RuPaul's Drag Race recap: RuCo's Empire
As we did with Cookie Lyon on the debut episode of Empire, we started out this episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race welcoming back a queen who had fallen hard from grace and was returning from exile. But unlike Cookie’s glorious return from jail, the return of this mystery queen wasn’t all that fierce and fell far short from changing the course of television history.
At first, everyone was speculating on who Ru had been talking to on the phone at the end of last episode. (Let’s be real, she was probably talking to the Papa John’s delivery guy, but let’s use our imaginations). Could it be Shangela? (Please God, why couldn’t it have been Shangela?) Bob the Drag Queen took us way, WAY back to the first season and wondered if it could be Victoria “Porkchop” Parker, who was the queen most in need of redemption. I was hoping beyond hope that maybe it would be Katya. At least Acid Betty kept things sweet by vowing to ignore whomever the returning queen was and “treat her like poo.”
Everybody was wrong, though, because the returning queen turned out to be…Naysha. Alright. Well, let’s just hope that the soccer-mom dancing that got her eliminated in the first place was just a terrible choke. We’re expecting more than just a pretty face from Naysha and want to see these apparently amazing dancing skills we’ve heard about.
But first, for the Mini Challenge, Ru went political AND historical by putting on a Supreme Court Realness runway show. The queens had to drag up basic black robes: think Judge Judy couture. I personally consider Ruth Bader Ginsburg a fashion icon — I’m pretty sure Acid Betty could pass for her with just a scooch of lipstick, and Laila could have done an amazing Elena Kagan. Why wasn’t Sonia Sotomayor guest-judging? I’m sure she would have said yes if asked.
Anyway, Naomi Smalls won the challenge for an outfit clearly inspired by Sandra Day O’Connor, the prize for which was getting to be one of the team captains, along with Naysha, on the Maxi Challenge, an acting challenge that would have all the queens performing in a skit inspired by Empire.
Teams were chosen, and Team Naysha got off to a rough start as Kim Chi was initially cast in the lead role as Chocolate Chip Cookie. What were they thinking??? It takes a GIANT personality and an ability to walk in heels to strut in Cookie Lyons’ Louboutins; and on the other team, Bob the Drag Queen would be filling the same role, and she would have steamrolled Kim Chi. Luckily, Naysha made the executive decision to make Kim Chi and Thorgy swap roles. Chi Chi had the funniest comment about Team Naysha: “They should be worried because they have a lot of girls who are…not black.”
Team Naysha showed up on a set decorated with a lot of gold-framed portraits of Ru, who’d be playing the role of Ruscious. Ru and Faith Evans were sitting in the director’s chairs. Kim Chi had the first lines, and it was looking like it was going to be a disaster — she didn’t know how to pop her tongue, which is an innate ability in 90 percent of drag queens — but Kim Chi impressed everyone by improving very quickly and looking hot in a sculpted bob. You go, Boo Boo Kitty!
NEXT: Rolling down the runway
Derrick was the real weak link on the team. She got lost in her giant afro and didn’t seem to understand her character (to be honest, I didn’t understand the character when Cynthia played her either, but for other reasons). Thorgy was the MVP, by far, as Chocolate Chip Cookie. That Thorgy knows how to commit to a character. She was stunning. It was maybe the best, least-offensive portrayal of a black woman by a white guy with dreads. And that’s quite a feat.
As solid as Team Naysha was, Bob the Drag Queen came to get what’s hers. Her performance as Chocolate Chip Cookie slayed, and she sprinkled it with bits of improv that worked beautifully. I loved the slow reveal of her bejeweled bodysuit, à la Britney in the “Toxic” video. (Derrick Barry was probably ready to shave her own head in a jealous rage). But Bob’s talent cast a shadow over the rest of the team. Cynthia and her cucu couldn’t say the words “strong gay woman,” and Robbie, the supposed trained actor, couldn’t remember her lines and couldn’t differentiate the multiple personalities she was portraying.
While some girls tripped over their words, some of the other girls started tripping for different reasons. For the first time in RPDR herstory, they’d be rollerskating down the runway. Robbie was excited to strap on some wheels, while Bob was a lot more nervous. (I feel you, girl — it once took me 18 hours to roller-skate through Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, and that ain’t a big park).
In the Werk Room, Thorgy shared a bit of her backstory, and it was a tough one. Her parents hid from her that her mom was dying of cancer, and she died suddenly, the day a 19-year-old Thorgy came back from college. I can’t imagine anything more devastating. On a lighter note, though, a young Thorgy looked a little bit like Bill Hader.
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The Runway was more fun than usual, thanks to the wheels, plus Tasha Smith from Empire, who gave hilariously withering critiques. Naysha was the only one who totally wiped out and had to be helped by a (non-Pit) crew member. Kim Chi, dressed in a cockatoo outfit inspired by John Galliano, couldn’t skate either, but it was at least better than her walk.
In the top group were Acid Betty for her Thunderdome-inspired unicorn look and Thorgy for her excellent performance in the video, but the win went to Bob the Drag Queen, whose basic-ass Tron robot-inspired look fell flat but didn’t even matter because of the force of her charisma. Her runway was hilariously bad, though — Ru said, “She’s like a Roomba!” And Tasha said, “The Tin Man needs some lubricant. But she also said, of Bob’s performance, “Taraji is gonna DIE; Lee Daniels is gonna DIE!!” (Tasha, give us a spoiler warning first!)
In the bottom was Derrick Barry, who once again faded in the background when not playing Britney. Ru told her, “You better work, bitch.” But she narrowly avoided having to lip-synch — which, incidentally, is what Britney does best. Cynthia landed in the bottom for her incomprehensible performance in the challenge and awful Texan roller-rink look, which involved cotton socks and ill-fitting soccer shorts. Robbie Turner was magic on wheels, but she came up with a whole litany of excuses as to why her performance sucked. She blamed the pace of the shoot and even her eyesight.
NEXT: Well, this lip-synch was an improvement over last week’s
Cynthia and Robbie’s lip-synch to Faith Evans’ “Mesmerized” was way, way more energized than the one last week. Cynthia did a spirited fake split (her poor cucu!), and Robbie made full use of her skates — did she work at a Sonic Drive-In in her youth?? Because the lady can skate better than she can act. She ended the song with a dramatic fall off the stage, which paid off. She definitely got to stay for her performance in the lip-synch, not for her performance in the skit. Let’s say goodbye to the cucu and the Cynthia that’s attached to it!
Now that the roster of queens has been mixed up, here’s an updated Fierce List!
1. Bob the Drag Queen: Her charisma is proving to be powerful enough that even Michelle is willing to turn a blind eye to pretty major runway missteps.
2. Thorgy Thor: I was completely wrong about her in my premiere recap. She’s quickly becoming less annoying and one to be reckoned with.
3. Acid Betty: She has yet to own a challenge completely, but she’s always near the top.
4. Kim Chi: At this point, this is probably just my bias showing, but I do think she has a quiet charisma that will take her far.
5. Chi Chi DeVayne: She called herself the “cheap queen” up front, but she’s not selling herself short so far.
6. Derrick Barry: Everyone keeps telling her to do less Britney, but I want to be the first to ask: What’s wrong with more Britney?
7. Robbie Turner: Even though she hasn’t brought anything spectacular to the competition so far, she showed a sparkly sign of life with her skating choreography.
8. Naomi Smalls: She needs to be something more than thin and pretty.
9. Naysha: Why did we bring her back? I’d rather Ru not have called Naysha and just decided to keep Cynthia.
RuPaul — as host, mentor, and creative inspiration — decides who's in and who's out.