‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 3 recap: This is a potential mother

The Mother of All Balls produces some surprisingly strong results for a mega-ball

For a season that was largely popular—especially when it got back to its full-length episodes—RuPaul’s Drag Race seems to not be taking any lessons from Season 15. With a cast that contracted back to 14 after being expanded to 16, a split premiere across two weeks that introduced us to half the cast at a time, and now the return of the mega-ball near the start of the season, we’re very much back to the formula that defined the later VH1 era seasons, not what just won the show another Emmy last Monday.

To be fair, I don’t think every one of those changes should’ve been taken; the 16-queen cast, for example, felt overwhelming and resulted in several—Robin Fierce, we truly hardly knew ye—falling through the cracks of the edit. (This was somehow not remedied by the extended episodes released on Paramount+, which instead emphasized the top queens of the season even more than they already had been.) But the mixed reception to the split premiere indicates MTV should’ve considered keeping last year’s two-part hybrid premiere around. And for my own purposes, I would have desperately wished that the mega-ball could’ve stayed gone.

Last season’s Crystal Ball came with just nine queens remaining—more than the four or five who used to compete in the ball challenges, but far fewer than when the all-looks-all-the-time tasks would take place at the very start of the season. This season’s Mother of All Balls matches Season 14’s dual Hide and Chic and Red, White and Blue Balls for most looks in a single episode: 42! That’s so many, and the necessarily swift editing of the runway makes it genuinely difficult to fully appreciate all of them.

The ball does produce some killer looks, even beyond those voted into the top three. (Yes, Rate-a-Queen is back, for what seems to be the final time this season.) And while I might quibble with one queen’s bottom placement, I generally understand who is in the bottom and ultimately goes home—even if it’s a bummer to see her leave. So as far as mega-balls go, I actually think this is the best yet. But I do hope Drag Race now takes comfort that they’ve conquered this particular challenge format, and moves back to putting balls later in the challenge order for Season 17.

We get one more edition of the Rate-a-Queen twist this week, but how does RuPaul change it up? Credit: Courtesy MTV

Before we can get to the ball, we must unite our two groups of queens! The seven from the second premiere have just a few moments to relax before they hear the sound of the RuMail alarm. But it’s not Ru on the other end: it’s the distorted, spooky voices of the first premiere queens! They then come in one at a time, looking intimidating, and face off as two groups before breaking the tension and going in for hugs. Some recognize each other, some are new faces, and all are excited about their new sisters. (Well, not Plane Jane, who immediately goes after Amanda Tori Meating’s makeup in a confessional. But you already knew that would happen.)

 

One surprise that comes out of the meeting: Jane and Morphine Love Dion are drag sisters! They’re part of a giant family of 30 queens, so they’re familiar, but not as close as you might expect of drag siblings. Still, Jane says she’s “a Morphine stan,” which is genuinely the nicest thing she’s said since she entered the werk room.

The next day, with all 14 queens assembled, Ru announces the Mother of All Balls, with three categories: Mother Goose, in which the queens must wear outfits inspired by a nursery rhyme; Significant Mother, wearing an outfit inspired by a famous mother (figurative or literal); and Call Me Mother/Father Eleganza. This is, per tradition, the category that calls for a look made from scratch, this time using menswear to create a mother-of-the-ball look. It’s a cool premise, but I’m not sure all the queens quite understand the potential of it. The queens who do the best mix masculine and feminine into one look, creating something that really stands out from the pack.

Chief among those well-performing queens is our winner of the week: Nymphia Wind! The queen robbed of a top spot by Rate-a-Queen last week triumphs with a truly excellent runway package. Her Little Boy Blue and Angelina Jolie looks are fantastic, but it’s her all-tie’d-up eleganza garment that really has the judges gagging. She earns the victory, and $5,000 for good measure. It is, to me, a decisive victory, even if her runners-up, Q and Sapphira Cristál (as well as safe queens Dawn and Xunami Muse), do quite well.

Isaac Mizrahi joins the judges’ panel this week for the ball challenge Credit: Courtesy MTV

I’ll have more thoughts on all the looks in this week’s power ranking, but for now, we’ll focus on our bottom three. As I mentioned before, Rate-a-Queen is back in effect this week, but the format is a bit different. The queens must rank all of their competitors before Ru and the judges offer their critiques. This makes it much more of a wisdom-of-the-crowd pick, and as I said, I generally think the crowd does well. That aside, I’m glad this twist will be coming to an end this week. It’s just a bit too much power to give to the queens, especially on a regular season. (Although hey, All Stars needs a new gimmick these days …)

Landing in the bottom three are Geneva Karr—who does not agree with being placed there, and takes a big tumble after nearly winning the last premiere—as well as Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige and Hershii LiqCuor-Jeté. (Not a great episode for the queens with unusual stylizations of their names!) Mhi’ya, our queen of flips, probably manages the best across her three looks, and is ultimately called safe after deliberations. But Mhi’ya also struggles on the runway when in dialogue with Ru. Actually, I don’t know if “struggles” is the right term. Mhi’ya just doesn’t banter.

Mhi’ya says her favourite of her looks is her bright yellow Mary’s Canary look for the Mother Goose category, because it fits her bright and loud personality. When Ru pushes back on that, saying he’s gotten much more of a “timid” vibe from Mhi’ya, she simply responds, “No.” It is actually incredible. I don’t know how well it bodes for Mhi’ya’s chances in this competition, considering keeping up with Ru is a big part of the modern Drag Race system. But there’s something refreshing about her just shutting down the conversation like that. I’m stanning!

That leaves us with Geneva, whose looks are weak across the board, and Hershii, whose opening Burnie Bee look is actually pretty great, but whose self-made garment is way too Realness for an eleganza category. (She doesn’t even make the pants on her look, simply using ones that came as existing materials.) It’s a tough bottom two, particularly since they were both highlights of their premiere, but one must go.

Nymphia Wind dominates the Mother of All Balls, taking home her first maxi-challenge win Credit: Courtesy MTV

The lip sync is to Ava Max’s “Maybe You’re the Problem,” which is a bop, even if I sometimes mix it up with other Ava Max songs. This winds up being a cute-ass lip sync! The queens have a moment of interaction in the middle during the “It’s not me, it’s you” part, with them pointing at each other and Geneva blowing a kiss. And then in the last pre-chorus, they get the rest of the queens amped with some crowd work clapping. It’s not the best lip sync you’ve ever seen, but especially for the first elimination, it’s a very fun one.

Geneva just gives a bit more energy, and thus she shantays off to safety. I gotta say, I’m really sad to see Hershii go here! She’s been such a warm, bright spirit through her two episodes, and I feel like she could bring a needed bit of levity in a cast that is ready to serve drama. But alas, this is Hershii’s last stop on the Drag Race express. Cue the horns, because for Hershii, it’s chocolate.

Next week we’re heading back to “RDR Live”—remember that from All Stars 8?— or the first comedy challenge of the season. I am very interested to see how this crop does in a humour-based task, what with the number of performers and look queens we have here. Drag Race demands one be a Renaissance Queen of sorts, a Jacqueline of All Trades. This will be the first hurdle for many of these competitors. Until then, everyone!

Untucking our final thoughts

Among the surprisingly harsh assessments of queens from their opposing group, Dawn says Megami’s reputation in Brooklyn is as the “Eeyore of drag,” while Jane goes even blunter: “I think Amanda’s drag looked hideous.” That comment set Amanda off on Twitter earlier this week when the Act 1 preview came out—I’d expect us to see more tension between the two moving forward.

Plasma assumes Sapphira sang as a bass for her talent show, which annoys the Philadelphia queen. “Did Strawberry Shortcake come for me?” she says in confessional. Team Sapphira on this one—it’s a strange drama for Plasma to try and start.

So let’s talk about immunity. The “Immunity Potions” that Sapphira and Jane receive are able to be used before Ru announces tops and bottoms each week—and they’re not reserved just for Sapphira and Jane themselves. They can use the potion on someone else if they so choose. (Which, why would they ever do such a thing?) I admire the show for trying to twist things up a bit, but I gotta say, if we have to ask these two queens if they want to use the potion every week, it’s going to get a bit tiresome. (Thank goodness it has an expiration date, although we don’t yet know what date that is.)

For a quiet queen, Mhi’ya is pretty shady about Morphine! She thinks her Miami sister won’t be around for long. But Morphine throws the more effective shade when Ru asks if she’s familiar with Mhi’ya: “I’ve watched her perform a couple times. I’ve given her a dollar.”

I wonder how much Nymphia’s “jokes” about Jane placing her last are actually jokes. She seems pretty intuitive, and understands how to play into her own quirks and chaos to throw the other queens off. I’m growing more and more fond of Nymphia—she’s a savvy one.

Speaking of Nymphia, the Spanish-speaking queens using her as an insulting carrier pigeon is incredible werk room nonsense. More of this, please!

Isaac Mizrahi is our guest judge this week, returning after his previous stint in Season 7. With Carson Kressley also on the panel, we have the rare occasion where we have multiple style experts judging at once. So, of course, the judging is too swift, and deliberations are cut for the Rate-a-Queen segment. Would’ve loved to hear more of their critiques, but alas!

In all seriousness, how many more Ava Max songs can there be for Drag Race to use as lip syncs? “Sweet But Psycho” hasn’t been used; any other notable ones? “Choose Your Fighter,” maybe? It feels like we’ve gotten a lot!

Is Untucked giving this season? I haven’t had a chance to watch yet, but the clip I saw of this week’s makes me want to tune in. Team Amanda in her feud with Jane, by the way.

“It’s chocolate.” Absolutely iconic exit for Hershii. Miss her already.

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race will air Friday, Jan. 26, 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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