Friday, February 24, 2023

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race' - A Milestone Episode Asks the Queens to Honor the Past in 'The Crystal Ball: Episode 200'

MTV's RuPaul's Drag Race - Episode 15.09 "The Crystal Ball: Episode 200"

Drag Race celebrates its milestone 200th episode. The queens design outfits featuring the 15 year anniversary gift: crystal. Julia Garner guest judges.

At times, this season has felt like a snake eating its own tail. The competition has gotten so self-reference that very little feels like a genuine reaction. The queens quote various moments from the past. Even the challenges fall into that same pitfall. It hasn't made for the most engaging storytelling. In fact, it has created a reality where Sasha, Anetra, Luxx and Mistress are the obvious frontrunners. It would be truly shocking if the finale didn't feature them. The remaining queens have sparks as well. They are simply missing the high level of execution presented amongst that top grouping. That formula has become glaringly apparent. Up until this point, that has been a significant problem with the season. But now, the whole purpose of the episode is to honor the past. This is the 200th episode of RuPaul's Drag Race. That's an impressive accomplishment. The show is still one of the most popular on the air. It's at the forefront of popular culture. It achieved that feat because of all the successes in the past. As such, it's understandable why this particular episode honors it. The season as a whole has been designed as a shrine to that history. That's a little more problematic. However, it works when it pertains to the latest ball. The show still provides the queens with a unique theme to construct an outfit around. That allows their personalities and stylistic choices to shine through. Meanwhile, the other two looks allow them to talk about the greatness that was produced in former seasons. None of them would have made it to this point in their careers without the show. Simply being cast is enough to catapult them to another level. That's clear for everyone who made it on. It was chaotic in the early going because there were so many personalities to keep track off. Now, the audience understands the nine remaining queens. Plus, there is even room for a familiar mini-challenge that further highlights how silly drag should be at times as well.

It's somewhat awkward to pair the enjoyable conversation of favorite moments from past seasons with Anetra talking about being forced out of her home. The workroom banter is still condensed because of the limited run time. The main content of the episode is the runway. As such, it's important for the show to get there as quickly as possible. It's still important to see how these queens operate as creative individuals arriving at that final destination. They have all been informed by the past and the decisions they've made. Anetra gets emotional talking about her mother only accepting her for a week. After that, she was ashamed of who her child actually was. That's absolutely heartbreaking. Anetra has found a new family that supports her. She still misses her mom. That stings. Elsewhere, Sasha talks about how she too found a place to thrive once she met people from the legendary Colby family. She is revered for her impeccable skills as a drag queen. And yet, she too loves the generations who came before her who helped mold her into the proud trans woman and drag queen she is today. She appreciates all of that. It's important to hear these conversations. Yes, they are still forced at times. That's obvious when Luxx starts talking about Alyssa Edwards. But it's still important to remember how groundbreaking it was when Ongina revealed she was HIV-positive. This show has been destroying those barriers for years. This cast is the new group tasked with carrying the banner forward. They do so with pride and reverence. They have RuPaul and Carson walking through the workroom to help guide them as well. Some listen to their advice. Others struggle. That's the purpose of the competition. It's all ultimately laid out on the runway.

Mistress, Sasha and Anetra are called out as the tops of the week. They are all deserving of that recognition. It's stunning to see what Anetra created in the workroom during the same amount of time as the rest of the cast. It's simply so impressive. She understood how crystals needed to be the focus. She never allowed that to overpower her personality. Plus, she styled it in a way so it would be more than just a basic gown. It was impeccable. In fact, it made her other two looks seem lackluster in comparison. The queens should absolutely be sensible when it comes to the looks they bring. The runways are important. One shouldn't go broke just in order to compete. That isn't necessary to win. However, the queens are judged as a package in this challenge. Anetra made the best garment in a day. That was her standout moment. Meanwhile, Mistress and Sasha delivered looks with specific perspectives every time they walked the stage. That too is a very remarkable skill. Sasha is shocked she wins a design challenge considering she isn't a seamstress. She has a keen eye for design. That's exemplified through all of her looks. She reinvented RuPaul's racetrack suit in a way unlike the rest of the cast. She turned it into a sensual gown. And then, she gave Laganja a run for her money in openly supporting marijuana on the runway. That was all wonderfully. And finally, Mistress truly does represent all the big girls in the Drag Race community. She pays homage to them specifically because they are often criticized more harshly than the skinny white twinks. It's just a fact. She knows how to provide the glamour. She also pushes the boundaries. She becomes the reference instead of just copying what someone did before. That's possibly why Luxx isn't in the top. She brings the fashion as well. Her final construction is up there with Anetra's. The other two were lacking though because it was her pulling from her fashion references instead of sharing her own perspective.

All of this is crucial for success on the runway. It gets more difficult over time because the judges expect variety. They don't want to see the same thing every single time. Salina knows that. She embraces different ideas and silhouettes. Her problem is always in the execution. She has the personality and makeup skills to thrive. Her looks are simply always missing some piece that would greater enhance the overall effect. That can easily be fixed. It's not going to happen within the confines of the show. It would make for an impressive All Stars run in the future though. The same is possible with Spice. She has the talent for an incredible drag career. She just needs time to learn the basics. She isn't a performer. Moreover, she always embraces what's known and comfortable. She was told carrying a disco ball as a purse wasn't going to cut it. She still did it. She plays it off when called out for it too. Now is the right time for her to go. She loves her little trot and walking around in the same silhouette. She is pressured to push herself. She feels unmoored without her support system. All the queens feel that. It simply hits Spice more because her partner is actually her twin. It's clear they came to the competition without any plan for how to handle things by themselves. They thought they could make it to the finale as partners. That wasn't the fate that awaited them. Again, the potential is there. It's just not enough to save Spice from the bottom. It's all a matter of taste and style. The judges can nitpick over other details. They do so with Loosey. That's justified in some instances as well. However, Spice deserves her bottom placement and ultimate exit. Salina has full command over the stage. Spice makes it more dangerous to perform by shattering her disco ball. That doesn't stop Salina though. She's powerful by connecting to the lyrics of "That's What I Want" by Lil Nas X. Meanwhile, Spice tries to be cute and chaotic. That's not good enough. And so, Salina survives another week. The show delivers a memorable episode to mark its historic occasion. Hopefully, the future includes more specificity for this season and cast instead of looking too longingly in the mirror of all that's come before.