – both deserve to be there. Jasmine was better at listening this round, but couldn’t keep up with the conversation on the panel or the runway. Jorgeous stumbled at the start and the poor dear just never recovered. On the runway, her shoulder pads are more like puffy sleeves. She’s a fierce cross between Selena and Prince, but pads for the shoulders those were not.

RuPaul's Drag Race Season 14 Episode 9
VH1 (Screenshot)

Their lip sync to the Etta James classic “Something’s Got A Hold on Me” has plenty of kicking, knee-ups, and white lady stomping. In my mind, it was a perfectly delightful showdown, with Jorgeous eking out over Jasmine by being slightly more animated and immersed in the story of the song. But alas, Ru had other plans. “Shantay You Both Stay,” Mother declares [Everyone Cry].

When an unnecessary double-save happens, it’s hard to enjoy Untucked. We get some touching footage from Angeria’s parents, but long-time fans know that a message from parents is an omen of impending elimination. Guest judge Nicole Byer comes backstage to stir shit and be her enchanting self, but the stakes are totally deflated. 

This is the end of episode nine, and eight queens remain. The Golden Ticket of Immunity is still in play. That’s not how this should go. This isn’t a ranked competition like the actual Olympics; Drag Race is driven by its elimination, by the drama of the chop. At this point, we’re still trimming the herd of middle players. Snatch Game finally arrives next week, several episodes later than we’re used to.

If this double save were at the end of a true stunner of an episode, we might be able to forgive the further stalling of the competition, but following not one but two unremarkable episodes it’s exhausting. What are we doing here? Drag Race has become the entire focus of its narrative and in bending towards the navel, has lost the narrative and forgotten how to be both entertaining and interesting. Perhaps it should learn from its own advice to the queens about their panels. Otherwise, they’re doomed to continue singing a song that never ends “just because” and that never makes for good television. 

CategoriesRecap TV

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