I Have Too Many Thoughts On “GLOW” Season Two

Promotional poster courtesy of Netflix and IMDb.

Warning: This blog post contains a million spoilers about the plot of “GLOW” season two. “GLOW” the show has been stylized as such, while the show within the show has been stylized as “G.L.O.W.”

From the outside, my love for GLOW doesn’t make a ton of sense. The Netflix Original Series is a fictional depiction of the making of the original “Gorgeous Ladies of Westling” from the 1980’s, a show I did not watch, have not heard of, and likely would not have any interest in. Wrestling (and sports generally) have never been a real area of interest for me. However, when I turned on the first season last summer, I was hooked almost immediately. The real appeal, at least for me, is not the wrestling or the 80’s nostalgia — though that is definitely fun. It is the fact this show celebrates and explores the narratives of women. The cast and creative team is dominated by women and explores narratives important to them. It is a show about female empowerment in a world that is extremely hesitant about the concept.

If you missed season one, it largely detailed the creation of “G.L.O.W.” as a show, from inception to the airing of the pilot. Season two picks up not too long after and follows “G.L.O.W.” as it becomes a cult phenomenon (yet struggles to stay afloat.) It touches on a number of issues, such as social norms for women, the media industry, changing family norms, and race. Instead of a more structured review, I’ve included my thoughts on some of the major points of the season below.

 

ON THE WOMAN CENTRIC AND FAMILY DYNAMIC OF “GLOW”

Season one of “GLOW” told the story of a band of misfit women working together to create something, even though that something may be a small and “silly” women’s wrestling show. It illustrated the beginning of their tentative friendship, where wrestling was something they were doing to make money and these were the women they happened to work with. The season finale watched that work pay off, as the women truly seemed to be friends and worked together well to film the show’s pilot. It is peak television. Season two capitalizes on this dynamic. These aren’t just women who need work (though they do). This is a family. They look out for one another and care about putting on a good wrestling show. Despite “G.L.O.W.” (the show within the show) capitalizing on harmful stereotypes of both women and race, it also allows the actresses a degree of freedom they would lack on other network television shows. They create their storylines, choreograph their own fights, and design their own outfits. They get to be powerful women, so much more than a secretary with one line. This is an incredibly interesting dynamic to me, as the women are fighting to push the boundaries of patriarchy and racism, while simultaneously capitalizing off of it (in terms of their wrestling characters). When “GLOW” wrestles with this problem is when it is at its absolute best.

The ladies of “G.L.O.W.” Photo courtesy of Erica Parise/Netflix

 

ON DEBBIE AND “G.L.O.W.”

However, this family dynamic is not universal. Debbie (Betty Gilpin) is almost universally left out. Still, this is largely her own doing. While her decision to divorce Mark (Rick Sommer) and work on “G.L.O.W.” at the end of season one seemed to indicate an acceptance of the show, Debbie still views herself as separate and above the other cast members. She negotiates a new contract to become a producer (This is a good move. It is just less good when you realize she left all the other girls to sign their devastating and degrading contracts instead of offering any kind of advice as a veteran actress.) and at one point demands a separate dressing room. When she breaks Ruth’s (Allison Brie) leg mid-season, she tells Ruth that “G.L.O.W.” is “just a show.” It is this comment that sends Ruth, who takes unbelievable amounts of verbal abuse with barely a flinch, over the edge. “G.L.O.W.” is her life, her passion, and a family that cares about her. Even more, Ruth seems to fundamentally understand “G.L.O.W.” better than anyone else. The only person to whom “G.L.O.W.” is only a show is, quite frankly, Debbie.

ON DEBBIE AND RUTH

On the topic of Debbie and Ruth, which truly is the relationship center of the show, I sincerely question whether they should even be friends. Ruth has been apologetic and undemanding for MONTHS after sleeping with Mark, to the point where is sometimes hard to watch. She has kept her space, dedicated her life to G.L.O.W. and apologized numerous times. She doesn’t bring it up and seems to know that she may never have a relationship with Debbie again. Meanwhile, Debbie purposefully blocks her dates, is often hot-and-cold during conversations, and then breaks her leg during a taping after snorting coke. Furthermore, the fight in the hospital indicated that their relationship was this lopsided long before Mark and Ruth’s affair. While I would like Debbie and Ruth to move on and be friends in the future, their current selves do not need to be. They both, especially Debbie, need some serious character and relationship growth. I have no interest in seeing the old, lopsided relationship of Debbie and Ruth as friends. Yet, I’d be okay with a new kind of friendship between the two, one with respect and boundaries and mutual understanding. Maybe, just maybe, they can create this by working together on “G.L.O.W.” It’s failed thus far.

Kia Stevens and Betty Gilpin. Photo courtesy of Beth Dubber/Netflix

 

ON “THE MOTHER OF ALL MATCHES”

I could spend ages writing about the beautiful episode that is “The Mother of All Matches,” which focuses almost entirely on Tammé (Kia Stevens) and Debbie. It transposes these two very different women’s lives, one an older black mother who has spent her life working odd and hard jobs to provide for her (now grown) son, and the other a white woman who, while privileged, has fought for her place in the entertainment industry and is now struggling to balance her job with her newborn baby. When people talk about intersectional feminism and different levels of privilege, this episode is the perfect examination of such. While we know that Debbie has worked hard to earn her status as an actress, Tammé hasn’t even taken an acting class. She easily talks about her experience packaging airplane food, a job she held for seven years. While Debbie is struggling to earn respect as a producer, Tammé is struggling to balance the empowerment from “G.L.O.W.” with its tendency to lean into offensive and harmful racial stereotypes. Her own son questions whether she works as part of a minstrel show. The last scenes of the show, in which Debbie (as Liberty Belle) leads the crowd to chant “Get a job!” at a woman who has worked hard her entire life, in front of her son, are painful. Tammé (as Welfare Queen) breaks and leaves the ring in tears. The crowd boos Liberty Belle. Stevens’ performance this episode, and the entire season, is a thing to behold. It is moving, powerful, and incredibly introspective. Please cast her in everything. “The Mother of All Matches” also is a standout episode for Betty Gilpin as Debbie. Gilpin is always great, even when I want to personally fight her character. “Mother” provides a much-needed delve into Debbie’s handling of the divorce, which is not going well. After receiving a call from her ex-husband’s secretary asking what model of bed she uses, Debbie spirals and spirals hard. She immediately sells the bed, followed by every other object in her home. She feels a sense of release, encapsulated in a beautiful moment of her quietly singing “Home on the Range” in her empty house. Of course, it’s then ruined by a call from Mark to inform her she left her son at daycare. “The Mother of All Matches” is a duet of sorts between Gilpin and Stevens and wow, is it beautiful. It’s an examination of race, of “G.L.O.W.” and most importantly, of motherhood. At the center is the budding friendship between Debbie and Tammé, brought together by their roles as working moms and what that means. It may seem a bit like an odd pairing, but in retrospect, it makes so much sense. Give them all the awards.

 

ON BASH AND THE AIDS CRISIS

Chris Lowell as the lovable idiot Sebastian Bash continues to be one of the most surprising and well-acted characters on the show. While he was given a largely humorous role in season one, season two’s Bash gets what I found the most dramatic and heart-wrenching storyline of the season. The show has long hinted at Bash’s sexuality, though it remains incredibly subtle. While season two still skirts around the issue, never using any LGBTQ+ terms, the plot is still there. Season two goes right for the heart when Bash’s butler/childhood friend Florian leaves his employment. This is first played as though it is a direct response to Bash’s narcissism and inability to handle funds, which (in all fairness) would have been a perfectly acceptable reason to leave him. This results in a search for Florian at a gay bar, where the usually fairly confident and expressive Bash retreats into himself. Lowell’s performance and body language here is incredible. Florian is nowhere to be found and a trip to Bash’s family home reveals that he actually received money from Bash’s mother and went to “travel.” Yet in the penultimate episode, Bash receives a call from the hospital informing him that Florian has died from “technically pneumonia.” The caller then states that Bash will have trouble finding a cemetery or mortician willing to take the body. It’s the 1980’s in America and while AIDS isn’t explicitly mentioned, it’s here.

This revelation results in some of the best scenes in the show. Bash is deep in the closet. His world comes crashing down around him after Florian’s death. The final scene of “Rosalie” is a slow-zoom on Bash’s face as he attempts to maintain control in a bar full of strangers after hearing the news of Florian’s death. He hires a cleaning crew to remove Florian’s things from his room and then clean his entire house, even suggesting to bleach it. Again, while AIDS is never specifically mentioned, the boss of the cleaning crew states that this is something they’ve seen a lot of recently. Bash breaks down in a chair by the pool, goes to the final GLOW taping, and suddenly is breaking up Rhonda’s green card wedding to a fan by instead offering himself up to marry her. While preventing Rhonda from marrying a legitimate stalker is a great thing, this isn’t Bash marrying someone he loves. He is running. It hurts to watch.

GLOW is a “comedy” (honestly debatable) with an ensemble cast of almost all women. It could ignore the AIDS crisis if it wanted to, despite its relevance in the time period. While I’m glad they’ve chosen to include and address it, something about the lack of confirmation of Bash’s sexuality and the lack of direct use of the word AIDS bothers me. On one hand, GLOW has never easily spelled out things. The lack of explicit mentioning is an artistic choice, possibly to mirror the fact it doesn’t seem like Bash entirely knows what’s going on either. The AIDS crisis wasn’t talked about in large parts of society and keeping it hidden away adds to the sick and nervous feeling one gets when realizing where the plot is going. It’s an unspoken horror. However, to someone unfamiliar with the AIDS crisis, the entire storyline could go undetected. There are a number of pieces on the Internet debating whether or not Bash is in love with Rhonda or Carmen. By keeping the entire storyline fairly vague, the show gave room for different interpretations instead of solid LGBTQ+ representation. Interviews with the cast (post season two’s release) have largely confirmed Bash’s sexuality, but I still think an explicit (or at least, somewhat clearer) acknowledgment is needed in season three.

Allison Brie as Ruth. Photo courtesy of Beth Dubber/Netflix.

 

ON “ME TOO” AND RUTH

The other major topic covered in “GLOW” this season is the entertainment industry’s treatment of women. When Ruth is invited to talk with the television network’s boss, Mr. Grant, about her career, she attends the meeting. However, upon arrival, she finds that the meeting is actually in his private bungalow. He then pressures her into demonstrating wrestling moves on him, pushes himself into her space, and then leaves the room to go turn on his jacuzzi tub for them. Ruth packs up her things and leaves the room as soon as he is gone. I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, this scene calls forth all sorts of recent accusations against men in the entertainment industry. I figured out where it was going far before Ruth did, and sat through the scene with a sinking feeling in my stomach. Luckily, she was able to escape before things could escalate any further (though they were already bad). The scene is masterfully done and has been written about by a number of people. Even more compelling to me though, is what happens when Ruth tells Debbie what happened when the show is soon moved to a much later (2 a.m.) time slot as a result. Debbie then blames Ruth for the encounter, arguing that women sometimes have to do things they don’t like to get ahead in the industry. Ruth is already in an (understandably) emotionally vulnerable place, and it is absolutely devastating to watch. While it is so clear to me —and hopefully most people today— to see that none of what happened is Ruth’s fault, that isn’t how it is handled by Debbie. The argument is classic victim blaming, though it hurts far more to hear it coming from a woman. Even worse, Debbie’s argument that this is just something that happens and should be accepted hints that the reaction may come from the fact Debbie may have been hurt or used by the industry as well. Acting and writing wise, it is an impeccable performance and impressive examination of how women in the 1980’s dealt with and reacted to issues of sexual harassment. Watching it though, it just hurts.

About the Author

Elissa Miller is a sophomore at UNC Charlotte studying Communications and Political Science. When she isn’t reviewing theater for Niner Times, she is pretending to be a homicide detective for the Mock Trial team and forcing her friends to binge watch television with her. In the future, she would like to be an investigative journalist, a lawyer, or the second female President of the United States (because if there isn’t one before the time she gets there, that’s just sad).
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