RuPaul’s Drag Race UK- Episode 9 Recap
By Louis Shankar
It was the semi-final of Drag Race UK Season 2 this week — and I think it’s safe to say at this point that this is one of the best seasons of Drag Race, of any franchise, ever. There’s been fashion, comedy, drama, the unprecedented interruption from the Covid crisis. The memes have been fantastic — “the cheek, the nerve, the gall, the audacity and the gumption” — and the classic challenges, such as Snatch Game, went down brilliantly. UK Hun? charted in the Top 40, besting the phenomenal success of The Frock Destroyers.
Already, I’m sad at the end of our Thursday ritual next week. But we have another season to look forward to later this year — apparently being filmed right now! — so we don’t have too long to wait. Obviously, it will be a new cast and, really, I just want more Bimini and Tayce — and Lawrence and Ellie, too.
It’s a very strong top four, they all have somewhat different skillsets and aesthetics. We started with the hit-and-miss stalwart of puppets — because, apparently, “everyone loves puppets!” Ellie and Tayce were fine but awkward, with Ellie particularly struggling to mimic Tayce’s accent. Lawrence took aim at Ellie’s track record and went after her with barbed tongue, after last week’s drama. Bimini was simply hilarious, although I think Lawrence is a queen who takes jokes very well, which helps. Her puppet control was iffy, but she nonetheless deserved her mini challenge win (yet another win for Bimini).
She got the opportunity to cast this week’s maxi challenge, BeastEnders. But everyone was happy with their roles, each a riff on a classic EastEnders queen: Bimini as Scat Slater (a pretty wild name for the BBC!), Ellie was Thot Bottom, and Lawrence and Tayce were Phyllis and Karen Bitchell. They had a quick coaching session from the legendary Natalie Cassidy, who I’m guessing was meant to be a guest judge but couldn’t for covid reasons — instead they had the Danny Dyer mannequin from the shoot…
I’ve never seriously watched EastEnders, so many of the subtle jokes were lost on me. But it was over the top, bizarre, and wonderfully — we were laughing throughout. It was certainly one of the best acting challenges ever, rarely have they done them so late, with so few queens left. Lawrence struggled during the filming, although her performance on the edit was slick, exaggerated, and perfectly butch. Ellie was great, although slightly one-note — her performance was very competent, theatrically refined, even, but could have done with some more camp, some more stupidity. Tayce threw herself into the challenge and it went brilliantly, bar a few strange accent moments. Her chemistry with Bimini was wonderful — somewhere between savage and sexual — and her look, including a white-skinned breast-plate, was so bizarre it was enchanting.
Bimini, yet again, excelled. She had a slightly unfair advantage, in that her character was basically her drag persona anyway. The queen of East London, this challenge was made for her. But nonetheless she added more: physical comedy that needed no direction, facial expressions that were funny by themselves.
On the runway, the theme was Panto Dames — a fun and challenging idea, even though Ru seemed not to know what pantomime is. Where’s the line between drag and panto? Lawrence looked great: full panto dame with added drag flourishes, such as a sewing machine hairpiece. Tayce did panto but was missing the dame — her fairy look was stunning, one of her best, despite the withering wings. Her makeup was noticeably different, yet still not weird enough for the judges. Ellie looked great but, as Graham noted, it felt a bit boring. Her makeup was as brilliant as ever, while adding a strong panto element. But this seemed like a theme that she could ace, and while it was a gorgeous piece, I wanted more.
Bimini managed to make panto fashion. The dress was frilly and stupid yet had a brilliant silhouette, she had rhinestoned rubber gloves and bows on her shoes. Her makeup was both refined and theatrical and her runway walk, camp and stomping like a parody of masculinity, added something funny. This was, almost unbelievably, her fourth win in five weeks — and she lip synced in week one!
Tayce and Ellie were deemed the bottom two in a very close run week — I thought Lawrence could’ve been at risk too. No one did badly in the challenge, no one’s look was noticeably worse than the others. They faced off to a Steps song, not one of their best, and — wow — Tayce did not disappoint. She is a lip sync queen and is just captivating to watch. Ellie was very strong, too, and despite her height really threw herself around the stage. In a big twist — they were both saved, the first time on UK Drag Race. And, unlike a few weeks ago on the US show, it was deserved — I’d have felt really sorry if any of the queens was sent home after their performance in this episode.
So we have four finalists. Ellie is certainly lagging behind, with zero challenge wins, whereas Tayce has one, Lawrence three, and Bimini four. Lawrence has floundered the last few weeks, and Tayce has now saved herself four times — a new record? — but deserves to have her place in the final. Bimini certainly seems like the clear winner.
And rightly so, even if I am a bit biased. She embodies the four qualities Ru always looks for — Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent — and is the pinnacle of UK drag, bringing something distinctly different from the drag showcased on the American show. But she’s also composed and humble and manages to constantly be surprising and innovative. It feels impossible that she won’t win the season: few other queens, if any, have had such a successful run on their season and had such a show of support from the public. #TeamBimini was trending on Twitter in the UK moments after the episode finished; Out Magazine immediately published a piece calling for her to be crowned now. There will be outrage if she doesn’t win — but maybe one of the underdogs will surprise in the finale.
I’m still hyped to see what happens next week. The finale’s challenge — write and record a verse for one of Ru’s songs then perform it, with full choreography, on the main stage — plays perfectly to Bimini’s skillset, and Tayce’s, too. I can’t wait to watch — even though I don’t want it to end.