Hey, Judies! Following episode six, it felt like “All Stars 4” had hit the reset button. Following Valentina’s elimination in episode seven, our six remaining queens enter the Werk Room. Talk shifts to the queens’ various track records. Latrice, fresh off her first challenge win, feels that she has justified her return to the competition, but she remains wary that the other queens may pounce if she slips up. This leaves Naomi worried as the only queen who has yet to bag a challenge win. Ominously, Manila is highlighted as the clear frontrunner; she has the best track record. With no queens having taken advantage of the “All Stars” format, this leaves a target on Manila’s back should she falter.
This discussion is halted, and soon we arrive in the new week. Portraits of queer icon Judy Garland adorn the Werk Room walls. Ru soon arrives with a welcome queer history lesson: the Stonewall riots, he tells the queens, rose out of a memorial party for Garland on the day she died in 1969. In a show so central to queer representation on television today, seeing a bit of where the community has come from really should be a more common occurrence. Ru then explains that he calls his closest friends his “best Judies,” and this week’s challenge will be a drag makeover of the queen’s own best Judies, along with a choreographed Judy Garland tribute number.
Monét, who was eliminated in season ten’s makeover challenge, is paired with her best Judy (and assistant), the peppy and fun Patty; Latrice’s best Judy is an old friend named Tim; Naomi and Monique are paired with BFFs Ricardo and Danny, respectively; and Trinity and Manila are paired with their significant others.
Ru also returns to his walks through the Werk Room to check the queens’ progress, and these bring emotion, humor and storylines alike. Latrice and Tim recount a tearjerking story about the latter coming to Latrice’s aid following her incarceration. Trinity and boyfriend Leo laugh with Ru about the difficulty of tucking Leo’s, um, larger assets to Trinity’s impossibly high standards. Naomi, still reeling from landing in the bottom two last week, shares some vulnerability with Ru, who challenges her to abandon her apprehension and go for broke, which she promises to do.
Soon enough, we arrive on the main stage and greet guest judges Frances Bean Cobain and Ellen Pompeo. First up is the Judy Garland tribute dance, which, going by the very stilted editing we see in which the queens all wear identical outfits, will not much figure into this week’s judging, but is nonetheless a fun tribute to the legendary actress and chanteuse.
The main event of this week, of course, will be the runway. First up are Latrice Royale and Alexis Knight, who both come out blonde and shimmering, though unfortunately the family resemblance ends there. Latrice is blue; Alexis is red. Latrice’s gown is floor length; Alexis’ is mid-calf, and the whole ensemble seems to lack a certain wow factor that does not bode well for Latrice.
Monique and Shanida Heart are up next, and they deliver a stunning, symmetrical eye illusion in perfect synchronization with each other. Their movement is spot-on, their makeup is beat for the gods and Monique looks very well-placed to land in the top come the end of the night. Manila and Iyowife Luzon strut up next, and they similarly go for gimmick, this time with cards. Manila is clubs, Iyowife is diamonds and their white, flowing caftans run the risk of being clocked by the judges for being too simple.
Naomi Smalls and Extra Smalls (whose makeup is dead-on Smalls) follow in matching Cher getups, but before they reach the end of the runway, Naomi removes her long wig, slaps on a mustache and transforms into Sonny Bono. It’s exactly the kind of shtick the judges have been looking for from Naomi, who, lest we forget, won season eight’s Wizard of Oz-themed makeover challenge. It feels like poetic justice, and Naomi finally looks like a shoo-in for the top two.
Trinity and Indigo the Tuck come next, and their Rococo-inspired royal purple numbers introduce a welcome bit of pattern to this week’s runway. The family resemblance is there, and Indigo’s number features leggings that showcase her boyfriend’s peerless tucking prowess.
Monét and Patty Cash hit the runway afterward, and their glossy gold efforts are impressive, but Patty’s makeup is about a half a shade above the little girl from “The Ring” on the paleness spectrum. Someone needs to tell Monét that tributes to Sharon Needles died with Max’s Snatch Game performance on season seven.
We move onto the judges’ critiques, where Naomi and Monique earn praise for their makeover looks. Latrice, who claims she and Alexis are fire and ice, earns a receptive ear in Carson, while Michelle is unconvinced by their family resemblance. Manila’s runway looks are read as lazy and simplistic.
When Ru speaks up, the power balance of “All Stars 4” takes a radical shift: Latrice and Manila are the bottom two. Naomi, thankfully, earns her first win. Also in the top two is Monét, and this recapper calls bullsh*t. Patty’s makeup was all kinds of messy, and Monique’s cerebral eye suits are RIGHT THERE.
Alas, the bigger story, unquestionably, is undisputed frontrunner Manila’s first foray into the bottom. Both Naomi and Monét have cause to send her home; Naomi in gratitude for Latrice’s saving her last week, and Monét in revenge for Manila’s intention to send her home to save Latrice in episode four. Beyond that, however, the “All Stars” format allows queens to assassinate their biggest competition, and we have yet to see a queen do so this season. Latrice is calm in deliberation, telling her fellow queens that she’s here following her dream, and that whatever happens, happens. Manila feels that her track record should speak for itself.
The song is Garland’s “Come Rain or Come Shine.” Naomi, the source of the season’s best lip sync so far, pulls out all the stops. Monét is far more reserved, seemingly trying to channel Judy, who had a more serene stage presence. The decision makes sense, but this is “Drag Race,” and doing less very rarely is the way to go. The edit gives us more Charlie Hides than Judy from Monét, and Naomi is the clear winner when the music stops.
Naomi then reveals Manila’s lipstick, and in doing so, she blows “All Stars 4” wide open all over again. Manila, our clear favorite, has been sent packing, and it seems that any of the remaining five queens (except perhaps Latrice) have a clear shot at the crown. For all the hate (some of it quite unsavory) that Naomi has received for her decision, it was, for her chances, the savviest one. She becomes the first queen to take advantage of “All Star” rules, which gives her more of a narrative and injects a hefty dose of drama. Naomi is building her momentum at exactly the right time (as she did in season eight), and she has done so by sticking to the gospel of Lashaun Beyond: that this is not “RuPaul’s Best Friend Race.”