Tuesday, March 1, 2022

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race: UK vs. the World' - The American Queens Finally Step Into the Spotlight in 'Semifinals'

BBC Three's RuPaul's Drag Race: UK vs. the World - Episode 1.05 "Semifinals"

This week the queens are tasked with an all singing, all dancing challenge: performing their own version of one of RuPaul's classic hits. Little Mix star Jade Thirlwall coaches the queens and then joins the judging panel as the fate of yet another queen is decided.

This season has been defined by split decisions by the Top 2 queens. Each week the queens lip syncing for the world have pulled different lipsticks. The eliminations would have been quite different if the other queen prevailed. The most shocking moments have come from those eliminations. Reeling from it after the fact has revealed this tidbit. Pangina's exit was the most devastating yet. RuPaul and Michelle were completely surprised. Pangina's sobs haunt the entire studio. Blu played the game how it was designed to be played. She hopes she will still have a career afterwards. She will. Fans want these big moments even if it comes at the expense of their personal favorites. It ensures that we are invested in the entire journey. Pangina is still a stunning queen even though she was eliminated. The winner isn't the only person deserving of fame and adoration. Baga also chose Pangina. She did so for the same reason. She was the biggest competition. It was the same strategy Pangina employed when she eliminated Jimbo. Of course, Pangina didn't come out and say that. Blu and Baga have no qualms in doing so. That's how they interpreted events. Baga's grievances have been more pronounced. Blu felt similarly. It simply didn't become driven by personal animus. That vitriol is present in Baga. Later on when she is pleading her case to avoid elimination, she even says she would never eliminate someone she respects so much. As such, inferences can be drawn about her losing respect for Pangina. She is taking all of this so personally. That's the narrative that has formed. She is more upset about Jimbo instead of trying to engage in the competition herself. It's such a strange mood overall.

Moreover, Baga continues to be checked out of the competition when it comes to challenges that don't suite her skillset. She tells the judges that she's not comfortable in anything requiring exercise. It earns a laugh. Rightfully so too. It's a nice bit of humor to undercut her performance in the challenge. The mood is different during the rehearsals though. Baga isn't contributing anything to the choreography. That may be nothing more than shady editing. However, Baga has frequently been positioned as the outlier amongst the queens remaining. The audience at home may be more concerned for Jujubee as she hasn't risen to the level we knew she can do in this competition. It may all be strategy. It astonishingly worked too. The season heads into the finale with a Top 4 that only has two gold RuPeter Badges among them. All four were only in the top during the last two challenges as well. They were all safe in the first few weeks. They didn't draw attention to themselves while the rest of their competitors opted to target those who were impressive right out of the gate. That was the template set starting with Lemon's elimination. It's created a hectic season. One where anything could handle. Does that justify every decision made both by the queens and the production itself? Probably not. It's certainly insightful especially when the queens talk in the workroom about how their lived experiences are so similar despite coming from different places. In fact, it seems like Jujubee can offer Baga a lot of wisdom regarding sobriety. They are kindred spirits continually learning who they are each day. This competition reveals their true essences. And now, they are realizing they haven't evolved as much as they had assumed after seeing themselves on TV the last time.

Baga's song lyrics equate her hometown with heavy drinking. That's her experience performing there as a recognizable drag queen. She was blacking out and getting drunk to perform for ten years. It's not unique to her. It's plagued many queens over the years. She's frightened by the prospect of performing without getting a drink first. She hasn't completely cut out alcohol either. She isn't living the path of full sobriety like Jujubee is. That required a radical transformation. Jujubee put in that work. She is still a work in progress. Her runway look this week is the best she's looked all season. It's still the fourth best outfit of the night. That puts things into perspective. That clarity may only come from seeing all of this play back. To the audience, Mo dominates this entire episode. Yes, she's making the choreography too difficult. However, she is offering advice to queens who need it. She allows others to shine. She knows when to take her moment in the spotlight. She does so in the challenge. It's something so subtle as adding "baby" to her declaration of her hometown. That adds personality. It helps that she is the last in the lineup. That is smart and strategic. She also has the creative lyrics to match her talent. Blu does well throughout too. In fact, it's shocking that she isn't in the top with Mo. Graham Norton's critique of her runway look wearing her seemed to be all that it took to knock her out of consideration. That's awkward and not perfectly valid either. The runway category is weird. Apparently the prompt for "Work of Art" was the queens evoking a famous artist instead of offering that creativity themselves. They had to live within that particular realm while taking it to the next level with drag. In that regard, Mo, Blu and Janey figured it out. However, it was only a criticism with Jujubee's look and not with Baga's subpar interpretation. So, the judging is once again all over the place.

And yet, the season has set itself up to be a battle between the United States and the United Kingdom. That's been a historic clash throughout history. It ultimately comes at Janey's expense. She is the remaining queen who did well early on. She struggled the first week and in Snatch Game. Otherwise, she has represented her country and extension of the franchise well. It's fair to position her as the weakest in the song though. The concern started in the recording studio. That sound engineer is a miracle worker it seems. It was good enough to perform in. Her lyrics were simply the most forgettable. Her Andy Warhol look was great. Jujubee even borrowed earrings from her. But that wasn't enough to save her in the end. Of course, all of this is positioned as Jujubee's great comeback. That's not entirely deserved. It comes at Mo's expense too much. The lip sync is one of the best of the season. They present as an even match too. The moment Jujubee starting clucking like a chicken though sealed her victory. That one moment was all it took. The song goes on much longer than that. However, the editing really favored Jujubee for the win. Again, it's not undeserving. It simply takes away from all the greatness Mo achieved this week. She receives compliments from Michelle. That reveals how much pressure Mo has been placing on herself throughout this entire competition. That burden is real. It may have been crushing her despite her ability to be a star every week. She has struggled to break out from the pack. This week she accomplished that goal from top to bottom. She should be proud. Plus, anyone could truly take the crown in the finale. Any outcome could occur. That's scary. Mo and Blu have been more consistent. It may all come down to that final performance and whatever twists are in store for the queens.