Welcome to my review, recap, and power rankings of the second episode of Drag Race Belgique Season 1 – “Les Incontournables.” This is an advertising challenge for famous Belgian foods, paired with a bande dessinée runway.
It’s a drag and marketing communications and comic books crossover en Français – literally the most on-brand possible thing on the planet for me! If the mini-challenge had somehow been about databases instead of leafblowers it would’ve felt like they were directly tapping my interests as inspirations for the show.
(Dear Drag Race: If you are listening, I am available for appearances on Down Under!)
This was an intriguing episode both because of the commercials the queens created and the resulting judging.
I felt as though the commercials for Belgium’s Les Incontournables (“the unavoidable”) said a lot about the talents of Belgian drag artists and the nature of Belgian humor. Everyone was incredibly capable in the commercials, with no queen that seemed in over their head. That is never the case on US Drag Race, where it seems like there is always someone flummoxed by learning lines or playing to a camera.
Was that down to the level of experience of this cast? Or, was Rita Baga a kind and nurturing director as a former contestant? We’ve seen both Brooke and Nicky coach queens through acting challenges before, and I don’t know if either of them have managed to produce such a smooth set of performances.
Les Incontournables commercials also each had fully-formed story arcs that were less about punchlines (even when packed with goofy moments) and more about storytelling. I never expect the same level of quick, quippy humor from US Drag Race on international versions, partly because that’s largely driven by Ru’s short attention span. However, there was something that felt quite cerebral about how the queens tackled this challenge even compared to neighboring Drag Race France.
That cerebral quality spilled over to the runway, where the queens tributed their favorite comic characters in a “Hors des Cadres” theme – meaning “out of frames,” or breaking their characters out of their panels. Some queens went for literal interpretations that allowed them to mime their characters in real life, while others adapted high fashion versions – but, they were all very smart.
Then, we came to the judging.
It felt quite upside down to me, with at least one obvious high and one obvious bottom ignored for critiques. But, it was also exceedingly kind. I wasn’t expecting that, especially after the often-picky judging on France. The judges gave positive comments after each commercial aired and applauded after each set of critiques. They also pulled back on reading one queen’s runway after she gave an emotional explanation. Queens in the bottom got plenty of encouragement, and even one top queen merited a specific warning of what to do differently in the future.
I love the positive, affirmational quality of this style of judging. It didn’t feel nice just for the sake of being nice. It felt like everyone was acknowledging that the artists up on the stage are humans who are working incredibly hard, and treating them fairly matters more than making a salacious television show.
I wonder if the puzzling judging and the kindness are two sides of the same coin. One thing I’ve learned from living in New Zealand is that giving and receiving criticism can vary widely across different cultures. Maybe some of the drag elements we are used to critiquing on other international franchises are simply not part of what a Belgian judge would ever call into question. Maybe the tone of some Drag Race critiques is incompatible with the vibe of reality TV in Belgium.
The unexpected judging means my Power Ranking from last week’s talent show has had some major flip flops, which has shuffled my pre-season ranking even further! I don’t mind that at all. Honestly, I think it’s quite fun that so far it feels like Drag Race Belgique is departing from the easily-calculated formula of Drag Race success.
(Want to watch Drag Race Belgique outside of Belgium? For most of the world, it’s available as part with a Wow Presents Plus subscription as soon as the episode is done airing.)
Lecteurs, start your engines. Et, que la meilleure Drag Queen gagne!
Reminders: I consistently refer to Drag Race artists with their drag names and with she/her pronouns even when they are not in drag, which is the convention of the show. Some performers may have different personal pronouns. Drag is inherently brave, political, and artistic, and all drag is valid. It’s also hard to do. I’m commenting on drag artistry in how it comes across on this specific television program, but the reason I’m commenting at all is because I celebrate all drag!
Drag Race Belgique Season 1, Episode 2 – “Les Incontournables” commercials & Hors des Cadres runway Power Ranking
Before we dig into the comic-inspired Hors des Cadres runway, let’s pause to appreciate an incredibly hot-pink look from Rita Baga.
THIS is what I want from Rita Baga. No “gowns, beautiful gowns.” She has the chance to where whatever she wants and I want to see some weird shit! I love the ridiculous shoulders of this look and its retina-frying pink that vibrates on the screen. It’s fashion, but it’s peculiar, and it feels like Rita is the only franchise host who would wear it.
#1. Drag Couenne (was #4, Pre-Season #7)
Drag Couenne went more punk than glam this week with a pair of rough-hewn characters that won the judges over amongst a crowd of glitzier performances.
This was a fun runway as Gaston Lagaffe, but I think the long sleeves did a lot of lifting for a somewhat plain look. I get that Couenne was imitating a comic character, but it felt like this needed considerably more dragging up to pop.
Apparently the judges disagreed with me, as they also disagreed with me about Couenne’s Les Incontournables commercial performance. I found her gruff character and broad humor to be among the worst of all the commercials, but perhaps something was lost in translation.
Ultimately I’m happy to see her come out on top, because Couenne’s drag excites me the most out of the entire cast. I still worry that there is an unpredictable vein to her that can as easily go punk as it can turn into a hot mess, but maybe the magic of Drag Couenne is it never quite gets to mess. I expect this early success will give her plot armor for at least two more episodes before she is in any real danger.
#2. Athena Sorgelikis (was #1, Pre-Season #3)
Athena stood out for her subtle humor and a smartly tailored runway look, which maintained her momentum from last week despite her being called safe.
I think Athena was a major winner on this comics-inspired runway, with a Le Chat look that was at once silly and chic. The oversize blazer as a skirt and the leggings that continued right down to her heels were brilliant touches.
While Athena was charming as the reporter in her Les Incontournables commercial, there just wasn’t much about her to react to. She was playing the straight woman in the sketch – in more ways than one – which meant it simply wasn’t a winning role
I don’t think that knocks Athena too far off of her pace as the front-runner from last episode. A solid acting performance and a chic runway means she hasn’t shown a weakness yet. I would be shocked if she can’t turn out at least something safe in next week’s design challenge.
#3. Peach (was #8, Pre-Season #8)
Peach gave us the first real shock of the season in this episode, coming out of her somewhat dainty shell to deliver a perfectly ditzy commercial performance that charmed all of the judges. The question is if her runway looks will be fancy enough to keep up with her charisma and nerve.
By picking a human character in Natacha, Peach’s runway wound up looking more cosplay than drag. It wasn’t haute couture or particularly dragged up, so much was it was a straight-up female impersonation seen through a “bimbo-ification” filter. I don’t think you could get away with this on North American drag race anymore (unless you’re Jimbo, who is doing clowning to sell the stereotype).
Peach was the Les Incontournables commercial character whose comedy was the most-obvious to me both in French and in translation. That’s because she played a broad, obvious character and sold it with both vocal intonation and physical comedy. Maybe the character was close to her drag persona, but she found a way to boil that down to something obvious and cartoonish.
I was slightly surprised they rewarded that performance despite her plain runway, but that became the entire point of giving her a reward – to warn her to do something other than play the “bimbo” card on the runway unless there’s something a little goofy played alongside it.
I think Peach might be a lot more wise and strategic than I originally thought from her Meet The Queens and first episode performance. If she can apply those brains in every challenge to find a way to make her unique mark, she could be the third queen to hang in with the punk spirit of this top two. However, if she falls back on party-girl blandness
#4. Edna Sorgelsen (was #2, Pre-Season #4)
Edna Sorgelsen gave another assured performance that was passed over by the judges. Will our season narrator be forever doomed to SAFE placements?
Edna’s version of Marsupilami was recognizable as the character, a terrific silhouette, and felt like “drag” rather than just dress-up. I am obsessed with her blazer – the peaked shoulders and the exaggerated tales are a delight! However, I’m not convinced she needed to wear such dark make-up.
I was surprised that Edna was called safe for her wickedly fun Marsupilami and her smarmy scientist. Even if her team’s commercial was a bit of a mess, she was the glue that held it together for Peach to go to town as the more overtly funny character.
The judges have passed on Edna for two weeks while the edit has positioned her as the narrator of the season. What does it mean?! If she doesn’t merit some positive comments on the runway next week I will start to fear for her placement. In a season with 10 queens there are only seven competitive episodes before the finale – not much time to play it safe.
#5. Mocca Bonè (was #6, Pre-Season #6)
Mocca Bonè went unthanked for portraying an emotional character and bringing a massive mascot onto the runway.
Mocca Bonè had the bad luck to be the third Marsupilami in the runway line-up, but the good luck for her version to be the most over-the-top of all the comic character runways! She not only took the look all the way to HIGH DRAG with plenty of accentuated curves and sparkles, but went FULL CARTOON on it as well. The giant hips, the padded feet, the massive hair, the way every spot sparkled, and a tail that is one of the biggest costume pieces we’ve ever seen on Drag Race all added up to an unforgettable look. Mocca Bonè looked like a high fashion sports team mascot, which I think is the perfect place to wind up with this runway theme.
I think Mocca Bonè had an easy role to reward with judges comments in Les Incontournables as a whinging teen coming out to her mom, especially with that runway! I was absolutely shocked when she was called safe.
Does Mocca have many more top caliber runways like this one in her bag? And can she hold off the confidence problems that crept in after her performance? I think she has the goods to give the top queens of this season some major competition, but she’ll need to steel herself and snag a high placement sometime soon to make that a reality.
#6. Valenciaga (was #3, Pre-Season #5)
Valenciaga gave a subtle performance and delivered a fashion that required some explanation, which cooled her hot start to the competition from last week.
I love that Valenciaga took the utterly plain Tante Sidonia and found a way to make her high drag, but I think she may have been too quick to strip off her comic costume to reveal the slinky dress underneath. I know she was trying to play with the androgyny of a character she views as sub-textually trans, but in transforming on the stage she didn’t give us enough of that context. It need too much explaining.
Without an explanation, it just looked like she was trying to make a cartoon character sexy in an incongruous way. Had she played more with the frumpiness of the character before stripping, the story would’ve made more sense – especially because her look was so spot on!
I think Valenciaga was unremarkable in her Les Incontournables commercial, but it could’ve been saved had she not had the worst runway. There was so much middle ground in the commercials without many standouts. However, from her runway we saw that her high fashion style can sometimes be overthought. I didn’t expect that from Valenciaga from her social media. She surprised me last week, and she has surprised me again here.
I don’t think this bottom placement is an insurmountable problem, but I worry that Valenciaga might not have the supreme level of confidence I initially ascribed to her. She will have to hope her fashion sense keeps her safe last week so that a target gets painted onto another queen to survive the lip sync. If she heads back to the bottom, I’m certain she will be eliminated against any of these other artists.
#7. Susan [from Grindr] (was #5, Pre-Season #2)
It seems like Susan’s entire approach to drag is failing to excite her competitors as well as the judges. (Meanwhile, I’m hooked!)
I thought Susan stunned as Koningin van Onderland from Jommeke! As illustrated, she’s a basic cartoon version of Snow White’s mother in purple and black. Susan somehow made her even more cartoonish than she comes off in the bande dessinée by rendering her dress in latex and exaggerating the movements of her grand cape. I think this succeeded in being fashionable and a terrific adaptation of her original reference.
However, I’d agree with the judges that Susan’s grunting and howling in her Les Incontournables commercial performance felt like it was meant to grab attention but wound up falling short against the talents of her teammates. Between that and the fussy details of her runway, it made sense for her to be in the bottom (though, truly, I was expecting Couenne or Boop instead).
The question from her is whether or not Susan has the strength of will and eye for detail to rise above this early stumbling block. I see so much potential for entertainment in her and her drag, but from the reactions of the other queens and the judges it seems like there is something about her that does not resonate with them.
Is it just me who finds Susan so charming? Or, is this a case of a queen who might be beloved on American Drag Race but who rubs the wrong way against the national aesthetic of drag in her own country? I will be interested to find out.
#8. Mademoiselle Boop (was #7, Pre-Season #1)
Mademoiselle Boop hasn’t shown off any killer instincts so far in this competition. As one of the most-experienced queens in the cast, I was expecting to see a lot more from her (and it seems like Edna agrees.)
I think Mademoiselle Boop missed the mark on Mademoiselle Jeanne. Jeanne is a prototypical mousey-but-sexy character. Boop didn’t sell that at all just by wearing oversized glasses. She rendered her garment in a color too dark to read well on the runway, and her wig didn’t read as Jeanne massive ponytail at all. Then for her to fall and lose the wig… it was meant to be a mimed mess, but it turned into an actual mess.
Boop similarly missed the mark with her mom character in the Les Incontournables commercial. She needed to play her much more shrill, severe, or stuck-up to sell the drama of her daughter coming out and sell the comedy of her eventually deciding to like the pansexual waffles. Without those highs and lows to her performance, it was all totally flat.
Altogether it was such an obvious bottom performance in both parts of the show that I gasped out loud when I realized she was called safe. That as an absolute gift to her! I think Susan was broadly comedic enough in the challenge and grand enough on the runway that Boop was clearly her inferior this week.
I think it is interesting that Edna (as our narrator) keeps suggesting that Boop will have trouble with some things but ought to be excelling at others. Clearly she is an outsized presence in Belgian drag outside of the show. However, I’m not feeling anything like that energy from her on the screen. So far, she has entirely fizzled in every way except for the face department.
Can this full-time drag professional sew up a look that shows off her talents and her taste next week? I would be genuinely surprised to see her be safe again. I think she’ll either find a way to top or be shoved into the bottom to light a fire under her after a pair of lackluster weeks.
Eliminated in 9th Place: Amanda Tears (was #9, Pre-Season #10)
Amanda Tears had the misfortune of arriving on Drag Race Belgique as a young queen not yet fully formed in the midst of a cast of many drag veterans. On a season with a few more uncertain queens Amanda might have had the time to find her footing. Against these competitors, there just wasn’t any time to improve and find a renewed sense of confidence.
Amanda’s Marsupilami was a cute look partly by virtue of it being something Amanda couldn’t over-think or over-style. She had to boil it down to a simple, primal version of the look. It turns out that her style instincts might be at their best when she’s forced to work within a constraint. Unfortunately, Edna and Mocca both outstyled her on the same character.
I think there was no way to avoid the bottom as the worst of three similar looks along with playing the meekest character in all three commercial sketches. Hopefully Amanda’s time on the show will open her eyes to how much power she can wield in drag when she is focused. She’s only 21 years old – she has a lifetime of opportunity ahead of her!