“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Episode 1516 Recap: Mother

This is a recap of RuPaul’s Drag Race episode 1516, the season 15 finale. Spoilers below.

It is still RuPaul’s drag race. It doesn’t matter how many years in a row a trans person wins the main season and All Stars. As long as RuPaul is alive, in charge, and hosting, it will be her creation — for better or worse or worst.

Since spoilers got out for season three, the finales of Drag Race have been the most overly constructed episodes of the season. There are exceptions — I’m thinking rose petals, I’m thinking dead butterflies — but for the most part the finales are for celebration, not excitement.

But this year there sure was a lot to celebrate. First of all, this finale features one of the show’s best top fours, led by a frontrunner who from day one frankly felt too good to even be there. We’re also experiencing a moment of transphobia and violence toward drag that makes this kind of mainstream festivity feel worthwhile.

From the opening moments, this capital P Purpose was emphasized. One of the eliminated queens, Aura Mayari, included a big fan that read “Drag is Not a Crime” with her entrance look. And in Ru’s introduction, she echoed this sentence with an added: “But looking this sickening should be.”

On the one hand Ru’s just-vote liberalism should feel more digestible given our current moment. There is something powerful in the shots of crowded gay bars all around the country, many in states where drag is on the precipice of being banned. But any temptation to be in solidarity with Ru inspired within me a sadness — a sadness that my expectations had been reduced to these crumbs.

It makes me so happy that Ts Madison was introduced alongside the other core judges. It’s so exciting that after all these years the biggest platform for drag has finally embraced so many trans performers and icons. But 2018 was not long ago. I will never forget how the show treated Peppermint. I will never forget that these changes happened despite Ru and his cis producers, not because of them. Trans talent was simply undeniable.

But for now let’s get to the first two finalists! We begin with Anetra. She gives an emotional thank you to her dad and then performs a song called, “Lotus.” Anetra is an undeniable talent, but I think her clarity of drag identity peaked with the premiere. I think she still has some years to go before realizing her full potential and that felt evident in this song. It was totally solid! She’s an incredible dancer! It just lacked a certain spark and uniqueness for me.

Not lacking in any spark was Luxx Noir London. Her song “It’s Giving Fashion” was so much fun! The red jumpsuit to red bodysuit reveal was great and I just had a blast with this one. Carson says she gave all the F’s: fashion, face, and ferocity. I would add the most important F: faggotry. Her boyfriend says, “I love everything about them,” and I have to agree.

We then take a break for the first annual Giving Us Lifetime Achievement Award. This year’s recipient is Bob Mackie and of all Ru’s charades this is actually the one that felt the most genuine. I love when we pay tribute to our queer elders, especially when they’re alive, even when those elders are cis white gay men. Ru gets choked up and it makes for a nice moment. I hope this really does become an annual tradition.

Back to our top four! Mistress Isabelle Brooks is dressed as a slutty nurse to perform “Delusion.” It’s a lot of fun! It’s not the best song or the best performance but it’s totally solid. She also says, “Move over ‘Let Loose,’ ‘Delusion’ is coming through,” and I love that she remains shady to the end. It’s also really meaningful to see her chosen family there including her drag mom Chevelle Brooks who tells her that she made her proud, Houston proud, and herself proud.

Thankfully, the alphabet didn’t force anyone to have to follow Sasha Colby. While her Harry Potter references in the intro were a choice, once she started performing “Goddess,” it quickly became clear why she’s the best. Coming out as a snake, the backup dancers moving her braids like snakes, her looking like a SNACK. She’s an incredible dancer and also incredible at flicking her tongue and both are equally important to me. She also has her chosen family there and has a little education moment with Ru about the Hawaiian word māhū. After seasons and seasons of Ru creating forced biological family reunions, it really is so nice to see queer families in this space.

With the solo performances complete, Ru declares the final lip sync. It’s Sasha vs. Anetra. This was clearly pre-planned and not based on the performances thanks to a detail we’ll get to later. Anetra is great and this decision is fine, even if based on the solos I do think Luxx was robbed. I look forward to seeing young queens Luxx and Mistress back on TV in a future All Stars season.

This is when the show took my cognitive dissonance down with the speed of a death drop. A video montage begins with various people reciting the Declaration of Independence. We’re watching a video and performance in support of drag and apparently nothing says drag like the words of Thomas Jefferson. It gets worse. One of the people in the video is a police officer. He’s given more screen time than the drag king. And the video ends with this mix of assimilationist gays and Kevin Bacon saying, “I am American.”

This goes into a performance by Orville Peck and the season’s music producer of the Wig Loose songs with backup lip syncing from the non-finalist season 15 queens. Well, except Sugar, who does not lip sync and just stands there. Anyone else I might’ve wondered if it was in protest, but let’s be reasonable.

If there’s anything the current backlash to decades of progress should reveal, it’s that we cannot assimilate ourselves to freedom. This kind of pro-America, pro-police, gay-people-are-just-like-you bullshit does nothing except reinforce the institutions and values that have oppressed us for centuries. This is not the time to compromise — it’s the time to refocus on what matters most.

RuPaul is RuPaul and I don’t expect her to bring radical politics. But the inclusion of a cop in this jingoistic montage was a step too far. Nearly three years since the June 2020 protests, fifty-four years since Stonewall, this shouldn’t need to be said. But, to be clear, there is no justification for being a police officer. Any LGBT individuals who choose to be police officers have prioritized their own power and the power of a fascist institution over the lives of other queer people. We are past the point of ignorance. I don’t care who a cop is fucking — a cop is a cop.

Who does Ru think is going to enforce the drag bans she’s supposedly fighting against? Cops — including the gay ones. It won’t matter if a cop is taking pleasure in their own bigotry or just following orders. The outcome will be the same.

This segment acts as one of many reminders that Drag Race will always be a bad platform for great performers. The vast majority of what makes the show worthwhile happens despite the people in control.

One such performer is last year’s winner, Willow Pill! She comes out to her song from the previous finale, “I Hate People,” and gives a really lovely speech. She mentions that it’s been a difficult year for her and gives a reminder that it’s okay to go through a rough time. Then she introduces Kornbread dressed as Beast from Beauty and the Beast who raps about all the queens. Her rap includes Luxx and Mistress, and not Sasha or Anetra. which is why it seems the top two was preordained. Malaysia then wins Miss Congeniality, which seems totally random. Mistress looks as annoyed as she should be.

The show could not win me back after its little pro-cop stunt, but it certainly tried! My love Jinkx Monsoon comes out and sings “When You’re Good to Mama.” I didn’t get a chance to see Jinkx in Chicago on Broadway, so I was thrilled to get a chance to see her do this number. Ru then shows a clip from season five of her saying that her dream is to perform in drag on Broadway. That got me!

Finally, it’s time for the top two to lip sync to “Knock on Wood” by Amii Stewart. Anetra is wearing a white bodysuit covered in crystals with a beating red heart and Sasha is in a big black velvet coat dress. When the song starts Sasha takes the coat off to reveal a purple and pink dress.

They’re both exceptional performers, but Sasha Colby is Sasha Colby. This only becomes clearer when they both do their reveals. Anetra pulling the red string of her heart is fun, but Sasha cracks open her dress and emerges in a bikini that shows off all her perfection.

It’s undeniable. Sasha Colby is crowned the winner of Drag Race season 15. She ends the season by saying: “This is for every trans person past, present, and future because we are not going anywhere.”

After Jinkx performed, she quipped to Ru that she might be Mama, but Ru will always be mother. I hope that’s not true. Let’s shake off the mother we’ve been given and, in a grand queer tradition, choose a new one. Ru has evolved as much as she ever will. It’s time to move on. It’s time for a new mother.

Give us what we deserve. Give us Sasha Colby’s Drag Race.

Teleport Us to Mars!! Here Are Some Random Thoughts:

+ My favorite opening look was Salina’s dress with the slice of cake removed.

+ Loosey was dressed as a literal villain. It was certainly a choice!

+ During Luxx’s intro, she says that while she leads with confidence, she still has feelings. This seems like a response to the racism and hate she’s received online. The Drag Race fandom really can be the worst.

+ Mistress notes that Sugar and Spice are only five days younger than her even though they’re her daughters.

+ I loved seeing Kerri Colby and Kylie Sonique Love dancing together during Sasha’s number.

+ Wild that Michelle asked Sasha why it took her so long to be on the show. Ma’am. Ask your friend RuPaul Charles?? Anyway, glad Ru got a bit less transphobic so we could get a season of television with the one, the only, Sasha Colby.

+ And that’s another season! Thanks to everyone who read my recaps. My frustrations with RuPaul and the show aside, it does still feel meaningful to see all these talented performers on TV. I hope a cis person never wins Drag Race again.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 516 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. “We cannot assimilate ourselves to freedom.”

    Drew, you pulled out all the stops for this finale writing. Every single damn stop. And I am so grateful. Congratulations on another season of late night Fridays and early morning Saturdays. Thank you for the reminders that we get to make our own magic. It’s been a blast.

  2. I’ve rewatched the finale. Kornbread’s rap song included lines about Anetra and Sasha. It featured the whole cast and I figured they just put MIB and LNL on stage with everyone after being eliminated.

  3. Here a little late! But thank you so much for writing these recaps I look forward to every week. I agree that it’s time for Rupaul to go, can’t wait for Mother Sasha’s Drag Race. I would love to see it- I bet it would be queerer and more compassionate than I can imagine.

    I also wanted to say that Hawaii is illegally occupied by the USA, and while we are dreaming of a better drag future, I would like to give it back to the Hawaiians. And see all the Mahus thrive!!!

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