“It’s not personal, it’s Drag” gets dragged into the personal.
As the inner saboteur has made its way forward to mainstay villain, the interpersonal dynamics within the cast have retreated to the background. But inevitably, the rifts ripple forward and this week we see the first spark of interesting dynamics within the cast. Sort of.
As Daya gripes once again about being safe, she takes a snipe at DeJa Sky and pricks the dam of drama for the episode. While nothing comes of this prideful pawing at each other, we get to see DeJa in full cheerleading coach mode as she shuts down the squabbles. We’ve seen glimmers of Coach Sky in Untucked, but hopefully, this moment brings her fully to the field.
Television Drag Queens need a little drama to let out some of the pressure. It’s healthy for them and helps reinvest the audience in the personalities on screen. But just as the steam is starting to really whistle out the kettle, Kerri Colby tampers it with the cliche Drag Race aphorism: “It’s Not Personal, It’s Drag.”
This is both true and misleading. It’s true in that all sense of the personal disappears for the majority of the episode. This week’s challenge to make a garment out of miscellaneous material bought during Michelle’s “late night shopping addiction,” means the queens spend most of their time at their machines or talking with Ru and Carson. These one-on-ones give the judges plenty of opportunities to give mixed advice. At times Carson seems to remember the challenge and has helpful ideas yet in others, he remarks that some materials look “inexpensive” (read: cheap). Like — yes, Carson. It’s a cheap materials challenge? Alas, the secret of Drag Race is being able to deduce what exactly they’re hinting at and run with it. Some queens like Lady Camdon listen and are rewarded for doing so while others like Maddy Morphosis don’t listen to the hints and land in the bottom.
Yet this episode also shows drag is supremely personal. As the queens get more comfortable with each other, the conversations at the makeup mirrors become more reflective. This week Kerri leads the queens in conversation about being rejected because of their femininity or their doing drag. Many of these queens, particularly the transwomen, have faced harsh and sometimes violent ostracization for their biological families and we’re reminded that the pursuit of this identity-artform can come at great personal and economic cost.
On the runway that cost RuPaul barely a dime, Daya’s blubbering and babydoll dress aren’t enough to place her in the top and she’s safe yet again. There are some surprises. Kerri’s outfit was a judge’s favorite during the walkthrough because of its structure yet it didn’t come together into a stunning look. I loved Willow Pillow’s Nightmare Bambi fantasy, but by Willow’s own admission there are some unfinished edges. Bosco’s anime Billy Idol number was equally interesting. If these queens are safe, then who’s in the top?
Because Lady Camden listened to Ru and built up her minimal and stiff upper British lip into a full mouth, her kiddie pool fairy outfit gets singled out for kudos. Angeria arrives as an unclockable human woman with cheap blinds fashioned into fanned epaulets to complete a cocktail eleganza look that truly wows. Yet this week’s win goes to Jorgeous for her simple but smartly executed post-JLo beachwear moment. From the beginning of the episode, Jorgeous has been on the track for rudemption; Ru couldn’t stop talking about how well she performed in last week’s lipsync and it was clear that this week she gave everything they wanted.
This leaves Jasmine Kennedie, Maddy, and DeJa as the bottom three. There was plenty to like about DeJa’s Aphrodite outfit which would be perfect for an evening out to a series premiere of Dance Moms. The judges use her as a lesson in over-accessorizing and she’s kept safe. And then, after the judges have critiqued Jasmine for her jumbled and messy South Beach look and unpacked the difficulties of Maddy’s semi-atrocious patchwork hoopskirt, the personal suddenly bursts back into the frame.
In an uncommon move for the series, we’re shown clips from the upcoming episode of Untucked which shows Maddy and Jasmine yelling at each other, each threatening to out-stomp the other. Tension builds as the queens take their places to slay Beyonce’s “Suga Mama.” Eh but it’s immediately dispersed as Jasmine begins to wipe the floor with Maddy. Jasmine has clearly pictured herself as a rich woman with a healthy sexual appetite as is necessary for the song, whereas Maddy hasn’t thought of himself as a woman much at all. Maddy’s elimination makes sense. Drag is more than clothing and the best drag has an embodiment that can only come from a queer contemplation of gender and sexuality.
So, oops, Maddy doesn’t live up to the talk we see foreshadowed (which is actually a flashback) in this week’s Untucked. Now, if there’s one thing the editors of RuPaul’s Drag Race love, it’s a misdirecting clip. By now loyal viewers are well aware of how often things are placed out of context to create a false sense of suspense, only to be quite mundane once we arrive at the actual moment. Just this week we had a bumper clip of Ru screaming “how dare you!” as if to a queen only for it to be part of a schtick with Carson.
As we rolled over into Untucked, I was prepared for the Maddy v. Jasmine drama to be manufactured from scraps of footage, as if the producers were also challenged to create something interesting out of leftovers. But no, it’s a full-blown moment where drag spirals into the personal and back again.
One of my favorite moments in reality TV is when the playing of reality turns actually serious and that’s what we get this week. As the queens share where they are in this week’s ranking, Maddy teases Jasmine about being ready to slay the lipsync and send her home. Jasmine takes this ribbing as a threat and before we know it, voices are raised, queens are out of their chairs, and before we know it an innocuous quip has undamed a watershed of personal and pointed attacks.
This episode also shows drag is supremely personal.
Maybe it has something to do with a straight man saying he’ll beat a queer man in a queer art form that gets Jasmine so heated. If so, I honestly get it. Watching Maddy leave and refer to herself as “the first openly straight drag queen” who’s doing the show for all the men watching with their girlfriends, we hear how hollow these self-superlatives can ring. What does it really mean to be “the first” of anything and why do we use it as a marker of progress?
Especially “the first straight” anything. This is a particularly dissonant accolade because ‘straight’ is always the default. When history is over-simplified to individual moments of success, heterosexuality is assumed. People come ‘the first queer’ whatever as a direct response to this pervasive assumption. So while also totally untrue, Maddy’s claim to be “the first openly straight drag queen” feels more reactionary than revolutionary because the base is claiming a spot on the fringe.
Six episodes in and nine queens remain. The golden ticket is still in play. It feels like this season is still getting started with no signs of speeding up. Let’s hope next week’s mid-point acting challenge signals a change.