‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars’ Recap 2×03: Herstory Lessons

'Drag Race' is cast for talent and personality. Yet if there’s no trashy reality-show drama, the conflict has to come from somewhere.

Alaska 2.0.
Alaska 2.0.

We start out this week by learning that the queens all loved Tatianna and yet felt it fair that she got sent home. Unlike many other reality competition shows, Drag Race is cast for talent and personality. This is especially the case with All Stars. The problem is, all these talented pros aren’t going to get into the drama that some wannabes on some other shows will. The queens all hang out outside the series and work the same clubs. A bad reputation is simply bad for business. Drag Race is somewhat unique in this regard.

Yet if there’s no trashy reality-show drama, the conflict has to come from somewhere. In this case, the simple and appropriate solution would be to have extreme challenges that test the limits of these professionals. The first season of All Stars did this well, like when they had to approach people on the street. Yet for the second week in a row, that doesn’t happen. First off, there’s no mini-challenge at all. Second, the maxi-challenge is to do a lip sync performance—something which the girls are the best in the world at. This isn’t an All Stars challenge; this is usually a second or third episode challenge to weed out the trainwrecks (i.e., Sasha Belle).

The girls are assigned their roles for no apparent reason. Alaska gets Eve; Phi Phi is Helen of Troy; Ginger gets Catherine the Great; Detox is Marie Antoinette; Alyssa is Annie Oakley; Roxxxy gets Evita and Katya is Lady Di. This is an odd list for the seven most [anything] women in history, and some great comedic possibilities were left unchosen (like Lizzie Borden, Queen Elizabeth or Margaret Thatcher).

The rest of this episode is so generic that it almost feels like a script generated it. It’s unclear whether the outfits have been provided to them by the show or if they brought them, as Katya comments that her dress belonged to her friend’s dead grandmother (if she’s joking, it sure didn’t land). Then we get to the dance rehearsal and (SPOILER ALERT) some of the queens are stressed and nervous at the compressed timeframe in which to put it together. FURTHER SPOILER ALERT: They’re all pros being given a not-very-challenging script.

The edit makes it seem like Phi Phi is playing mindgames with the rest of the cast, commenting on the challenges each faces with their particular role, when it seems pretty clear that she is actually commiserating and being empathetic to their difficulties. That’s how hard it is to find any conflict within this episode.

Needless to say the performance itself isn’t perfect but is pretty damn great given the constraints. The script riffs on each character’s reputations rather than any historical facts, so comes off silly but not actually funny. One highlight is Detox’s neon Marie Antoinette dress, very reminiscent of the outfit Robbie Turner wore in the neon challenge. It’s difficult to find the humor in, say, Ginger galloping around on a toy horse while joking about bedding it. Phi Phi gives it all doing a punk version of Helen of Troy, but it just seems try-hard and not because of the perfomer. The script feels like it’s written by fratboys.

The runway is by far the best part of this episode. The category is “the future of drag” and Alaska comes out with fingernails on long thin wires, screaming to the camera and looking even more alien than usual. Of course, Michelle says Alaska didn’t go far enough. Other highlights includes Phi Phi as a turquoise  futuristic soldier, and Detox painted silver from head to toe. The worst by far is Ginger, whose makeup looks crazy and whose outfit is reminiscent of something that Madame LaQueer wore in season four.

The winning queens are Detox and Alyssa, while Ginger and Katya are up for elimination. There seems to be some concern that Alyssa will send Katya home, because she is the stronger competitor this season. That said, the queens are very aware of how they are going to come off if they start acting strategic instead of objective. Indeed, a big section of the show was based on discussing the needless hate some of the cast gets on social media.

The two top queens are a couple of the best performers the show has ever seen, and Alyssa even has the exact right hair for a Taylor Dayne number. She really turns it out, doing high kicks into splits and all sorts of other amazing dance moves. It’s so easy to forget, given her dorky affect, just how good of a dancer Alyssa Edwards is. When she wins it is no surprise that she sends Ginger packing; it’s the right thing to do. ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars’ Recap 2×03: Herstory Lessons