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Six Thoughts On RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season Nine, Episode Nine

Stonewall. Harvey Milk. The AIDS epidemic. Orlando. Last Friday night. What do they have in common? They were tragedies in gay world.

A lot of things died on Drag Race on Friday. It felt like so much dissolved in our hands as viewers and fans: a season that was hard to love, a queen who was poised to win, the hope that Drag Race can still continue on. It was both terrific and terrible television. It was the sum of all that we’ve been complaining about—and so much more. If the resurrection of cucu or the dismissal of Eureka were “twists,” this episode was a doling of approximately a thousand knife twists to the face.

Just when you think the show had figured itself out, everything falls apart. It was nice knowing you, Season Nine!

6. Flash Past
How strange was it that the episode started by rehashing Nina and Shea’s battle in Untucked by doing a flashback to Untucked? This was weird because, for all casual watchers or VH1 viewers, they probably have zero fucking idea where or what this fight is from. That’s sloppy and confusing for viewers and seemed like something that happened in an alternative, offline universe—and proved that the show’s best content is happening when the TV is off.

5. Team Who?
From the beginning of the episode, you suspected the team challenged would go awry as soon as Sasha grabbed Shea’s arm. It wouldn’t have been any other way but that was bad news from the get go. Yet it was nice to see a team or duo based challenge. At this point in the season, activities as such seem to typically happen once or twice before. This seemed both on time and belated.

4. Pilot Pals
The teams were not awful though! Shea and Sasha worked well together like lube in a hand, massaging great content out with little effort. This ended up being their second win and what seems like umpteenth time working together: their schtick is great but getting boring given we as viewers seem to have them figured out. Tina and Nina were appropriately a mess. It was both shocking and obvious since they are very visual queens and decent performers: it was exactly what we thought. I guess certain people really do work better with direction and, truly, “ad libbing” is always a cringeworthy decision anytime or anywhere. Oh well. The trio was good for one thing: letting Trinity shine. If this episode taught us anything, it was that Trinity is top three material. Everyone else seemed to disappear as she rose above both drama and idiocy via Alexis to be herself with so little effort. If only she were likable, sheesh.

3. Club Runway
Nine episodes in and this is the first good runway. An argument could be made that the first episode was the best runway, yes, but every episode should leave you wowed and gagged by the runway. That has barely happened, as a friend pointed out over the weekend. This is the result of all the queens wearing off-the-rack looks, as both Raja and Bianca noted on Fashion Photo Ru-View, or the styles have been entirely fast-forwardable, as Lee Dawson’s Ru-Cap showed us this week. These moments should be huge! But they haven’t been, either as a result of uncreative challenges offered by producers or a lack of design based challenges that let queens get creative. Anyway, a runway challenge like “Club Kid” was a delicious offering that demanded fun, kinky, creativity—and that was more-or-less delivered. Peppermint looked the best she’s ever looked, Shea was fierce, Trinity killed it, and the rest were good but lackluster like Valentina’s anthrax matador party monster, Nina’s undead and undone ballerina, and Alexis’ head. The only one I found underwhelming was Sasha because, well, this was her challenge and she wore a fucking dress. Regardless, runways like this shouldn’t be an outlier: a good, inventive runway should be part of every episode’s core. We’ve been starved for runway extravaganzas.

2 .Lipsunk Your Legacy
Did anyone save for the Reddit trolls see this coming? No. You never could have predicted this in any MadLib puzzle about this season: Valentina with the mask had to have her lipsync restarted even though she didn’t know the words. It was sad. A friend texted me that it was worse than Charlie Hide’s performance and he might be right. It was devastating because you saw Valentina seemingly unravel before us, plummeting from grace without any parachute. Just watching what the episode gave us wasn’t enough either as it appeared that she was being cocky and, frankly, bad. RuPaul gave a very quick, terse “WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU!!” moment which is what Drag Race was designed to parody: it felt too real. Valentina accordingly was seemingly excommunicated, throwing out her short legacy by opting to wear a mask and not learn the words. The truth was a little more interesting as Untucked and Whatcha Packin’ and her interviews with Vulture and Entertainment Weekly and the above “apology” video all corroborated: Valentina just fucking froze. Her cold tears against the stage curtains as she exited said this very clearly in Untucked paired with the amount of screen time she received in said extra episode. She owns her mistake and was just in another mind space where she forgot everything she was required to do. She lost hard. According to former queens, Valentina had time and was given the materials to study. Her choosing to ignore them was both a product of pride and the seduction of loss. Could we expect anything less though? The harder they fall, right? It’s disappointing and shocking because Valentina was the only reason to tune in. Yes, Shea is great (and will now win) but everyone else is like skim milk: fine for you but not exciting. You’re mostly exhausted by everyone else’s schtick. Valentina? She was so refreshing in so many ways. Bon voyage, season nine. You really were as disappointing as we thought. Maybe see you on All Stars, Valentina. (Actually, Michelle Visage basically confirmed this to be true in a half-cut line on Whatcha Packin’.)

1. The Sum Of All Fears
Valentina came in seventh place. Think about that: seventh out of fourteen. She fits squarely, strangely in the middle of the pack. Isn’t that absurd? That is in many ways disgusting since she is so much more than that. She did earn her elimination, yes, but you cannot help but view her being kicked out as a symptom of a very sick season. That was my biggest takeaway. Look at the evidence: you had a premiere that didn’t eliminate anyone, setting the tone for unnecessary niceties; a subpar queen was resurrected to make a fool of herself in a twist that wore itself out after ninety minutes; Jaymes’ elimination was obvious but felt steeped in oddity; Kimora Blac, while bad, might have been a character axed too soon; Charlie Hide’s elimination was obviously weird and she said she would never lip sync which probably means she shouldn’t have been cast to begin with; Eureka’s faux foot drama meant that a satisfying double elimination of double dead weight Cynthia and Farrah didn’t happen; delightfully bitter pill but fashion forward and interesting Aja was sent home before Farrah; and now we have Valentina. While Peppermint and Nina are fun paired with the stupidly present Alexis, it seems criminal that they go on without Valentina. How did such fat persist? The top six should have been Shea, Sasha, Trinity, Valentina, and either Peppermint, Aja, Eureka, or Charlie. Where the show is now is the product of bad decisions from the beginning that the show is trying to cover for. Things are very wrong behind the scenes and, whether we get an answer to this or not, we have clues. The lack of back-to-back airtime of the episode with Untucked have added a strange element too. It’s not just the move to VH1: it’s everything. We fans will talk about this episode for weeks and months and speculate what happened but we’ll discuss how season nine was an unmitigated fuck up for years and years, perhaps as we gaze over the show’s tombstone to set down bedazzled flowers. This season is officially bad. It’s not just because Valentina got kicked out early nor is it as bad as season seven: it is because it is plagued by unfortunate events and decisions that producers couldn’t handle like the smart TV makers and consumers that they are. With roughly three episodes left, it doesn’t appear that their luck will change either. Sashay away, season nine.

Oy. I had to furiously watch this episode via a bootleg stream because I knew I couldn’t wait until Saturday morning to watch it on Apple TV. It was that dramatic.

Here’s the power ranking, I guess.

14. Jaymes Mansfield
13. Kimora Blac
12. Charlie Hide
11. Eureka O’Hara
10. Cynthia Lee Fontaine
9. Aja
8. Farrah Moan
7. Valentina (Down six—and out. Who would have guessed this? Who? Granted, LOL, a guy on a random cruising site ruined this for me weeks ago where he posted that Valentina would be gone on this episode while wearing a mask. I tried not to believe it until I heard the rumors and saw for myself. RIP, baby girl. The crown should have been yours. And note to you guys: stay away from super fans and Reddit. They will spoil this shit for you and make watching the show boring.)
6. Alexis Michelle (Up one. Really. She’s still here.)
5. Nina Bo’Nina Brown (Down one. I’m basically over her. The love has exited my body for this season and my softness for Nina has exited as well.)
4. Peppermint (Up one. Look at you, exceeding my expectations. More runways like this, Pep! Or get out.)
3. Sasha Velour (Maintained. How could someone so fashionable be so boring? No more lectures, please, Sasha.)
2. Trinity Taylor (Up two. Someone else who revealed herself to be a contender! So unlikable but talented. I put her over Sasha because she can actually act and be entertaining and fashionable despite being a pageant queen. I’m impressed.)
1. Shea Coulee (Maintained. Who else would take this spot? I love Shea but, damn, she better send Valentina $10K as a thank you.)

What do you all think? I’m struggling.

Photo via.

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