GLOW Season Three Review: Part One

If you’ve seen the fifth episode of GLOW’s third season – which I hope you have if you’re reading this. Turn back now if you haven’t – you can probably sympathize with how difficult it was for me to stop Netflix from performing its routine and seamless transition between episodes, as the credits rolled on number five. Overall, “Freaky Tuesday” was my favourite installment of the season thus far, and its heated conclusion left me with a dropped jaw, widened eyes, and a thirst for more episodes.

I could have continued on. This review is for my own website, which means I’m the only one to blame for making myself stop. Still, this felt like a natural pause in the season. For one thing, it’s the actual halfway point, but on a narrative level, Bash’s decision shifts a large part of the focus for the remaining episodes. In that way, “Freaky Tuesday” acts as a wonderful semicolon; separating the days when GLOW’s residency in Vegas was just three months, from the (apparent) reality that the show-within-the-show will continue on for the rest of the calendar year.

So, this seemed like a great place to stop and consider everything that’s happened so far. Plus, I can soothe my binge-hungry heart by telling myself that clicking ‘Back to Browse’ was for the sake of art. (Just go with it.) Let’s dive right in so we can all get back to the action in Vegas.

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I knew we were in for one hell of a season when the premiere opened with Ruth – in character as the American-hating Russian, Zoya the Destroya – mocking the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle disaster of 1986. On live TV, no less. It was a cringe-worthy moment, but one that highlighted just how well this series consistently walks the line between humour and drama, between silly and serious, and how well it uses that balancing act to convey a narrative that always feels so true to life. It was the perfect vehicle to get us reacquainted with the show’s world. From there, GLOW didn’t waste a second getting the season’s character arcs and plot threads set in motion.

My only qualms throughout the first four episodes were the lack of actual wrestling taking place, and the storyline where Russell came to visit Ruth – which honestly felt like an unnecessary detour, that robbed us of time spent on more important things. (More on that in a moment.) Once the plot of episode five started to unveil itself, though, I was retroactively pleased we had seen so little wrestling. Its absence only made the character-swap that much more fun. More than that, it was a testament to the character development of earlier seasons. We know these women (and who they portray in the ring) so well by now, that the swap felt much deeper than a spur of the moment caper. It was a chance for us to see new sides of these women, especially in Sheila’s case.

The swap was so uplifting. It seemed to recharge the spirits of the cast, renewing their investment in the work they’d been doing for several weeks at this point. Everyone, from the general audience, to Justine and Sandy (Geena fucking Davis!), to Sam, seemed to enjoy the swap just as much as the women themselves. Or, at least I think Sam was on board with his “I feel like I’m on acid” comment. The only person who didn’t embrace the change was Bash. As far as I can tell, he didn’t like being uninformed, audience reaction be damned. He allowed that hurt to become anger and pettiness, and agreed to Sandy’s offer to extend the show by 9 months – an offer Debbie and Sam had wanted to discuss first with everyone, which seemed reasonable. Also fair, Debbie’s point that Bash is the person who sacrifices the absolute least to keep the show in Vegas. But, Bash “My name is in the Marquee” Howard, had his ego hurt and went full fragile white male on everyone.

It was nearly as cringe-worthy as Ruth’s Challenger blunder, though I feel no sympathy for Bash. In fact, I kind of hate him in this moment. He’s gone from the loveable doofus who borders on infuriating because of all his privilege, to just an asshole, real quick. I definitely thought his character was headed in a different direction based on the (albeit minimal) growth we’d seen him undergo in regards to his marriage. He and Rhonda actually seemed like a great pair. They’re working backwards in their relationship, but they’re working on it all the same.

Once Bash showed some vulnerability about his emotionless upbringing and how that’s impacted the way he shows affection, I hoped more good things were on the horizon. Even when he was so unnecessarily rude to Bobby about the drag show, I gave him the benefit of the doubt – he was being loyal, if overly so, to Rhonda. I’m curious to see how this might shake things up in their relationship going forward.

Speaking of shaking things up, if Ruth decides to stay in Vegas – which I can only assume she will – what impact will it have on her relationship with Russell? Personally, I’d like to see her stop lying to herself about ALL that chemistry she has with Sam, and the absolute lack thereof with Russell. Sam and Ruth’s day off was charming and well-earned at this point in the series. Her time with Russell was mostly bland and was only ever made interesting by the subtle reminders of their underlying triangle with Sam.

In a similar relation-shape, though one with a whole set of different stakes, are Cherry, Keith, and the career/kids issue. Despite their authenticity and importance, the concepts of women “having it all” or the struggle to decide between kids or no kids, are a little played out on TV at this point. However, I do appreciate how none of this was dragged out for the sake of it. Cherry was immediately upfront with Keith about her feelings, and though I’m sad for their marriage – but also hopeful there’s still a chance – I like that the character stayed true to herself. That can only benefit Cherry in the end and I’m eager to see where the rest of this season’s arc takes her.

The relationship I’m most invested in right now, though, and can’t wait to see more of, is between Arthie and Yolanda. They weren’t exactly on my radar in season two, but our brief glimpse into their day-to-day during episode two, “Hot Tub Club,” was enough to totally get me on board. Again, it’s not as if their particular sexual struggles were new to TV – though they are seen far less commonly than Candy’s predicament – but they were infused with that GLOW realness I previously mentioned.

I really believe Arthie when she talks about feeling inadequate – I’d be surprised if I was the only woman who did – and I equally believe Yolanda when she says that’s nonsense. What I find most significant is the way GLOW allows this to be both about body image issues AND female pleasure. Yolanda assures Arthie she finds her sexy, but she also makes it clear what she needs in terms of a sexual partner, and that’s what sets this apart. Also, their scenes never take away from the show’s overall tone, unlike some of the straight relationships *cough, Ruth and Russell, cough.*

In general, women-focused issues have taken center stage over these first five. Not that GLOW has never focused on its ladies prior to now, but season three has certainly upped the ante. Everything from Debbie’s (sudden?) bulimia, to Sheila’s (sudden?) readiness to explore a new side of herself, and even the subtle yet significant quote from Sandy about being referred to all too often as “someone’s wife,” have been handled with the kind of thoughtfulness and nuance you can only get from women showrunners. They’re giving us a look at issues that matter to a variety of women, without beating us over the head with any kind of MESSAGE. The stories are allowed to just play out, there is no heavy-handedness. Again, it’s that GLOW realness.

Alright, I think that’s good for now. I’m ready to get back to Vegas, how about you? I can’t wait to see what decision the women will make. I assume most of them will stay on with the show, but I can’t help but wonder if the character swap was a preview of a rotating cast. And there has to be at least a little fallout from Bash’s petty speech…right? Will Debbie stick around? How might this impact her softening relationship with Ruth? Is Sheila ready to shed her wolf skin? And how long can Tammé ignore her worsening back? Let’s all click ‘Next Episode’ and find out!

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