‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 15 recap: LaLaRuUnion

Our eliminated queens are back to battle it out in a lip sync tournament

In producing this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, World of Wonder and MTV did something bold: they shot the finale and reunion special before a frame of the season had aired. Unlike every flagship season since Season 4, the finale would not be filmed after seeing fans react to the season, nor would the queens reunite to hash out drama after months of shady tweets and tea spills at Roscoe’s watch parties. For whatever reason, the show decided to play this season out almost in one go. (There was a production break between the last episode and this one, but still much, much shorter than it usually would be.)

In general, I’m very impressed that Drag Race would choose to do this—it shows real interest in shaking things up, and more to the point, any elimination that happens in the finale (assuming we cut to a final two like we have the last three seasons) was locked in before the show could measure fan reception. That’s something I’ve been asking for for several seasons, and regardless of what prompted the change, it’s a positive one.

However, there’s a consequence to this: bringing all the queens back together before the season ever airs means there’s not much point in a reunion. A reality show reunion is most effective when there’s been time for the participants to marinate in their experiences, and come back with something new. So what would Drag Race do to fill the spot ordinarily occupied by the reunion? Why, throw a LaLaPaRuZa for the eliminated queens to compete for $50,000, of course!

The result is an absolute blast of an episode, and something I hope becomes a new tradition for the show. It’s such a joy to see this killer cast back together again, and thanks to some of the queens who made it deeper into the competition losing early in the tournament, we get to spend a great deal of time with those who left too soon. And the ultimate winner is a deserving champion, someone who finds new ways to dazzle despite having to give half a dozen lip sync performances across their whole season.

Nymphia Wind, Plane Jane and Sapphira Cristál may not have had anything to do but watch this episode, but they stunned nonetheless Credit: Courtesy MTV

After a brief reuniting of the whole cast in the werk room, RuPaul enters to introduce the lip sync tournament—sponsored by Bubly! In rounds, the queens will face off in lip sync battles, with winners advancing accordingly. The winner of the whole tournament not only gets the cash prize, they also get the title of Queen of She Done Already Done Had Herses—which, you’ll recall, is the title Raja won in the All Stars 7 finale. Imagine being Raja’s successor!

 

Our top three (Nymphia Wind, Plane Jane and Sapphira Cristál, just in case you’ve forgotten) get to sit in the werk room and watch, making them the audience surrogate peanut gallery a la the top four in All Stars 6’s iconic Lip Sync Rudemption Smackdown. Pit Crew Bruno is on hand on the (much bigger!) stage with the hopper, drawing names to decide who must lip sync next. He draws Dawn first, who tries to play strategically by choosing the queen who will pick the song she wants: Amanda Tori Meating. This would make sense … except Amanda is a far better dancer than Dawn, and the song they both want, Danity Kane’s “Damaged,” is a dance-friendly song. It’s no surprise when Amanda is called the winner, Dawn joining the top three in the werk room to watch the rest of the tournament.

Q gets picked next, quickly choosing Megami as her opponent. These two, alongside Dawn and perhaps Plasma, were the obvious choices for opponents right out of the gate (making Dawn’s choice of Amanda all the more perplexing), so it’s nice to see them paired up to make some of the other battles more competitive. But surprise, surprise: Megami actually really turns out Janet Jackson’s “What About”! She has a confidence that was lacking in her Rusical and lip sync performances earlier this season, ultimately leading to her elimination. But her presence onstage is reminiscent of her strength in the girl group challenge, a quality that maybe got underrated whilst we were raving about her rap-writing skills. Clearly, this is an arena Megami is better in than we and the queens could have predicted, but Q was also an easy opponent.

The next two battles prove interesting: Morphine Love Dion is picked next, and goes with Geneva Karr. I might’ve chosen Plasma or Hershii LiqCuor-Jeté instead, but maybe Morphine had an inkling Geneva would choose another Ava Max song after previously winning on “Maybe You’re the Problem” earlier this season. Indeed she does, and holy shit, Morphine destroys “Million Dollar Baby.” She paces her performance incredibly well, ramping up to a frankly jaw-dropping wig reveal in which she whips a blonde wig off her head into a long red one, then catches the wig while spinning, throws it off-stage, grabs her red wig and falls into the splits while holding it above her head. It is spectacular, and it earns her an easy victory.

RuPaul teases the eight lip sync songs the queens have to choose from before a ninth and final battle for $50,000 Credit: Courtesy MTV

Mirage, who comes into this episode with a lot of hype owing to her fantastic dancing skills but also with memories of her shocking elimination on the “Dark Lady” lip sync, chooses to go up against Hershii. Hershii, smartly, picks “Alone 2.0” by Kim Petras and Nicki Minaj, hoping that Nicki’s wordy rap will trip the lyric-agnostic Mirage up. Granted, you can tell Mirage doesn’t quite have the words down, but she hides it well, and knows the showier parts. Plus, she dances the hell out of it, while Hershii mostly just walks around the stage for most of the performance. An easy Mirage win.

Finally, we come to our last three, and there’s a twist. Two of them will go home in this lip sync, while the winner will automatically move onto the semifinals—a free pass to the top three, basically. Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige’s name is drawn from the hopper, and she picks Kelis’ “Milkshake” for her matchup against Plasma and Xunami Muse. Defying expectations, Plasma keeps up with Mhi’ya better this time than she did on “Bloody Mary (Desperately Chasing TikTok Virality Remix),” owning the front of the stage while Mhi’ya mostly pulls stunts in the back. Xunami has a lovely twirl around the stage, seemingly not aware she is also part of this lip sync.

In the end, Mhi’ya wins, which I think is probably the right choice but not a blowout. While Mhi’ya is a transfixing performer, she’s also had to perform a lot this season. Morphine has the same challenge. Both need to continue innovating in order to keep focus. But luckily for her, Mhi’ya has one fewer lip sync to compete in now, while Morphine must go into Round 2 with, as she describes it in video game terms, “70 per cent health.”

Amanda picks Megami, which of the remaining three is the right call, but Megami out-maneuvers her by picking Cher’s “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).” Amanda tries to stick to her usual lip-syncing style, while Megami really leans into the Cher of it all. One particularly filthy miming bit also really gets Ru giggling. It’s actually a remarkably easy win for the New York queen, sending Amanda to the werk room. Meanwhile, Morphine gets to choose her and Mirage’s song, and goes with Donna Summer’s “This Time I Know It’s For Real.” Mirage clocks that it’s a very savvy choice: it keeps the dance-heavy “We Got the Beat” away from Mirage, and also sticks Mhi’ya with it in the semifinal when they know Mhi’ya herself doesn’t want it. (Also, Morphine has won on a Donna Summer song already.)

Morphine Love Dion is our new Queen of She Done Already Done Had Herses, taking home the biggest prize of the season so far Credit: Courtesy MTV

This face-off may be my favourite of the whole episode. Morphine and Mirage’s performance styles mesh so well, leaning into a captivating sexiness that keeps your eyes on them. Morphine just dominates the stage a bit more, leading to her victory. Mirage is nonetheless thrilled at her redemption, and it’s a very nice ending for a queen who had such a heart-wrenching elimination earlier in the season.

Down to three! Whoever is picked from the hopper must pick her opponent, and the other queen automatically advances to the finals. Megami is picked, and everyone in the werk room assumes she’ll be picking the fatigued Morphine. But Megami remembers losing the “Flowers” lip sync to Mhi’ya, and as Dawn notes, she’s pissed off. She picks to go up against Mhi’ya to prove a point, which means Morphine gets some time to recover before performing again.

Megami and Mhi’ya’s matchup is a super interesting one: Mhi’ya for the first time seems out of her depth in a performance. Her face is pretty blank, which contrasts with Megami’s animated interpretation of “We Got the Beat.” Megami just pulls out every trick she has, yet never makes it feel desperate; it’s all of a piece. Her masterstroke moment, however, is looking away from Mhi’ya, yet exactly identifying the moment when she’ll do a split, and mocking it. She takes one of Mhi’ya’s strengths and brutally undermines it. While everyone is shocked when Ru declares her the winner—including Megami and Mhi’ya themselves—I completely understand the choice.

In the final round, with all the queens back on the mainstage to watch from the side, Megami and Morphine face off to “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” by C+C Music Factory—a song I’m genuinely shocked has never been a lip sync! Morphine feels recharged, while Megami is on her fourth lip sync. She knows she can’t outdance the Miami diva, so she leans into a hilariously stupid sock puppet gag to cover the rap portion. It’s very funny, although as Mhi’ya notes in a frustrated confessional, it demonstrates she doesn’t really know all the words. As the song goes on, the scales tip clearly in Morphine’s favour, as she once again demonstrates a physical control that’s frankly peerless among her fellow queens. The lip sync ends, and Ru declares our winner: Morphine Love Dion!

This result is obviously a delight for a Morphine stan like me, but honestly the whole episode is a delight. Morphine may be the ultimate winner, but Megami makes a hell of a run, queens like Amanda and Mirage get redemption after being eliminated on their first lip syncs, and we get to spend more time watching this terrific cast slay. What more could one want out of their Friday night entertainment? This episode is a great one, and it has me feeling great about the show heading into next week’s finale. Until then!

Untucking our final thoughts

“Does anyone want to do a recap for Hershii?” Plasma’s thinking of those who didn’t see how gaggy this season got, and I appreciate her for it!

Amanda thinks the top three are “mostly correct,” but is not happy to see Plane there. This will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has looked at Amanda’s Twitter account since the show premiered.

Love that there’s a live audience for this! I’m somewhat surprised, since it shot shortly after the season itself did, and thus World of Wonder was effectively inviting people to learn who the top three were months in advance. Granted, the finalists always leak on Reddit anyway, so maybe this is the production company showing that they’re giving up on a futile fight to contain the spoilers.

Colour me somewhat surprised that Michelle Visage and Ts Madison are the only other judges present (with Bruno sitting alongside them on the dais during performances, love that for Bruno). Maybe only Carson Kressley and Ross Mathews will join Michelle and Ru at the finale next week?

The first time the werk room feed cuts before Ru announces the result, Nymphia is gagged. “That’s what happens!” Sapphira responds. “Have you seen the show, Tamar?”

Kudos to the show for not making the tournament format seem complicated in practice, because the first time they flashed the progression chart onscreen, I cackled. So needlessly confusing to look at!

At one point, Ru says “shake it up,” almost certainly in honor of her favourite Disney Channel program.

I laughed too hard at Mirage explaining why she chose Hershii: “My first choice was gonna be Plasma, but I knew she was gonna pick some dumbass song.” My guess is that she assumed Plasma would pick the Cher song—and no matter how well Mirage knew this one versus “Dark Lady,” you don’t want to go back to a poisoned well!

Upon seeing Mhi’ya, Plasma and Xunami lined up for the final first round lip sync, Ru says, “Oh, Seduction is back!” Michelle’s laugh could best be described as “bemused.”

Finale next week! Final check: Are you #TeamNymphia, #TeamPlane or #TeamSapphira? I am, as I’ve been most of the season, rooting for the Philly queen, although if Ru wants to allow our new Queen of She Done Already Done Had Herses back into the competition and crown her instead, I wouldn’t mind.

The finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16 will air Friday, April 19, 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.

Read More About:
Drag Race, Culture, Analysis, Drag

Keep Reading

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 9’ Episode 2 recap: We’re on each other’s team

As the competition moulds into place, the queens are playing doubles
A collage of AI generated gay male couples. The men are muscular and all look similar. There are four pairs.

Who does queer AI ‘art’ actually represent?

ANALYSIS: Accounts dedicated to queer AI art have popped off, but is there hope for anything beyond “boyfriend twins”?

‘Bird Suit’ is a surreal, lush and devastating portrait of small-town life

Sydney Hegele’s new novel is a queer take on the the genre of southern Ontario gothic literature

‘Stress Positions’ captures the uncomfortable hilarity of millennial loserdom

Writer-director Theda Hammel weighs in on her debut film, modern-day slapstick and the difference between being evil and being a loser