GLOW Season Three Review: Part Two

I’ve seen a lot of negative criticism regarding the lack of wrestling in this season of GLOW, and while I’ve already discussed how it was a bit of a problem for me during the first few episodes, I actually didn’t miss it all that much in the end. In fact, I think its absence was beneficial to the show for a number of reasons and proved that its creators, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, have an excellent grasp on the story they’re telling. They took a risk in shifting the focus (if only slightly) of their show, but it was far from a thoughtless gamble.

It would have been all too easy for this season to be just a heightened version of what came before; turn the glitz, eye shadow, and melodrama to 11. Given that this was taking place in 1980s Vegas, none of that would feel an inch out of place. Instead, GLOW traded in just some of its spectacle – Debbie’s hair, for example, is bigger and better than ever – for a whole lot more substance.

In this age of TV plenty, it’s essential for a show to stay fresh. To endeavour to offer something new for its viewers each and every season. I can guarantee that if we’d seen just as much wrestling – or, at least, more than we saw in these latest 10 episodes – there would have been complaints about how the show was starting to feel repetitive. In some ways, that repetition may have felt of a piece with the in-universe show, since much of the women’s time in Vegas was spent putting on the same performance night after night. But GLOW makes sure we understand we’re not missing anything by being left out of the ring, for the most part, this time around.

When we do see the show-within-the-show, we’re always treated to something different – the character-swap from episode five, the Christmas-themed finale – which made the performances that much more engaging. The time gained from not having to focus so much on the wrestling was well-earned in being put to use developing characters much deeper than ever before and diving into subject matter that felt necessary to tackle at this point in the series. More than ever, this season felt like the ensemble show that GLOW always had the potential to be.

We still spent a lot of time with the main players – Ruth, Debbie, Sam, and Bash – but it was about damn time for characters like Sheila, Melanie, Jenny, Arthie, and Yolanda to have story arcs that didn’t always have to intertwine with the main cast’s. Even Dawn and Stacey feel more like real humans now, even if they are kind of the worst. For the most part, the recurring characters were the ones to watch, too.

As compelling as it was to see Debbie and Ruth navigate their careers and do their own versions of soul-searching in a quest to see what’s next for them, that kind of storyline just doesn’t have the same emotional component as watching Sheila come completely out of her shell. Seeing Sam and Justine build a real relationship was incredibly touching, but it can’t really be compared to the way Melanie and Jenny wound up strengthening their own bond. “Outward Bound” which saw the women take, an apparently much needed, camping trip strengthened the entire group’s bond, not to mention the audience’s connection with them.

The episode was a highlight of the season overall, and one that tackled certain issues –race, sexual orientation, bigotry, and white ally-ship – the show was long-overdue in dedicating time to. It’s one thing to understand that (some of) these women are using stereotypes of their race, gender, or nationality in a satirical way for their alter-egos, but it was the right move for the show to allow someone like Jenny the chance to express what a toll it takes on her emotional and mental health.

In my review for the first half of the season, I discussed how real this show manages to be underneath the wackiness of the ring, but this season added even more layers. This season allowed the show to mature in a way where it feels more relevant than ever before. Not that a show is required to say something about the current culture just to be deemed worthy, but as TV evolves into a more valued art form, the more a show worth its salt should reflect life in some way.

Which is why I’m ultimately torn about what happened with Yolanda and Arthie, and Bash and Rhonda. On the positive side, I’m glad it was the queer women of colour who were centered in the hate crime during the drag ball storyline. Certainly not because I want to see that shit happen, but because it’s these exact people who are too often sidelined from such stories that impact them the most. I was relieved to see the fire wasn’t for the sake of having a teachable moment for the white, straight women – though I do wish it had been an opportunity to show some kind of solidarity. In the end, it was the (unfortunate) nudge Arthie needed to be truthful about who she is, and not just for Yolanda either, but for herself, and the community she is now embracing.

Where I’m not so convinced, is in the unfolding of Bash’s sexuality. I mean, certain things make a lot more sense now, like how he was SO offended by Bobby’s assumption that he might be gay. I always got the sense that Bash had something more than friendship with Florian (who passed away last season) and previously thought he may bi or pansexual. So, it’s not as though this came completely out of nowhere. It just didn’t have the same organic progression as the other storylines did throughout this season though, and therefore wound up feeling like, not exactly an afterthought, but not a fully realized one either.

Still, I can’t help but feel for him; it remains difficult for people to come out in 2019 and I can’t imagine what it would have been like for a man of his status, to be honest with the world in the late 80s. I’m willing to give this whole thing the benefit of the doubt until next season, but I really hope he’s honest with at least Rhonda, who deserves it more than anyone after the love she’s shown him.

Their marriage is only one of a least a dozen other story arcs GLOW can pick up on, should it be renewed for another season. Here’s hoping they get that call back because, for all the loose ends this finale tied up – Keith came back! Debbie and Bash have a new partnership! Yolanda and Arthie forever! – it seems we got twice as many cliffhangers.

We still need some resolution on Debbie and Ruth’s friendship, which was in a much better place this season but ended on a pretty uncertain note. I still think there’s a world where Ruth and Sam get their happily ever after – especially once they realize neither of them is the bad guy in the situation with Justine’s movie. I want to know what a Bash-owned and Debbie-run TV station looks like. Will the women stay in Vegas or transition to making television? Will Carmen return if she learns about the new opportunity with Debbie?

Despite the heartwarming and fulfilling “Christmas Carol” show the women put on – Carmen’s adaptation of which was incredible – this finale left the crew scattered in a way that wouldn’t allow for much of any closure on what’s perhaps the most important focus of this show: the friendships. Seasons one and two showed us how the women became a team in the ring, but season three went deeper and allowed us to see them grow into a family outside of it.

By shifting away from the wrestling, we got to focus on a lot more women-centered and real-world issues, which lent GLOW a whole new level of authenticity. It demonstrated how this show is capable of reinventing itself by staying fresh and relevant in a crowded market, and that it could easily bring us at least one or two more solid seasons of TV. Fingers crossed Netflix agrees.

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