This week the world got flipped turned upside down in more than one way.
First, RuPaul made the unprecedented decision to go with a final four queens in the finale!
If you’ve been following my rankings, you’ll know I’m pretty pleased with the development, as I’ve been shuffling the same four queens back and fourth in the top four for weeks now.
However, the other thing that feels totally flipped tonight are the rankings themselves! I feel like we’re completely topsy turvy compared to what the queen’s average rankings from the season were telling us coming out of last week.
I got the distinct sense tonight that the queens are no longer competing against each other, but battling against themselves to turn the best version of their own take on drag. As such, I’ll be grading each queen individually in their own 50 point scale based on their original song verse, their choreography, their dance outfit, their final runway look, and their brief speeches.
No points will be awarded for the four-way lip sync because nobody cares.
Song – 8/10
Despite the editors sandbagging Sasha’s song by making it seem painfully arhythmic during recording, it was actually pleasingly arhythmic in performance.
While all the other girls were trying to snap their lyrics into the beats, Sasha winds hers around and through the rhythm to deliver a half-song, half-monologue. It really works, and it’s clever as hell – I loved “break the rules, fuck with gender.”
Choreography – 6/10
I’ve been waiting for a Sasha Velour lip sync all season, and she didn’t disappoint – bringing her crazy Gollum moves to “Category Is” and improbably making them fit. Sasha’s dance moves might been the weakest of all four girls, but her presentation was distinct, memorable, and funny. She sold it, although I could have done with fewer turns upstage to obscure her lip syncing.
Dance Outfit – 5/10
I’m here for a Liza Minelli look on Sasha (Alexis is fuming back in NYC), but it was relatively simple and I don’t think the mismatched gloves did anything for her – especially in white and green, with the latter repeated from last week’s rainbow look. I would have preferred a symmetrical pop of two different super-bright colors, like the pink and green from her crew makeover look or a canary yellow.
Runway – 5/10
Sasha’s runway was a little on the basic side for a “Best of Drag,” repeating a matronly high-necked, long-sleeved, mid-ankle pink dress that was slightly saved by a well-placed slit. Maybe it’s the oppressive purple runway lighting that was dragging this look down, but despite being lovely it simply didn’t stand out.
Speech – 9/10
Sasha came as close to nailing her speech as possible, focusing on the future of drag in a way that worked for both Violet and Bob and making it into a metaphor about herself.
Final Verdict: 33/50, or 66% Superstar
Final Average Rank: 3.83
This is insane to be saying about a queen whose season-long average barely has her in the top three, but maybe… just maybe Sasha’s march of excellence over the past few weeks really does count for something heading into the final. If anyone delivered the all-around powerful performance of a winner tonight, it was her.
That makes me rethink the prevailing narrative of the season, which is that Sasha’s pair of half-wins barely count since they were with Shea the Season Slayer. Maybe we should be thinking of them the other way – Ru couldn’t help but let Shea tag along in each case since they were paired challenges, but Sasha was the true winner in Ru’s eyes.
If that was the case, the footing heading into the finale is a lot more equal than wins or power ranks have made it out to be. Despite Shea’s slayage in tonight’s challenge, I have the odd feeling that Ru might finally understand what it is Sasha has to offer.
Song – 10/10
There is no question that Shea absolutely destroyed the song challenge. Her ultra-fast rap totally worked, especially in the moment where she temporarily slowed it down for “got that super model switch!” I don’t think there was a single moment of discontinuity in the entire thing.
Choreography – 10/10
Again, Shea slayed in the performance department. This might actually be the best challenge performance we’ve seen from her all season, which is saying a lot. Her choreography with the baseball bat seemed effortless and was of the high quality you’d expect from a real pop star. The moment where she drops the bat into the dancer’s waiting hands was iconic.
Dance Outfit – 6/10
This outfit was relatively basic, and it included a few askew details. Shea’s bright orange wig created a nice visual pop, but at points the fit didn’t seem quite right and it was in her face way too much. I still can’t quite figure out what was going on with her ankle-length tights, which made her beautiful blue shoes seem disconnected from the rest of the outfit.
“Best Drag” Runway – 3/10
With the entire season on the line why would you pull some messed up Alexis Michelle bullshit like putting a pair of disconnected breast pads on your bustier so that they would move every time you took a step?! It is one of the most distracting choices I’ve ever seen on Drag Race! Plus, again with the over-the-knee black boots – although this is at least a boot and not a neon legging.
It’s just not “best drag” for me. All Shea had to do here is deliver one fucking glam look on par with her pastel rainbow last week and the judges would have eaten it up. This was by far her worst misstep of the season, and it came at the worst possible time.
Speech – 4/10
Given Shea’s personality-packed slayage all season, her speech was a surprisingly dull moment. She basically went the S5 Alaska route of saying, “my track record is impressive; I’m a superstar” without any of Alaska’s over-the-top drama. Girl, the judges know that already.
I’m not so upset about the content so much as I’m bugged that Shea really didn’t present a compelling extracurricular reason like Sasha and Peppermint did – although, you could equally argue that “black excellence” has been her compelling reason all season long. But, you know… she could have just said “black excellence” and mic dropped.
Final Verdict: 33/50, or 66% Superstar
Final Average Rank: 2.33
Yes, you read that right – I have Sasha and Shea tied this week. Maybe I’m slagging Shea’s speech a little overly much, but when that’s the last memory you leave Ru with for close to a year while she mulls things over you’ve got to really nail it.
It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Shea take the crowd – and, honestly, it would make me pretty happy. However, despite a stellar performance in the season, we’ve weirdly come to the point that it also wouldn’t be surprising to see her miss her shot. This episode went to great pains to make all the girls seem equally strong, and while you could view that as trying to amp up the competitiveness for Shea, it works just as well to foreshadow her defeat.
I guess either way Ru and the editors found a way to leave us gagging for more.
Song – 8/10
I really enjoyed Peppermint’s verse of the song. It had just a handful of of off-rhythm moments (“never shady”) and it’s packed with total fire – like coming right out of the gate with syncopation on “sugary sweet confection,” the Minaj inflection on “you know you better never try to come for me,” and when she name-checks all the other queens and builds them up rather than reading them.
Choreography – 7/10
Peppermint hit the mark throughout her choreography, but she had a few moments of clumsiness here and there – usually related to not quite knowing what to do with her legs during snapshot moments like her big lift or not extending fully enough when her body was supposed to be totally open.
Dance Outfit – 4/10
This look was like a imitation Jaidyn Dior Fierce swimsuit … and that ain’t a compliment, henny.
It has a set of tiny hip protrusions (called “peplum”), the point of which are generally to alter your perception of a body’s proportions, but they’re too vestigial to have an effect here. Plus, the look was seriously lacking in accessories aside from the simple, glamorous neck piece.
Finally, the fit wasn’t right – it was way too constricting around the sides, which made Peppermint out to be more round than curvy.
Runway – 6/10
Peppermint’s full length red hoop skirt screamed “semi-professional RenFair cosplayer.”
That’s not the worst thing, even if the judges completely missed the reference and cracked Gone With The Wind era jokes instead. We’ve seen that silkier fabrics tend to look a little cheap and plasticky under the Drag Race stage lights, so I’m willing to give it some benefit of the doubt. On the plus side, Peppermint’s hair and make-up was lovely and her carriage was totally regal. However, I’d expect to see more of a brocade look (like Sasha’s unicorn last week) on a dress like this one.
Speech – 8/10
Peppermint used her brief speech time to the best effect, evoking her historic connection to the men and women of the Stonewall Riots.
Final Verdict: 33/50, or 66% Superstar
Final Average Rank: 4.00
Yes, Peppermint is also tied with Shea and Sasha for her performance in this episode.
I got the distinct sense from this episode that Ru had been rooting for Peppermint all season and was finally rewarded with the growth arc payoff she had been seeking all along. Peppermint brought it just as hard as the other queens tonight.
With Peppermint, RuPaul has a powerful argument that it isn’t about the challenge wins along the way, but the journey – and Ru has been looking for a “journey” narrative in a winner for three seasons now without making it work. This could finally be her chance.
Add to that the resonance of a trans winner in 2017 (and, frankly, a little bit of peevishness on Ru’s part in the wake of “She-Mail”-gate), and Peppermint might have delivered both the late-game surge and the season-long story that it takes to snatch the crown. While it’s not the most probable outcome, it’s also not the most impossible, either.
Song – 4/10
This was a rough spot for Trinity.
Her opening string of sassy, cooed lines were delicious, but eventually it came down to rapping. Not only was Trinity constantly off the rhythm of the song, but she made some decidedly unmusical phrasing choices on her line-ending cadences that are easily correctable once you hear them in context (“up in me,” “while other bitches,” “in your face”).
Choreography – 6/10
Trinity has a few awkward moments during the middle of her sync (watch her try to swing her leg over a dancer), but everything about the late dance break looked phenomenal and she delivered tons of beautiful snapshot moments during the intro.
Dance Outfit – 6/10
This is absolutely the thing you expect to see on Trinity at this point but also she was more or less nude below the waist while dancing.
That’s just insane. Where is her tuck tucked?! How did it stay put?! Plus, her breast plate looked totally natural. I had a hard time convincing myself she didn’t actually have breasts!
Runway – 9/10
Trinity finally, finally went full pageant on us and it was glorious. Her dress was spectacularly beautiful and totally couture, rather than the somewhat silly pageant looks we sometimes see from past competitive queens like Kennedy and Alyssa. Nude panelling can look tacky on an expensive gown, but it felt totally in place here against the gold and black.
Why not a perfect score? While I’ve come to appreciate Trinity’s blunt and asymmetrical hairdos over the course of the season, this particular wig looked a bit worse for the wear. I think it could have been a bit fuller to sell the askew illusion.
Speech – 4/10
Trinity had so much emotional capital to work with in this episode between her growth arc and memories of her childhood. She started her speech there, but she took it into the obvious Runner Up speech of “I tried,” “I need this money,” “and I deserve it.”
Girl: no one ever wins with that speech. Honestly, despite the strong start, I think she lost the crowd right here.
Final Verdict: 29, or 58% Superstar
Final Average Rank: 3.33
I’ve been pulling for Trinity for weeks because I really love the narrative of a traditional “normal” drag queen from the pageant circuit suddenly breaking out and feeling their fantasy on the show.
It’s a narrative that Ru has never crowned, despite teasing at it with queens like Phi Phi, Roxxxy, and Kennedy Davenport. Plus, it was Trinity who merited a Saturday Night Live sketch, not New York queens Sasha or Peppermint.
Despite having a strong story and delivering a performance that was just a hair behind the other girls, it doesn’t feel like Trinity has any of the momentum coming out of this episode. She didn’t fail at anything – even her weak song was way better than Roxxxy’s All-Stars mess. Yet, her only truly solid hit was her runway look. It might have been enough to keep her in contention with these other queens, but I don’t think it makes her a threat.
Does Trinity still have a chance to win it? I think it depends on if you think Ru is influenced at all by what queens bring to the finale. As a pageant girl, you know Trinity’s outfit will be on-point, and she’ll likely give great answers when interviewed on stage in front of a crowd. If there is any room to sway Ru’s opinion, that’s her chance.
This is it – the last ranking of the season!
Next week’s episode is a reunion, followed by the finale in two weeks.
While I might have something to say about those, I want to take a minute right now to thank a pair Drag Race super-fans who have been chiming in with their opinions to keep me motivated – Pasquale and MistakeTheory.
Congratulations, girls – you are the winners of this season’s challenge.
Thanks for going the final mile! I’ve really enjoyed the recaps. It might be cliche but this is the tightest final group I’ve ever seen, and really don’t know who will win, nor do I know who I WANT to win. My prediction all along has been Trinity with the crown, but her performance the past couple of episodes has been mediocre. Shea is amazing but I have a hard time identifying what makes her Unique. In fact, it would have been much more interesting if Michelle called out which letter each queen was missing! I would only be underwhelmed if Peppermint won. Otherwise I think the other 3 all deserve it. I also could have done with a little less Kumbaya this season :) #TeamTrinity
Oo, it would have been memorable if Michelle called out the missing letters! Except, in this crowd I think it would be really hard to pick what ANY of them are missing, aside from perhaps “Uniqueness” for Shea.