Stacy Layne Matthews’ triumphant return to the Drag Race stage evokes vaseline-smeared memories of the franchise’s early days. Before she was hailed as drag royalty by her RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars hosts, Stacey was an unpolished queen from Backswamp, North Carolina. Her season 3 arc was dominated by heckling from the Heathers. The real Witches of WeHo (RuPaul’s current wig maestro Delta Work, eventual winner Raja, and All Stars 4 contestant Manila Luzon) called her a Booger. They never let poor Stacy / play in any reindeer games. But Drag Race audiences saw Stacy’s heart shine bright through the fog. Henny became an institution, the underdog who succeeded by being herself. Fast forward 8 years and the cycle continues. Gia Gunn is mean girl island unto herself. She doesn’t need a clique, especially when her target is the never-not-crying Farrah Moan. She’s a tiger stalking a bunny, a vulture eyeing dying roadkill. Farrah, you dying roadkill, girl.
Tonight’s Henny Girl Group challenge is a huge undertaking. Trinity and Monique pick teams to write and record tracks. Monique is living her best delusional life. Her wig toss was iconic. She’s the best singer in her group. She micromanages Team Everybody Say Love with the iron grip of a cross-dressing Mussolini. Monét X Change chases redemption. As a trained opera singer, last week’s warbling was unacceptable. In the recording studio, her flawless rap reminds her team she’s competition. When she tries. The weakest link is Farrah and she knows it. Her voice is better than her dancing, and that’s not saying much. Despite Monique’s frustrations, Farrah keeps her head up and finds support from the rest of the team.
Trinity has stacked Team Don’t Funk It Up with heavy hitters. Valentina leads the way with smartly silly lyrics and a high note that means business. But things fall apart during choreo with Stacy Layne Matthews. Gia, still smarting from “losing” last week’s challenge, takes over the rehearsal with all the grace of a backhoe. This is Gia’s rehearsal, team be damned. Trinity is too busy being the Cool Mom to notice the cluster swirling around her head. It doesn’t bode well when the guest star has to ask who the team leader is.
Drag Race is a tough competition. The contestants are busy from the minute they rise until they get locked back into their sequestered rooms at night. The only opportunity they get to kiki is while they paint. It’s traditionally become a time for introspection, deep truths, and history lessons. So it’s especially triggering to watch Gia use that time to bully Farrah. The whole thing is very Mean Girls (please raise your hand if you have ever felt personally victimised by Gia Gunn). First, she tricks Monique into saying Farrah is the weakest link on their team. Then she tells Farrah, hoping for a breakdown. But Farrah goes off-script. She stays centered and calm. She sees Gia’s attack for the pot stirring it is and calls her out on it. She deflects every Gia volley with grace and precision, cutting her off at the knees with a modicum of fuss. The room buzzes with appreciation. Just like Henny before her, the Booger has toppled a Heather. “God, I can’t stand her” is Farrah’s redemption song.
Watching the Henny performances, I actually miss Todrick Hall and his soul-crushing criticism. Team Don’t Funk It Up stands in a line and gently sways. Their only triumphs are Valentina’s scorching rendition of “I am not the one!” and Latrice Royale’s inadvertent r.i.p. to the late, great Penny Marshall. Team Everybody Say Love actually moves around the stage but only to highlight Farrah’s awkward dance moves and Monique’s all-around sloppiness. Luckily, the Eloguence After Dark runway takes my breath away. Latrice in black sequence. Stunning. Manila and her stoned pits. Stunning. Valentina’s hydrangea garden. Stunning. And when Monét steps out, swathed in red velvet, cinched for the the gods, I forgive every tired bodysuit and fall in love all over again. This may be the best runway in Drag Race herstory.
Top 2: Valentina and Monét X Change
Bottom 2: Farrah Moan and Monique Heart
Desperation to stay increases with each elimination. This is do or die time. Monique is eager to plead her case. Like Jasmine before her, she cloaks herself in self aggrandizement. She’s the G.O.A.T., she’s Alaska offering Detox $10,000 via PayPal. Monique will do anything to stay. Winning Drag Race is her destiny. Gia, unwilling to concede defeat in her unending war, interrupts Farrah’s plea to Monét for continued fuckery. We get it, girl. You’re the villain. Valentina and Monét are left with a tough decision. While this bottom 2 is no surprise, they are no filler queens.
As we reach the end of the episode, there’s one more redemption arc to explore. Monét X Change is a fierce performer. When she turns it on, she’s lit. But tonight she’s merely a bit player. This is Valentina’s story. It wasn’t so long ago that the lovely Latinx left the show, head hung in shame. Ariana Grande’s Into You is her big chance to prove she can lip-sync, that her shocking elimination was nothing but a fluke. She’s slinky, sexy, feline. She bares her heart as much as her tuck. As the beat picks up, Valentina throws down. She stomps the boards so hard her dress slips off. It’s a testament to her extraordinary beauty that VH1 chooses her blur her exposed boy nipple. Not even Monét’s jump into splits can tear attention away. All hail, Queen Valentina. Your wish is our command.
Winner Valentina sadly sends Farrah Moan home. She might not have won the crown but she’ll always be the bunny that ate a dragon.
Next week: It’s a Snatch Game dating show! But Gia’s still around so there’s lots of fighting.