RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 Episode 3: RuCo Empire

Bryony Bates

Bryony likes reading, writing, glamour and anger. @Bryony_Bates

We entered this episode on tenterhooks, but it failed to live up the hype. Ru’s brought Naysha back. I’m so disappointed.

Thankfully she’s forgettable enough that she makes little impact on this episode, despite being a team captain for the maxi challenge. Dax and Laila must be spitting feathers, watching this at home, not being America’s next drag superstars.

The other team leader is Naomi, winner of a mini challenge requiring the contestants to glam up some judges’ robes. They also have to write little intros for their courtroom characters.

Kim Chi inadvertently sets the tone for the rest of the episode with hers, referring to ‘the law firm of Ching, Chang and Chong’ which Ru feels the need to point out WAS NOT WRITTEN BY HIM. With that, we begin to tread the murky waters of uncomfortable racial stereotyping! What a joy.

The teams have to act out one of those weird little skits that Drag Race loves so much, this one based on the hit TV show Empire. The girls save most of the drama for their performances, however, which is terribly professional of them, and a welcome contrast to last season’s endless whining, but doesn’t make for scintillating television.

Kim Chi shows us a little flash of diva by jumping on the biggest part straight off, but when Naysha gently suggests that she swap with Thorgy, the obvious choice because she’s, y’know, FUNNY, Kim relinquishes the role with no fuss.

We’re then supposed to believe that Thorgy and Bob have a stormy rivalry brewing over the fact they’re playing the same role, but aside from some stony looks across the Work Room, this doesn’t come to anything much.

Both teams generally do fine in rehearsals, though Derrick Barry’s Black Panther drag is cringe-worthy. Like, OK, yes, we’re all impressed that you did actually think to pack wigs other than blonde Britney wigs, but maybe you should have left the afro at home?

As Chi Chi DeVayne points out, Naysha’s team is suffering from a distinct lack of, uh, black people in trying to recreate the mostly black cast of the hit TV show, Empire. Trying to get Kim Chi to act ghetto is five minutes I did not really want to see, but she gamely takes on the direction as best she can. What a trooper.

Cynthia struggles with her lines – apparently they don’t have the phrase ‘strong gay woman’ in Puerto Rico, who’d have thought – and Robbie Turner seems to be struggling with everything, despite the fact she’s trained as an actor and has been helping everyone else out with their parts. I’d say she’s just too nice, but I get the feeling that Robbie Turner is the kind of person who’ll be real nice to you and help you out with something you never asked for help doing, and then bitch to everyone else about how you weren’t grateful enough. Got no evidence for this, just a feeling. Trust my gut, why don’t you, and I’ll trust yours.

Having eaten our vegetables and sat through the maxi challenge prep, we now get dessert: a runway on roller skates! But first it’s time for the patented pre-runway tortured confession time.

Speaking of confessions, what happened to the Shade Tree diary room thing they introduced? Will that ever see the light of camera again?

It turns out that someone other than Kim Chi has tortured confessions to make, and this week it’s Thorgy Thor’s turn. She tells us about how her mother died of cancer but her father and sister didn’t actually tell her her mother was dying of cancer until it was almost too late.

As usual, I have a problem with this part of the show. Kim Chi saying she used to be fat is one thing, but when something that has caused someone a lot of pain in their family life – as this clearly has for Thorgy – is trotted out to ‘humanise’ them, it always feels distasteful. And I have very little taste.

OK, so Thorgy gladly gives up this information, but something about the way this fits into the show’s structure (mini challenge – maxi challenge rehearsals/prep – pre-runway tortured confession – sparkly runway time!) doesn’t gel with me. But what do I know about television.

On with the show! And some distinctly shaky outfits to match equally shaky skating.

Bob the Drag Queen has never skated before, and is also wearing a very cheap robot jumpsuit thing which has come straight from your misguided attempt to be sexy at a fresher’s week fancy dress party. But as Michelle Visage points out, Bob can sell anything.

Combined with her spectacular performance in the main challenge as Chocolate Chip Cookie, her ad libs a distinct improvement on a very limp script, Bob wins the challenge. Cut to Thorgy looking sour. (Don’t worry darling, you’re getting a sympathetic edit; a win must be around the corner for you soon.)

In the bottom two we have Cynthia and Robbie. I feel Robbie should get the boot for making excuses about why she did badly in the challenge – along with learning how to sew at least one damn dress, contestants on Drag Race should take lessons on how not to make stupid excuses for doing badly – but she somewhat makes up for it by choosing to lip sync in the skates.

Some clear producer manipulation going on here, pitting self-proclaimed roller queen Robbie against wobbly Cynthia, who wisely chooses to switch to heels, but I’m not enough of a fan of Cynthia to care. Robbie twirls around, takes out some stage lights, and jumps off the stage at the end (or did she just fall over? Answers on a postcard please), and so lives to fight another day. Cynthia and her cucu sashay away.

A relatively uneventful episode, but one that remained charming rather than tedious thanks to the quality of this cast. Let’s hope they’re given something more fun to do in future.

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