Tops and Bottoms: A Final Look At Drag Race UK Season 2

#JusticeForBimini

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12. Cherry

Poor Cherry Valentine was the sacrificial lamb of the season. There’s was no way Cherry was going to last longer than episode two, and considering how strong the rest of this cast was, it was for the best. Episode 2 was probably the most boring episode of the show, as it was mostly a set-up for the status quo that would be nevertheless shattered by the COVID filming break. And because of that, Cherry’s elimination is uneventful and incredibly foreshadowed, made more obvious by the camera never stepping away from Tayce as she slaughters her at the lip sync.

Cherry has the dubious honor of being the most boring contestant of a really good cast, and what little drama she did bring during the Cats episode was soon to be eclipsed by everyone else losing their minds. Best she left early lest she become a casualty after wandering into the crosshairs of Lawrence Cheney.

11. Ellie

For the first seven episodes, you would be forgiven for forgetting that Ellie Diamond was still around in the season. Ellie’s disposition is meek, despite being Scotland’s largest Drag Queen, and she had little impact to the machinations or the dynamics for the first two thirds of the season. She was the other Scotland Drag Queen: the one Fracker didn’t even bother doing a Shrek affect towards, the one Lawrence took under her wing as a dependable sidekick, the one no one took seriously. And unlike US Drag Race, which has an agenda it has to push against all reason and logic, UK Drag Race played into this perception as it unfolded. Soon Ellie’s lack of content and self-assuredness went from subtext, like not giving her confessions, to actual text. They would show people routinely giving her playful jabs at both her lack of wins and her low self-esteem, specifically A’Whora and her alleged best friend Lawrence. No one takes Ellie Diamond seriously, and this fact clearly frustrates her.

In other words, everything was perfectly in place for Episode 8.

I’ve gone on record already saying this, but it needs repeating that the final five episode of UK Season 2 is one of the finest of the entire franchise. It’s not only a harrowing, unnerving hour of television, but it complete justifies the somewhat questionable Tia and Sister boots and gives the season a strong, potent thesis. Episode 8 gives a vivid, succinct look at the entire final five, both individually and how they relate to one another, and is the keystone that carries the season from good to fantastic. And what’s amazing about that is that it didn’t take much: all the producers did was give Ellie a single mini-challenge win and a mote of power, and that was the spark that ignited everyone. Drag Race UK, whoever runs it, saw the potential in this one tweak, and created television gold.

Ellie by herself is not a compelling character, to the point that a large part of the fun of her pissing everyone off is how innocuous she was before then. Ellie seems like a nice, if insecure, young person who didn’t realize the power she had and was not prepared for the blowback. That doesn’t make her interesting, but it does make her important, and that’s all you can ask for.

10. Lawrence

Lawrence is another example of the season adjusting itself as the plot thickens, and it does a massive service to her.

I was not amused at all by Lawrence at the start of the season. It was clear that the initial intent with Lawrence was for her to be the winner, and as such the season started to build that narrative around her. Before the Covid filming break, Lawrence is presented as the ace of the season, and three of those first four episodes show her in the top and thriving. The exception is the Cats episode, where she starts doubting herself and feels insecure and… it just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s less that I don’t buy Lawrence’s mental fatigue in episode 2, but rather the framing is suspect. The show presents her as misunderstood, and even if she messes up the choreography, you can’t blame her because she’s in her head, and it’s… No? It just doesn’t sit right with me because it lets Lawrence off the hook without accountability to her general shitty attitude, which we start to see touches of in the next episodes as the cast grow more and more agitated by her. It feels like, if the filming break didn’t happen, Lawrence would continue to be framed as a flawed but earnest performer who is an outsider because people are mean to her.

Thank god, then, that the break did happen, because it brought out both the best and worst in Lawrence.

We see glimpses of this during the special, and it plays out even harder during the season: Lawrence is mentally unwell. The quarantine, the break in filming, the anxiety of being the front runner, her noticeable weight gain, the lack of income, her general depression, and everything else clearly stewed in her during the seven months and left Lawrence a shell of her former self. And as the season plays out, it’s gets worse for her: she stops winning challenges, she ends up lip syncing, and she’s forced to watch as the once cast filler Bimini excels past her. And she’s clearly not processing it well, and worst of all, she’s taking it out on everyone else. Lawrence already had the nasty habit of dodging blame for her own bullshit, but it’s so amplified during both her fight with Sister and her distrust of Ellie that the show is forced to address it.

And because of this, the framing of Lawrence completely changes into something I found, yes, more entertaining, but also more sincere: Lawrence is not a misunderstood artist, but a victim of her own low self-esteem and depression who is pulling everyone else down with her. Obviously the stand out is Episode 8, where despite not being at all screwed by Ellie’s placements and still having a real chance to win, Lawrence spends the entire prep for the challenge ripping chunks out of a catatonic Ellie, getting in her own head instead of focusing on the task at hand. We see the payoff too, where Bimini, who has zero fucks to give, swoops in and steals a win that could have easily been for Lawrence, while Lawrence blames that loss not on herself, but Ellie. It’s abundantly clear that Ellie has nothing to do with it, Lawrence is just watching her entire world collapse around her, and is unable to process it healthily.

You would think this would lead to a shocking upset where Lawrence loses to Bimini, but alas not. I’m unsure how to take Lawrence still be rewarded despite her bad behavior. I mean, this is Drag Race UK, where the prize is a handshake from RuPaul, so there’s no real loss Still, the storyline feels at odds with the finale and any cathartic ending I can imagine for this plotline has Bimini winning. Maybe they feared Lawrence would set the stage on fire after dealing with Fracker making weird microaggressions the whole season and her swallowing her pride to get that win. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Lawrence is a bad performer, and I don’t hold her that accountable for her shitty mental state because Jesus I was that much a mess at 23. That being said, Drag Race is best when it’s reactive, and I really think a Bimini win would work better.

Lawrence is still a decent character, and knowing she could have been far worse if the show took her unironically, I’m willing to let this win slide.

9. A’Whora

Like with Lawrence, I really didn’t like A’Whora near the start of the season, and even by the end I’m still unsure of her. I initially read her early obnoxiously mean comments directed at Tia and Asttina as a bit racist, and I’m still not convinced that wasn’t part of it, but it’s clear that A’Whora just wanted to be the season’s villain who got a redemption arc. I call bullshit on all of her first four episode story arc, even the talk with Tia, because it really feels rehearsed and stilted, and really she should not have been given such a chance.

Thankfully the Covid filming break happened and we got a more fun take on A’Whora: utter boredom. After she came back and won her first challenge via association, A’Whora basically turned off the lights and let the season run its course. Watching Lawrence lose her mind was harrowing, but also nicely juxtaposed with A’Whora laying on the tables and pacing around the werk room and flirting with Tayce, just wanting the season to end. It’s pretty clear A’Whora fully expected to be shuttled to the finale, and while she tried, she saw the writing on the wall and knew she would absolutely beat Ellie and Tayce and absolutely be creamed by Lawrence and Bimini. So no use sweating the show, she’ll take her bronze medal.

And then Ellie fucked it all up.

Again, not to harp on this, but this is part of what makes the final five episode so good. A’Whora tag teaming with Lawrence in killing Ellie shows A’Whora going right back to her old, asshole roots, but it feels more authentic. A’Whora sees her chances at final three suddenly dead, and instead of not caring like Tayce, just spends the entire time shitting on Ellie Diamond for the sin of making her nervous. It’s visceral, and by far her best episode. It’s a weird end to her storyline, as you’d expect the candor she has presented before this, but like with Lawrence it’s an honest ending, especially apparent in its honesty when she comes back for the finale and spends all her screen time glaring at Ellie and insulting her character (did I mention Ellie was still homeless during this time???).

So yeah, still unsure how to feel about A’Whora, but she added more than she subtracted to the season, and I’m feeling generous today.

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8. Veronica

Veronica is an interesting case because, like with A’Whora and Ellie, her circumstances recontextualized her beyond what she might have expected. Unlike those two, it literally killed her chances.

I totally buy that Veronica was supposed to be some kind of dark horse contestant that would unexpectedly make the finale and win. Her character certainly feels that way from her four episodes: she stands up for Tia, she tries to call out Sister for her negative attitude, she shows herself indignant to other people. A bunch of seeds are planted for some sort of underdog Veronica story.

And then she gets Covid and her storyline is DOA, leaving Veronica to be the What Could Have Been sympathy case that easily got invited back to next season.

I’m hesitant for the future of Veronica, when she comes back for Season 3, because I think she worked out best here. Tis always better to go out with promise than to show up with nothing, and Veronica left on probably the highest note she can muster. Who knows, maybe by next season she will have gotten a lot better. Apparently she no longer paints like she’s 80, so that’s a good start. But the future of Veronica as a character? I’m cautious.

7. Joe

Oh, this poor gremlin.

The duology of Joe’s Drag Race career is exactly why I’m nervous for Veronica: sometimes, What Could Have Been is the best thing you can be. Not everyone comes back looking better than they did before, and rarely do people live up to their potential. And Joe was the biggest victim of her own hype.

Let’s go back, shall we, to episode 1. Joe Black, unfairly or not, ends up in the bottom two with some rando in a leotard and their meat and potatoes on full display. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), Joe Black, a decade-long veteran of Drag, loses the first lip sync and goes after the first episode. Everyone is shocked, both fans and fellow contestants, as it was believed that Joe was a serious threat to win. Outcry commences, people make a big deal about how screwed Joe was, and that she should, one day, get a second chance. And then, one day. In the wake of Veronica’s death. She does. She rejoins the cast, ready to show her worth.

Where she proceeds to biff a group number and get screamed at for wearing an H&M shirt.

The storyline of Joe is mean, but perfectly sets up the madness that was the post-Covid break. Of course, I’m highly suspicious of the show over the H&M rant, the most blatant the show has been with its rampant classism, but it’s such the perfectly mean-spirited way to jettison Joe out the airlock, and sets up what new UK 2 would be: spiteful and dark. Joe seems like a nice enough person, and honestly it was for the best she left as she did before she had to deal with that.

6. Tayce

Good Drag Race seasons live and die by their narrators, and the show lucked out in Tayce being perfect for that role.

Tayce is not a complex character, but she really didn’t have to be. Tayce’s role in the season was to give iconic lines, and no one else did it as well. Hell, no one else could do it so well, with every Tayce confessional featuring both her amazing accent and her gorgeous, piercing eyes. Tayce is a wordsmith, and utilized that to her full advantage. Some obvious highlights:

*What can I do, what can I say? I’m Welsh!

*Lawrence wouldn’t know about sexual tension if it slapped her in the chops.

*The cheek, the nerve, the gall, the audacity, and the gumption.

*You get in the thames!

*Until today, I don’t think people knew the lengths that scourers could go to.

*Hey, sex sells at the end of the day. When in doubt, sex it out.

*My hand up inside Bimini Bon-Boulash!

This is going to be a short write-up, but that’s exactly how Tayce would want it. She’s uncomplicated and stellar, and what you see is exactly what you get.

5. Sister

I wouldn’t say Sister Sister is the most underrated contestant of the season (we’ll get there), but what she represents sure is. Sister Sister is someone for the audience to laugh at; she’s someone for the audience to see and know she has no shot at winning. It’s less that Sister is a hatesink, but she’s pretty delusional and clearly annoying everyone else in the room, which is an easy way into my heart.

It’s weird the direction Sister goes because early on, she’s presented pretty correctly. Let it be known that Sister was the first canary in the coalmine that was pointing out Lawrence as an egotist who is the first to blame others for her problems. Now granted, this was also set up for Sister being much the same, but it’s important to point out the only dissenting voice to Sister’s objection to Lawrence was Lawrence herself, who reacted incredibly defensively. Of course, immediately after this is when we really start the “Sister blames everyone else for her mistakes” subplot, one of the few that is maintained post-filming break, and it’s so fun watching her and Veronica clearly knowing they fucked it up in episode 4, Veronica giving a half-hearted apology, and Sister just fuming and refusing to make eye contact.

And it makes sense why this was one of the few subplots that was maintained post-break, because it pays off amazingly. In a lot of ways, the second half of UK2 feels like an All Stars, and one of the consistent hallmarks of any All Stars are delusional “upgraded” Queens, full of vigor and silicon, who present as all new people when they’re the exact same bitch with more money and less charisma. Enter Sister Sister, freshly pumped and full of unearned confidence. In no universe would Sister Sister ever come back for an All Stars season, so to see someone like her get that kind of storyline is cosmic.

Which nicely leads to her amazing boot episode, where she spends her curtesy five minute head start grabbing every single piece of material on the table and embracing the hell out of all of it. I maintain that her look wasn’t that bad, but it’s exactly the kind of look Sister Sister should be eliminated in: a pile of too many half-baked ideas, badly presented with the power of unearned confidence. It’s the legacy Sister deserved. The break brought a lot of good things to the table, and one was the full exploitation of Sister as delusional and reaching far beyond her ability.

4. Asttina

I still can not believe this bitch went out dressed as Mileena, like what a fucking icon.

Underrated and underused, Asttina is another example of an underrated Drag Race archetype: the antagonistic brat. There’s a lot of Tyra Sanchez and Violet Chachki in Asttina, someone who not only packs amazing looks, but who can sell the absolute fuck out of them, and is confident enough to know she can. Asttina’s brief time is a sizzle reel of fun arrogance, actively dismissive of the hateful comments and bad faith suggestions made by the other contestants. The pinnacle of this, naturally, is the premiere, where Asttina wins with just an ASOS jacket and some attitude, which just chaps the asses of every other contestant.

By itself, Asttina’s arrogance and character works, but the little touches are really what get me. I like that Asttina is a lowkey nerd, with half of her runway looks being straight up Con outfits. I appreciate that Asttina’s comments are universal: stuff like “not one of them’s cute” feel less punching down than it would infer because she’s talking about everyone evenly, and that there’s no real malevolence to it. Coupled with this, Asttina goes out surprisingly gracefully, her taking in much better than anyone, including Tia. And of course, it’s perfect that the one person who gets her is Ginny Lemon, but I’ll get to that later.

Asttina seemingly ranks high for not just an early boot, but one who doesn’t add much to the main thesis, but her lack of development is the point. Unlike most of the cast, Asttina doesn’t need Drag Race to change her or make her a better performer, she’s already fantastic. Asttina for three episodes would be the exact same as Asttina for ten, and while I can always go for more, her exit was for the best for what the season was about to have in store.

3. Bimini

Drag Race, like all competitive reality shows, is at its best when it seizes the opportunity. Of course certain Queens are cast for ulterior motives and not everyone has a fair shot at winning, but that’s not my point. Drag Race’s problems as of late are not in its stereotypes, but the fact that they don’t let these stereotypes breathe. Sometimes a Queen can come on that the show has a lot of stock in and she just falters, sometimes a Queen gets cast that the show needs only as filler and they end up full of potential. The problem with Drag Race US is that it still, against all reason, will push the former and ignore the latter, creating a stagnant, inert season. It not only causes a singular lame season, but it’s a systemic problem, one that makes the show feel generic, predictable, and unchanging. Season 13 failed to seize its cast and recognize the talent at hand, which was something UK excelled at with Bimini.

I’m unsure what Bimini’s place in the story was for the first four episodes, but my best theory was that she was cast as filler. No matter how good the rest of her collection would have been, both the premiere and the failure of her outfit in the second episode herald a lack of legs to her storyline. Bimini’s only stellar moment of positive screen time in the first four episodes was her talking about being nonbinary, but that was initially a Ginny moment that got recontexualized later, and Bimini’s place as “confident in myself” implies a lack of need for growth that we saw in Asttina, and well we know how that worked. If the filming break never happened, I would bet Bimini gets booted around the same time as Tia and Sister, leading a final 4 featuring Veronica.

But then Veronica died of Covid and the show took stock, and thank God for that, because Bimini is one of the best front runners the show could have. Bimini came back to fucking conquer, and her showing episode 5 forward is Drag as art. She’s hilarious, she’s intelligent but not pretentious, her looks are all stellar, her confessionals are right up there with Tayce and Tia. Bimini flourished post-break, and in a way that very few contestants do.

Of course, Bimini is great and talented, but what really connects her to me is that she has the confidence to sell it. Bimini has no inhibitions, she does exactly what she wants to do and knows how to work it. All her moments work because you can tell she believes in them with total conviction. She stands in start contrast with Lawrence, because while Lawrence’s negative mental state made her perform worse and worse, Bimini’s lack of fucks were the key to her success. The only thing that angered was the patriarchy, and she easily sailed over the drama and the bullshit.

Alas, they didn’t crown Bimini, a choice which feels wrong. The dynamics with her and Lawrence feel like the natural result is that Bimini steals a win out of Lawrence’s hands after Lawrence’s anxiety of possibly losing became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a bizarre choice, especially when the show already made such clear, drastic changes. But regardless, it doesn’t kill Bimini’s character for me. She’s exactly the kind of person who makes the perfect winner, I just wish the show realized that.

2. Tia

While Tayce is the default narrator of this season, we must also pay respects to, by far, the most quotable Queen to emerge from the UK.

If Dida Ritz was 9 feet tall, if Joslyn Fox was from Essex, Tia Kofi is everything that I want from a mid-tier contestant and more. Tia’s affect and cadence are music to my ears, I can listen to her say anything and be enthralled. Also, she’s self-deprecation done well, as she’s much wittier and better at knowing exactly what her faults are. But I think the opposite is also true: Tia, despite never winning and getting crapped on by the judges, excelled at what she really wanted to do, and made the most of it.

Tia’s greatest strength is obviously her sense of humor and dynamic personality. She knows how to bounce off basically everyone else in the cast, making every scene with her in it better via just her inclusion. If Tia is in a scene, it’s never wasted, and she even works in scenes not directly about her, notably “…A’Whora?” and “did you hear that? Oh I’ll have to repeat it then.” Not to say Tia can’t stand alone; the line of the season was of course her description of her garment in episode 3.

But what really makes Tia Kofi special is, like Bimini and Asttina, there’s no real need for growth from her. Tia is basically the exception to my “Covid changed everything” thesis I’ve banged on about this whole article, and her exception is what proves the rule. A lot of Queens changed after the break, for better and worse, but Tia is a universal constant, and because of that she serves as a good barometer to the hows and whys everyone else changed. For those two episodes she’s in post-break, she serves as the narrator, not Tayce, and we’re lucky enough that someone this eloquent and have such a way with words get to tell us the fuckery happening around her. It’s exactly the end that fits Tia: accepting an inevitable death at final 7, and looking good while doing it.

Tia Kofi is not winner material, at all, but like Didas or Joslyns before her, the Tias of Drag Race are their life blood. They’re the heartbeats, the consistent tempo against which we judge the rest of the season. And of this kind, Tia is one of the bests.

1.Ginny

Who the fuck else can it be?

Ginny is both exactly what Drag Race needed and is way too good for the show. It’s been clear for years now that Drag Race has sold out and has lost the punk edge, if it ever had it to begin with, and Ginny Lemon shows how. Unlike the image conscious, strict, and ruthlessly preplanned Drag Race, Ginny is spontaneous and sincere, cordial but with conviction, and excels far beyond the show can hope.

What makes Ginny so great is her wisdom, something we see early on when she’s the only one to see Asttina as the powerhouse that she was. Ginny keeps it real, shown when she’s the first credible source to tell Lawrence she’s annoying to her face and later when she admits her insecurities to Bimini about feeling attractive. The latter in particular is powerful, because while it was grossly exploitative (and we’ll get the the fallout later), her and Bimini are a wonderful duo who show that nonbinary is not a single experience, which is an important claim on any show. Ginny doesn’t know everything, but she never pretends to, and what knowledge she does have she uses exquisitely.

Which, of course, brings us to Ginny’s quit. It’s impossible not to read the metatext of the situation, even if you don’t know of the rumors of a shouting match (which I believe to be false because Ginny fights on her terms). After an episode 3 where she was forced at gun point to dress “sexy,” a predatory suggestion to make at anyone but especially a non-Cis person, Ginny was inexplicably in the bottom again in episode 4 despite giving a better performance during the challenge than Veronica. Ginny saw the opportunity, and knowing she was done with this, left. The beauty of the song being Keep Me Hanging On isn’t lost on Ginny, as she later did a cover for her channel, with lyrics added to the end directly slamming the show for trying to use her. Ginny then promptly refused to come back for a chance to replace Veronica, her stance made correct by the show’s treatment of Joe Black, only to then come back to the finale just to mock the entire format.

Ginny Lemon is punk rock, probably the most punk the franchise has been sinse Tammie Brown goaded RuPaul into cursing her out. She’s a powerful bitch in a five foot nothing body who has no interest in appealing to you or kissing ass. And despite that, or maybe because of it, Ginny was insanely popular and loved by the cast and fans. Which leads to the amazing irony: just like Tammie, you know damn well Ginny is on the initial shortlist for when Drag Race UK does its first All Stars, and the only reason she wouldn’t go on is because she said no, not them.

We stan a nonbinary Lemon god.

Final Thoughts

You know, I first thought I liked this cast photo, but the more I look at it the more off it feels. Like why are there two in pink? Why do Tia and Ellie look so short? Why does Veronica look 80? What happened here?

So I’m not going to lie, I was really not vibing with UK2 for a majority of the season. It starts strong, and the cast is super solid, but I was starting to loss interest after episode 3 both forced out tears and eliminated the amazing Asttina. The boot order didn’t get better, as losing Asttina Ginny into Veronica into Tia into Sister was really starting to grind my gears. As much as I liked Bimini and Tayce, I didn’t see how the season could possibly recover.

And then Episode 8 happened and we got one of the single best episodes of Drag Race, period.

I know I’ve gushed about the final five episode a lot in this article, but what I think makes it work is that it completely justifies the whole season, and every decision before it. Every single choice and elimination and the framing, as weird and awkward as they might have been before that, made complete sense once we get this episode. Of course we lose Ginny and Asttina early, because they’re just as unbothered by drama as Bimini, and you don’t need more than one of her. Of course Sister and Tia leave over A’Whora and Ellie, because you need the latter two in order for this episode to work. Lawrence is misunderstood? Wrong, we know she’s insufferable and can not take criticism in the slightest. Episode 8 turns UK2 into a good season with with questionable boot order into a high-concept drama about watching Lawrence Cheney lose her mind and almost loss her guaranteed win. It’s absolutely a coincidence that all these things ended up to such a perfect thesis statement episode, but part of how that happened was because of the season’s real strength: seizing the opportunity.

One of the problems of modern Drag Race is the lack of spontaneity. It’s a very cut and dry affair, with Season 13 in particular feeling obvious to the point of contempt for the audience. I don’t know how much UK2 was pre-planned, some of it definitely was, but unlike Season 13 which committed the questionable endeavor of making Rosé an overdog, priorities shifted: the show became more honest about Lawrence, it propped up Bimini as a lovable underdog, it stopped humanizing A’Whora, it fleshed out Ellie. The show saw what it had and used it to create good TV. It didn’t force some final four written in stone during the casting process. And for what it’s worth, it didn’t take much, but that’s kind of the point. Giving Ellie Diamond a morsel of power is something so small, and what’s mind boggling is that I don’t even think Drag Race US would be brave enough to do that.

Really, the only complaint I have for the season is Lawrence still winning over Bimini, which feels at odds with the current storyline. It’s the one time the season didn’t feel like changing, and thus is an outcome that doesn’t gel with what came before. It’s a lot like the All Stars 2 ending, where Alaska spells out on camera exactly why Katya should win. Again, tho, it’s hard to be too mad, considering the prize is hillarious pitiful, and I think I like Lawrence a lot more this season than I did Alaska in AS2, if only because the show presented Lawrence more honestly.

UK2 starts the 2021 Drag Race year on a high note, surpassing not just it’s first season but its across the pond competition. And with its success, hopefully UK2 becomes the rule, not the exception.

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