The “RuCap” episodes rarely give us much new to digest, and that was the case for the Season 6 edition. It was a highlight reel with a few new scenes (animals!) and quips from past-season queens (I am very concerned about Sharon Needles, who totally bombed tonight). We also got a baffling rundown of the supposed top looks of the season, which in truth should have been everything by Trinity and maybe one or two Ben and Courtney outfits, but which somehow included Joslyn and several other seriously questionable choices. And we got the debut of the “Sissy That Walk” music video, which was…fine. Better than the Season 5 video, that’s for sure. Although it curiously lacked any of the dramatic scenes we saw the queens shoot last episode.
Given that there was so little content to discuss for this week’s episode, I thought it best to look back at Season 6 as a whole and discuss some of the lessons I learned from it, and some suggestions I have for the show’s future. Because trust: I love “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and I want to be watching Season 23 from my submarine after the polar ice caps melt in 2034. Of course by then we will all have our own personal Scruff Pit Crew members. It will be glorious!
*The cast overall was outstanding I truly think this is the best crop of contestants this show has ever seen. Sure, some past seasons had some super-strong queens. But they all also had some really weak ones in the mix, too. In Season 6 we were eliminating strong queens by literally the fourth episode (arguably the first episode, based on Kelly’s pedigree). And I think we had a fairly diverse group of drag styles represented as well. I saw at least one well-known fashion blog bitch about how generic and bland the Season 6 crew was, and…come on. Bianca, Milk, Vivacious, Ben, Laganja, just to name a few. I don’t know how you consider any of those queens “bland,” and that’s almost half the cast (and the others were largely polished at what they were attempting to do). So kudos to the casting directors. I think they nailed it this time. (And the promotional materials were also on point.)
*I was a big fan of the split premiere, but…both episodes should have aired on one night. We had a double episode later in the season, followed by two “Untucked” episodes. Do the same thing for the split premiere next season. The split allowed us to get a sense of literally every single queen right from the beginning. That has never, ever happened on this show. Typically you don’t feel like you “know” all the queens until Top 10, maybe even later. So I welcomed this twist.
*I need to stop dismissing the “weak” queens Before the show started airing I had already pegged April Carrion, Joslyn Fox, and Trinity K. Bonet as the “weak” queens of the season -- the obvious chaff. I came to love all three of those contestants, and two of them went quite far in the competition (and April was totally railroaded, going out fourth). Even if you watch all the preview material, scrutinize the YouTube channels, etc., there’s just no telling how a queen is going to do in this competition. Next year I vow not to make any opinions on any of the queens until the show actually starts airing.
*I need to stop expecting too much from the “strong” queens The no-opinion rule goes double for the queens I expect to do well. One of the popular refrains this season was that Kelly Mantle, Courtney Act, and even MILK did not live up to expectations based on their pre-show careers. But that’s not really fair. This competition is such a singular machine that there’s no way to know how a contestant is going to fare once they are put into the meat grinder -- and how they will be translated via the editors (see also: Detox). From Season 6, Courtney is obviously the best example of this. She’s already globally known for her drag, and everyone expected her to strut in and walk away with the competition. And she did well. She won several challenges and gave us a host of spectacular runway looks. And yet, the general consensus is that she doesn’t really have a shot of winning next week. Had she come in with little or no buzz, I think Courtney would be faring much better in the court of public opinion. (Obviously her edit isn’t helping.) Going forward I’m going to try to keep from expecting too much from any queen, and just hoping that they all do well.
*Don’t put any stock in spoilers Back in Season 3, the entire elimination order and winner were spoiled before the first episode ever aired. This prompted Ru and the producers to overhaul the coronation and reunion. Since then, the show seems to have gone to greater and greater lengths to prevent spoilers -- and I am grateful. This season, nobody had the entire cast right. There were a bunch of queens reportedly involved who weren’t part of the cast, and several cast members I never saw mentioned prior to the reveal (MILK, Magnolia Crawford). Then there were the pre-show rumors. Kelly Mantle was F3. Bianca Del Rio either injured herself or screwed up the first challenge so spectacularly she was immediately sent home. A queen from a previous season would be brought in mid-way through. Etc. All wrong. The only decent source of information was counting the outfits in the supertrailer, and even that wasn’t reliable -- the editors deliberately held back shots of Bianca, and nobody expected Ben DeLaCreme to go out in fifth place. I love that this show can still surprise us. I applaud all of the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into that. I’ve even seen posters on Reddit claiming that they work for the show to intentionally put out misinformation. I don’t know if that’s bullshit or not, but if it’s true, I think it’s awesome. Keep us guessing!
*It’s time to shake up the format Speaking of keeping us guessing, it is really time to reapproach some of the challenges. Things are getting awfully predictable. Not for one second did I believe the shock from the F5 when they were told to put on a song-and-dance number before the ball. They have to do that EVERY SEASON. The puppet-insult challenge was cute in Season 4, but it’s tired now. Credit where it’s due: the show is still finding variations on the main-challenge themes. Doing stand-up comedy in front of senior citizens was a novel approach. And there are absolutely some challenges that MUST remain: Snatch Game, the drag makeovers, a sewing challenge. But truly the show is becoming awfully formulaic. I’ve seen some fans say that they love that aspect of it. That they know exactly what to expect, and they like to see how the queens react to familiar challenges. My argument is that if the fans know what to expect, so do the queens. And we’re not really seeing genuine reactions to the “twists,” because there were very few “twists” to begin with -- the contestants all knew what was coming. If nothing else, the final challenge really has to change. I’ve never understood how a video shoot for a song that came out months ago is a good ultimate test. The final challenge for “All Stars” was a much better test of a drag superstar’s skills.
*It’s time to change the panel We have had the same core judges since Season 3. Obviously RuPaul isn’t going anywhere, and thank Beasus Arthur for that. But the other two judges, Santino Rice and Michelle Visage, are adding very little to the proceedings. Michelle has become increasingly irritating on the show, even as she takes on a larger role as a brand ambassador (she hosts the Battle of the Seasons tours and does quite a lot of promo work). Everything I’ve heard about Michelle outside the show is that she’s great and wonderful with the queens. On the panel, her critiques often border on the nonsensical, and she seems to almost hold grudges against certain queens, where there’s nothing they can do to please her (*cough*Ben*cough*). As for Santino, he has long since outlived his usefulness on the panel. I am sorry if that comes off as cruel. It’s not meant to be -- I do not dislike the guy. I actually thought it was great when he was brought on for Season 1. And he can still offer some decent critiques. But at this point, he is judging contestants who are coming in to the show with WAY more cultural clout than he has -- his claim to fame was coming in third in a reality sewing competition nearly 10 years ago. As this show continues to grow in its cultural relevancy, is he really the best fit for the panel? Is there nobody better suited to offer a fashion point of view? (And let’s be honest, if you saw “Project Runway” 2, Santino’s taste level was dubious from the start.) I understand keeping Michelle, but it really is time to replace Santino with someone new, with a fresh perspective, and a different energy. I also think more than one guest judge per episode means that none of them really get a chance to make an impact.
*That said, do not change the Scruff Pit Crew I love them. If anything, add more. The “hungman” challenge was a highlight of the season for me.
*Above all, y’all need to calm down with the editing I harped about this all season long regarding Darienne, and several commenters claimed that I was being overly defensive of my hometown queen. There is some truth to that. But even after the bitch baton got passed from Darienne to Courtney I still bristled at the ham-fisted way those queens were being portrayed, likely because the producers felt the show needed a “villain” (and I’ve seen both Darienne and Courtney referred to as such on social media). After Gia and Laganja were eliminated, all seven remaining queens seemed to genuinely like each other. Couldn’t we just let them compete and show off their stuff? Would anyone have a problem with that? Wouldn’t there be drama enough worrying if your favorite queen was about to be snuffed? Look at the outcry when Ben went home -- people still would have been furious even if there wasn’t this manufactured feud with Darienne. Drag queens are ALWAYS going to be sarcastic and bitchy. Always. When you put on a frock, you are instantly granted the ability to speak shade fluently. But this show puts that throw a filter, a prism, and chooses to paint some of them (Darienne, Courtney) as bitter or mean, and others (Bianca, Adore, Joslyn) as cute, fun bitches. What I ultimately find irritating about this is that the manipulation was so obvious, and that it has had a profound impact on the work these queens will get post-show. And the queens themselves have absolutely no control over how the persona they’ve created is put out into the world. I can’t think of another reality show like that, and given how much of this show I LOVE, it saddens me when I see a queen possibly HURT by appearing on it.
So what do you think? What lessons have you learned from Season 6? What is the show doing right? What does it need to fix? Post your thoughts in the comments!
The bulk of this week’s episode was basically “Law & Order: Westerosi Victims Unit,” a.k.a. the trial of Tyrion Lannister for the murder of King Joffrey. Honestly I wish the entire episode had been devoted to it, because that was some gripping television that told the story far better than the books did. The other plotlines tonight were largely unexciting, but did serve to move a few other arcs along.
We’ll start in a new location, Braavos (I always love when we get new sites on the world map!), where Stannis and Davos sought to get financial backing from the Iron Bank. This never happened in the books -- or if it did, it was all off page. Stannis disappeared after the Battle of the Blackwater, only reappearing at the end of Book 3 in a completely unexpected location. The Iron Bank and its financial leverage over Westerosis alluded to fairly frequently in the books, but the show seems to be making it a more explicit plot point. Hence the casting of Mark Gatiss as a bank representative, the world’s fussiest loan officer (do not take any buttons from crazy old ladies who want mortgage extensions, Mark!) who initially turned down Stannis’s request for dinero. But once again Davos proved himself to be one of the shrewdest characters in this universe, arguing that if the bank continues to back the Lannisters, it is going to be SOL once Tywin kicks it. Yeah, can you imagine how bad Cersei’s credit score is? She can’t stop buying all of that gaudy costume jewelry from Medieval QVC’s Mary Queen of Scots collection… Anyway, It appears that Davos’ gambit was successful, as he immediately took some coins and repurchased pirate Salladhor Saan’s services. But Salladhor seemed awfully unhappy about that arrangement, and wasn’t just about Davos’ A-plus cockblocking game.
Hey everybody, Yara Greyjoy still exists! Unfortunately it seems that her entire personal plotline has been jettisoned by this show and instead she’s being wound into Theon’s drama much earlier. I hope that doesn’t end up being the case. I really like Yara (or Asha, as she’s known in the books) and her Book 4 arc, which goes much deeper into her extended family and the Ironborn, and includes some super interesting twists that I personally expect to play a part in the series’ endgame. Anyway, in this episode Yara and a crew attacked the Dreadfort in an attempt to free Theon. But Theon was full-on Patty Hearst-ing and refused to leave Ramsay Snow -- Theon doesn’t even believe he’s Theon anymore, just Reek. There was a fight, Ramsay ran Yara off with his dogs (but not before Theon literally BIT HIS SISTER), and Yara told the surviving members of her crew that Theon was dead. Except he’s not. Ramsay -- so very pretty, so very crazy -- has a new mission for Reek that involves him pretending to be Theon Greyjoy so that they can retake a castle. And he also gave Reek/Theon a bath, but did not include any bubbles or a rubber duckie. Ramsay really is a master torturer.
Over in Essos, Daenerys met with her supplicants. If this bored you, strap in -- the Dany plotline gets stuck in this setting for quite a while. Among the subjects seeking her aid was a shepherd whose entire herd of goats was wiped out by Drogon, Daenerys’s most precocious dragon kid. (Aside: in the books, the goatherd loses more than his animals to the dragons -- although that might still be in the offing on the show.) Dany also treated with Hizdahr zo Loraq, a scion of Meereen, who requested that Dany allow them to remove the crucified slave owners from their crosses and bury them. There was a decent debate over what is just, but ultimately Dany granted Hizdahr’s wish, and probably also regretted going against Barristan Selmy’s advice about all that crucifying thing in the first place. Basically Dany is learning what all middle managers know: when you’re overseeing people, there is no winning. There is only degrees of making people angry. And Dany has already pissed off a LOT of people.
And then it was on to the main event in King’s Landing. There was a brief meeting of the new Small Council, which includes Oberyn Martell (he is SO much more interesting in the show than he was in the books) and human sack of potatoes Mace Tyrell. Of interest is that Tywin has put a bounty on The Hound’s head, and that the Council is finally taking Dany seriously as a threat. Tywin even asks Varys to send some of his “little birds” across the Narrow Sea to infiltrate Camp Targaryen -- or possibly worse. (Aside: this was a very good Varys episode, and served to remind us just how good he is at playing this game. But do not for a second take that look at the Iron Throne as an indication that Varys has any intention to rule. Varys works behind the scenes, which is where the real power lies. He is not stupid.)
Tyrion’s trial itself was filled with great character moments. We got testimony against him from Cersei, dick knight MerynTrant, grandmaesterPycelle, and, interestingly, Varys (please remember that a few episodes from now). During a recess Tywin and Jaime argued over the BS kangaroo court and Jaime offered to leave the Kingsguard and go back to Casterly Rock to start a family if Tywin let Tyrion live -- and Tywin immediately agreed. Because, of course, that is what Tywin wanted all along. He has no love for Tyrion. None at all. But Tywin is shrewd, and knew that this was a perfect bargaining chip to make Jaime do what Tywin believes is his familial duty. (Remember, Tywin never wanted Jaime on the Kingsguard at all -- but had he not been on it, Mad King Aerys would have destroyed King’s Landing, and possibly all of Westeros. So food for thought.) The deal was that Tyrion would be found guilty, plead for mercy, and get sent to the Wall to serve as a member of the Night’s Watch, while Jaime immediately surrendered his white cloak -- a lovely bit of black and white symmetry for the brothers Lannister.
But that didn’t exactly work out once Cersei played her trump card: Shae. To my recollection, this was done differently in the show than it was in the books, where Shae's actions kind of come out of nowhere. The show has been building up Shae’s betrayal of Tyrion since the end of last season, and has made crystal clear her motivations, and how she got involved with the other Lannisters. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, it gave us that courtroom scene, which was brutal to watch (in a good way). She lied about Tyrion’s role in Joffrey’s murder (she said that he planned it with Sansa as a way to get her to sleep with him), humiliated him publicly, and basically said their entire relationship was a lie. That led to some terrific acting from Peter Dinklage, as Tyrion watched once again as a woman he thought loved him was coerced into betraying him in the most vicious way -- and it was all orchestrated by his family. But this version of the story is also unfortunate, because Shae’s eventual betrayal of Tyrion in the books is such a blindside. So I’m sorry that the show won’t have that impact.
After Shae atomized everything Tyrion believed, he went into full self-destruct mode and told the crowd that not only did he wish he HAD killed Joffrey, but he wished he could kill them all, too. Spoiler: Tyrion will not be voted prom king this year. He then completely effed Tywin’s plan -- and possibly consigned himself to death -- when he decided to forego a jury verdict and instead demanded a trial by combat. Hey, it worked out well for him in the Vale!
NEXT: Bring your bibs, ladies (and gents of a certain persuasion), because we’re getting a prime slab of shirtless beefcake in the form of The Mountain Mark 3! And some other stuff. But shirtless, giant-like Nordic man! Swinging a big-ass sword! YAAAAAAS!
Well, at least one of the pre-season spoilers turned out to be true: we really did have an ABCD Final 4. That would be Adore Delano, Bianca Del Rio, Courtney Act, and Darienne Lake. The four of them jumped through the now-predictable finale hoops, which included shooting a video for RuPaul’s latest single (although we’ve all been hearing the song for months on the mainstage), a related acting challenge, and the tic-tac luncheon with Ru. Breaking with tradition, however, we DID get an elimination at episode’s end, leaving us with just an F3. So it wasn’t totally pointless even though it kindasorta felt that way at times. (Seriously, this show HAS to find a new format for the final challenge.)
Adore Delano is really getting pushed hard at this point, but I can’t hate on it. Adore’s trajectory on this season has been pretty astonishing. When you think about how messy she was in the first few challenges, it’s amazing she lasted this long. And truly, she’s still borderline bedraggled on that mainstage (I was not at all a fan of her look this episode; sorry ‘bout it, Adore). But you cannot deny that she really does sparkle when given the right material. I thought she looked terrific in the video, and she works the camera like a true star. She also did fine in the acting challenge, even if it bordered on affected at times -- I was picking up notes of her Anna Nicole delivery from Snatch Game. In “Untucked” Adore continued to press her case that while everyone in the F4 is a star, she is the only true superstar in the group. I frankly lost a bit of respect for her there. Because I do think Adore has what it takes to be a major crossover success. She is already beloved by the younger fans of this show. But she still needs a few more years to marinate, to season. As Noted Rochester Gay Michael Gamilla put it, she commits sins against drag almost every week. Enormous potential, and there are moments of brilliance there. But she’s just not ready yet.
Bianca Del Rio did not wow me with her performance in the video, but I thought her plea to the judges was quite savvy. The judges, RuPaul especially, love when queens show vulnerability. So Bianca’s narrative tonight was, “Everyone knows me as a bad bitch, but through this competition I’ve discovered the softer side of Bianca, and it was inspiring/transformative.” (I’m paraphrasing.) I maintain that Bianca has had one of the best edits of any contestant on this show, ever. But I actually think her chances at the crown are hurt by the fact that we’ve never really seen her in danger -- and I thought she should have been given more crap for her performance tonight. It wasn’t bad. None of them were bad. But I thought she was among the weakest in the video, and the lipsynch was not great. Like Ben DeLaCreme, I don’t think lipsynch is really in Bianca’s wheelhouse. That’s probably why she was never in the Bottom 2. I love Bianca, I want her to win this, and I think she will. But the last two episodes have seen her ending with a whimper instead of a bang. Still, the overall body of work is SO strong.
Courtney Act continued to be portrayed overwhelmingly poorly this episode. As far as the video performance, she alternated between looking amazing and looking manic. I get why she did what she did -- she had to push herself, given her recent critiques. But the clips they showed were fairly mixed. In the acting challenges Courtney also overdid it, although part of me wondered if perhaps part of that wasn’t cultural differences. Just as British humor is different from American humor, I wonder if Australian humor isn’t broader and less subtle. Regardless, along with Bianca, I found Courtney’s performances the least successful this episode (but again, nobody as “bad.”) Courtney looked beautiful on the runway, but her plea to the judges failed to really connect with me. Which is strange, because I do find Courtney likable and relatable. So I’m not really sure what went on there. I think her candid, emotionally balanced interviews have been deployed unkindly by the editors, making it look like she always has a critical statement about someone else. I respect someone who gives honest feedback when asked, and Courtney has done that consistently. I don’t see any malice in her responses to the other queens, but I do see a lot of self-awareness for when she doesn’t nail something. I continue to be surprised by how poorly this show is making her look, even going into the fan vote. They didn’t even attempt a redemption arc. I’ve seen people refer to her as the “villain” of the season, but that’s not true -- there hasn’t really been one, not since Gia left (even Laganja was more a victim than a villain). I don’t think Courtney has any actual shot at the tiara at this point, which is amazing considering what a frontrunner she was before Episode 1 even aired.
Darienne Lake got a clear fourth-place edit -- even her lunch with RuPaul came across as, “Good on you for getting this far,” not, “Hey, you could really win this!” Darienne took a little while to warm up in the acting challenges, but ended up with some really astonishing moments. RuPaul was clearly shocked by how committed Darienne was in the Gold Bar scene, and even came back in and changed the ending of the scene! That was pretty awesome to behold. I felt like she had a plan for her final speech, but it seemed to go off topic a bit (at least that’s what the show suggested), and I think it was a mistake to be critical of the other three queens. That was a specific direction in last year’s finale, and only one queen did it. No idea what the directive was this time. Although Courtney Act said in “Untucked” that she felt Darienne won this week’s challenge (to me it was either Darienne or Adore), it was Darienne who was sent home after the four-way lipsynch. She was obviously disappointed to get so close and yet finish outside of contention, but Darienne had a VERY good run. Fourth is nothing to be ashamed of, especially in a field this competitive. It’s no secret that Darienne was portrayed quite negatively about halfway through the season (as soon as Gia left; nature abhors a bitch vacuum), and she received a LOT of grief on social media after sending DeLa home last episode (as if that was Darienne’s fault -- she had a job to do with the lipsynch, and she did it). I will be very curious to see how she responds to the criticisms at the reunion, which I believe is taping next week. But the bottom line is that our local queen made it to Final 4, and that is pretty astonishing.
Next week: the recap episode, but I will be posting my “Lessons Learned from Season 6” blog -- and believe me, I have PLENTY of thoughts. The week after that: we crown either Adore, Bianca, or Courtney. I like them all, but in my opinion, only one of them really should be winning this sucker. (Pssst, it’s Bianca.) What do you think?
The “previously on ‘Game of Thrones’” segment ran for seemingly minutes, and included scenes that went all the way back to Season 1. So you knew this episode was going to be fairly wide-ranging. Indeed, it touched on many story arcs, and in hindsight most of them revolved around the female protagonists of this sprawling story.
-In King’s Landing, the Westerosi spun the “Who Is Our King This Week?” dial and the pointer landed on Tommen, so he was officially crowned. At the coronation, Margaery gave the little king tasteful bedroom eyes, while Cersei gave the would-be queen ample sideeye. The two women engaged in a surprisingly civil discussion about Marg’s intentions with Tommen (she lied and told Cersei she hadn’t even thought about next steps; that may come back to bite her in the ass), as well as Cersei’s own arranged marriage to Gay Loras. If you were getting the Nothing Good is Going to Come of This feeling from their talk, you are wise.
-Cersei was quite busy this week, as she also had another surprisingly level-headed chat with Tywin about the impending marriages that segued into a discussion about the realm’s serious debt problem. The Iron Bank of Braavos is essentially the “Game of Thrones” analogue of China, in so far as Westeros has taken out quite a bit of gold from it in recent years, and has no actual plan for paying it back. This is a fairly low-key subplot in the books that is being brought to the forefront in the show, which I find fascinating (and we’ll get lots more on that next week). Cersei also had a conversation with Oberyn Martell. Cersei was attempting to shore up Oberyn’s support against Tyrion at his trial, but it led to a discussion about what the world does to little girls. Oberyn referenced both his deceased sister and his own eight daughters,Cersei talked about missing her daughter in Dorne but also obviously mourned her own lost childhood, as well as her dead son. This is around the part of the books where Cersei becomes more human, though not necessarily more sympathetic. That’s arguably less critical in the show because Lena Headey has always played the character with more nuance than she is depicted as having in the books.
-In Slaver’s Bay Daenerys learned about the death of Joffrey, and seriously considered taking her recently won Meereenese navy and finally crossing the Narrow Sea to conquer Westeros. But she also discovered that her revolts in Yunkai and Astapor have already been overturned, and the cities are once again under the control of slave masters -- and they all want her dead. In what will be a defining decision for Dany, she opted to not head back to her homeland just yet, and instead to stay in Essos to rule as a queen and get the slave situation fully sorted out. Note that it was Ser Jorah who cautioned Dany against heading back to Westeros for the time being. His logic may be sound, but are his motives strictly in Dany’s best interest?
-In the Vale, Littlefinger and Sansa arrived at the Eyrie. Or rather, Littlefinger and his niece, Alayne, did. That will be Sansa’s alias during her stay in the Vale, since the capitol wants Sansa Stark tried for regicide. But Sansa is allowed to disclose her true identity to noted crazy person Lysa Arryn, her aunt, as well as her derpy cousin, Robin. Once again Sansa is out of the frying pan, into a smaller, crazier frying pan, because while Lysa might be batshit, she’s not stupid. She knows that Littlefinger obviously wants Sansa as part of a messed-up fixation with Catelyn. During a deeply uncomfortable scene she grilled Sansa about what Littlefinger has done with her/wants with her. And pity Sansa even more, because she had to endure listening to Lysa’s excruciating sex sounds after Lysa forced Littlefinger into a hasty marriage -- and Lysa is a screamer. Also of interest: Lysa admitted that she was the one who poisoned Jon Arryn, and that she sent Cat the letter blaming the Lannisters. And she did that and more under Littlefinger’s orders. Given that those are the events that literally kicked off this whole series, it really puts Littlefinger’s reach and cunning into perspective.
-Elsewhere on the road, Brienne discovered that Pod is a shitty squire but an honorable guy, even if he can’t cook a rabbit to save his life. And Arya practiced her Braavosi water-dancing sword technique before being brutally knocked down by The Hound. First, I want someone to mash up her practice scenes with Irene Cara’s “Flashdance (What a Feeling).” Second, their little détente is effectively over, as Arya made it clear to The Hound that she still intends to murder him, and The Hound made it clear that he doesn’t see her as much of a threat. Jerk!
-The major setpiece of the episode was the wholly-for-the-show siege of Craster’s Keep, where the rebel Night’s Watch had been being awful to Craster’s daughter-wives and, as of last episode, holding Bran and his crew captive. We got clarification on the Locke/Vargo Hoat scenario: it was definitely supposed to Vargo, likely working for Roose and Ramsay Bolton to abduct Bran and…I honestly have no idea what they wanted to do with him. It was a moot point, because Bran warged into Hodor and killed the son of a bitch before he got the chance. Bran also had the opportunity to interact with Jon Snow, who was leading the group to silence the ex-Watchmen. But Jojen Reed pointed out that if Bran reconnected with Jon, he would never go north to meet the Three-Eyed Crow, and that is his destiny. (As an aside, this episode helped to dissuade me about believing a fascinating theory I read about Jojen. I am intrigued about that whole burning thing, though.) After also rescuing Summer, Bran and crew continued their trek north, still no Coldhands in sight. That is really disappointing to me.
Jon Snow and the non-psychotic Watchmen made fairly short work of the bad brothers, with Jon having a serious fight against that gratingly bad actor who was in “Pacific Rim.” He was also reunited with his direwolf, Ghost, who should pee on his clean clothes for months after Jon essentially ditched him last season. This entire plot seemed like an excuse to get a major battle sequence into this episode, and to cocktease a Jon/Bran meeting (which we already had last season with the wildling attack at the dragon queen tower). It did seem to wrap up the Craster’s Keep arc, with the Night’s Watch torching the whole pad while Craster’s daughter/wives turned down the offer to go back to Castle Black. Instead the romantic in me hopes they become the Westeros equivalent of the Mandrell Sisters, a singing/dancing touring act. I bet Gilly plays a mean jingle Frisbee.
First, apologies for the late blog. I was trapped north of the Wall (a.k.a. Canada) and the proprietor of the inn at which we stayed led me astray. I was told we would have HBO, and yet we did not. Given this flagrant violation of guest’s rights, I can only assume that the downtown Toronto Hilton is owned by none other than Lord Walder Frey.
Anyway, Sunday’s episode was arguably slow, but it was packed with interesting moments that advanced a great many storylines. And it also included what I think was a crucially important end sequence that gave us far more insight into The Big Bad than anything we’ve ever gotten on this show, or even in the books that inspired it.
I’ll try to get through this as quickly as possible, as there really is a lot to cover.
-In Essos, Missendei is teaching Grey Worm how to read, but what they are really both learning is how to love. Aw. Truly, these are two extremely tertiary characters, so the fact that they’re building up a romance between them is sweet, but given all the other arcs that need to be juggled… The scene did help to humanize Grey Worm, which was important since he led the assault on Meereen. This went down differently in the show than it did in the books, but the basic gist is that Grey Worm snuck into the city and gave the slaves a pep talk about rising up against their masters. Oh, and he gave them many, many knives. The revolt happened quickly, and Dany responded to the dead child signposts left by the Meereenese masters by nailing an equal number of the masters up around the city. Sir BarristanSelmy cautioned against this course of action, instead advising mercy. Sir BarristanSelmy is a wise man…
-Littlefinger and Sansa had a little boat chat en route to the Eyrie, in which Littlefinger continued to underscore that he, as well as Sansa, was complicit in the murder of King Joffrey. But it also served to show us that Sansa has learned quite a bit about guile and manipulation since she first arrived at King’s Landing. The naïve Sansa of Season 1 would never have been able to hold her own in this scene, whereas a post-LannisterSansa has been well schooled in the literal game of thrones. And don’t think that Littlefinger doesn’t know it -- or that it doesn’t excite him. This scene was important because we got a taste of Littlefinger’s limitless ambition. But in the books, these interactions happened in his homeland, an exceedingly modest pile of rocks covered in seabird shit. That helped to put Petyr in perspective. He has come from basically nothing to a man who can help murder the king and literally sail away with it. He is truly one of the most dangerous characters in the series.
-Meanwhile, the other conspirator in Joffrey’s death, Lady Olenna, had a great moment with her granddaughter, Margaery, in which she revealed her role in the deed. Olenna is leaving King’s Landing (BOO!) and wanted to make sure that Margaery was well on her way to truly becoming queen. That meant encouraging Marg to visit new king and instant Tiger Beat Westeros poster boy, Tommen. First, the new Tommen is great, and he’s just the right age to make Margaery’s late-night visit titillating for middle-school boys everywhere (Natalie Dormer should probably avoid “Thrones” slashfic for a while…), yet not creepy in a pedo-tastic way. Their shared scene was oddly sweet and hopeful, especially since it was 100 percent motivated by greed and manipulation. And that is why we love Margaery.
-After another sparring session with Bronn, Jaime finally visited Tyrion in prison and the two started planning their amazing brother act, The KingslayingLannisters. Kidding. In reality, Tyrion proclaimed his innocence, and Jamie believed him. Not that there is really anything Jaime can do about it, especially since Cersei continues to spiral into insanity, demanding four knights on Tommen’s door at all times and that Jaime bring her the head of Sansa Stark. Jaime reacted by giving Brienne his kickass Valyrian steel sword, a fancy new suit of armor, and also Podrick Payne as a squire, and tasking her with finding Sansa and keeping her safe. I wondered if the show was going a different route with Brienne, but this is very much in line with her book arc. Bringing Pod in now instead of later is actually a more elegant solution. The way everything was juxtaposed this episode also made it clear that Jaime sent them on this mission in part to keep them both out of Cersei’s crosshairs. Well played, show.
-But the big action of the night happened north of the Wall, where several storylines veered toward an intersection. The current command of the Night’s Watch turned down Jon Snow’s request to go to Craster’s Keep and silence the rogue Watchmen before Manse Rayder could pump them for information on the Watch’s defenses. After seeing how beloved Jon was by the men, they changed their tune, and decided to send Jon off to be killed by the bad brothers. And hey, they aren’t assholes -- Jon could take whoever volunteered to go with him. That included hot piece Grenn, some other guys, and Locke, a new Night’s Watch pledge who is played by the same actor who played Vargo Hoat -- the dude who de-handed Jaime back in S3. But I’m not sure if he’s actually supposed to be Vargo. He definitely doesn’t seem like he can be trusted.
Meanwhile, at Craster’s Keep, things have gone from awful to “Apocalypse Now: Medieval Times Edition.” The rogue brothers have gone basically feral, raping and beating Craster’s daughters. One of them, a character whose name I didn’t catch and who I’m not sure we ever saw before, seemed to be ruling the roost, boasting about his assassin’s cred and also DRINKING FROM THE SKULL OF JEOR MORMONT (that whole bit was ridiculously over the top, and I hated it). They had Ghost, Jon’s direwolf, kept prisoner, which is so off from the books that it makes my head spin. When one of Craster’s daughter-wives presented the Bad Boys of the Night’s Watch with Craster’s final son, the Brando wannabe sent forever bottom bitch Rast to do what Craster always did: leave it for the White Walkers.
The crying baby in the wilderness attracted the attention of Bran and his doom patrol. He warged into Summer to check out the action, and discovered Ghost in a cage just before Summer himself was caught in a trap. In short order, Bran and the rest of his entourage were captured by the mutinous Watchmen. Poor Hodor was stabbed by spears, Bran confessed his identity to the head crazy, and the Reed kids were deemed expendable. Jojen had one of his seer fits (aside: I read a great theory about Jojen and his physical weakness, and I am desperate to see if it turns out to be true). And then it was end scene.
A few notes on all this: absolutely none of this happened in the books. Jon and his group never returned to Craster’s Keep that I remember. Bran and his crew are never captured. The fact that Bran and Jon could conceivably see each other in the next episode or two is fascinating to me (same is true of Sansa and Arya, both of whom are on their way to the Vale). And I can’t say for sure that it won’t happen, because at this point they’re changing things considerably from the source material.
Like, say, that final, horrifying sequence in which a White Walker picked up the abandoned baby and took it on a dead pony ride to what can only be referred to as Ice Mordor. There the baby was placed on an altar surrounded by a ring of well-groomed ice-looking people -- possibly The Others, which are different from the White Walkers. One stepped forward, picked up the baby, pricked it in the face with its fingernail, and the baby’s eyes turned brilliant, crystalline blue.
That was SO interesting. The books have never showed readers too much about The Others/White Walkers. We just know that they come from the north, are ice-powered, and are effing terrifying. The show has just informed us that they aren’t just mindless zombies -- there is a civilization of some sort. They have a base of operations somewhere beyond The Wall. They don’t need people to be dead to transform them into…whatever the hell it is they become.
This is strictly speculation on my part, but I’ve long suspected that the real end game of the books (and the show) will have very little to do with King’s Landing, or the Iron Throne, or Dany and her dragons, or even The Others and The Wall. I think it’s really about two warring gods: R’hllor, the Lord of Light, and a yet-to-be-named god of ice/water/darkness. When you look at the large-scale conflicts or mysteries in the series, many of them can be tied to one or the other. All the fire magic -- what’s practiced by Melisandre and Thoros, the dragons, anything related to Valyria -- is linked to R’hllor. The Others, White Walkers, greyscale, is all linked to the ice/water god, which I suspect is probably the same one worshipped by the Iron Islanders (“The Drowned God”). I think the struggle between those two forces ultimately is what is shaping the “Game of Thrones” world on a large scale -- the seasons that can last for decades, the destruction of Valyria are all signs of a push and pull between those two powers. (And the book series IS called “A Song of Ice and Fire,” after all.)
The characters we follow are all teeny, tiny pawns in the grand cosmic scale, which I suppose is true of life in the real world. And obviously they will all play into the inevitable outcome of the story (I have another theory that we will eventually have contemporary analogues for every member of The Seven, weaving in that religion, which is all about the power of people).
So it was exciting for me, as a reader of the books, to get this glimpse into stuff we’re still waiting to see from George R. R. Martin. And we’ll apparently continue to wait, as a recent Rolling Stone article indicated that we won’t see Book 6 any time soon. Part of me wonders if that end sequence wasn’t a shot across Martin’s bow, underlining that, yes, the show really will go ahead and finish telling your story if you can’t be bothered to do so yourself. I would be very curious to know how he reacted to that end scene. I bet he wasn’t happy about it. But I sure was.
I AM STUNNNED. Sincerely. I am absolutely shocked by the events of tonight’s episode. I should clarify that 4/5 of the episode was fairly predictable -- the Adore redemption arc was blatantly telegraphed, as was Darienne tanking the challenge -- but the identity of the Bottom 2 and the eliminated queen really threw me for a loop. I consider this one of the more shocking eliminations in “Drag Race” history. Let’s discuss.
We were down to the Final 5: Adore Delano, Ben DeLaCreme, Bianca Del Rio, Courtney Act, and Darienne Lake. The mini-challenge was the by-now-familiar puppet-insult bit. All of the queens did well here, except for Courtney, who struggled in her parody of Darienne. While Ben won the challenge for his manic, mega-chompered version of Bianca, I thought Adore really slayed Ben with his impression. (The mini-challenge wins this season have seemed especially random to me.) Not that it matters: the “prize” for winning was assigning the queens colors for the main challenge, and the show didn’t even bother to show us that.
That main challenge was the annual “ball,” this one themed vaguely around glitter. Each queen had to create three looks. The first was banjee girl (for those not in the know, a banjee girl is that girl down at the corner, trying to get your man), executive realness (I love me some executive realness!), and bejeweled eleganza. The colors were assigned thusly, but they really had very little bearing on the actual results: Adore got diamonds, Ben got rose quartz, Bianca got sapphire, Courtney got ruby, and Darienne got topaz. On a purely stupid note, I’m surprised we had two red-colored jewels and not, say, emerald. But whatever.
In the work room Adore had a breakdown, crying to RuPaul that she’s trying to get back the momentum she had in the middle part of the competition. She was visibly struggling with letting Ru down week after week. With just about any other queen I might find this cloying or manipulative, but call me a sucker (*ahem*): I believed Adore to be quite genuine in that moment.
Meanwhile, Ben eyed Broadway costumer Bianca as the big threat for this challenge, and set a goal of snatching the win away from her. Bianca helped Adore create her eleganza look -- because Bianca really is the best -- and Darienne flailed mightily. You knew she was in the weeds when she abandoned her original dress and started on a whole new concept at what looked to be fairly late in the game. We saw almost nothing of Courtney in the work room, which I found odd for an episode with only five queens.
The queens were also thrown a “twist” when they had to perform a choreographed number to open the show. I use quotations marks because I believe that has been the case with almost all the ball episodes since Season 2. That’s not to dismiss the stress it puts on the queens -- that is a lot to accomplish in what appears to be a very short window. But the show really does need to freshen up its formula a bit. At least one of the competitors had to have seen this coming. Anyway, the bit was fine, and it was Darienne who actually stood out as the best of the bunch.
The same could not be said of her runway looks, each of which had serious problems. Darienne herself admitted that she missed the mark on almost every aspect of the challenge, and there’s just no denying that. She has struggled on the runway more often than not this season, and I feel for her. Big girls DO have it harder when it comes to finding couture-level frocks, and let’s just say it: Rochester is not renowned for its high fashion. Have you ever been to Ontario Beach Park in the summer? Have you seen what the people there are wearing? Lord Jesus, kill it with FIRE. Regardless, Darienne bombed this challenge and she knew it. Her place in the Bottom 2 was more or less assured, and not helped by every other contestant calling her out as the one who should go home. I thought she handled that situation extremely well in “Untucked,” and all that time I’ve been bitching about Darienne’s edit this season -- that was the lady I expected to see on this show. She admitted her failings, expressed a desire to do better, and was mature about the whole thing. There was no shade to be found there. But people are STILL going to hate her after this episode.
Adore won the challenge for several reasons. 1) Her banjee-girl outfit was totally perfect, and she sold it to the judges. 2) Her eleganza look was surprisingly strong. 3) She cried, showed vulnerability, and took Ru’s advice to heart, so of course she was going to be rewarded. That’s not to say she didn’t deserve the win. I believe she did. But I also think the show was laying it on just a tad thick. While the idea was good, the executive-realness look was pretty sloppy. And Michelle Visage even noted that she was tripping all over the place during the opening number.
Bianca was called safe, which had to be somewhat disappointing for her in a sewing challenge. I thought her banjee girl was a welcome change of pace for Bianca, and I thought the executive look was fine. I do agree with guest judge Bob Mackie’s disdain for Bianca’s eleganza gown. Great color, but all the ruffles were fussy and we have seen that silhouette way too many times from Bianca at this point. (That point came up several times this episode from several sources.) The other interesting note from Bianca was that Ben called her out for “sailing through” the challenges, which Bianca found offensive, as though it suggested that she wasn’t really trying. Ben apologized, but it was interesting to see how that barb really stuck in Bianca’s paw.
Courtney was also safe, but I argue that she should have been in the Bottom 2. Courtney totally missed on the banjee-girl outfit. That was more slutty 90’s co-ed or lot lizard at a Pearl Jam concert than banjee girl. Her executive outfit was great. I love that there’s always one girl with a cellphone. And I actually liked the eleganza look, which was quite dramatic, including the red face appliqué. But the judging panel was largely dismissive of it. Michelle Visage in particularly really seems to be gunning for Courtney now, and what I realized this episode is, Courtney’s done with it. The vibe I was picking up from her was someone who has listened to criticisms for weeks in a row, and is now realizing that nothing is going to make these people happy -- especially Michelle. She offers her rebuttal respectfully, and when that is shot down, Courtney just purses her lips and moves on. I can’t blame her. It must be exhausting going through that for basically a month straight.
And then, Ben. OK. Ben’s banjee-girl look was, I thought, fairly on point. To me it read like a 90’s hooker, but instead of a fur coat she used giant tulle sleeves. The business look was, as RuPaul noted, very Bette Midler in “Outrageous Fortune.” Again: a very specific reference, and she nailed it. And the eleganza outfit was basically DeLa’s showgirl look cranked up to 11. The main criticism was, “We’ve seen this from you before.” You’ve seen Bianca’s look before, many, many times. And DeLa did a better job amping up her personal style for this challenge than Bianca did, and yet Bianca was safe while DeLa was Bottom 2. This is not meant to be a swipe at Bianca, but to point out how baffling the judging was this episode (or really, the whole second half of this season).
To my mind, Courtney missed the mark on banjee, nailed executive, and got very mixed results for eleganza. Ben didn’t really bomb any of the looks. Her aesthetic just didn’t happen to be the taste of one or more of the judges. But to act like she failed the challenge? The show did a very poor job justifying Ben’s B2 placement.
So it was Ben and Darienne once again lipsynching for their lives, this time to “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson. I thought Darienne came out, uh, stronger, but Ben caught up about halfway through. Darienne also sold the ending better. But this was Darienne’s third time in the B2. It is very rare that a queen lives to lipsynch a fourth time.
And yet, Darienne did -- Ben was eliminated. There was an audible gasp at the viewing party I attended (at O’Grady’s on Church in Toronto; dear bearded ginger bartender: you are very cute). I absolutely did not see that coming. No offense to Darienne -- I am thrilled that a hometown queen has made it to F4 -- but everything seemed to be pointing to her going home this episode. Beyond that, Ben has seemed like a lock for the finale since basically the first episode. She’s been in the top or won more than half of the episodes. I can’t think of another queen who has performed more strongly going out before a finale.
That’s what makes Ben’s boot really shocking. She has performed better than literally anyone left but Bianca. I honestly believe that. I can see why she lost that lipsynch against Darienne, who is very good at lipsynching. But I don’t think Ben should have been in the Bottom 2 to begin with. The prevailing wisdom has been that Ben was screwed this season because Jinkx won last year, and they’re too similar -- a point of view I have always rejected. Ben and Jinkx may be friends and from the same town, but they are very different queens with very different styles and strengths. In some ways, I actually think Ben is a stronger queen than Jinkx.
I certainly believe Ben deserved a spot in the S6 finale. To me, she’s right up there with Nina, Raven, Manila, Chad, and Alaska -- incredibly strong runners-up who had the misfortune of contending with someone who just had an edge over them. In this case, that’s obviously Bianca. But we are now looking at a finale with Bianca vs. Adore, Courtney, or Darienne. I like all of those queens. Seriously, every one of them. Ben winning I could have accepted. Adore, Courtney, or Darienne? Great queens, but their performances this season have been VERY mixed. If anyone but Bianca wins at this point I suspect it is going to enrage fans of this show.
I’m fairly sure Ben’s dismissal will already have done that. Let’s get “All Stars 2” going so that Ben can get another shot at the tiara. In the meantime, I love that she left a novella on the mirror using what I assume is all of the ColorEvolution lipstick in the work room. I fear for Darienne’s shoulder and elbow when cleaning that up…
Well, that was a hoot. The drag-daughter makeover episodes are almost always a delight, and I thought this one was especially wonderful -- it may even eclipse the previous benchmark, Season 3’s spectacular “Jocks in Frocks.” My viewing party was howling with laughter every few minutes. This is truly such an endearing, funny, likable bunch of queens. What I think pushes Season 6’s entry over the top is that in addition to the usual fun to be found with queens initiating novices into the world of drag, the episode also included some legitimately touching moments from the wedding ceremony.
That’s right, the task this episode was to create not only drag daughters, but drag brides. The six remaining queens -- Adore Delano, Ben DeLaCreme, Bianca Del Rio, Courtney Act, Darienne Lake, and Joslyn Fox -- were first introduced to six women who were about to be married to their future husbands by ordained minister RuPaul. Bianca, who won the art-themed mini-challenge, was allowed to pair a queen with a bride, and she did so as straightforwardly as possible. But there was a twist: the queens wouldn’t be making over the women. They would be making over their male fiancés, and the queens would have to rock a mother-of-the-bride look.
As usual, we’ll break it down queen by queen, highest to lowest.
Bianca Del Rio won the challenge -- her third main-challenge win -- further cementing her place as the frontrunner of the season. Bianca and her daughter had a clear resemblance (the daughter actually gave me shades of Tammie Brown), they had an adorable rapport, and they both looked terrific. Bianca continues to be flawless. In a season stocked with very competitive queens, she continues to be the alpha female.
Ben DeLaCreme is right up there, though, and Ben arguably had a tougher challenge this time with her bearded bride-to-be. The gown Ben created for her drag daughter was quite lovely, but similar in some ways to the dress Ben created for the first challenge of the season (but as Courtney pointed out, Bianca’s gown was awfully familiar looking, too). Still, I’m glad to see that Ben has recovered from her downhill slide a few weeks back, if Ben was ever truly struggling at all. You can’t take any of these edits for granted this season.
Courtney Act is proof of that. Courtney had a terrible edit this episode. I’m hard pressed to think of a moment where she wasn’t portrayed as catty, dismissive, or full of herself. And call me naïve, but I just don’t think that’s Courtney. She has demonstrated way too much self awareness both on and off the show to be that unrelentingly negative. It also doesn’t jibe with the edit she was given in the first half of the season. It is absolutely true that the soundbytes being used came out of Courtney’s mouth, but a) context, or the lack thereof; and b) yeah, Courtney says some bitchy things. She is a drag queen. "Bitch" is their native language. Even the sweetest queens on this show throw a disparaging remark now and then. But for whatever reason, Courtney is currently being given the shady bitch crown -- although it looks like Bianca may be snatching up her bobby pins to secure it in place on her own head. All that said, I was surprised Courtney wasn’t in the Bottom 2 this week. She had arguably the butchest dude to transform, and while she did what she could, the dress was uninspiring and slightly half-assed (three-quarters assed?). Courtney also made the huge mistake of upstaging the bride herself in a gorgeous butterfly dress. I get why she wore it on the runway, but it only served to flip the assignment. Courtney looked the bride, her dude looked like the mother, and that enraged Michelle Visage. Based solely on the judges’ comments I was sure she was in the bottom.
Darienne Lake came in toward the bottom of the pack, and I disagree with that. I thought she definitely did better than Courtney. I will concede that Darienne’s own runway look left quite a bit to be desired -- she has not brought her sense of style to the runway the way I expected. I’ve seen her wear some really impressive drag. But she absolutely killed it with her goth bride, who looked great, had great chemistry with both Darienne and her actual partner, and seemed to be having the time of her life. (Darienne’s couple was obviously made up of “Drag Race” superfans, based on all the injokes they put into their wedding vows.) Guest judge Neil Patrick Harris was having none of Darienne’s approach and I suspect he’s a big reason Darienne was toward the bottom. For what it’s worth, Darienne said at her viewing part last week that she did not care for NPH at all, and that she gave him some lip on the runway -- which we did not see. I will say that I felt Harris to be curiously low energy on that panel; he did not come off well (his husband, David Burtka, fared better). A last note on Darienne: the editors now seem determined to establish a Bianca/Darienne rivalry, and I’m not buying that one either. It’s clear that all of the remaining queens genuinely liked each other. But apparently there has to be drama. I wish that wasn't the case. Why not let six great queens who respect each other just interact with each other? Why create these forced feuds? Disappointing.
Adore Delano was also a disappointment this episode. I quite like Adore, but she showed just how limited her skill set is in this challenge. Not knowing how to sew is one thing -- it’s still stupid given that this is Season 6 of this show, and you KNOW that’s going to come up. But Adore did not present either herself or her drag daughter well here. Adore wore a flat wig and a dress that I am almost positive we’ve seen her wear before, and none of it read “mother of the bride.” Her partner, who was as much of a loose cannon as Adore herself, looked awful. Possibly the worst makeover in this show’s history. They called the look “punk bride,” but really it was sloppy shit thrown together in a desperate attempt to look intentionally sloppy. Didn’t work. And make-up skills…lord. Adore’s drag daughter looked like a member from Cry-Baby’s gang. A low-rent Hatchet Face, if you will.
Joslyn Fox also had make-up issues with her makeover, as her bride had poorly blended foundation, eyelashes that really didn’t work, etc. Joslyn herself looked great and appropriate to the mother-of-the-bride aspect of the challenge. But her partner was compared to Greta Gremlin, and it’s hard to argue that point. The poor guy is a basketball player and worried seriously about what his teammates might say about his appearance in drag. I’m honestly not clear on why he agreed to do this in the first place. But he pushed through and did the best job he could (minus the vomit interruption that had me missing Willam), and did seem to make some great strides as a straight ally.
Joslyn and Adore had to lipsynch to “Think” by Aretha Franklin, which is not a natural fit for either queen (but a great song nonetheless). Joslyn tried to respect the energy of the song, while Adore just threw herself into the performance. I appreciated that, but did not appreciate her removing her heels, which is a big no-no in a lipsynch. Ultimately Joslyn was told to sashay away, which made me sadder than expected. Joslyn and Adore both figured they would be lipsynching, based on the footage shown in “Untucked,” so I’m guessing Joslyn’s critique was harsher than what they showed. But, like Trinity last week, this felt like someone getting the axe because her “arc” is finished, not necessarily based on the work in this episode. But maybe I’m off base on that.
Programming note: Next week's blog may be up a day late as I will be in Toronto until Tuesday morning. Unless someone knows a good gay bar in Toronto that screens the episodes live. And preferably is frequented by attractive, burly, available men. Help a brother out.
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Following last week’s gamechanger -- the death of King Joffrey -- this episode was a quieter affair that focused on many of the characters scrambling for position. That said, it still built to several harrowing scenes in some of the far-flung plotlines, and a good old-fashioned orgy back home in King’s Landing.
Let’s start in the capitol, where things picked up immediately after Joffrey’s gruesome demise. Ser Dontos, the disgraced former knight turned fool, spirited Sansa away just in time, before Cersei -- now crazier than ever! -- ordered the guards to shut down the city and bring Sansa before her. Dontos dragged Sansa to a remote shoreline and rowed her out to a waiting ship owned by Lord Baelish, a.k.a. Littlefinger -- or just Petyr, as he prefers Sansa to call him. Littlefinger quickly explained that the necklace Ser Dontos gave her was in fact the hidden receptacle for the poison that killed Joffrey, and that Dontos had been working for Littlefinger. Sansa was confused by all of this, and then horrified when Littlefinger gave Dontos his “payment” in the form of a half dozen crossbow bolts that turned him into a human pincushion.
In the books, the Dontos/Sansa relationship was much better established. She had started to trust him, and look at him as her only real shot of getting out of King’s Landing alive. She thought of them as a modern reincarnation of an old bard’s tale, Florian the Fool and the maiden Jonquil. So it was arguably more of a shock to her when she discovered that Dontos had been working for Littlefinger all along, for Littlefinger’s specific purposes. We’ll get more into that next episode, I’m sure. In the meantime, the good news for Sansa is that she’s out of King’s Landing for the first time since literally early Season 1. The bad news is that everyone thinks she had a hand in regicide, and the only person who knows otherwise is a master gameplayer. Good luck, Sansa!
Actually, at least one other person knows that Sansa was an unwilling accomplice in Joffrey’s death: Lady Olenna, the Queen of Thorns. That’s because it was Olenna who actually poisoned the little shit. The show did not make this explicit, but most viewers put it together after scrutinizing the shots from last week’s episode. Olenna grabbed the purple “jewel” from Sansa’s necklace while fidgeting with her hair and, at some point when everyone’s attention was on Joffrey and Tyrion, slipped it in his cup, or possibly the wine decanter. She has yet to reveal this to her granddaughter Margaery, who is freaked out by watching her second husband die in such a brutal manner, and is pissed that she keeps marrying duds and has yet to become queen. Olenna assured her that her position is better now than it would have been had she had to live with a creep like Joffrey, and pointed out that the Lannisters still need Highgarden’s money and food as much as ever.
So cue Bachelor No. 3, because Joffrey’s death means there’s a new king: Joffrey’s kid brother Tommen, who has been recast and rapidly aged to, I’m guessing, around 12. I believe Tommen in the books is still very much a boy, not even a tween. (Did they have tweens in medieval times? I guess 15 would have been middle-aged then…) But in both portrayals he is sweet, considerate, and timid -- basically the opposite of his older brother. Lord Tywin wasted no time explaining to Tommen that though he is now king, the best thing he can do is shut up and basically let Tywin run the show. And Tywin did all of that while literally standing over Joffrey’s corpse and saying explicitly what a shitty king he was. Tommen seemed to get the message, and by the way, Tywin wants him to understand why he needs a wife, and what he will need to do with her. Imagine having The Talk with your grandfather -- your totally scary, emotionally dead grandfather -- and you can see how screwed poor Tommen is.
Speaking of screwed, Jaime and Cersei had a horrifying scene where Cersei instructed Jaime to murder Tyrion (she is absolutely convinced that Tyrion killed Joffrey), and then recoiled in horror when Jaime tried to comfort her and touched her with his fake hand. Jaime responded in the worst possible way by raping his sister in the middle of a church, right next to the corpse of their dead child. This was uncomfortable to watch and I suspect all of the audience’s sympathy for Jaime was wiped out in an instant.
On the other side of the sex coin, we got an intimate moment with the Red Viper (Oberyn Martell), his paramour Ellaria Sand, and at least three prostitutes, a mix of male and female. They are really driving home the Dornish Indiscriminate Sexy Time Hour, with Oberyn literally telling the male whore that the point of life is to have as much sex as you can before you’re too old for people to want to sleep with you. It is a lovely worldview, and I am going to embrace it. Unfortunately, TywinLannister crashed the party, and he is the definition of “boner killer” (again: poor Tommen). Tywin gave Oberyn a half-court press about any role he could have had in killing Joffrey, but mostly wanted to ask Oberyn to sit as one of the three judges in Tyrion’s trial, and also to serve on Tommen’s Small Council. Oberyn questioned why Tywin would trust a man who obviously hates his guts -- they discussed The Mountain’s role in Oberyn’s sister’s death -- and Tywin impressed us all by being the first person to have a grasp on all of the various threats that are poised to destroy Westeros at any given second (wildlings at the Wall, Iron Islanders plundering the coast, Stannis pursuing the throne, and oh yeah, Dany and DRAGONS!). I have been suspecting that the show was going to take a very different route with the Red Viper than the books, and this scene offered more evidence to that effect. They’re really building Oberyn up nicely.
Tyrion, meanwhile, sat in his cell, and was visited by his squire, Podrick Payne. Pod gave him an update on the impending trial, and dropped a few nuggets: nobody knows anything about Shay, Sansa bailed (though Tyrion believes her to be innocent), Bronn is not allowed to see Tyrion, and Tyrion knows that this is a frame job perpetrated by someone who wanted him out of the way. The scene also allowed Tyrion to order Pod to leave King’s Landing before someone could kill him for not testifying against Tyrion. I hope that Pod listens, because I would prefer that the adorable sex machine not end up with his head on a pike.
Further afield, The Hound and Arya came upon a kindly farmer who offered them hospitality, and then lived to regret it after The Hound screwed him over and stole his money. On Dragonstone, Stannis learned of Joffrey’s death and Davos had a “Eureka!” moment while enjoying storytime with Shireen. At the Wall, Sam tried to take Gilly and her baby to the whore enclave of Molestown, where he assumed they would be safe should the Wildlings attack. Good luck with that, because Ygritte and her south-of-the-Wall crew slaughtered a town full of farmers and sent a child witness to report about it to Castle Black. The Night’s Watch is, thankfully, not made up entirely of morons, so they knew that the Wildlings were trying to draw them out into open combat. Unfortunately their resolve crumbled when two of their brothers returned from north of the Wall, where they had been held captive by the Watchmen who mutinied at Craster’s Keep. Jon Snow proved that he does know SOMETHING when he realized that as soon as the Wildling army hits Craster’s, the ex-Watchmen are going to tell them how poorly defended the Wall currently is. This is a plot point that I don’t believe ever happened in the books, and I’m curious why they’re complicating a fairly straightforward arc like this.
One place where I think the show is improving on the books is Daenerys’ story arc. Around this point in the novels Dany’s plot starts to get really repetitive and, frankly, boring. But I loved the sequence this episode, with her army finally reaching the gates of Mereen. After a one-one-one battle of champions outside the gate (New Daario did a fine job here, and sincerely I do not think Original Recipe Daario could have pulled off that scene convincingly), Dany gave an impassioned plea to the slaves of Mereen and made her “assault.” That consisted of catapulting barrels filled with broken slave collars over the city walls, where they exploded all around the Mereenese slaves. The episode ended bluntly, with one of the slaves picking up a broken collar and turning to look at his petrified master. Well done, show. And Emilia Clarke is so effing good in that role.
That said, the star of the episode to me was Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister. He’s a great actor, and had some juicy material this episode. As Tyrion put it, Tywin never fails to capitalize on a family tragedy. And that is why we love and recoil from him. But I do not want him to talk to me about sex. Let’s leave that to Oberyn Martell.
Tonight’s episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” featured an absolutely packed panel. In addition to Ru, Michelle Visage, Santino Rice, and guest judges Chaz Bono, Georgia Holt (Cher’s mom), and Paula Abdul, we had the invisible producers who manipulated the top and bottom finishers, leading to one of the more outrageous eliminations we’ve seen on this show in quite a while. So let’s strap in and suck it up.
Speaking of strapping and sucking, the mini-challenge was “Hung Man,” in which the remaining seven queens -- Adore Delano, Ben DeLaCreme, Bianca Del Rio, Courtney Act, Darienne Lake, Joslyn Fox, and Trinity K. Bonet -- had to guess words based on clues and the letters that appeared on the finely toned buttocks of the expanded Scruff Pit Crew. Yes, you guys -- there were like a dozen Pit Crew members all standing there in just their underwear, and it was a beautiful sight. They’re multiplying! Like mogwai exposed to water after midnight! Can I take a few of them home? I’ll be gentle. I promise. (I’m lying.)
Ben DeLaCreme won the challenge, although I’m not sure what the prize was. (Eyelashes? I can’t remember. Pecs. Abs. Chest hair. Sausage casings. These are things that were demanding my attention.) Bottom line -- although maybe some of them were tops, I don’t know their lives -- this was a thoroughly enjoyable challenge and the queens were all hilarious. Well done, show. More Expanded Scruff Pit Crew, please! (Scruff founder Johnny Scruff also did a very good job as a brand ambassador. Take notes, douchebag from Absolut.)
The main challenge saw the limited-edition return of the late, lamented “RuPaul Show,” the talk show Ru had on VH1 for a few seasons with Visage as her second banana. I actually loved that show as a teenager. The queens had to act as fill-ins for Ru and interview Chaz Bono and Georgia Holt. I was surprised by how many of the queens seemed to struggle with this. (I say “seemed” because I attended the viewing party hosted by Darienne Lake, and she said that her interview segment went WAY better than editing suggested -- I can believe that given the shitty edit she’s been given the past few weeks. I also suspect some of the other queens did better than what we were shown.)
I’ll break down the performances queen by queen, along with an evaluation of their runway looks. This week’s runway theme was “animal kingdom,” which some of the queens rocked and some totally ignored or misinterpreted.
Adore Delano was one of the queens that seemed to miss the “animal” memo. She looked better than usual -- her runway has improved significantly over the past few challenges -- but did not read “animal” at all. She had a glittery mouth cage (striking, but irrelevant to the challengel), a skintight leather catsuit, and a kind of raggedy wig. Her talk-show performance was similarly lukewarm. She was obviously nervous and didn’t seem to be grasping the answers Holt in particular was giving her. It came off as ignorant airhead, and not in the knowing, fun way that Adore has nailed in the past.
Ben DeLaCreme returned to form this week, after two weeks of getting a (frankly implausible) underdog edit. Ben was strong in the talk-show challenge, being both personable and attentive. She killed the runway with a fly/beetle-inspired look that really commanded attention, regardless of whether she was on two feet or four. I personally felt that DeLa should have won this challenge, but the show probably wants to spread the wealth around a bit. Michelle apparently decided that Ben dressed as a bug was what she needed to show the “real Ben,” so I guess that stupid “character” critique is now a thing of the past. I suppose I’m glad about that, but it never made any sense to begin with. (Ben is a drag queen, so, you know, I kind of expect him to be playing a character and wearing costumes all the time.) I’d also like to point out that Ben made some pretty blunt comments about Joslyn at the top fo the episode. I’m curious to see how fans react, because Ben has been shown as one of the “nice queens” thus far, and yet anyone who dares to say anything remotely negative about Joslyn has been vilified. Will people turn on DeLa? I hope not.
Bianca Del Rio did not do well in the challenge, which is arguably the first time this season she has not excelled at anything thrown at her. Bianca wasn’t terrible, but (allegedly) focused too much on Chaz and not enough on Georgia. On the runway, Bianca blessedly gave us a very different look, opting for a cheetah-inspired frock and body paint. I was glad to see it, as Bianca -- though always gorgeous -- was staring to get a little samey-samey to me. I barely recognized her this week.
Courtney Act won the challenge, and I am struggling with that. I like Courtney. I defend her fairly consistently. (Most of the anti-Courtney people I have found tend to be boosting Joslyn, and the two of them have had basically the same level of performance but VERY different expectations. Joslyn has benefited from this, while Courtney has suffered.) I thought Courtney was good or better this challenge. She was very polished and professional in the interview, and you could tell that the subjects were engaged by it all. But I thought her energy level was way too low for a talk-show gig. She wasn’t bubbly or bright or charming, she was just being a good listener and asking decent questions. Again, a solid performance.Top 3, based on the competition. But win? I don’t see it. It’s possible that her stunning eagle runway pushed her over the top. That’s an iconic look, for sure. But I think Ben’s insect was right up there, and Ben’s challenge performance was stronger. But Courtney needed a win at this stage to justify her continued place in the competition leading up to the finals. I just wish the producer manipulation wasn’t so obvious.
Darienne Lake was fine in the challenge, although she did come off as nervous in the sections they showed us. But she did seem to have a rapport with Georgia at the very least, while Chaz was giving her basically nothing with which to work. (Darienne did not seem like a fan of Chaz’s based on the comments at the viewing party.) The runway look was Babar Couture and I thought it was a successful interpretation of the theme.
Joslyn Fox was a bomb across the board this episode. Her performance in the challenge literally led to multiple facepalms on my end, with cringe-inducing references to Cher coming out of and delivering babies from vaginas and then making at least two pointed references to abortions. Painfully bad, and the “wonk wonk” titty thing seemed totally out of place in this context. When your breast grabs are more offputting than abortion jokes, you know you are in trouble. Joslyn also came out on the runway wearing something that had no discernible connection to animals, made a point of showing her ass once again, and also gave us a look at her “meaty tuck.” (Note to self: new blog name.) It was bad. Across-the-board bad. There is absolutely no question that Joslyn should have been in the Bottom 2, and probably going home. But she didn’t even have to lipsynch, and I hope she sent a nice fruit basket to the producers, because that was all blatant behind-the-scenes manipulation. I like Joslyn, but at this point, her continued presence in this competition is becoming a problem. Not only has she yet to win a challenge, but she’s not taking notes from the judges (surprise: another largely naked runway look) and she is outliving queens who have put in overall better quality of work. The crowd at the bar at which I watched the show was stunned that she survived this episode.
Trinity K. Bonet, meanwhile, got totally boned. Granted, Trinity blew the challenge. Her dull speaking voice put her at an automatic disadvantage, and she didn’t seem to have much of a rapport with Chaz or Georgia. Most egregiously, she kept referring to Chaz as “Chad,” which…no. Terrible mistake. But the runway look was absolutely sickening, a kind of glamour pheasant (note to self: another possible blog name) that was regal and sexy at the same time.
I don’t disagree with Trinity ending up in the Bottom 2. Forgetting your guest’s name is a colossal talk-show faux pas. But the fact that she was put up against Adore to lipsynch to Paula Abdul’s “Vibeology”? Total bullshit. (Both the song, and the decision.) Adore wasn’t great tonight, but Joslyn was worse in every possible way. The only ] explanation comes down to producer-driven storylines. This was Trinity’s third appearance in the B2. It is very rare indeed for a queen to escape that lipsynching black hole. My guess is that they wanted to shake Adore up a bit, since she was clearly one of this season's darlings (understandable -- I’ve grown quite fond of Adore over the past month or so), and also to show the viewing audience how she could perform in a LSFYL. But I don’t think Adore had any real danger of going home this week. Trinity was basically marked for death from the get-go. Had it been the equally expendable (in the producers’ eyes) Joslyn, however, Trinity MIGHT have lived another week. But against a favorite like Adore? Nope. Trinity sending Adore home doesn’t fit in with the increasingly obvious plan for the season.
I’m not saying that Adore did poorly in the lipsynch. She actually acquitted herself better than expected, and had a few great moves. But the edit of the battle obviously favored her, so we don’t know what Trinity was actually serving. Given Trinity's previous two lipsynchs, this was a fairly tepid affair for her. I also noted that few of the remaining queens chimed in with talking heads on who was winning. That’s telling.
So, Trinity sashayed away, and Adore stayed. Trinity was extremely classy in her exit, which is not surprising. That queen has had such an interesting arc on this show. I dismissed her out of hand at first. She impressed with her runways. She annoyed with her work-room attitude but pulled through in the challenges. She wowed us with her lipsynchs and then came roaring back with two terrific performances in the commercial and comedy challenges. And on “Untucked” she alternated between frustrating self doubt and surprisingly mature insights into the other queens.
I’m so glad we got a chance to get to know Trinity, and I think this season was stronger for having her as part of it. Good on Ru and the show for championing such a surprising queen. But that’s why it’s all the more frustrating to see her dropped so bluntly when the storyline dictated it, even though the performances didn’t back that up (see also: Carrion, April). That’s the danger of introducing viewers to such a great bunch of contestants. We’re not stupid. We see what you’re doing. If you want to be upfront about it, that’s fine. But let’s not pretend we don’t know exactly what happened tonight.
Next episode: weddings, makeovers, Neil Patrick Harris, and allegedly some serious runway shade.
You would think that at some point, these people would stop throwing elaborate wedding ceremonies/receptions and just settle for an intimate civil service and an after-party at Shoney’s. Think of all the money that would be saved, and the number of dead Westerosi kings that would still be around.
Yes, folks -- Joffrey is dead. Last night I got a text from my best friend expressing disbelief. But he’s dead. Dead dead deadski. Afterlife kids. The victim of what is referred to by fans of the books as “The Purple Wedding.” That is one of the events -- but only one -- that happen toward the end of Book 3 that help to balance the scales of justice a bit after the seemingly endless campaign of terror that has consumed the Starks since the beginning of the story. So the Lannisters were dealt a massive blow this week, but brace yourselves: it is only the first of many to come.
Here’s what else went down this episode, along with some thoughts on how things are differing from the book. Spoilers ON!
-Bran Stark still exists! I had completely forgotten about him last week, I will be honest. Bran, the Reeds, and Hodor continued their trip north of the Wall, in an attempt to seek out the mysterious three-eyed crow from Bran’s dreams. They are cold and starving and miserable, and worse, Bran keeps shifting his mind into Summer, his direwolf. His companions warned Bran that wargs can get lost in that kind of mindplay, and cautioned him to stay rooted in reality.
However, Summer led Bran to a weirwood tree. When he touched it, he experienced an intense vision with flashes of the past, present, and future. Someone is going to have to Zapruder that footage, but I saw a few interesting things -- Ned Stark, the Iron Throne covered in either snow or ash (I believe Dany had a similar vision in S2), and a monstrous dragon shadow flying over what looked like King’s Landing (I hasten to point out that it looked like only ONE dragon, not three). Bran also heard a voice telling him to find him beneath a tree.
Bran’s storyline is about to pick up significantly. Although I believe at this point in the books, that party had another member who joined them right on the other side of the Wall and who has yet to appear in the show. He would be difficult to execute on TV, he’s mysterious as all hell (even in the books we don’t know who/what it is -- but there are plenty of theories), and I desperately hope he pops up soon.
-Over at the Dreadfort, Reek -- nee Theon Greyjoy -- continued his new life as a human dog serving the thoroughly deranged Ramsay Snow. Ramsay and his equally sadistic galpal went on a little hunt, stalking and then murdering a poor girl in the woods. Reek joined them. Then Ramsay’s dad, Roose Bolton, came back from the Red Wedding at the Twins and gave us a crash course on why Ramsay is so deeply fucked up: Roose is cold, calculating, and vicious to his son.
These scenes basically served to show us how broken Theon is, to establish that Roose knows that the youngest Starks are still alive, and to put Ramsay to work taking back Moat Cailin from the Iron Borne. None of this stuff happened in the books. Theon is gone for the entirety of Book 3, and when he returns in Book 4 he has been turned into even more of a shell physically and mentally -- his torture in the books is excruciating to read. The Moat Cailin plotpoint is brought up in the books, but I don’t believe Ramsay had anything to do with it. My fear is that they’re going to move Yara to that plotline and jettison her story arc, which is totally separate from everything else but really cool in a lot of ways. But I truthfully expect the show to ignore most of the more far-flung arcs in Book 4.
-On Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon and the Red Priestess threw a barbecue -- specifically they burned heathens at the stake. Among the victims was Stannis’s own brother-in-law, who refused to turn his back on the Seven in favor of the Lord of Light. Stannis’s wife, Selyse, showed just how full-blown nutty she is (the theme of this episode was “Extremely Crazy People”) by watching her own brother go up in flames with a kind of relief. She also told Stannis that she wanted to start beating their daughter, Shireen, but Stannis is having none of that. Instead he sent the Red Priestess to talk to her.
Again, none of this happened in the books (well, the Red Priestess burning people happens -- quite a lot, actually). Stannis and his crew are almost totally out of the picture until the end of Book 3. What particularly interests me is that the writers seem to be focusing Melisandre’s attention on Shireen’s grayscale, the disease that has left parts of her skin like rock. Grayscale is repeatedly brought up in the book, and it clearly has some larger context -- I believe it’s going to be associated to either the Lord of Light or the Drowned God in the end. I wonder if we’ll find out its larger implications on the show before we ever see them in the books. Because Mel sure seems interested in Shireen’s affliction…
-As usual, the major action of the episode happened in King’s Landing, with Joffrey marrying Margaery. I was honestly stunned that the wedding went down this episode. I thought for sure they’d stretch that out a little longer. But after a brief ceremony, a lavishly filmed reception saw Joffrey repeatedly acting like a sadistic bastard (which he literally is), Cersei picking fights with both Pycelle and Margaery, Oberyn essentially putting the Lannisters on notice, Jaime making it clear to Loras that he will not marry Cersei, and the Queen of Thorns having an intimate chat with Sansa.
That last part is on what people should focus. In last week’s recap I mentioned that the show changed some elements of the Dontos/Sansa scene. Specifically, Dontos gave her a necklace instead of a hairnet, as he did in the books. Regardless, Sansa wore that gift to the wedding -- and the Queen of Thorns fussed with Sansa’s hair shortly before Joffrey drank the poisoned wine. In the books, Sansa later notices that one of the purple jewels in her hairnet is missing, and the reader at least (possibly Sansa) realizes that she was basically the vector for the poison that killed Joffrey. In the show, I watched Sansa’s necklace like a hawk, and I never saw any of the jewels on it go missing. They all seemed to be there, even after the Queen of Thorns walked away. So I’m not sure if they’re going a different direction with Joffrey’s poisoner or what. But Cersei accused Tyrion of the crime in what is essentially her first step to full-blown lunacy. Yes, if you thought Cersei was nuts before, just you wait. She is about to become unhinged and it is going to get CRAZY.
Remember last week, how I said that the Jaime/Cersei scenes made no sense? This is why they made no sense. In the books, Jaime and Brienne arrive at King’s Landing after Joffrey’s wedding; Joffrey was already dead. A grieving, bonkers Cersei rejects Jaime because he was not there to protect their son. That is the wedge that drives the two of them apart, and it makes more sense than, “You took too long to come back from being held hostage.” Similarly, last week it was weird that Brienne didn’t even speak to Sansa even though she had been sworn to find her for Catelyn Stark. But again, Sansa was out of King’s Landing before Brienne ever arrived -- Brienne never interacts with Sansa. (Speaking of, the exchanges between Brienne and Margaery suggest to me that Brienne will be grafted on to the Marg plotline on the show, instead of Brienne’s own story as she has in the books. I’m OK with that, mostly because the Brienne storyline has a very upsetting ending.)
That is a bit of a spoiler to say that Dontos is indeed taking advantage of the post-wedding chaos to spirit Sansa out of King’s Landing. But why he’s doing it, and who he’s working for, I will leave to next week’s episode to reveal. Some other thoughts:
-The Bronn/Tyrion/Shay scene was difficult to watch, but also very interesting because at this point in the books I am fairly sure that Bronn is no longer in King’s Landing. He gets married off, has his own land holdings, and more or less retires with what passes for a happy ending in Westeros. Bronn still being in the capitol while Tyrion is imprisoned somewhat complicates that plotline. I’ll be curious to see how they address that.
-Last season I expressed surprise at how the show was portraying Shay, given that she has some really complicated material coming up in the next chunk of story. I feel like the show has done a fairly good job setting all of that up at this point. If you think she really got on that boat, you’re nuts.
-The discussion between Queen of Thorns and Tywin about the Iron Bank wanting its due was a smooth way of introducing a subplot that will apparently be far more important in the show than it was in the books, based on the well-known actor cast for the part.
-This episode was written by George R. R. Martin himself, the author of the “Song of Ice and Fire” novel series. So all of those little things that seemed so little -- like the grayscale thing I mentioned -- are maybe not so little after all. Martin is a master of seeding small details that grow into huge plot points. That said, I wish he would stop writing episodes of this show and FINISH THE GOD DAMNED BOOKS, GEORGE. Seriously!