‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Season 16, Episode 7 recap: The heels are alive

It’s time for Season 16’s take on the Rusical!

Consider the typical Drag Race season like a major league sport. (Which, at this point, it basically is.) As a baseball team must compete in playoffs after the regular season is over, so, too, does Drag Race ultimately reach an endgame: the reunion, followed by the grand finale. Before that are 14 episodes—14 chances (well, 13 in this case, owing to the split premiere) for a queen to show their stuff and demonstrate why they should make it into the finale.

With that structure in mind, after this week’s seventh episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16, we are officially mid-way through in-season play. Points are on the scoreboard, as the queens discuss ad-nauseum during this episode’s first act (the spirit of Bosco must’ve been in the room), and we’re getting a real sense of who has the best shot of winning the whole season. It intensifies the pressure on those without wins—just three of our top 10, actually—and builds momentum for the back seven episodes.

And what better challenge to commemorate the occasion than this season’s Rusical! This one is actually a bit earlier than we’ve seen in recent seasons (both Moulin Ru! and Wigloose! occurred with seven and six queens remaining, respectively), but it keeps up the trend of parodying an existing musical. This time around, The Sound of Music is in the show’s sights, with “The Sound of Rusic” seeing three trios cast as girl groups based on characters from the original film. One queen is the “Mariah,” bouncing between them to try and find her musical place.

It’s the kind of premise that, done right, could be quite entertaining—but gone wrong, it would be cringe. Luckily, the queens get the material they deserve, and they deliver an excellent group performance. Basically everyone has some standout moments, and paired with a dynamite “I Can Buy Myself Flowers” runway category, this episode is a stellar showcase for our top 10. It’s actually a bit too good: the show has to twist itself into knots a bit to justify putting this episode’s eliminated queen into the bottom. Forgive me invoking the spirit of Season 14 by saying this, but I actually would’ve preferred this be a non-elimination episode—it doesn’t feel right sending someone out after a challenge that demonstrates just how good this cast is.

Sapphira Cristál stands out in her musical number, backed by Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige and Morphine Love Dion Credit: Courtesy MTV

We get a bit of casting drama this week, and a bit of musical theatre bashing from Dawn, but this is overall a low-key start. Q and Megami resolve a battle over who should get the scene-stealing Baroness role by Rock, Paper, Scissors. (Q wins out.) Then, Plasma, Sapphira Cristál and Morphine Love Dion square off over who will take the lead role. Morphine mostly gets ignored, while Sapphira remembers that the last time she gave up a role to another queen, she ended up going home. Will Sapphira’s curse strike again?

 

In the end, Plasma holds her ground, herself remembering being pushed out of the part she wanted during “RDR Live.” She did end up winning that challenge, although I’d argue that’s more because the performances across the board were mediocre. This time, in the Rusical—a challenge truly right up her alley—she’s inclined to stand her ground.

It actually takes me until we get to the Rusical itself to understand what exactly is going on here. Q is playing a baroness, yes, but so are Plane Jane and Xunami Muse. They become a little mean-girl gang in the werk room, playfully roasting the other queens’ performances while touring around. But why are they a trio? Why are any of them trios, and how does Plasma’s Mariah factor into any of this?

Then we open on the Abbey (yes, like West Hollywood’s The Abbey), where Melissa McCarthy’s narrator voice tells us that a girl group competition is underway. It’s a twisting of the source material that really works for me, and keeps it from becoming just a rehash of The Sound of Music. In this Rusical, Mariah wants to be part of a trio of nuns, but the head nun—Mother Superior, played by Sapphira—encourages her to find her own group. She does so with the Von Snapp family, three Austrian children trying to make their own girl group happen. Mariah joins them, but they’re sabotaged by two henchwomen of Q’s villainous Baroness, clearing the way for the three of them to win the competition.

Xunami Muse’s upside-down bouquet outfit is a strangely delightful look on the runway Credit: Courtesy MTV

It’s a cute conceit, and of course it ends in a surprise resurgence from Mariah and the Von Snapps, leading to their ultimate victory. But what’s particularly clever about the structure is that it gives us not only varied genres of performance—each group having their own style—but also uses Mariah as the connective tissue throughout. It’s a big weight on Plasma’s shoulders, and the question becomes whether she’ll be able to pull it off.

Reader, she does, and with aplomb. Plasma puts on a masterful Rusical performance, nailing every nuance and beat to make her role work. Others are great—particularly Sapphira as Mother Superior—but there’s really no argument that someone else should win. Plasma takes the victory, earning her second of the season.

This, of course, is a bit of a huge deal! Nymphia Wind is the only other queen with two victories, and hers is a shared girl groups win. Plasma has two victories before queens like Dawn, Morphine and Xunami even have one. I predicted back in Plasma’s premiere that the relatively low number of comedy and theatre queens this season would potentially be quite good for her. I’m not sure I expected it to be this good for her, though.

On the lower-scoring side of the coin, Morphine and Megami get dinged for not giving as much energy and enthusiasm as others, but their critiques are mild. The one queen who really falls short of expectations is Mhi’ya Iman Le’Paige, who continues to struggle outside of lip syncs. She’s got a very typical issue we see on Drag Race, which is a terrific performer who can’t handle choreography. Even a legend like Kennedy Davenport struggled with this in her time. Still, despite her expertise with flips and tricks, it does feel like Mhi’ya’s time might be running out.

Q, backed by fellow baronesses Xunami Muse and Plane Jane, steals the scene in The Sound of Rusic Credit: Courtesy MTV

But then there are some hints in the edit that Megami is actually going to leave. First, during Q’s critiques, the judges’ praise for her work with her choreography gets undercut by an inserted Megami confessional asking, “What choreo?” It’s a very unusual moment for Drag Race, and it feels set up to position Megami as being sour. That, plus her insistence in confessionals that she’s got this week’s lip sync on lock, points to her demise.

And indeed, when Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” starts, it’s clear that Megami is taking the wrong approach. She comes off dour and saddened for a song that’s meant to be a self-love celebration. Meanwhile, Mhi’ya takes it to church, kicking off her shoes and giving an ebullient performance—no flips required. She stays, while Megami sashays away.

Honestly, Megami’s exit feels a bit shitty. This is not the first time this season that someone has been the clear worst performer in a week, but has just gotten out-lip synced in the end. (The other is Mirage, and I can’t imagine many will jeer at Megami’s elimination the way they did Mirage’s.) But I do think she was really growing in the competition, and I was beginning to consider her a mid- to late-game threat.

Alas, she will have to buy herself a Drag Race crown, as Megami will not be winning this one. But heading into the back half of the season, there are still nine queens in with a chance at the crown. And it’s time for Snatch Game! I’m enjoying this season, but if I have one critique, it’s that besides the girl groups task, we haven’t seen a real power shift just yet. Hopefully Drag Race’s signature challenge provides the jump-start Season 16 needs to truly transcend to greatness.

Untucking our final thoughts

Dawn’s confessionals are a bit spicy in this episode! You can tell being one of the winless is starting to take a toll—calling Q’s winning look from last week a “fairy costume” is particularly prickly. But the other queens get the last laugh in the cold open: Megami says she’s upset she got out-placed by “Buzz Lightyear,” which gets the whole cast howling.

I screamed at Morphine revealing Xunami has a crush on Plane. So much for girl code!

Adam Shankman is our guest judge this week, and you can tell his prior experience judging So You Think You Can Dance has prepared him well. (Reality judges tend to really show up when they guest-judge Drag Race; Top Chef’s recently departed host Padma Lakshmi ranks as one of my favourite guests ever.) He’s sharp, constructive and doesn’t let the almost universally strong performances inhibit him from offering substantive critiques. More guests like him, please!

In a development I would call “baffling but ultimately heartwarming,” Melissa McCarthy shows up in this episode … as Adam’s “assistant.” It’s such a strange intro to her, and results in Melissa throwing Babybel cheese to the queens onstage. For a star of her magnitude, you’d think the show would roll out the red carpet—but I actually think it’s fitting for the message Melissa ultimately shares: she pays tremendous credit to drag queens for inspiring her as a performer from the outset, which set her on that path. For her to come in as just a strange little treat, not taking too much away from the queens themselves, feels correct.

Cannot tell you how loudly I gasped when I heard “Break Up (Bye Bye)” come on during the rehearsals.

The banter in the room is genuinely great right now. The mean girls’ little tour around is fun, and Q responding to Plasma’s shade about her picking a manly-voiced part by telling her she has “the squarest head in the room” is amazing. Good vibes all around!

I want to take a moment to say a proper farewell to Megami, a queen I think got off on the wrong foot in this competition with her talent show performance but improved every week after. She strikes me as someone who is quite sincere in her life and quite serious about her drag, and that has increasingly become an untenable position on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’m bummed that artists who don’t share Ru’s love of the stupid and unserious are increasingly being cast as out-of-step and humourless—as “the Eeyore of drag,” as Dawn called Megami in one particularly ungenerous confessional. No, holding up a “Protect Queer Art” poster after a low-key lip sync is not going to win a talent show. But in her performances after, particularly her girl groups verse, Megami showed she has plenty to offer to back up her original thesis. I can’t argue that she should’ve won this whole thing, but I wish it felt like her philosophy of drag had a real chance to thrive in this environment.

The next episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race will air Friday, Feb. 23, 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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