Gia Gunn stepped into the work room on episode 1 of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars season 4 with things to say. In fact, the first one was simple: “Step aside boys, cause the real queen is here.”
They were important words; an instant acknowledgment of history being made. With her presence on the season, Gunn was now the first openly trans drag artist who had medically transitioned to compete in a full season of Drag Race — Sonique was the only queen with a similar accolade to preceed her on a Ru-helmed show, but did so on the Holi-Slay Spectacular. Coming after those comments from Ru — who acknowledged the new inclusion obliquely by replacing the show’s, now trademark “Gentlemen, start your engines” with “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines" — it was a welcome change. But just as soon as that history had been made, it was clear that Gunn had gotten what we all have come to deem “the villain edit.”
Let’s be clear: in almost any interesting television series based in part on reality, somebody is made to be the villain. Sometimes this is a product of the person’s actual personality, sometimes it’s based moreso on an edit, and usually it's a combination of both. The technique adds a dynamic that helps push along the storylines and carry narratives that can sometimes … frankly be boring.
Right off the bat, Gunn was clearly and most consistently framed as the shady and most cutting of the new cast. Telling Trinity the Tuck that she should be worried about her act for the talent show or whispering that she’s “bored” during someone else’s set — no matter how accurate — is going to undoubtedly be seen by some viewers as mean-spirited or evil. And it’s a reaction that editors and producers bet on.
The truth is that literally every other queen could have been making the same sort of comments. Or each one of Gunn’s shady remarks could have been delivered and taken in jest, received with laughs. But the lack of those laughs, or similar comments from other performers paint a particular story about Gia: She’s shady fish.
But in tonight’s episode, it seemed like a little more than editing. After giving Farrah Moan the heat in confessionals in episode one, Gunn brought the heat to the work room. When prepping for the main stage she takes a moment to have a few words with Moan.
“Do your makeup and get ready honey, because according to your team, you are the weakest link,” she says. The comment sets off what is more than a contentious moment. Moan clapped back, characterizing the comments as essentially trying to psych her out. And fair, Farrah: it did all seem like some Survivor, Regina George in Mean Girls, or (my personal favorite) Georgina Sparks in Gossip Girl ploy to leave you shook.
Gunn pivoted the conversation to reopen some pre-season drama between the two, recounting a night where Moan apparently came to her job drunk before the pair fell out. And since she’s in the mood to call a spade a spade, Moan said exactly what she feels, calling the entire conversation “opportunistic.” The conversation eventually spilled into the rest of the cast, with Monique Heart and Naomi Smalls sticking up for Farrah in the end.
“Baby this is a competition,” Gunn said in a confessional. “If you can’t take the pressure of your other competitors, then you don’t deserve to be here. Get into it, or get out.”
The comment seemed to make it evident that Gunn is indeed leaning into the role of villain as a strategy. Sure, the editors and producers are heaping it on heavy, adding suspenseful music, and making sure to include as many of her shady comments as possible, but it’s not like she’s making it hard for them. Who interrupts one of the queens in the bottom two (hi Farrah, hi Monique) pleading their case for a pardon from a top queen (hi Valentina, hi Monet X Change) to apologize for something that happened six months ago? But, as we all know, the easiest way to win the game is to know how it‘s played
This isn’t to say that Gunn is relying on the strategy. She has consistently turned out some of the best performances this season so far (she was robbed at the talent show). But a whole season with no drama … literally no one signed up for that.
Buckle up boys, because as Georgina says: You can tell Jesus the bitch is back.