Let’s talk about some good television.
RuPaul’s Drag Race season 16 gave us what might be one of its best episodes yet this week: A healthy helping of drama; a decent dollop of quality competition; two scoops of character development and a sprinkling of surprise. It’s the latest in a, frankly, standout season likely to be remembered over the next few years. So let’s get into it.
The Drama: Where there’s Plane Jane, there will be drama. Friday introduced a bit of friction between her and Q. Q complains that she’s close but no cigar, yet again (hi Jan!) in last week’s episode, and Plane Jane shuts it down: she’s not going to cry about being in the top and nor is anyone else on her watch
Let’s be clear: people have been saying things like this for years. On the Pit Stop, on podcasts like Sibling Watchery, or on social media, people always complain when the queens complain about doing well without winning. But when Plane Jane does it to Q’s face, she’s the bad guy. Ok, double standard but werk!
Q revisits the conversation later in the Werk Room while the girls are preparing for the Main Stage. She tells Plane that she feels like she’s treating her the way she treated Amanda Tori Meating. To which Plane assures her, she has way more respect for Q than for Amanda. It’s important to retrace those steps, here, because Amanda takes this as an opportunity to yell at Plane, accusing her of unnecessarily bringing her name into the conversation. Which isn’t true. Plane was responding to a comparison Q made. It felt super weird to see everyone agree with the idea that Plane instigated the name-pulling when that distinctly was not the case. (I feel like I’m some Plane Jane apologist here but I call it like I see it.)
Enter the character development. After making what seemed like a genuine apology to Q (who is uncertain about its sincerity) Plane gets a little check-in from Sapphira Cristal. It’s actually a really nice moment. Sapphira has a presence that we can all feel through the screen, and Plane certainly seems at least in-part receptive to Sapphira’s feedback about rethinking her approach to others. But don’t call this a redemption arc — think of it more as a humanizing. A tempering, even. The interaction adds a bit of texture to a queen that is obviously one of the leading main characters of the season. (Drag Race is using her face everywhere they can on YouTube previews.)
— Slay (@Iaroslay) February 1, 2024
The Maxi Challenge is a week of girl groups with the queens remixing RuPaul tracks. Enter the star we know and love: Nymphia Wind. As Sapphira Cristal, Plasma, and Geneva Karr are picking members of their teams, it was immediately puzzling to me that Nymphia wasn’t a first pick. Granted, she wasn’t a last pick, but someone with such a strong sense of self in my opinion warrants better. The girls seem to realize their mistake once they are practicing on the Main Stage and Nymphia reveals herself as a former girl group dancer.
I often find the sideline patter on dance rehearsals to be unnecessary but this cast’s shady sensibility is actually perfect for it.
On the Main Stage, the judging of the performances are pretty spot on. Geneva Karr’s group is declared as the winner — from the construction of their track to the actual performance, it truly feels like a girl group as opposed to a series of individual performers strung together. The win shields Geneva from any critique, which is lucky for her because though she put the winning team together, her verse was clunky, her performance was awkward, and her pussycat wig runway was a bit tacky. But the group win also means we don’t get to hear the judges lavish the praise on Nymphia who was, again, a stand out.
Though she was technically up for elimination, Plane Jane again sealed one of the best performances of the week. As I’ve been saying, she seems uniquely manufactured for this competition and this panel of judges — take that how you want. She not only knows how to steal Werk Room attention, but she always hits the sweet spot that lands her squarely in the top of the competition. Which makes the Werk Room fights even worse: can you imagine fighting with a girl about whether your drag is good or not and then having RuPaul basically repeat those criticisms on the Main Stage right before praising this sworn enemy? My god! Talk about good television.
On an unrelated note, Amanda Tori Meating gets read by the judges for what amounts to, in their eyes, aesthetically bad drag. They love her performance, but between misshapen butt pads, fighting with her wig, and a runway look that they say misses the mark, she’s clearly in the bottom. Their runway look critiques seem to hold a heart of truth, but may be a touch exaggerated. She doesn’t look horrible and the concept isn’t terrible. In fact, given Amanda’s recent coming out journey, turning up on the Drag Race Main Stage as a “hatched egg” feels like a beautiful, retroactive metaphor.
In the end, Amanda and Q are in the bottom following the brutal tradition of Ru asking, “Who should go home?” It’s the right decision given Q’s subpar performance and extremely basic performance look. And it has this oddly coincidental note to end the episode on: Do wrong by Plane Jane and you will rue the day. After a “could go either way” lip sync, it was Amanda who wound up going home.