The queens congratulate Thicc and Stick for their victory, and many remark on how they underestimated the group. It continues to establish that anything can happen on RuPaul's Drag Race this season. Outside of last week's placement, Morphine continues to be a producer's dream when she brings up the drama between Q and Xunami. Throughout the episode, Q and Xunami joke about it. For now, it does not seem to replace the season's Plane Jane versus Amanda drama. Speaking of, the queens wonder what might fill that void, but Plane Jane proclaims to have turned over a new leaf. Later in the episode, Megami cleverly remarks that when you turn over a new leaf, it's still the same leaf.
Spanish Fly GirlsIt's always a high-energy time when Drag Race has a cameo from Charo. The accomplished guitarist and personality, a spritely 73 years old, is one of the series' most frequent guests, and for good reason. The mini-challenge revolves around Charo and the art of flamenco. The queens get into quick flamenco drag. Each queen takes turns with their dance partner. Having no training, most of the queens imitate what they've seen in cartoons or on television. The Latina queens, of which season 16 has the greatest representation, can capitalize on some of the overlaps between Iberian and Latin dance. Sponsored by the Tourism Board of Spain, it's a fun celebration of pink tourism. However, the amusement starts to wane after a full 11 queens perform. Ultimately, Xunami, who translates her model posing into dance, wins. She also has the added joy of proving Q wrong and getting a trip to Spain.
Designing Women, Designing DollsAs the RuMail hinted, the main challenge is doll-themed. Already a second design challenge, after the ball only two weeks ago, each queen needs to create a doll based on their drag persona, including two identical outfits. RuPaul makes a point of alerting the queens that this is a design, branding, and storytelling challenge wrapped into one and that the judges expect compelling narratives around the dolls and each queen's unique brand. There is also something in the zeitgeist, as this challenge would have been filmed around the height of Barbie's promotion.
The challenge starts with the patented mad dash for fabric and supplies. Like a bolt of fabric, the drama slowly unravels. First, Geneva grabs the red fabric Plane Jane is eyeing. Geneva wants it for her Latina heritage and Plane Jane, presumably, her Russian. Geneva wins. Plane Jane is left with what she considers heinous fabrics. Q, probably the season's best seamstress, wants to set herself apart after not winning the last design challenge. She aims to do this by picking a brown and bronze palette in contrast to the brighter colors in the room. Plasma picks a sky blue for her cruise-ship inspiration, but the fabric eventually finds itself on the body forms of both Plane Jane and Geneva. Suddenly, Q's plan to stick out is even more effective. Others in the room struggle: Mhi'ya, who dreads another sewing challenge; Sapphira, who seems stressed for time; and Nymphia, who feels uninspired. However, most of the queens seem to think Nymphia is playing down her talents.
It is refreshing to have no walkthrough with RuPaul in this episode. It opens up space to show the queens actually at work and interacting with one another. The viewer learns about the difficulty of crafting a look and the way the queens work under pressure and with each other. For example, will Sapphira regret helping Mhi'ya so much next week?
There is also time for the queens to discuss their relationship with dolls growing up. What seems like a superficial topic at first glance reveals a lot about each queen's relationship to drag, "femininity," and their families. Plasma and Dawn share positive family stories as queer youths, but the sense of public shame comes through in Dawn's story about picking out dolls. Xunami relates to dolls as a form of creative expression as she dressed them up in designs for an Instagram. Plane Jane, however, has a more traumatic association with dolls. In her family, it was taboo and repressed. While she is generous in explaining the context of her father's Russian heritage, it is clear that it has had an impact on Plane Jane. The story adds a new level, in not a leaf, to Plane Jane's story that goes beyond a simplistic "villain" edit.
Welcome to the DollhouseIn addition to the non-walkthrough, the combined challenge and runway make for a character-building episode. The biggest question of the episode is if the storytelling was so important, why did World of Wonder have the queens record in an empty maintenance closet? The horrible acoustics overshadowed much of the story and humor each queen tried to inject into their monologues.
Xunami, Nymphia Wind, and Megami did solid work. Morphine continued to brand herself along with her hometown and earned one of the best lines when she mentioned her "suspiciously long pinky fingernail" and dared to mention her BBL one more time after Michelle's comment last week. Mhi'ya presented an equally Miami-inspired caped jumpsuit. Sapphira looks perfectly fine, but it's clear to her that it's not her best work of the season. Plasma's period costume met her ambitions. Of all the light blue outfits on the runway, Plane Jane's looked the best, and while her story was funny, the Russian spy twist felt unneeded. Dawn had one of the night's more interesting designs in terms of shape and simplicity, but her story felt perfectly branded to the Dawn experience. Geneva, who ended up making two outfits, seemed to forget the branding and storytelling components of the challenge with a confused monologue and look.
Finally, Q did set herself apart in a bronze fairy look that was expectedly exquisitely constructed. However, her storytelling and branding as the "Fantasy" edition felt particularly generic. It did really give a sense of what makes Q unique to other drag queens or dolls, for that matter. Where Q excelled in storytelling was in the Werk Room. She shared her experience in poverty and how theater fed her emotionally and creatively. It would have been a perfect presentation if she could have connected that throughline into the voice-over, bridging fantasy and theater more.
Chaotic CritiquesSpecial guest judge Law Roach was a welcome edition. There was a sense that no one had an idea what he might say, which added to the excitement. Often, on Drag Race, the guest judges have become vessels of positive reinforcement, more concerned with being liked than offering constructive criticism. Law seemed less concerned.
However, Sapphira turned out to be the most surprising element of the critiques when she opted to take her immunity potion. Citing her inner saboteur and fellow competitors, Sapphira instantly regretted the decision. However, it's an interesting narrative arc for Sapphira, who has extremely high standards for her drags. She knew she didn't meet the mark this week, and the potion will likely propel her in the coming weeks.
Xunami, Morphine, Megami, and Nymphia leave as safe. The six remaining queens are hard to place. It would be easy to imagine Michelle saying Plane Jane looks too much like a figure skater or the panel not liking Dawn's look. Plasma appears to be in the bottom, mostly for fidgeting with her hood each time it falls on the runway. There is almost a sense that if she had left it alone, she could have been safe. However, they add the critique that her jokes in the monologue were too obvious, which is kind of a funny thing to say on a program that has put the Daytona Winds on the air twice. They focus on the details of Mhi'ya's look, which seems expected, as she is not a seamstress. One critique that stung was Law saying she did not have a personality on the runway when, from watching the season, it is clear that Mhi'ya is making an effort. Plane Jane and Dawn receive praise all around. Q is applauded for standing out, her mission from the start. RuPaul calls it the most collectible doll of them all, but they say nothing about her story. It's clear this has been a design challenge all along, with branding and storytelling added to give room to decide the tops and bottoms.
When Q wins, it's amazing to see the celebration from all the queens. Just like their dismay for Mirage a couple of weeks ago, these queens seem to be rooting for each other. Q also wins because Drag Race loves a dramatic trajectory. Q, who has been so hungry for a win, goes from the bottom two to the winner. In inverse, Geneva and Mhi'ya go from winners to the bottom two.
An Out-of-Control Lip-SynchAnswering the judges' critique that Mhi'ya did not flip during the runway, Miami's Queen of Flips was more than happy to oblige during the lip-synch. Mhi'ya and Geneva found themselves in the bottom two performing Janet Jackson's "Control." Both queens clearly anticipated their placements; each changed shoes before the lip-synch. After a respite last week, Geneva was back to performing on the mainstage, but like the black shoes she wore each time, she didn't have much else to show.
Mhi'ya, on the other hand, had a litany of stunts and tricks, each made more impressive by the weighty breastplate that must have also done something to her equilibrium. Knotted sleeves, a wayward shoulder pad, and a broken necklace did not make for the prettiest performance, but it did show that Mhi'ya came to eliminate her competition. It is clear that she has the potential to be a lip-synch assassin should she find herself at the bottom again.