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Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

The previous episode’s shocking elimination promised to be a game-changer. While “Sex And The Kitty Girl” ultimately reverts to form, the ripples from Naomi’s choice are felt throughout the episode, making for the most exciting deliberations yet. Previous polarizing eliminations have prompted fan backlash toward the eliminating queen, including disturbing, violent threats on social media. This is a big reason there’s been such an emphasis on report card eliminating in All Stars 4, which has led to a satisfying, but less suspenseful season. Naomi took a risk throwing that out the window and being unabashedly strategic. The other queens could have thrown her to the wolves, condemning her decision to eliminate one of the frontrunners. Instead, Monét reveals that she pulled the same lipstick. Manila was going home either way, so those hating on Naomi can add Monét to their lists. Trinity calls them out briefly, but the overall tone is one of glee and excitement, rather than judgment. The episode embraces Naomi’s boldness and delights in Monét’s self-described pettiness, using playful editing and scoring to validate their choice and send the final five queens into their final pre-finale challenge energized and raring to go.

The next day, RuPaul announces the maxi challenge. For this season’s acting challenge, they’ll be performing in a Ru Hollywood Story documentary about the making of “Sex And The Kitty Girl 3,” a campy parody of both Sex And The City and the show’s well-known behind-the-scenes drama. As the winner of the previous episode, Naomi gets to assign the roles. She takes the lead part for herself, SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker/Carrie), while Monique jumps at the broadly comedic guest role, KJo (Kristen Johnston/Lexi). Latrice winds up playing Cynthia (Cynthia Nixon/Miranda), and both Monét and Trinity want to be Kim (Kim Cattrall/Samantha), the scene-stealing antagonist. After a furious few rounds of Rock Paper Scissors, Trinity emerges victorious and Monét settles for Kristin (Kristin Davis/Charlotte). Several of the queens are big fans of SATC, but those who do the best look past the sketch’s inspiration to see how the roles fit together and which will play to their strengths. There’s a good reason Kristin is the character chosen last: it’s the least showy role, and one not particularly suited to any of these queens’ personas (though it’s tailor-made for BenDeLaCreme, and Asia O’Hara would’ve likely done well with it too).

After some rehearsal, it’s time to shoot their scenes. Ross Matthews is tapped to be the director and from what is shown, he seems to do a good job. His feedback is clear and supportive, nudging the queens in the right direction. The queens themselves run the gamut. Naomi misses the mark with SJP, failing to capture Carrie’s plucky, romantic charm. Naomi’s Carrie is entirely too Naomi, or as Trinity remarks, too “Club 96.” Latrice comes across well as Miranda, and seems the most prepared and confident of the group, but she’s not particularly memorable. Monique, in comparison, steals the show as KJo. Because Lexi was a one-off character, Monique doesn’t feel the need to impersonate Kristen Johnston’s performance, and this frees her to have more fun and make the role her own. The same is true of Trinity. She doesn’t deliver on Kim Cattrall—Monét’s voice and mannerisms are much closer—but that doesn’t matter because she gets to the core of what her scenes need Kim to be. Monét, on the other hand, struggles to find Kristin. She should counterbalance the rest of the group, particularly Kim and SJP, but Monét isn’t able to put her finger on the slightly daffy sweetness that makes Kristin such a good contrast to the others.

Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

The episode doesn’t show much of their filming, but thankfully, Monique’s wig troubles and Monét stepping all over Latrice’s lines make the cut. Before too long, we’re back in the workroom. The final elimination is on everyone’s mind as they prepare for the runway. Trinity initially continues to advocate voting via report card, but she seems to be swayed by Latrice, who talks about wanting to save the bottom queen she feels would be the best Drag Race ambassador, the most worthy of the All Stars crown. The queens seem to be making some unusual makeup choices, until Ru announces that the category is: Cat Couture.

Trinity comes down the runway first, looking fantastic in a cheetah-print body suit. She’s immediately contrasted by Monét, whose look utterly baffles until she explains she was going for the Pink Panther. The Pink Panther does have somewhat circular ears, but as Michelle and guest judge Felicity Huffman remark, they read as more mouse than feline. Her paint job looks gorgeous, but it doesn’t register as the Pink Panther—she would have benefited tremendously from incorporating whiskers, as both Trinity and Monique did. Latrice goes less literal than the others, opting for a safari-themed dress and big, crimped, lion’s mane-inspired hair. She’s worn a lot of sculpted wigs and up-dos or sleek, high ponytails this season, so it’s nice to see her in such a different look. Naomi goes for fashion and humor, with a knitted, modern cat-lady dress, complete with cats. As always, her look is interesting and well thought-out, with a clear narrative. Last is Monique, who looks terrific as Puss In Boots. She nails her proportions with tall, sparkly black boots and a huge, dramatic hat, and her makeup is flawless. As she would say, stunning!

Michelle Visage, serving up Catwoman
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

After the runway, viewers get to see the full “Sex And The Kitty Girl 3” Ru Hollywood Story. As is so often the case with Drag Race acting challenges, there are a few good gags, but the writing peters out by the end. (The closing arbitrary food fight worked better in “Jersey Justice” than it does here.) The scenes are entertaining enough, however, and the clown looks we’re treated to are a nice surprise. Then it’s time for the judges’ critiques. Jason Wu is fine as a guest judge, but Felicity Huffman adds a lot to the panel, offering an actor’s perspective in her notes that counters some of the other judges’ comments. Ru declares Trinity and Monique the winners, leaving everyone else up for elimination.

Here’s where the episode gets juicy. Because this is the final elimination, and because the queens’ judging parameters have been such a topic of discussion all season, there’s a lot for the queens to dig into. The deliberations don’t actually last all that long, compared to other episodes this season, but they feel weightier. The queens are also tired, and they can see the finish line. They’re over politeness and dancing around tough topics. Trinity in particular plays it smart, asking each of the bottom queens who they’d eliminate and why. Each, “that’s an excellent point” feels genuine, but they’re also very calculated, building suspense and giving the producers lots of footage to play with.

After a full season insisting on scorecards, Trinity tells Naomi she’s taking everything into consideration. Her vote is no longer a foregone conclusion, as it would have been earlier. The brief exchange between Trinity and Monique is great, inviting viewers to lean forward and join them in their decision-making process. If Monique wins, it’s a pretty safe bet she’ll save Monét, but she could really go either way between Latrice and Naomi. Trinity should on paper choose Latrice, but as soon as she says she’s considering, “who you are as a person,” all of the shade Monét’s been throwing over Trinity’s Kim performance comes rushing back. Is Trinity about to join #TeamPettyBitch?

Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars

Anticipation reaches a fever pitch as Trinity and Monique lip-sync to Janet Jackson’s “When I Think Of You.” It’s a nice bit of symmetry, starting and ending this season’s elimination lip-syncs with Trinity and Monique dancing their butts off. Both of them do a good job and they time their reveals well, but Trinity’s is more effective, if only because Monique’s layered costume reveal feels so similar to what she did in her lip-sync against Latrice in “LaLaPaRUza.” More than anything, though, the season’s narrative dictates that Trinity must win, so viewers can find out whether she’ll stick to her report card guns, or follow Naomi’s lead and eliminate the competition.

In the end, she pulls Latrice’s name. Latrice was not the weakest queen this episode. She did pretty well in the acting challenge, she delivered some fun looks, and she gets to leave riding what must be a tremendous high, having Felicity Huffman complement your abilities as a scene partner. She also had the opportunity to come back and slay the runway in “Queens of Clubs,” showing in the hosting challenge what has made her so successful outside of Drag Race. However, it was her time. Any queen who deserved to go home at least twice (arguably, three times) should not contend in the finals. Latrice hasn’t needed a title to take her place in Drag Race fandom. She’s the Beloved, after all, at that means more to most than a crown.

Stray observations

  • I loved the choice to include Monique and Naomi commenting on and celebrating the racial makeup of the top five.

  • All of the queens look good in “Sex And The Kitty Girl 3,” but Trinity’s Kim wig and makeup is uncanny!

  • This time, Monét pitches hard to Monique for her place in competition. It’s nice to see her not take Monique’s vote for granted.

  • Manila followed up her elimination by dropping a new Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland-inspired music video, “Go Fish,” co-starring (among others) Naomi as the Queen Of Hearts. It’s great to see Manila getting out in front of the inevitable fan backlash against Naomi and showing her potentially over-zealous fans that there are no hard feelings.

  • A final thought on All Stars eliminations: The most important aspect for queens to consider when eliminating is what will best serve their careers and the show. If queens eliminate their biggest competition too early in the season, or continually save a sub-par queen, the season as a whole suffers and viewers disengage (All Stars 2). But later on, if the queens are all delivering at a high level, eliminating the frontrunner can make for a more exciting endgame (All Stars 3). Each season, the All Stars come in cannier and more prepared. I would have loved for Manila to run away with All Stars 4, but I’m excited to see if Naomi’s well-received (by the queens, at least) elimination of Manila emboldens future queens to play All Stars more strategically.

  • Unfortunately, I will not be able to review the finale, but you’ll be in good hands; the wonderful Allison Shoemaker will be subbing in. Comment below with who you want to see crowned. Now that Manila’s out, I genuinely don’t know who I’ll be rooting for. I’ve had a blast covering All Stars 4 here at The A.V. Club. Thank you all for reading and commenting along, and I’ll be back with bells on for Drag Race season 11.

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