Tuesday, April 1, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6, Episode 6: Rap Battle Extravaganza

Queens that blew your mind – ding! – it’s the sixth round

Posted By on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Confession: I’d been somewhat dreading this episode all week, ever since the 10-minute preview was released after “Snatch Game.” In that clip, the editors focused on building up a rivalry between frontrunner Ben DeLaCreme and Rochester’s own Darienne Lake, and specifically included Darienne making some pointed remarks about DeLa. I watched last Tuesday as social media and discussion forums turned swiftly and brutally against Darienne. I cringed.

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But here’s the thing: it was a tempest in a teapot, and truthfully, I don’t think Darienne said anything about Ben that was out of line. And for what it’s worth, Ben wasn’t exactly an innocent victim -- she was crowing a bit about her two challenge wins, and being arguably needy about Darienne not picking her for this challenge -- Darienne’s rational for her choices was perfectly sound. So on the whole I don’t think Darienne came off as badly as everyone was making her out to be, and I don’t think Ben escaped the episode with her sterling reputation unscathed. And I need to quickly interject: I effing love Ben DeLaCreme. She’s one of my very favorite queens to ever appear on this show. But the editors are hellbent on creating a rivalry between the two of them, and I don’t think either one of them is looking great because of it. Ben is accusing Darienne of being a Bitter Betty. Darienne is accusing Ben of being full of herself. I think there’s truth in both statements. And a whole lot of exaggeration of that truth courtesy of the folks in the editing bay.

This whole episode seemed to be about rivalries -- we also got more of Laganja v. Adore, Gia vs. everyone, and even some Joslyn vs. Trinity -- right down to the challenges. The mini-challenge was the annual opening of the Library, where all of the contestants were given a pair of reading glasses and encouraged to insult one another. I thought it was one of the better installments of the Library, as even some of the weaker contestants got in a couple of surprisingly good digs -- in the case of Trinity K. Bonet, she looked in the mirror and read herself. In the end, Darienne took the mini-challenge, which allowed her to pick the teams for the main challenge, a 90’s rap-inspired music video, with each of the contestants tasked with writing and rapping her own verse.

Of the nine remaining contestants, few had any natural affinity for rap. So the video shoot (guided by rap veterans Trina and Eve) was painful to watch, but in a mostly funny way. Almost all the queens stumbled, and every one of them looked ridiculous in a delightfully 90’s kind of way. (I cannot wait for the inevitable .gifs of MILK in this episode, especially her dance moves that I assumed were inspired by a newly born foal.) Darienne chose wisely when picking her team of mostly young performer types -- Courtney Act, LaganjaEstranja, Adore Delano, and Bianca Del Rio -- and that team seemed to fare better on the whole than the Ru-Tang Clan (bless), featuring Ben, Trinity, MILK, and Joslyn Fox.

The runway -- with the theme of “Crazy Sexy Cool” -- was largely a dud, with the queens either coming out in overly layered, unflattering looks (Joslyn, Laganja) or something resoundingly bland (Darienne, Bianca -- although her makeup was stunning tonight). The only real standouts were Trinity, giving us, per RuPaul, “black Cher,” Ben DeLaCreme in pastel “Doctor Zhivago” couture, and Courtney Act, who emerged from a sleeping bag wearing nothing but lingerie and major bedhead.

And then there was MILK, who last week was told explicitly by the judges that they needed to see straight-up glamour from her instead of the cooky offbeat looks she had been serving up so far. MILK listened, to a degree, by toning down the cracked-out make-up and giving us a kind of variation on a fishtail gown. But the polish was lacking (which is weird -- based on pre-show photos MILK really CAN do glamour), and that, coupled with an unassured rap-challenged performance, meant that MILK was in the Bottom 2.

She ended up lipsynching against Trinity K. Bonet to “Whatta Man” by Salt-N-Pepa/En Vogue. Trinity looked astonishing on the runway, but her rap was unimpressive, and worse, she offered up a string of excuses. Ru even cut her off midway through one of her sentences (at least per the editing), which is a clear sign that Mother is over it. But Trinity slayed that lipsynching, looking like Naomi Campbell and giving FACE FACEFACE (you might even say Beauty Face) and some slinky floor action, so she lived another day.

That meant MILK was eliminated, and that gave several members of our viewing party The Sads. MILK has had such a fascinating trajectory on this show. I don’t think anybody knew who she even was prior to the Season 6 cast announcement, at which point she became and instant hit with fans of the show. People responded so positively to her avant-garde, playful shock aesthetic that I suspect MILK and the rest of the Dairy Queens were more than a little shocked themselves. MILK even said upon her exit that she appreciated RuPaul allowing her to be herself -- as if that surprised her. But MILK, dear, all of us only wanted you to be the best MILK you can be. Ice-cold, organic, grass-fed cow MILK.

Unfortunately, aside from wowing us with her Hermaphrodite Realness in the first episode, MILK never really distinguished herself in any of the other challenges. I don’t think it was a lack of ability, or a lack of competitiveness -- MILK was in figure skating prior to getting into drag, which is only slight less cutthroat than high-seas piracy. I wonder if it was a case of MILK not taking her chance at the tiara seriously enough, because she really had a huge groundswell of support everywhere I looked. She’s got the goods. And now that she’s seen how much America loves her and her unique brand of drag, I suspect she could be a serious force should she ever come back for an all-stars season. (Lee Press-On Nails crossed.)

A few notes on the other remaining queens:

-Bianca may be getting the best edit of any contestant I have ever seen on this show. I’m not kidding. She’s a challenge monster. She’s quick and hilarious. She’s bitchy, but in a fun way. She suffers absolutely no foolery. And almost every episode now has a Mama Bianca moment where she reaches out a hand to one of the younger queens. This week it was Trinity, after Trinity made her announcement about being HIV-positive. And Bianca was totally lovely with it. Her hair and make-up were also stunning this episode. There’s almost no way that Bianca doesn’t make it to F3 at this point, right? I mean, we haven’t even gotten to the comedy challenge or the major sewing challenges yet, and those are her strengths.

-RuPaul called out Courtney Act for “resting on pretty” and “being a cliché.” Ouch. I actually think that was a bit harsh for Courtney, who -- lest we forget -- won the musical challenge two episodes ago, did very well in the horror challenge, and seemed to do fine in Snatch Game. I also thought her rap verse was solid and ended with a great punchline. But I’ve had debates with people about how Courtney isn’t living up to expectations, and I wonder how much of this middle-of-the-pack stuff is deliberate strategy on Courtney’s part. She’s not dumb. She’s done reality TV before. And she knew she came in as a major, major threat. The smart thing for her to do was let off the gas for a bit to let everyone else catch up, so that she can really show off in the second half of the race. Of course, for that to be true, she really needs to kill it going forward. And I suspect she can do it. Because if what she’s been turning in thus far has been Courtney “resting on pretty,” imagine what she can do when she gets aggressive.

-Joslyn Fox finally placed in the top group for the first time. The internet loves Joslyn -- she is basically the human, drag-queen form of Princess Unikitty from “The Lego Movie.” Joslyn looked great in the video, but her runway is still a mess -- and she knows that, but seems hellbent on sticking to her reverse-Coco-Channel approach (look in the mirror and put on every fucking thing in your jewelry box, and then go steal all your neighbor’s accessories, too). I do think we’re due for a big Joslyn breakthrough in the next challenge or two. She is within breast-groping distance of F6 at this point, and if you’d told me that when the season started, I would have slapped your beautiful face.

-I started coming around on Adore last episode, but this episode I fully fell in love with her. Absolute riot, and surprisingly so -- I was not expecting that level of consistent comedy to come from Ms. Delano. She has had an arc very similar to Alaska last season: big pre-show expectations, very weak initial showings, confidence builds, emerges as a surprisingly strong contender. Adore is unlike Alaska in that her runway is still absolutely dreadful. Those raggedy wigs and that shin-length dress -- girl. NO. You are better than that! Her rap was great and she had a terrific look and attitude in the video. She deserved that challenge win. But someone please take this child by the hand and lead her to the nearest quality purveyor of wigs.

-Speaking of quality wigs, I have to compliment LaganjaEstranja on hers. She really has some serious hair. Unfortunately, that’s the only nice thing I’ll say about Laganja. I don’t know if the editors are deliberately only airing the most infuriating things that come out of her mouth, or if she really is that clueless and self-absorbed. I fear it is the latter, and I weep for a generation. But this episode was another strong collection in the Eyerolls by Laganja line, including her statement that, “In the real world, I’m used to winning, so it’s hard to hear my colleagues getting praised” (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much), and her DERP-grade double-talk about Adore in “Untucked.” But the worse sin is that this queen -- who really can rap (she spit a great verse on her pre-show RuPaul cover) -- was mediocre in a challenge basically tailor made for her. “This is the challenge I’ve been waiting for!” Laganja cried at the reveal. First, why have you been waiting? Show us something worth keeping you around. Second, even after all that, you STILL didn’t show up. What a disappointment she has turned out to be.

Finally, in “Untucked” the girls got a letter from last episode’s eliminee, Gia Gunn, and Gia was predictably awful in it. I get that the eliminated queens can be bitter (and seriously, for those accusing Darienne of being bitter, Gia’s letter was like stuffing your mouth with arugula), but Gia really came for the remaining queens. She was excessively nasty in that letter, particularly to MILK, Bianca, and Joslyn. What an unpleasant queen. I sincerely never want to hear from her again.

Next week: TWO episodes back to back, followed by TWO episodes of “Untucked.” That bizarre arrangement makes me suspect that we’ll get a non-elimination episode. I think we’re due.

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