“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 16, Episode 2 Recap

January 13, 2024

BY Eric Rezsnyak

Wow. What a difference a week makes.

I absolutely loved the first half of the Season 16 split premiere, which aired last week. Likable queens. Good energy. Some fun, exciting talents. Intriguing twists. I felt excited by what the season had to offer. I was even looking forward to the second part, as it had several of the queens I was most interested in seeing this season.

But this episode? Awful. Like shockingly bad. Very few of the queens came off well, the talents mostly ranged from pedestrian to bizarre, with only a few bright spots. And there was a meanspiritedness to the proceedings that was such a turnoff. Basically the polar opposite of Week 1.

To help you get a sense of what I’m talking about, here’s the entrances for the Group B girls:

And in case you missed it, here’s my recap from Episode 1. Like last week, I’ll go over each queen in the order they impressed me, from least inspiring to most.

Megami: I really want to like Megami. I’m a New Yorker, she’s a New Yorker. I have friends who are actual friends with her. They were so excited to see her on. We’ve been in the same bars at the same time. And I love the concept of what she does: cosplay, geeky drag, with a political bent. I am 100 percent on board for all of that. The execution is not there. I thought the concept of an Antichrist entrance look was interesting — although I honestly didn’t get what she was going for until she explained it. The reveal runway look was visually interesting and rich with detail — clearly Megami understands the biblical conceptions of what angels supposedly look like. But there was no REVEAL. Totally got the “Pan’s Labyrinth” bit with the eyes, but that’s not a reveal, gal. Come on. And the talent show. Woof. Megami did a lipsynch to 4 Non Blondes’ iconic “What’s Up?” while holding a pride flag, and eventually picking up poster boards urging viewers who love the show to also support drag queens at the ballot box. I am all for using the stage for an overtly political message. Other queens have done it, recently Mrs. Kasha Davis on “All Stars 8,” and Mariah on “All Stars 5.” My concern here is that Megami seemed to think this performance was some daring artistic swing, and in reality it was about as basic as I can imagine. Lipsynching to someone else’s pop song from the 1990s while holding posters? I would expect to see this at a middle-school talent show, and that’s not even a joke. Where is the creativity? Where is the vision? I wholeheartedly support the sentiment, but was that truly the best way to convey it? On this stage? There was nothing more interesting you could come up with? I find that VERY worrying. My viewing party was stunned into silence during this act, not because they were moved, but because they could not believe this was an actual talent act on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” It boggles the mind, and makes me seriously question — as the song itself asked — what is going ON?!

Hershii Liquor-Jete: I loved Hershii’s Meet the Queen and her promo look. And I enjoyed the energy she was giving us in her work room entrance. But after that, Hershii just kind of disappeared for much of the rest of the episode. It’s possible it was the edit, and that she was more in the mix. But the sense I got was that she faded into the background almost immediately, and that’s bad news considering this group was overall REAL low on the personality meter. For Hershii’s talent show she did a lipsynch to an original song — written by her drag sister, Season 14’s Kornbread — and it was…fine. I didn’t find the performance super memorable, and she was trying really hard to make “whiplash” a thing (lot of that going around this episode). I had no idea why she was in a (poorly lit) jungle for the beginning of it. Her talent costume had fit/proportion issues, which carried through to her reveal runway, which also — trend alert! — lacked a reveal. I actually thought the concept of a dress meant to represent a chocolate bar, and the top layer being the wrapper (which was her original intention) is super fun, and I *loved* her little chocolate-bar earrings. But Hershii was wrong about the length of that skirt, and though I appreciate her *trying* to make another layer in the hotel room…this is “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” yo. A giant loofa shrug is not enough for a reveal runway. It’s just not. I appreciated Hershii sharing her story about raising two kids with her partner. We love gay parents! And I’m sure Hershii is a great dad. But did I find the story particularly compelling? I did not. It’s rare that a queen really tickles me in their Meet the Queen and then falls flat in the premiere, but that is how I felt with Hershii. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

Mhi’ya Iman LePaige: At this point, 16 seasons into “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the audience knows what a “fashion queen” is. We understand the concept of “fashion.” So if you’re going to advertise yourself as a “fashion girl” — as many queens do, and Mhi’ya is one of them — you had better actually bring fashion to the table. Based on this episode, I think Mhi’ya has some of the worst taste in outfits I’ve seen on this show, at least in recent seasons. When it came to the entrance look, a certain queen we haven’t discussed yet wasn’t wrong when she said the garment actually made Mhi’ya look bigger than she is (and that highlighter — like half her face looked neon yellow). When it came to her performance number, I hated that outfit. I’m sorry! I know it’s not constructive criticism, and I’m not trying to savage this poor gal, but I found it simultaneously too much and super basic. And that reveal runway…my god. That print is an abomination. To her credit, Mhi’ya at least knew that runway look was a stinker. It also did not have a reveal — just a coat she threw off at the very start. How were so many girls in this group — the second group, so presumably they had more time to prepare, even by a day or so — so unprepared for this runway? For her talent, Mhi’ya did a dancing number. I would deem it adequate. Mhi’ya talks a big game in talking heads, and she has buzzy social media vids of her doing all kinds of tricks on the streets of Florida. That’s great. The first half of this number was giving us nothing, the second part included some impressive feats — notably the handstand move on the crate — but we have seen much of this before, and executed more tightly (see: Davenport, Kennedy; Aja). It is Season 16. If you’re going to come in talking about how you’re an amazing dancing diva — or a “fashionista” — you have to know you are setting yourself up to be compared to some legends who have come correct. Mhi’ya did not clear any of those bars, and she set them herself.

Plasma: I’m so bummed about this one. I was really excited about Plasma. Loved her Meet the Queen and promo look. But it was very hard to root for her after this episode. I love a theater queen, and have frequently complained about how this show tends to treat them — like overconfident try-hards that need to be put in their place. But oh man, did Plasma REALLY try hard this episode. I didn’t have any issues with the entrance look, but the talent show. So much. Too much. Lipsynching to an original cabaret-style song — I am pretty sure she was not singing live, which, that’s OK — which then also veered into a whole section in which she did celebrity impressions? Based off of cards in her hand? While also ripping off parts of her outfit? Michelle was correct when she said, instead of doing everything so-so, do one or two things REALLY well. I found it offputting, I’m sorry. For the reveal runway, Plasma gets points for at least having reveals, and she had a really fun concept behind it: one of those tomato pin cushions that revealed to more fruits underneath. (Also more nipple tassles, which is another trend this season, and which is already getting boring.) But the padding needs work, and so does the make-up. Love the ambition, love the ideas, we need to focus on execution and maybe turn down the intensity on the personality.

Geneva Karr: The fact that Geneva is being listed as the third-most-impressive queen of the night on my list should be an indication of how unimpressed I was by this episode, because honestly, Geneva didn’t do much for me either. I like her well enough. She seems low-key fun. She’s gorgeous. But Geneva was coming off quite one-dimensional for almost the entire episode. Geneva is our first Mexican-born contestant on the U.S. franchise, and she’s really proud of that culture. And that’s great! All for having pride in where you come from, who you are, etc. But if that’s going to be your entire personality…I need more. I do. Her entrance look was literally the Mexican flag. Her talent show was Mexican folkloric dancing with a bit of comedy in which she ate a chili pepper. To her credit, she executed all of it well. She looked good consistently. Her runway had not only a reveal, but one of the more dramatic ones. Her dancing was lovely and joyful. So she’s out there executing her drag very successfully. But is it drag that resonates with me? Not particularly. We’ll see if she can change it up a bit as we move forward.

Plane Jane: Everyone will be talking about Plane Jane this week. That’s probably not a good thing. Although I do think that is exactly what she wants, and she did everything possible to make that happen. Plane is a Boston queen, and as someone who formerly lived in and still loves Boston dearly, I’m predisposed to root for her. But it’s going to be real hard after this episode. You cannot convince me that Plane Jane did not come into this episode hellbent on being the villain of the season. She was being deliberately rotted to almost every single girl primarily to get camera time. To me it reads as an act, or at least a highly exaggerated version of elements of her personality, all intended to shock the audience and force the producers to keep her in the mix no matter what. It’s trolling as a personality, a la Mistress Isabelle Brooks last season, except this time it’s even more aggressive. How aggressive was it? If Plane had a moustache, she would have been twirling it villainously as she deliberately fucked with the Rate a Queen rankings to tank the queens she considered her top competition, and elevate the queens she knew bombed. Is it strategically smart? Sure! But it is so contrary to the spirit of this show, especially when Plane was playing it up for the cameras and the other queens. I honestly wonder if she’s a sociopath, a psychopath, or both. But I’ll tell you this: she wants this kind of reaction. This is all absolutely deliberate. Notice how different — how human — Plane was when the girls were all getting made up for the runway. She was pleasant, she was chill, she was just vibing. But then she goes for the jugular when she realizes the camera is on her. Speaking of calculated, that talent show screamed, “RuPaul loved Jimbo’s Baloney Ghost, so what can I do that takes essentially that concept and make it ‘original’?” Also, “hamburger finger” is not going to become a thing. Also also, I did not care for that runway, at all.

Nymphia Wind: Easily the most interesting queen from this premiere, Nymphia blessedly gave us something DIFFERENT, from her wild entrance performance to a beautiful Taiwanese sleeve dance, to a super fun reveal runway in which she removed numerous layers to show a banana as it ripens. In fairness, if I’m going to critique Geneva for being one-note in her personality, I have to do the same with Nymphia and the banana. It might be her signature, and that’s great, but if we get bananas every week it’s going to get very old very fast. I liked basically everything Nymphia gave us this episode. She’s got looks, she’s got creativity, she’s got personality, she has a perspective. She should have been in the Top 2, and I think she would have…

…had Jane not deliberately bombed her in the ratings, meaning Geneva snatched the second top spot, against Plane Jane. Again, I’m not saying Geneva was bad. She wasn’t! I would have put her at least High. But Top 2 for the episode? I don’t see it, sorry. Ultimately it didn’t matter, because Plane won the lipsynch to Becky G’s “Shower,” an underwhelming lipsynch for an underwhelming song. It was notable for Jane’s enormous boob plate flopping out of her low-cut top, with her nipple flopping around for a good chunk of the song. When she finally realized what was happening, her face was absolutely priceless — I actually found that moment quite endearing. You know who probably didn’t? Ashley Madison, who was raked across the coals by RuPaul on “Down Under 3” for daring to show her man nipples on television. But this was fine! Bonkers.

A quick note on guest judge Becky G, who I suspect many viewers had never even heard of prior to this episode. I assume Beckys A-F were already booked. I can only imagine how the Episode 2 queens felt knowing they got Becky G, while the Episode 1 queens got Charlize Fucking Theron as their premiere guest judge. The disparity in those judges was actually fairly consistent with the disparity in quality of the premieres. So in that way, I guess it’s fitting.

Next week: the queens are all united, it’s a ball, and we get one more round of Rate-a-Queen. Will Plane continue pulling the paj? Or will her stunt show and shenanigans be put on blast?

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