Welcome to my review, recap, and power rankings of the fourth episode of Drag Race Belgique Season 1 – “L’émission qui vous déshabille,” a scripted acting challenge spoofing real-life documentary Ni juge, ni soumise. It was paired with a “Ceci n’est pas un look!” runway celebrating surrealist painter René Magritte – plus, the library was open for a reading challenge.
If that sounds like a brainy episode, it was! But, it also showed how prepared the top group of queens remaining on this season are when it comes to surmounting any challenge thrown their way… except, perhaps, a reading challenge.
These Belgian queens seemed to be literally shaking in their boots when Rita Baga opened the library for the reading mini-challenge. Several of them seemed to be too nervous to even hold their prop glasses up to their eyes.
That made me wonder to what extent reading is baked into the culture of Belgian drag. Of course, there is a certain playful cattiness to most drag queens and drag scenes, and we’ve seen that on display in the workroom and in confessionals. Yet, reading tends to be a very direct, confrontational version of that cattiness. I get the sense that doesn’t come as naturally in Belgium as it does for queens other countries – like, for instance, New Zealand.
That stands in contrast to the acting challenge and the runway, which both seemed to capitalize on the cerebral qualities of the queens and Belgium’s appreciation for the arts. I wasn’t expecting much from a spoof of a documentary or a modern art runway theme, but this cast of queens came ready to impress.
My French is not good enough to have perfectly understood the acting scenes without subtitles and translations, but I got the impression that two of them went off without a hitch and were thoroughly amusing. The script relied on the broad humor of badly-behaved citizens facing off against a dour but impulsive magistrate, which means the queens all had genuine characters to act rather than simply spouting catchlines or delivering physical humor.
The same is true for the Magritte-inspired “Ceci n’est pas un look!” runway theme. On other franchises I’d expect perhaps one or two queens who really understood the assignment of capturing the thematic qualities of a surrealist painter in their fashions. Here, no one missed the mark entirely. The same was true on their bande dessinée runway on episode two.
It seems clear that the average drag queen in Belgium is expected to know her cultural references and appreciate the country’s artistic heroes. I find it refreshing to be watching a version of Drag Race where the queen’s references are not simply drag, reality TV, and fashion. I don’t think any other franchise has seemed so enamored with connecting drag to the fine arts.
What does this cerebral episode mean for my Power Rankings compared to last week’s “Festival Realness” design challenge? One queen descended precipitously due to some factors out of her control, while a pair of winless queens jostled to secure a spot of runner-up to our clear front-runner.
(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 4 – “L’émission qui vous déshabille” acting challenge & “Ceci n’est pas un look!” runway Review & Power Ranking
Before we put on our art historian hats for this Magritte-inspired “Ceci n’est pas un look!” runway (a bowler hat, of course!), let’s appreciate Rita Baga doing glamour in her own weird way.
While I wish she had bigger hair on to match the giant shoulders of this dress, I think it’s a wonderful look for her. Rita can never simply do straight-up glam and seem entirely herself – there always has to be some element of weirdness or cartoonishness to it. Even if these massive sleeves aren’t a major departure from being glamourous, I think their added proportion takes this look into Rita Baga teritory.
#1. Drag Couenne – 2 Wins (was #1, 1, 4, Pre-Season #7)
Drag Couenne is dominating this season in a way I only dreamed of in my pre-season ranking. If I had any question about her advertising win, I’ve got none about this accomplished acting performance as the no-nonsense judge.
Drag Couenne’s outlandish look of a turtle shell bowler hat comprised entirely of individual bowler hats was not only a terrific nod to Magritte’s work (in which bowlers were a recurring icon), but in perfect keeping with Magritte’s actual title for his famous pipe painting: La Trahison des Images (“The Treachery of Images”).
Of course, a painting cannot be a pipe. As Magritte once pointed out, you cannot fill it with tobacco and smoke it! The painting is a symbol of a pipe, or a simulacrum, which captures its essence but is not the thing in question.
Couenne puts her own twist on this, turning herself into a hat which in turn is made up of hats. But, is she a hat? No, she is a drag queen, and her hat merely suggests the shape of a hat without truly having the form or function of a hat. Couenne has transformed herself into a treacherous image. The “hat” is merely a backpiece to her runway costume, just like the pipe is merely a painting.
It is utter brilliance – a Drag Race runway that is modern art and a philosophy class all rolled up into one.
Drag Couenne’s acting in the spoof of Ni juge, ni soumise showed her to have the sort of serious acting chops we seldom see on Drag Race. She held a consistent character across three scenes, hitting all of her dry comedic punchlines squarely. That the character was so straight-laced and exasperated made the performance even better, as neither of those are typical qualities of Couenne and her drag.
At this point, the show has built Couenne up to be so much of a frontrunner that it would suck all the air out of the season to dismiss her before the finale. That means she likely has the plot armor to survive her first bad performance without needing to lip sync. Purely to spread the wins around, I think she is already out of contention to win Snatch Game even if she delivers another masterful performance. Next week will be the week where we learn who has been promoted to be Couenne’s chief competition for the crown.
I cannot explain how happy I am to have been wrong about Couenne’s chances on the season in my pre-season ranking. Her perspective on drag resonates so strongly with me. I feared she would be a queen who wouldn’t mind the details, but she turns out to be the complete opposite – she is OBSESSED with details. As long as she avoids getting into her head in a way that confounds the judges, she should have no problem surviving the next three episodes to reach the finale.
#2. Peach (was #3, 3, 8, Pre-Season #8)
Peach continued her streak of surprisingly strong performances. Despite not snagging a win yet, her growth on this season so far feels like exactly the sort of story Drag Race likes to take to the finals.
Peach’s runway may not have been as surreal as the others, but it also may have been the best fashion of them all. I enjoyed the implication that she herself was the sky surrounded by a forest of the print on her beautifully cut jacket.
I’m unsure if it was meant to reference a specific painting, but there seem to be a few likely suspects. The most obvious seems to be Décalcomanie, where we see the negative space of a man cut out from a theatrical curtain, his shape defined only by the sky beyond. If this was indeed Peach’s inspiration, she took some liberties with the fashion, but I think they were all well-chosen.
Once again, Peach delivered a delightful surprise in acting challenge by getting silly, but this version of silly was considerably uglier and more restrained than what we saw from her in her Episode 2 advertisement. I think if Drag Couenne hadn’t had the natural advantage of being in all three of these scenes that Peach would’ve easily scored the challenge win.
Peach may be the biggest revelation in this cast. She arrived as a young, pretty, crafty queen who seemed like she might be a one-note fashion model. Now, she has shown herself to be a canny interpreter twice over. Can she continue that strength with a surprisingly great impersonation in Snatch Game? My fear is that as something she prepared before arriving, Peach might “play to type” in Snatch Game and it will not be as weird and endearing as the pair of characters she has invented on the show.
On the plus side, even if Peach backslides next week I think her potential gives the judges a good reason to save her from a lip sync or to hand her a win against a few of these other queens. However, what she really needs from Snatch Game is not a high or safe placement, but a WIN – which would cement her as Couenne’s main competition after nipping at her heels twice over in acting challenges.
#3. Mademoiselle Boop (was #5, 8, 7, Pre-Season #1)
Mademoiselle Boop continues lurking in the safe zone, but she gave a proficient acting performance and snagged a reading challenge win. Is she about to have her big breakout week in Snatch Game?
PS: Reddit user Dao_huong uncovered the actual painting that inspired Boop, La Belle Lurette, while compiling their weekly Reddit recap post:
Mademoiselle Boop’s ivory diver with a rich velvet cape may have been her best runway so far. For other runway prompts I might have something negative to say about the broad, cartoonish proportions. For a surrealist runway, they are perfect. Boop looks like a villain out of The Yellow Submarine, itself a surreal classic. Keeping her look perfectly white helps keep the focus on its absurd proportions.
I believe Mademoiselle Boop’s outfit is not a reference to Magritte but to Dalí, and to an exhibition rather than a painting. In 1936 Dalí wore (and nearly suffocated in) a diving suit to the International Exhibition of Surrealism. That scene has in turn has been immortalized in a bath stone bench in London, sculpted by Timothy Shutter.
I wondered if maybe rendering the cape in blue may have added the suggestion of an underwater quality to emphasize the “This is not a pipe” aspect of the runway, but I think the rich, deep red was the right choice.
After several weeks of small performances, it felt as though Boop allowed herself to take up space through this episode. She was fully enjoying herself in both the reading challenge and the acting challenge, and as a result she finally came across to me as the larger-than-life figure she seems to be for all of the other queens in the show.
This is the right time in a Drag Race season to let loose (LET LOOSE!). It feels as though Mademoiselle Boop’s narrative arc is primed for her to win Snatch Game next week, which will see her rising as a strong competition to the juggernaut of Drag Couenne and the dark horse of Peach. Both Boop and Athena badly need a high placement or win next week to revive their momentum, and whichever of them don’t get it risks winding up as fodder the next week as the field tightens.
#4. Athena Sorgelikis – 1 Win (was #4, 2, 1, Pre-Season #3)
Athena Sorgelikis is stuck in the safe zone for a third week running and its starting to get to her. Can she stay focused to deliver a winning Snatch Game performance next week, or will she be another surprising early elimination?
I enjoy Athena Sorgelikis’s interpretation of “Ceci n’est pas un look,” but it feels a little too low-key for the Drag Race runway. I’ll always take a smart pantsuit on a queen as an antidote to a parade of gowns and couture. I love the cut of the front of the jacket. However, it feels like there was more to do with the white of the candle as a design motif, and the pants are quite dull.
Athena’s look is a literal adaptation of Magritte’s La Lampe Philosophique (“The Philosopher’s Lamp”). I think in adapting it so literally Athena lost the surrealistic quality. She looks more like an action figure of the painting than her own magical piece of art. Why not wear a prosthetic nose or play with its phallic quality in the painting? Why have such a tiny pipe? Why go with such small, literally, slicked back hair?
Imagine this with the white wrapped all around her body, a pipe the size of her head, and candle flame hair. There was more to be done with this look other than simply impersonating the painting.
I’d make a similar comment about Athena’s acting. It was fine – confident and amusing! It also felt quite subtle, as if she was giving a cute mini-challenge performance in a maxi-challenge.
I didn’t expect to be calling Athena’s approach to drag “safe” after seeing her talent show, but it really feels as though she needs to turn up the volume if she wants to get noticed alongside Drag Couenne and Peach. Snatch Game will be a crucible for her. A strong impersonation could break her out of her safe streak, but if she doesn’t shine I fully expect her to be sent to lip sync as a wake up call – and, I do think she would be in danger of dismissal against several of the other queens.
#5. Susan [from Grindr] – 1 Win, 1 Lip Sync (was #2, 7, 5, Pre-Season #2)
Fresh off a design challenge win, Susan got stuck with a her least-preferred role in this acting challenge and a scene partner who was a total wreck.
I think Susan’s runway perfectly hit the mark for “Ceci n’est pas un look.” The combination of her umbrella dress and bowler hat hair both had the surreal quality of being normal things used in unexpected or transformed ways. Indeed, her umbrella was not an umbrella and her hat was not a hat! She may have understood this prompt the best of the entire cast along with Couenne (which does not surprise me).
This combination of red and an umbrella seems to be a clear reference to Magritte’s Les Vacances de Hegel (“Hegal’s Holiday”). It also seems to be a direct copy of a red umbrella dress in Rafał Olbiński’s 2018 painting Rain. Did Susan Google the same “The Unexpected Surrealism of the Umbrella” article that I did while doing her research, which connects the two paintings? I’d love to ask her!
I do wish the umbrella was a bit fuller and rounder, as it is in the painting, and that Susan had worn dark tights and shoes – maybe even with an upturned umbrella handle on one.
Unfortunately, this perfect interpretation and strong execution of the “Ceci n’est pas un look” prompt was not enough to save Susan’s flatline performance in the spoof of Ni juge, ni soumise. Susan had the least lines to work with out of all the queens, and even if she surmounted that difficulty she was playing against Mocca’s approximate interpretation of the script. Mocca’s character was the one in charge of the momentum of the scene, which meant Susan was trapped. (It gave me shades of Milk & Trixie in “The Bitchelor.”)
I think Drag Race judges can sometimes be sympathetic to a queen who gets stuck with an unproductive partner, but there was no other queen to send to the lip sync – both of the other scenes ranged from solid to hilarious.
I really thought Susan’s trajectory was on the upswing after her win last week. Now I’m not so sure. She seems like a queen who will do well in Snatch Game, but it also feels like the show is dealing her out of contention for the crown with a focus on her feeling defeated in her confessionals. If I trust the edit to telegraph placements, it feels like Boop, Athena, or Peach will win next week. That’s a blow for Susan, who needs to quickly build a ramp of high placements if she wants to survive a second lip sync. I do think Rita Baga and the judges would keep her over Valenciaga, but it even with Susan’s challenge win I can’t see them giving her a shanté over the winless Boop or Peach.
Susan’s best case scenario to make it to the finale is to avoid a lip sync in Snatch Game and then place high the following week.
#6. Valenciaga – 2 Lip Syncs (was #7, 6, 3, Pre-Season #5)
Valenciaga delivered one of the best performances in this scripted acting challenge, showing an amount of nerve and comedy chops we haven’t seen from her yet this season. But, will that translate into Snatch Game success next week?
As far as I could tell, Valenciaga’s outfit was more of a broad nod to Magritte and his themes than a specific one. It had clouds, pigeons, and a green apple, which all recur in his work. It also had a theme on being shat on by birds who appeared on the chic, wide-legged pants.
Does that make it surreal? I’m not certain I think so. I think Valenciaga did a good job putting some of Magritte’s elements through her own fashion filter, but it lacks the magical, dreamlike quality of the most-successful looks of this “Ceci n’est pas un look” runway theme.
If I was just as neutral on Valenciaga’s runway as the judges, I was far apart from them on my appraisal of her acting. She delivered a too-subtle character in the Episode 2 advertisements, but I thought Valenciaga may have been the single best actress across all three scenes in this episode – even better than her scene partner, Peach. Her crass character felt fully-realized and significantly different from her own personality, from the way she held herself to the blasé manner in which she delivered her lines.
For me, the performance proved Valenciaga is here to fight. However, the judges weren’t as wild about it as I was and graded it merely average. To me, that feels like a sign that we’re about to wave goodbye to Valenciaga next episode. I doubt she would survive a third lip sync, which means she needs to be in the top half of Snatch Game placements to escape a dismissal. Against this line-up of impersonators, she’ll be challenged to achieve that result – but, I’m rooting for her!
Eliminated in 7th Place: Mocca Bonè – 2 Lip Syncs (was #6, 5, 6, Pre-Season #6)
Mocca Bonè departed Drag Race Belgique exactly in the manner she arrived: high-energy, emotional, and not paying much mind to the fine details. Mocca is more of a big-picture performers, but sometimes the Drag Race judges look at your big picture up close.
Much like Drag Couenne, Mocca Bonè took a chance on the “Ceci n’est pas un look” runway by delivering a look which itself was surrealistic. Rather than trying to adapt a specific Magritte painting, she included many elements of his work – like the bowler, the apple, the pipe, and clouds – in a surreal fashion.
As with many of Mooca’s looks, I think there are successful elements of this (playing with proportions, the shape of it), but some of the styling details let her down. The shape and construction of the actual dress is quite puzzling.
I’m not entirely sure the missed details of Mocca Bonè’s acting performance were ever entirely hers to control. A lot of the nuances of her performance and her choices in it were lost to translation to me, but the understanding I came away with was that Mocca’s character’s lines were composed almost entirely of wordplay, double entendre, and idiomatic expressions.
(Am I misinterpreting that? French speakers, please chime in below!)
Even though Mocca is perfectly fluent in French, she seemed to be challenged by both pronouncing the actual words and interpreting them correctly per Rita Baga’s early comment that she could change a line if she needed to. However, Mocca seemed to run with that direction and change any line she pleased, which made her performance unpredictable and sapped the natural flow out of the scene (which also doomed Susan’s performance).
While I don’t think it benefits anyone to directly compare queens, I do think we’ve seen enough drag artists on this franchise that it is fair to speak broadly about the archetypes that these artists can fit. We’ve seen an archetype similar to Mocca Bonè on Drag Race many times over: a queen who is used to making an impact at her live shows with her bombastic, sometimes chaotic choices. I’d say Alyssa Edwards is the patron saint of these queens, who are often explosive dancers. They can leave a major impression in challenges and runways that ask them to GO BIG, but when it comes to being refined and exact they can struggle to understand why they aren’t hitting the mark.
The great thing about falling in love with a queen like Mocca Bonè is that she won’t disappoint you in her post-show career. She is going to make all of the same kinds of big, bombastic, emotional choices after the show that she did before, now with the added exposure of Drag Race on her side – and maybe a slightly keener eye for detail.