One thing RuPaul and I have in common is our indisputable love for Crystal’s sensational mullet – curly, full, and yes, reminiscent of singer El Debarge’s iconic 80’s mane. Her pure adoration of Crystal’s out-of-drag ‘do and the subsequent “Rhythm of the Night” audio clips that play when it’s mentioned are a small treat within these episodes. That just needed to be said before we get into episode five.
Last week’s low episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race was partially saved by special guest judge Leslie Jones and her unbridled love for the queens and the show. This week’s episode, despite a strong Maxi Challenge, also needed some kind of pick-me-up, and we were served it in Untucked. The best drama – whether transparently manipulated or not – always makes for better TV and it always comes out in Untucked.
After a tear-jerker of an elimination, the queens are all shocked as they return to the workroom – shocked because of Rock’s emotional departure and the fact that Aiden wasn’t one of the ones lip-syncing for their lives. Jaida is the one to say that she was expecting Aiden to be in the Bottom Two but it’s clear that she’s not the only one who feels that way; Brita goes off in her talking head and we cut to Widow and Heidi whispering about it in their corner as they de-drag (AKA get out of their clothes and make-up). Widow believes that Brita should have been safe and Heidi diplomatically says that she hopes that this will light a fire under Aiden’s ass. From this scene, we can guess what the episode’s going to ultimately focus on.
Before we can get to the conflama (conflict+drama), Ru enters the workroom and gets right to the Maxi Challenge: an over-acting challenge called “Gay’s Anatomy”, a parody of the long-running hospital drama series, Grey’s Anatomy (a show that this writer has never watched).
Gigi and Nicky are the ones who get to decide the roles and, after a read-through, they cast the queens as follows:
- Jackie as the protagonist, Dr. Meredith Gay
- Jan as Dr. Meredith Gay #2 (after she gets a face transplant halfway through the sketch because I’m sure that was done on Grey’s Anatomy at some point?)
- Brita as Dr. Sandra Okuuurrrr
- Gigi as Dr. Tizzy Stevens
- Jaida as Dr. Rhonda Shimes
- Sherry as Dr. Mother Gay, Meredith’s terrible mother
- Aiden as Henny, a Mae West-type patient who flirts with Dr. Okuuurrr, dies, and then comes back as a ghost
- Widow as Mimi Dearest, a patient who gives birth to a small drag baby
- Nicky as Baby Dearest, the aforementioned drag baby
- Heidi and Crystal as two patients impaled together on a giant fork
It is worth mentioning that with these types of acting challenges, the filming and final product are rarely indicative of each other. Acting challenges are production favourites because narratives can be directed any which way but loose so it’s important for viewers to not take any of the rehearsals at face value. Some queens struggle with the lines and other queens do well, which pisses off other queens. Namely Widow, who is not happy with her role and is especially unhappy with the fact that Sherry is making Drag Race judge and scene director Carson Kressley laugh as Dr. Mother Gay, the part that she wanted.
The queens who were shown to need a lot of direction from Carson are Jaida, Nicky, Brita, and Aiden, four queens who just so happen to be either involved with the underlying tension throughout the last few episodes (Jaida, Brita, and Aiden), or just coming off of negative critiques from the judges (Nicky, Brita, and Aiden). It gives a heads up to who may be in the bottom three for the week as well as a possible red herring – maybe everyone’s dismissal of Aiden is unwarranted, or maybe Nicky will actually pull it out in the end. Who’s to say? That’s the beauty of Act One editing.
The Final Cut
This week’s special guest judge is singer Normani who joins RuPaul, Michelle Visage, and Carson Kressley as they evaluate the runway category known simply as “Planet of the Capes” AKA Edna Mode’s worst nightmare . Once again, most of the queens deliver on their eleganza, with the biggest standouts being Jackie’s belly dancer with an Isis wing cape, Jan’s goggled skydiver look with a parachute cape, and Gigi’s incredible homage to Shelley Long and her caped khaki outfit from the classic comedy Troop Beverly Hills.
For perhaps the first time in RuPaul’s Drag Race her-story, the big ensemble acting challenge is not a complete disaster; it may be because the source material (an over-the-top medical drama that’s been around forever) makes for great comedy fodder, or because there are few weak links this season. Either way, everyone did an overall fine job in the acting challenge, none were bad and all were somewhere between “okay” and “phenomenal”.
As such, RuPaul calls on six queens as the best actresses of the week: Aiden, Gigi, Jackie, Jan, Sherry, and Widow. Surprisingly (and disappointingly), Ru names Sherry Pie as the winner of the challenge. Though she did do well in the challenge, I would have personally given the top prize to Jan or Widow, the only two who actually made me laugh throughout the sketch. It’s honestly a bummer seeing Sherry win three challenges within five episodes because it means that she is almost definitely going to make it far in the competition and we have to keep watching the elephant in the room get bigger and bigger. It’s always disheartening to see a predator be rewarded, but at least we know that she will definitely not win the crown. That leaves me some comfort.
Anyway, all of the high-placing queens are asked to leave the stage and the rest of the queens – the “overshadowed” queens, as Ru puts it – are given their critiques.
Jaida is praised for her runway and told that she clearly struggled during filming and didn’t quite get all of the jokes, she still pulled it out in the end. Brita is praised for her body and consistency in her acting but she’s told that her runway isn’t “cape” enough and that she needed to do more. Heidi is told that her runway isn’t that great and that her acting wasn’t enough to bring her small part to life, however, she and Crystal are both praised for how well they worked together as an impaled pair.
The judges tell Crystal that her physical comedy was great and her makeup and runway are gorgeous. Nicky is last and she’s told that she was good in the acting but that she just didn’t go far enough with the comedy; she is also read for her outfit being beautiful but having little to do with the cape theme. Most of the judging is fair and on point but Ru wants some real opinions and she asks the queens the dreaded runway question: “who should go home tonight and why?”
Jaida says Heidi for her runway, Brita, Heidi, and Crystal say Nicky, and Nicky says herself (something Ru hates to hear) and then she says Heidi, due to her runway. The queens are asked to leave the stage (and go to the Untucked lounge where the drama is brewing) while the judges deliberate. It’s clear that Jaida and Crystal are safe and that the other three are in the Bottom Three – but who will be the ones to lip-sync?
Meanwhile, in the Untucked Lounge…
While the judges were critiquing the “overshadowed” queens, Aiden, Gigi, Jackie, Jan, Sherry, and Widow were relaxing in the lounge with cocktails and their mixed feelings about the judging. In the words of Mother Ru herself, “If you’re not watching Untucked, you’re only getting half of the story.”
The Top queens congratulate each other and Sherry proposes a game: in the Untucked Lounge, there’s an assortment of Drag Race-related props and memorabilia, one of which is a giant button marked “shade”; when someone presses the shade button, the shade rattle is emitted and Sherry suggests that every time someone says something shady, the button is pressed. It is the best suggestion ever made and I can forgive production for allowing Sherry a tiny spec of screen time to give it. From there, Untucked gets INTO it.
Jackie brings up Aiden’s placement in the top, saying that she doesn’t believe that Aiden did a bad job in the acting challenge, but more than that she’s surprised to find her in the top due to Aiden “dropping her lines”, something that Jaida and Nicky also did. It’s a valid point but Jan, the appointed pusher-of-the-shade-button, lets the shade rattle fly. Aiden defends herself and her position in the top, and it is put to rest…for the time being.
The group continues to talk about the other queens and (almost) everyone agrees that they don’t believe that Brita should be given a low placement for the week. Jackie echoes RuPaul ’s point that, due to the season having such strong actors, it all comes down to the minute details.
Soon, the bottom queens (this week’s judgement is initially a pass/fail; if you’re not in the top, you’re in the bottom) join them and the first big conflict of the season begins.
Though they initially talk about what was said on the stage, the topic quickly jumps to Brita, who says she can’t believe that she is in the bottom for the second week in a row because she believes that SOME safe queen should be there and not her. She’s being very transparently vague and when asked, says that she’s talking about Aiden. It has all been building to this moment. This was why Aiden didn’t lip-sync last episode.
Brita (again) brings up the fact that she felt that Sherry and herself carried Aiden in the improv acting class from episode three and that, since Aiden was her scene partner in this acting challenge, that she also carried her this time; it is just enough kindling to get a bonfire going as others begin to tell Aiden what they really think about her placement in the competition. It is exactly what production wants – remember, if the queens won’t create conflict, then the show will turn them against each other. Aiden, feeling that everyone is coming for her, becomes defensive and garrisons herself in a way that rubs Jaida the wrong way, and Jaida lets her know.
Referring to Jackie’s earlier comment about “dropping lines”, Aiden defends her performance and Jaida takes it as a slight against herself, feeling that she must, in turn, go on the defensive. Nicky adds on to this, saying that, based on the final performance, Jaida should be safe and not Aiden. Up until this point, Aiden’s attitude has been very aloof and she’s been clear (at least in her talking heads) that she’s not bothered by Brita or Sherry coming for her over the improv challenge or the other queens giving her a hard time for keeping her Ball eleganza “simple”. It seems that the time of Aiden’s indifference has ended because she does not hold back.
Cutting off Jaida before she can make another point, Aiden says that everyone has been coming for her since day one and her tone is understandably pointed. The other queens do not like this and it becomes a mess of emotions; everyone who feels called out reacts and tries to talk over Aiden. They’re all feeling very attacked! In the middle of it all, Heidi leaves the group to go prepare for her lip sync – she is over the pettiness and doesn’t like how people are coming for Aiden. Is it okay to just name Heidi the MVQ of the season? Her talking heads are everything. She is everything.
Getting back to the drama, the things that need to be said are being said. Yes, Heidi is over everyone kind of dog-piling onto Aiden, but the feelings that the queens have are still valid. Nicky is not happy about Aiden taking a nap during last week’s episode and Brita is not happy that she lip-synced instead of Aiden. Their frustrations are valid but it’s not Aiden’s fault that she was chosen to be safe – it’s RuPaul ’s fault. Unfortunately, the queens can’t lash out against the host so they’re lashing out at Aiden, something that Heidi does not like. She defends Aiden and boldly tells the girls to leave her alone (“Fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you!”) but it’s all for naught. Things come to a head and Aiden lays it out for the queens – if they really believe that she is the weakest link, then they should trust that she will go home soon and leave it alone.
Things begin to simmer from this point and it is clear that Brita is completely in her head; she is a very famous drag queen from before her time on the show and she cannot comprehend why she isn’t doing well in the competition (and Aiden is). She talks a big talk and has the background to back it up, but time and time again we are shown that your accomplishments outside of the competition mean very little if you’re not delivering what the judges want on the stage – and it seems that deep down, Brita knows this. She feels threatened by Aiden, but her pride won’t let her admit it and her posturing is not a good look.
Meanwhile, Jackie tries to bring things down to a calm level by trying to help Aiden understand that her aloof attitude may be the underlying thing that is setting off some of the queens. Earlier in the episode, Ru calls out Aiden’s attitude towards the other queens in the workroom, saying that Aiden’s perspective of everyone is skewed because she thinks that she is so different from all of them, when really, they are all out of their element in the competition, and not just her. Aiden feels that she is an island, but no queen is when they’re in this competition together. This kind of attitude is common for past Georgia queens (Violet Chachki, Nina Bonina Brown, etc.) because the Atlanta drag scene is infamously tough. Here’s hoping that RuPaul and Jackie’s words sink in and the queens can come to an understanding. Oh, and the production manipulation isn’t so damn obvious but that just may be too much to ask.
My Heart to Break
The queens return to the stage and Ru ultimately declares Jaida, Crystal and Brita safe, which means that Heidi and Nicky must lip sync. This is Nicky’s second time in the Bottom Two and it’s unlikely that she will survive it, especially since we know that Heidi is an amazing dancer.
The song is “Heart to Break” by Kim Petras and though they both know the words, Heidi’s dancing has the edge over Nicky’s seductive movements. But, in a moment that has meant certain doom for countless queens before, Heidi’s wig falls off when she goes into a split! Oh no! She quickly puts it back on but Carson ’s face says what all Drag Race fans are collectively thinking: “is Ru going to send her home for this?”
It’s a real nail-biter as Ru makes her decision – thankfully, she makes the right one. Despite her small fumble, Heidi soared throughout the song and was ultimately declared the survivor, thus sending Nicky home. Nicky gives a beautiful departing speech and leaves the stage with dignity and grace. Due to English being her second language, I was really rooting for Nicky Doll but it really was her time to go.
Production may be messing with the queens in order for them to fight, Sherry Pie may be the frontrunner for the season, and the judges may be sleeping on Jan’s talent and runway looks, but at least we can find solace in the fact that this week’s Most Valuable Queen, Heidi, won the lip sync, the episode, and all of our hearts. She gets to fight another day and hopefully, she does better next week. In a season with so much promise and such impressive queens, it’s important to find the little things that bring us joy. Like the fact that the ultimate Drag Race challenge, “The Snatch Game”, is the Maxi challenge for next week’s episode. or Crystal Methyd’s glorious mullet. Either way, if we remember to cling to the wonderful parts of these episodes, then we can get through this tumultuous season.
What did you think of episode five? Do you think Aiden is the “weak link”?
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.