If nothing else, this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race answered a lot of questions that were previously just hypotheticals. What would happen if a queen actually got injured? Well, she gets sent home with an invitation to appear next season. What if a former front-runner wound up in the bottom two in the middle of the season and really blew the lip sync? Would they creatively edit around it? Would they manufacture a reason to save her or bring her back? No, she’d just go home with only hopeful dreams of All Stars 3. What happens if a queen who would have been the safest bet to exit on the final challenge actually turns around and blows away the competition? Well, as we found out tonight, it’s reason enough for a top 4.
It’s been an exciting season in that regard, with twists and turns and unprecedented situations. There were times when it really felt like it could have been (almost) anyone’s crown to snatch, though, this season has also progressed with the feeling that everyone involved was perhaps a bit too afraid of facing any online backlash and criticism. That includes not just the queens (who seemed to try their best to avoid getting into any petty drama), but the judges and producers as well. Ru and Michelle Visage have backed down from some of their more “controversial” tendencies. There were no dramatic stare downs on Ru’s part, nor as many seemingly arbitrary edicts from Michelle. The producers and editors, too, seemed to try their best to go about things with a light touch lest they be accused of being too manipulative. Though, I think some of their more controversial decisions and stunts in earlier seasons could be excused if you viewed the show of having a hidden over-riding challenge. Namely: make great, campy reality television. That’s what this is. It’s not like there’s some giant book of complicated Drag Race bylaws anywhere.
So, hey, we got the season of consummate drag queen professionals earnestly competing for a crown, and a top 4 that really reflects that. It’s not like it was unenjoyable or anything, but I could have used a few more moments like “She's perfect , she's beautiful , she looks like Linda Evangelista…”
The irony might be in trying to course correct for one set of fans upset at too much drama, the producers may have ended up just turning off fans who relied on that weekly dose of drama to replenish their electrolytes. We'll see what adjustments they end up making in Season 10.
As for this specific episode, it does away with the traditional final challenge of acting in scenes that don’t actually make the final cut of a music video, and instead replaces it with the set-up first introduced in All Stars 2: write a rap, perform it on stage with some dance moves, and drop by to “record a podcast” and receive a Squatty Potty while Ru’s shiny new Emmy quietly chills in the background (RIP Tic Tac lunch).
Everyone, save for Shea, has their ability to succeed and delivery called into question, and while the final rap product isn't quite as instantly iconic as All Stars 2's "Read U Wrote U," it's quite enjoyable. Kudos to the impressive stage direction and camera work. It also makes the best of the show's evolution: could you imagine Raven, Jujubee and Tyra actually coming together to pull off anything even half as impressive?
Of course, while it's Shea who remains in the catbird seat through out the episode, it's Peppermint who pulls through and delivers what might be her strongest performance of the season. Imagine if the stage performance had been leaked pre-season. I think everyone would be under the impression that Peppermint was actually the queen to beat.
Now folks, our final power rankings of the season, fashion notes first.
1. Shea Coulee
“Look at the edges I snatched today.”
A perfectly fine Balmain by way of The Blondes get-up, but anyone who was thrilled by her earlier Margiela-inspirations (or even "hot dog on her head" tendencies) might have been a bit of a let down by her final runway selection. It was very "Yes, I can do weird, high fashion, but that's not all I am" statement.
In any event, it still remains hard to imagine that anyone else aside from Shea is going to take the crown. Save one stumble, she'll join the ranks of winners like Raja, Bianca and Bob who never lacked confidence and just kind of attacked each and everyone challenge with aplomb like it ain't no thing.
2. Trinity Taylor
“The body is heeeerrrreeee….”
The hair and Clara Bow-inspired makeup really made-up for a dress that might have otherwise had a bit too much going on, though kudos for reminding everyone that she is indeed a pageant queen. It was a nice aspect too see in a season in which she defaulted too often to an elevated take on Joselyn Fox's "seven bikinis and some accessories" look.
Taylor also ended the challenge by clarifying that she was indeed a pageant queen with self awareness who wasn't afraid to get out of her comfort zone. Along with Peppermint, there were times when we really weren't sure if she'd end up here, but she kept proving herself again and again. On a more sincere note, she did her home base of Orlando more than proud at a time when the city's gay community really needed it.
3. Sasha Velour
“I’m a magical bitch, darling. That’s how I feeeeeeeeel.”
More than anyone else it seemed like she didn't have any big, special getup saved up. Yes, it still maintained her particular aesthetic (something that deserves applause), but, hmmm, I don't know. The droopy crown bothered.
Yet, overall, Sasha's devotion to her own specific aesthetic managed to work for her. Not everything was a slam dunk, but she remains the only queen of the season who didn't need to lip sync.
“But the number one queen is P-E-P-P-E-R-Bitch you know the rest.”
More than anyone, it seemed like she packed this particular gown with the intention of wearing it on the final runway. The voluminous skirt is something that would have us gagged in the club, but one sort of wishes there was a bit more detailing to it for TV-viewing purposes. Oh well, we were too busy being dazzled by the glitter in the hair to really notice at first glance.
I can't decide which fate, in an alternative universe, may be more appropriate for Peppermint. One could imagine her deservedly taking the crown all the way back in Season 1. Ironically, the dynamics of drag superstardom were different back then, and the producers might have considered her too established at the time. She was a headliner in New York and already out there making music videos with Cazwell after all. In later seasons, she would have made a perfect fourth place finisher in the vein of Latrice Royale or Detox: a queen with an established resumé who will certainly go on to make the brand proud, but didn't quite make the case in the actual competition that she deserved the crown. Or maybe, in a Valentina-less season, she'd be considered a lock for Miss Congeniality. What I'm saying is that Peppermint definitely deserves some sort of official recognition in the RuPaul's pantheon, and I'm not going to complain too much if it means having the series' first top four.
Carmen Carrera: Showgirl: