‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 13, Episode 4 recap: We made it to the merge!

The two groups of queens finally come together, which means one competitor has to go

In Survivor, a reality show that seems to be inspiring RuPaul’s Drag Race more and more in recent years (hello, All Stars 5 voting twist!), lasting until the tribes combine is called making it to “the merge.” We, too, have made it to the merge on Season 13 of Drag Race. Four episodes into the season, the whole cast is finally in the same room at the same time. What’s a few weeks of prologue between friends?

Indeed, the past three episodes do feel more like an extended premiere than a proper start to the season. No one has gone home (Drag Race UK has already eliminated two queens and it started two weeks later!), and we haven’t even seen the full group dynamic yet. When they do come together, it becomes clear that the winners’ circle plans to be playfully shady about their premiere dominance, while the underdog Porkchop Queens resent the others’ sense of superiority.

I remain split on the usefulness of the extended premiere, and I do worry this clique mentality will settle in among the dolls. (We’ve come a long way since the Heathers vs. Boogers war of Season 3, a conflict that was iconic then but would play very differently with the fanbase now.) But those first three episodes have also given each queen a substantial showcase of their talents. We have seen half a dozen looks, at least one lip sync and multiple types of performances from all of them. Compare that to, say, Season 4, in which first-booted queen Alisa Summers got to show off an entrance and one made-on-the-spot runway look before lip-syncing for her life.

The queens of Season 13 have had plenty of opportunities to show what they’re capable of before the first elimination. Now it’s time for the show to make the first cut.

Tina Burner, Kandy Muse and Symone share a laugh in the workroom. Credit: Courtesy of VH1

The challenge this week is to record trailers for “RuPaulmark Channel” holiday movies in pre-assigned groups. (Instead of being about Christmas, the movies are set on Valentine’s Day, Flag Day and April Fool’s Day.) Placing the girls into groups turns out to be a good idea, since it forces intermingling between the two premiere squads. This, more than anything, seemingly fosters good workroom chemistry between the whole cadre.

In his workroom conversation with the dolls, Ru notes the common elements of the scripts: “As with all of those types of movies, they’re all very similar. If not exactly the same!” And indeed, while the holidays are different, the actual stories are alike: A hardened corporate lawyer wants to destroy her family’s business to thrive personally, only to be transformed into a better person by the magic of the holiday. There are shared archetypes across the three skits—like a family figure who helps remind the protagonist of who they really are—but the lead role is the most obvious repeat character. Denali, Symone and Gottmik each take on one version, even share a very similar wig style with only a colour change to differentiate them (black, red and blonde, respectively).

 

Denali chooses this role for herself, despite a lack of acting experience, because she wants to be considered a threat. “I’ve never done scripted acting before, but I’m not afraid of a challenge,” she says. This immediately backfires on her, as she realizes just how many lines she has. Gottmik is similarly worried about remembering words, while the only bit we see of Symone rehearsing in the workroom is her stumbling as well.

I talk about editing a lot in my writing about Drag Race on a macro level—what kind of edits queens are getting, that kind of thing—but I very rarely see occasion to talk about an individual choice. This week, however, there’s a brilliant editing decision: As Symone stumbles, her acting partner Rosé looks past her at Tina Burner. Tina, a New York rival for Rosé, seems to be doing quite well in rehearsal. In confessional, Rosé says the challenge is down to her and Tina.

Then, of course, Symone knocks her part out of the goddamn park. We literally see Rosé overlook Symone, only for her to later say how Symone is actually her competition.

The Porkchop Queens meet their competition. Credit: Courtesy of VH1

It’s a great moment of editing because it effectively foreshadows what’s to come in a way that leaves suspense. Symone has been dominant in this competition so far, winning her premiere lip sync, the second episode’s challenge and the lip sync for the win against Olivia Lux. Trying to make her an underdog in this task would be foolish. So instead, the editors decide to use Rosé as their conduit for underestimating Symone, framing the competition as between her and Tina instead. Then when Symone nails it, it’s a surprise, even though it never should have been.

And when I say she nails it, she nails it. Symone is an absolute natural, tossing off lines like they’re imprinted in her brain. She repeatedly pronounces “flag factory” as “flehg fehc-tree,” and it is hilarious every single time. She’s just terrific, and her hot streak continues with a super cute story about doing drag for the first time at prom and an absolutely flawless durag look for the “Trains for Days” runway. Symone’s the big winner this week, and it’s well-earned.

Symone and her crew’s Flag Day skit (“God Loves Flags”) is the strongest of the lot, while Denali’s team’s take on Valentine’s Day (“Misery Love’s Company”) is the weakest. Not only does Denali deliver a stilted performance, but Kahmora Hall really drops the ball while working on set with Ross Mathews. She keeps putting the emphasis on the wrong word in the line delivery “I was rooting for us!” and no amount of correction can fix it. It goes on and on to the point of actually being hilarious—by the end I think Kahmora’s kind of a genius for just refusing to get it right. Alas, it leaves Ross frustrated, and sends Kahmora into the judging with an iconic-but-unfortunate performance.

As mentioned, “trains” is the theme of the day on the runway—the fashion statement, not Thomas the Tank Engine. Symone’s durag look is the clear winner, but I also love both Kahmora’s East Asian dragon look and Denali’s Quetzalcoatl-inspired dress. Kandy Muse, who does well in the challenge (she and Rosé join Symone in the top), unfortunately comes out in the worst gown of the night. She mentions in the workroom that her original train look wasn’t going to work—no explanation as to why—but this red dress is an ill-fitting substitute. (Don’t even get me started on the wig.)

Elliott With Two Ts waits to surprise the Porkchop Queens. Credit: Courtesy of VH1

Ru is surprisingly warm to the safe girls —“Some really great work this week!”—but ultimately someone has to go. LaLa Ri avoids lip-syncing after an underwhelming performance in “God Hates Flags,” while Denali and Kahmora’s runway looks cannot save them. The Chicago sisters must battle to Crystal Waters’ “100% Pure Love.”

This song is a gay club classic—which, as we’ve seen before, does not always bode well on Drag Race. (Poor “I Will Survive.”) What makes matters worse is that Kahmora is basically immobile in her gown, meaning her lip sync is mostly standing and singing. But not Denali! It may be her third lip sync of the season, but she is not out of tricks. Denali pulls out every dance move in her bag, turning in her fiercest, funniest performance of the season so far. It’s an easy win for her, and she skates back to safety.

It’s a sad farewell to Kahmora Hall, whose trajectory winds up falling far short of her sister Jaida Essence Hall’s. She just had trouble getting started in this competition, not letting her guard down enough to really succeed in the challenges. And while she turned out gorgeous runway looks, the judges ultimately held those more against her than anything else, saying they were obstacles stopping her from showing her personality.

Kahmora’s departure leaves us with a dozen queens heading into next week’s ball challenge. You know what that means: 36 looks! Get ready for a parade of fashion. If we hadn’t seen enough looks from these dolls so far, we’re apparently just getting started.

Untucking our final thoughts

Symone has won a challenge and/or lip sync in every episode that she has appeared in so far. Conversely, Denali has lip-synced in every episode that she has appeared in so far. Both are records, made possible by this season’s unusual format. While I can’t imagine tiring of seeing Symone be a star or Denali dance the hell out of a song, I do hope we soon start to see new characters breaking through. This is a strong cast, and the season can only benefit from sharing the spotlight.

Kandy bonds with the full group by finding out who’s single, and then immediately sets her sights on Joey Jay when she reveals she’s available. “If I ain’t gonna win the crown, I’m gonna find a man!” I mean, how can you not love Kandy?

Ru fully pulls a “name five of her songs” on Tamisha Iman when the queen says she’s a big fan of Cher. After she indeed cannot name songs, Ru asks Tamisha who she does like and she cites Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle and Natalie Cole. Ru then charges Tamisha with acting like one of them doing Cher. That seems like weird advice, but hey, it works!

Kandy really bonds with fellow winners’ circle members Tina Burner and Gottmik this week. They’re a fun little trio, and while I’m sure they’re bound to piss someone off at some point—they freely admit they’re bitchy!—I’m loving their group right now.

Ru’s looks this week are stellar. (And I include his looks from this week’s Drag Race UK in that!) His suit in the workroom is one of my all-time favourites, and his wig and gown on the runway are stunning. I do think the judging panel gains credibility when Ru looks his best—the seasons when his wigs and makeup were at their crunchiest were the times when judging decisions were questioned most. So this is a very welcome sight to see.

An adorably pure moment with LaLa Ri: “I didn’t know Flag Day was a real holiday. This was news to me. Honestly, we’d never been out of school for Flag Day.”

I’m assuming it’s a COVID-19 regulation that Ru no longer walks around to the queens’ workstations in the workroom, but rather summons them to him.

More wonderful revelations about Tamisha’s personal history: Her drag name comes from the name of her first daughter. I hope Tamisha’s success with the fandom this season—seriously, she is incredibly popular—is a sign to the producers to cast more veteran queens in the future. People who have rich histories in drag (and in life!) make for terrific characters on this show.

Loni Love is the latest of our rotating guest judges this season, and she is delightfully introduced as “Celebrity Drag Race Royalty.” She has a great first shift, giving LaLa some encouraging advice passed down by another great: Her former Soul Plane co-star and Academy Award-winner, Mo’Nique. “Mo’Nique knew it was my first time doing it, and she said, ‘Make sure, whatever you did to get here, you keep doing it.’”

Speaking of recurring personalities on this show: Were the Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman cameos a great idea after Canada’s Drag Race?

✨RU: “Now Ross, if you could celebrate one holiday every day, what would it be?”
ROSS: “Groundhog Day!”
RU: “Ross, if you could celebrate one holiday every day, what would it be?”

Instead of saying “bring back my girls” this week, Ru just screams and extends her arm. Loni immediately cackles and says “okay!” I love. Make Drag Race weird always.

Girl, we need to talk! Every Friday at 4 p.m. EST, join our Kiki with Kevin on Facebook Live to chat about RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13 and Drag Race UK Season 2. 

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race airs Friday, Jan. 29, at 8 p.m. EST on VH1 in the U.S. and on Crave and OUTtv in Canada.

Kevin O’Keeffe is a writer, host, instructor, and RuPaul’s Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles, California. His favourite pastime is watching a perfect lip sync.

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