‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 10 recap: I’ve got the ‘Power’

An early Rumix challenge produces terrific results—with no one going home

It’s one of the best-known bits of trivia in RuPaul’s Drag Race fan circles: every four seasons, aligned with a U.S. presidential election year, the flagship show does a political challenge. In Seasons 4 and 12, it was a debate task; in Season 8, it was political attack ads instead. But that’s not the interesting part of the trivia. The fascinating detail is that in all three cases, the eventual winner of the season won the political challenge. This makes it the challenge with the absolute best success rate in terms of turning winners into champions. It’s the anti-Rusical, in that sense.

You can say this is just coincidence, although I do think there’s something about how the queens can present themselves in a vaguely-defined challenge that makes this a strangely good litmus test. Jaida Essence Hall succeeded where a lot of other queens failed hard in Season 12, actually making her avoidant politician character—“Look over there!”—not just funny, but a statement about politics. It’s a big reason why I wish Chad Michaels had won the same challenge in Season 4, for successfully lampooning the charade of politics with an over-the-top character. (Plus, had she won, imagine what world we’d be in now. Who would’ve won All Stars 1? Would she have been on All Stars 7? So many questions!)

This season, however, the challenge is much better defined: it’s a Rumix! And in a change from recent trends, it’s a Rumix in which the queens must perform about something other than just themselves wanting the crown. (It reminds me of All Stars 6’s excellent “Show Up Queen” challenge, including the fact that all the queens perform as one group.) The song is called “Power,” all about the power of voting. Cue the vote.gov signs! Someone call Megami back! Look over here!

I kid, I kid. I may have some quibbles with Drag Race’s rather simplistic approach to political advocacy as a simple, to quote Shea Couleé, “Vote, bitch!” But I actually think this episode is pretty terrific, and represents a chance for the queens to go a bit deeper than your garden variety Rumix. As for whether the streak will continue with the challenge winner going on to win the season … I think it could happen! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s a lot of race left to run.

Morphine Love Dion and Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige’s feisty banter has Dawn and the other queens in stitches Credit: Courtesy MTV

 

In the writing, recording and dance rehearsal segments, we get a general sense of what everyone’s “story” for this episode is. Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige, eager to break her streak of lip-syncing, feels confident after her last girl group challenge win. Dawn is having a lot of fun, but Plane Jane thinks this may be her last week in the competition. Meanwhile, Plane seems distracted by the question of what to do with her immunity potion this week—its last potential week of use—because she’s unusually shaky in the choreography segment. Perhaps she’ll be able to save herself at just the right moment, after mostly gliding through the season up to this point?

Nymphia Wind is one of the queens campaigning for the potion to be used on her, and at least in terms of her dancing, she likely doesn’t need it. Once again, Nymphia shows she can move, which means the only question mark is in her lyricism. She doesn’t have Megami on her team this time, and it, um, shows. Look, Nymphia is great at a great many things, but her verse is the definition of light on lyrics. Meanwhile, Sapphira Cristál looks to the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” as her inspiration, and she seems determined to get her second victory.

Morphine Love Dion is also determined to get a victory—her first! She’s yet to really break out in the competition, and at final seven, her time is running out. But she did well in the last girl group challenge; she’s ostensibly got a good shot here. You know who does not have a good shot is Q, who sings so loudly and off-key that the other queens practically fall off their chairs laughing. At one point we just cut to a confessional of Sapphira saying, “Oh, WOW.” And that’s all we need to know! Q has a great many talents, but a singing and dancing challenge is not going to be among them.

Overall, though, this is the episode that really sells me on the chemistry of these queens. There are multiple moments just watching them all hang out that I realize how much I enjoy these queens both individually and as a group. They’re shady but ultimately loving, witty but not overbearing and great at drag in different ways. This feels like a legendary group in the making, the kind we’ll be talking about for years to come. With lots of love for the past two main series casts, I can’t remember any moments with them where I truly just wanted to spend more time with them like I do with this group. It’s reminiscent of Seasons 9 and 12, and if 16 stays on this trajectory, I could see it being considered, like those seasons are, among the best ever.

Nymphia Wind dances well in the challenge, but her performance is ultimately a moot point thanks to Plane Jane giving her the immunity potion Credit: Courtesy MTV

The queens’ performance of “Power” is pretty terrific! Listen, any song in which the first verse starts with the line “Y’all ready for a therapy session?” is probably gonna be a winner in my book. (Thank you, Dawn, for that.) Both Dawn and Mhi’ya are great, with the latter absolutely killing the choreography. Then Morphine comes out, and the performance really levels up. She proves she is a goddamn superstar, moving with such innate confidence and energy. Her verse is great, too! The three of them get a group dancing moment, and everyone acquits themselves well.

Next up are Nymphia and Plane, and again, Nymphia’s dancing? A+! Nymphia’s lyrics? C-! She literally repeats “vote yellow” as her closing words, exactly like her “A.S.M.R. Lover” verse. Rough! She at least manages a better performance than Plane, who looks the least confident she ever has. It is wild to see her fall apart on this challenge, as while she’s not terrible, she’s one of the clear worst of the week. Especially when the two of them dance together, Nymphia just so thoroughly outshines Plane.

Finally, we have perhaps the worst of the week matched with the best: Q and Sapphira. The judges are kind to Q, focusing on kudos for her outfit, but she’s clearly a deer in headlights for most of her performance. When the dancers lift her up, she actually looks terrified. Contrast her fear with Sapphira’s total command of the stage: she absolutely rips into her performance, and comes across as a seasoned pro. Probably because she is a seasoned pro! It’s an incredibly clear win for Sapphira this week, only solidified when she walks the True Colours runway in brilliant royal blue. 

Other highlights of the runway include Nymphia in what is hopefully her banana yellow final form, Dawn in an ultra-cute nightie look and Morphine looking witchy and glamorous in royal purple, with a still-unbelievable mug. I do wish you could more clearly see her eyes, though. Hey, if I was gonna critique Nymphia for it last week, I gotta keep the same energy for my shit-stirring fave.

The top seven queens learn about their challenge for the week: a political power anthem Credit: Courtesy MTV

After the runway, Plane does decide to use her immunity potion—and uses it on Nymphia. To quote Kandy Ho: “What the fuck?” There is absolutely no explanation for this in-episode (maybe there is in Untucked? I’m afraid I’m only getting half the story this season), and seemingly directly contradicts Plane’s previously stated plans. Especially since Nymphia outperformed her during the same dance, you’d think Plane would want to save her own hide. Or, as Morphine puts it, she is shocked because “Plane is a rotted human being.” Well said, Morphine!

Anyway, we get critiques of the other six after Nymphia heads back to Untucked, and the judges are on best behaviour. Plane probably gets the harshest notes—even worse than Q, who should probably get an allergen test for rhythm—and it seems for a second like she might be the victim of her own bad judgment when it comes to the potion. Mhi’ya, Dawn, Morphine and Sapphira all get good notes, so is it possible that we could see another two-win queen go down?

Surprise: it’s actually a non-elimination week! Sapphira and Morphine are the last two left on the stage, and they lip sync for the win to Meghan Trainor’s “Made You Look.” It’s not a great song for a lip sync—though I’m guilty of bopping to it more than I’d like to admit—but Sapphira and Morphine do the best they can with it. Sapphira just comes across as more in command, and gets the tone of the song pretty much dead-on.

Ultimately, Sapphira takes the win, and we’re still at the top seven for another week! Ordinarily, I’d be miffed, but the queens really did perform to the level of a non-elimination this week. And I’m excited to spend even more time with them all! It took a minute, but Season 16 really is firing on all cylinders. You could even say that they’ve got the “Power.”

Untucking our final thoughts

There was some question after last week’s episode as to whether Sapphira helped Mhi’ya sew her garment for strategic reasons—the thinking being that by keeping her around, Sapphira could get some stiffer competition eliminated in lip syncs before then. However, Sapphira seems to shoot down that speculation in the cold open this week, saying that while she’s in awe of Mhi’ya, she also wishes she hadn’t helped her because it’s going to be hard to send her home.

Speaking of Mhi’ya, her ongoing, joking tension with Miami sister Morphine is amazing. It’s exactly the kind of low-stakes drama that this show is built upon. Morphine claims that if she had landed in the lip sync last week, she would’ve cut her dress open to stay. Mhi’ya’s response: “You still was gonna go home whether it was cut or not.” When Morphine says she doesn’t play when it comes to a lip sync, Mhi’ya: “You cute when you home, so I don’t know what you’re gonna do here.” It is just brutal and perfect. And all the other queens eat it up—clock Nymphia and Sapphira eating imaginary popcorn in delight!

The final message of the RuMail this week: “Step to the beat and save the country.” Okay, no pressure, Ru!

Because Drag Race can’t quite do anything for purely magnanimous reasons, this political challenge has a plug for the Werq the World tour built into it, as “Power” will be featured in the tour set. Cool, I guess? But I’d have personally left this element out of what is otherwise a very strong episode. You can always announce later that it’s being added to Werq the World!

Plane says Morphine is the Spongebob of the cast, while Morphine says Plane is Handsome Squidward. When they ask who the Patrick Star is, they say the same answer: Mhi’ya. This conversation full of copyrighted characters brought to you by Paramount corporate synergy!

Can’t stop thinking about Dawn’s assertion that Q has “Barbie hands” when she performs.

Jamal Sims pulls double duty as choreographer and guest judge this week, while Leland and Freddy Scott (low-key my Drag Race crush) are present for the recording session. I love that after years of trying on so many different people in these roles, the flagship series has really settled on this team. It allows them to really get the house style right, and continue to improve the work they’re doing. I’m a fan of all three!

“What do you guys think about the importance of voting?” Just imagine if Megami were around to ask this question. She would have loved it.

Dawn’s brand of funk is “White Woman of Suburban Descent.” Good album title, honestly.

Imagine if one of the queens told Ru she wasn’t registered to vote.

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race will air Friday, March 15, at 8 p.m. EST on MTV in the U.S. and on Crave in Canada. Check back every Monday after new episodes for our recaps and power rankings, and subscribe to our drag newsletter Wig! for exclusive Drag Race content delivered straight to your inbox every Tuesday afternoon.

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