Meet the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. The first season of GLOW — a glittery, bruising, empowering take on the world of women’s wrestling in the ’80s — is now on Netflix, and we’re stepping into the ring to recap all 10 episodes. Strap on your legwarmers, stretch it out, and follow along as you watch.
EPISODE 1: “Pilot”
A couple of weeks before GLOW premiered on Netflix, Alison Brie said she was once asked to take her top off at an Entourage audition. Although she later clarified she was wearing a bikini top underneath her shirt, the point still stands: Women in Hollywood go through a very specific experience — then and now.
The ’80s-set GLOW opens with Brie’s Ruth passionately performing a capital-M Monologue about good guys and bad guys and power and justice. She kills it. After she finishes, she starts crying. There aren’t roles like this for women right now, she effuses, thanking them for giving her this opportunity.
“You’re reading the man’s part,” one of the producers shoots back. Oh. Well.
Ruth then reads the woman’s part. It’s a secretary telling her male boss that someone’s on the phone. That’s it. You’re either the secretary or the topless beach babe — take your pick.
Cut to Ruth doing a crossword puzzle on the toilet (relatable!), waiting for Mallory (Amy Farrington), one of the producers, so she can get some feedback on her audition (less relatable!). About an hour later, it happens. Mallory is not pleased — bathroom breaks are sacred, Ruth! — but she’s actually kinda… helpful? Sure, she insults Ruth by telling her she keeps bringing her in to show directors that when they say they want a real girl, they are wrong (to be clear, Ruth is a Real Girl), and suggests casting her in some “experimental projects” — a.k.a. porn. Again: You’re either the secretary or the topless beach babe.
As it turns out, Ruth knew that she was reading the man’s part in that audition — she also knew it was the better part, which is why she went for it anyway. “What I’m interested in are real parts,” Ruth says defiantly. “Not secretaries telling powerful men their wives are on line 2.”
Ruth is desperate, if you couldn’t already tell from the bathroom stalking — not quite porn-desperate, but desperate. As she later tells her good friend Debbie (Betty Gilpin), she’s down to $83 and has eaten Cinnamon Toast Crunch for the last six meals. “But, hey,” she concludes with faux optimism. “I’m gonna do porn! So things are looking up!”
Little does she know, things really are looking up. By the time Ruth gets home, she has a voicemail waiting for her from Mallory. “They’re looking for unconventional women, whatever the hell that means, and I thought of you,” she says. Ruth is overjoyed. This is her chance! Then she gets to the audition, held in an empty warehouse filled with a boxing ring. She soon discovers she’s trying out for GLOW — or the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. She doesn’t wrestle. Actually, none of the dozens of girls there seem to wrestle. That doesn’t matter: Director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), who apparently has a past with “trashy vampire movies,” just wants enthusiasm (and women who are willing to bust their faces during some play-wrestling). The problem is, Ruth can’t just be enthusiastic. She’s an actress.
And she tries to prove that to disastrous results, not realizing that Sam doesn’t give a s— whether or not she can read lines. She turns one practice bit with another potential wrestler into a stilted, Les Mis-style dialogue and promptly gets cut. To deal with this, she goes and eats sad tacos… but then a group of children (yes, children) steal them, along with her keys and wallet. Kids!
Luckily, Debbie comes and rescues her — and she has a spare key to Ruth’s apartment. What a wonderful friendship, you’re thinking. Sure. But when Ruth goes to retrieve the spare key from Debbie’s ring, she notices something: a picture of Debbie and her husband, Mark (Rich Sommer), whom you might recognize as the guy Ruth had sex with earlier in the episode (you might also recognize him as Harry from Mad Men). This means that, yes, Ruth is sleeping with her best friend’s husband. And also that Trudy Campbell is sleeping with Harry Crane, because why put two Mad Men alums in a show if you’re not going to invent some Mad Men fan-fiction? Anyway, back to the love triangle at hand: Yikes.
It doesn’t take long for the truth to come out. That night, Ruth watches Hulk Hogan videos and delightfully channels the Hulkster as she body-slams herself around the apartment, donning various homemade, colorful wrestling outfits. The next day, she’s ready to GLOW, so she goes back to the ring wearing neon face paint, a red cape, and fingerless yellow dish gloves. She looks ridiculous. She forces an audition on Sam, who’s fresh off snorting a line of coke. She quotes Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She hesitantly somersaults. I’m not going to pretend I can recreate the magic of this scene with words, but: It’s perfect.
And then Debbie runs in, her baby in hand. She knows, and she’s ready to fight. It sucks for Ruth, but Debbie also picked a very convenient time to confront her friend. Everyone in the warehouse watches intently as Debbie yells at Ruth. “I wanna kick your ass, and then I never want to see you again!” she growls. They tussle, and then it cuts to a fantasy sequence of the two surrounded by a screaming crowd. In this dream, Ruth defeats Debbie. She’s victorious! Of course she is! She’s a Gorgeous Lady of Wrestling, after all!
In real life, that’s not exactly true. Debbie ends up pinning Ruth down, and one of Sam’s assistants calls it. Sam smiles. Welcome to GLOW, Ruth.
“Résumé gets a little thin after 1979.” —Sam
“Movies get a little white after 1979.” —Cherry (Sydelle Noel)
“They were small, but they were feral! They were… not well cared for! It was very scary!” —Ruth unconvincingly expressing how terrifying the kids who robbed her were
“Premenstrual syndrome! She’s MOODY! Now she needs a nap!” —Ruth perfecting her wrestling persona
Most ’80s Moment: One word: aerobics. Okay, maybe two: leotards.
Episode Grade: A-
(Click ahead for episode 2)
Rehearsal doesn’t go much better for her. Sam asks her for a party trick, and she does an impersonation of Audrey Hepburn accepting an Oscar for Roman Holiday. Here’s an even better party trick, Ruth: reading the room. She also has to continue to deal with Melrose, who is endlessly annoying and does things like loudly quote Rocky, because, get it, they’re in a boxing ring! And that’s the least of her offenses.
Later, Melrose is in the locker room when she overhears Sam and Cherry having a conversation about their intimate past. They’re by the lockers; she’s on the toilet, saying things like “I hear nothing!” She hears everything, including Sam asking Cherry about her miscarriage two years ago. Cherry says she’s fine, but tersely, the way you say, “I’m fine,” when you’re really not but just want to be done with the conversation.
Fast-forward to Sam abandoning the women to go on a mission (we’ll get to that later) and leaving Cherry in charge. Melrose and Cherry are not exactly fast friends, and soon the Lorna Morello lookalike is calling Cherry a dictator during a food break at a burger joint. Whatever; Cherry’s not there. But once they all, Cherry included, return to the ring, Melrose slams herself on the floor to practice a move and promptly pretends to have a miscarriage as Cherry rushes to her aid. Red liquid spews from Melrose’s nether regions… but it’s just ketchup. Congrats, Melrose! You pissed off Cherry and were wildly insensitive in the process.
Now, back to Sam’s mission: After hearing his wrestlers-in-the-making talking about how Debbie is a soap star, he decides to show up at her house and ask/beg her to join the cast. When he arrives, she’s icing her boob with frozen peas because Baby Frankie bit it while he was breastfeeding, so she’s generally not in the mood to deal with anyone, much less slimy Sam. But he’s persistent, and he thinks she’s it. Feeling broken, Debbie begins to relent and even agrees to go with him back to the ring once he promises her Ruth is gone.
They arrive at the warehouse right after Melrose’s miscarriage stunt, so that’s already a mess, and then Debbie realizes Sam lied. Ruth is totally there. She’s mad; Ruth is mad; Sam is delighted. This is what he wanted! Two real-life friends-turned-enemies battling it out.
Cherry and Sam then have Melrose re-enact her miscarriage bit. Sam’s verdict? “That was terrible.” He suggests they invent a backstory and characters, which results in one of the ladies shouting out a suggestion that the miscarriage happened when someone kicked Melrose in the belly. That person has to be a homewrecker, so Sam, of course, assigns Ruth that character. He does plenty of negging to get her angry, and eventually, she, deeply uncomfortable, “kicks” Melrose. “F—, am I having a miscarriage?” Melrose cries. Cherry is sitting in the risers, throwing up in her mouth.
It was messed up for Melrose to do that gag in the first place, and it was even more messed up that Sam had her do it again, knowing Cherry’s history. Later, when Cherry’s partner, Keith (Bashir Salahuddin), picks her up, he realizes she appears frozen and asks how her day went. “It got a little intense,” she responds. “I’m fine.” Right then, Sam knocks on the window and offers her double the salary if she’ll be both an actress and a trainer.
“Baby, we need to redo the bathroom!” Keith reasons once Sam walks away. Pretty new bathrooms are great and all, but how much emotional pain is a shiny toilet worth?
Cherry’s not alone in her anger. Debbie is officially joining the show to play the hero to Ruth’s villain. “Everyone’s gonna hate you!” Sam gleefully tells Ruth, who most definitely does not want everyone to hate her. “Try not giving a f—,” he advises. “And relax! The devil gets all the best lines.” And that is a perfect segue into the best quotes section, dominated by who else but…
“I haven’t talked to you since the whole… womb goof.” —Sam
“The miscarriage?” —Cherry
“I was trying to come up with a tactful euphemism.” —Sam
“Oh, I trust him. Who doesn’t trust a man with a mustache full of coke?” —Melrose on Sam
“What’s that?” —Debbie
“It’s a Pound Puppy for the little barnacle.” —Sam
“It’s a rabbit.” —Debbie
“She has nothing. No man, no love, no friends. Her hair is brown. The color of s—.” —Sam on Ruth
Most ’80s Moment: Melrose rolling up in her white limo
Episode Grade: B+
(Click ahead for episode 3)
Here we meet Sebastian Howard (Chris Lowell), a.k.a. Bash, a.k.a. the GLOW producer. He’s definitely cute and I guess a little charming, but mostly just because he’s cute. The women at the warehouse either think he’s the best thing ever or recognize that he’s powerful and want to get on his good side — either way, they laugh heartily as he tells them cheesy stories. He’s not immediately creepy, partly thanks to his lack of mustache (sorry, Sam, but also not!), but he’s waaaay too enthusiastic and waaaay too into being surrounded by women — especially Debbie, whom he, of course, takes an immediate liking to.
Sam interrupts this gigglefest to introduce 10 scripts he’s printed out. Sam is all about storytelling and character building, so today, they’re going to do some Acting. Ruth gets to read the narration and stage directions, which she treats like a Shakespeare play, and Bash — who might be high off his ass because, really, who is naturally that excited? — is into it.
This goes on for a while — Ruth narrating, the others taking on new roles — until Sam finally lets Ruth become a character he calls Kuntar, “a vision of hideousness.” Calling someone played by Alison Brie a vision of hideousness doesn’t really work, but, okay. (Bash agrees: Later, he says, “There’s no world where people look at her and see hideous or evil. She’s apple pie and ice cream.”) She doesn’t get long to shine, though, because they cut rehearsal short and Bash takes them all to a party at his lavish digs, where his butler is waiting for them with hors d’oeuvres. And by hors d’oeuvres, I mean a bowl of Lucky Charms. Sliders are overrated, anyway.
The party is fine until it very much isn’t. There is a robot filled with drugs (yes), and there are cheese puffs, and there is art (a real Lichtenstein, Melrose exclaims). Everyone gets pretty intoxicated, including Debbie, who spills her guts to the butler in a very stereotypical drunk-girl scene. Soon enough, he and Ruth are putting her in a cab home while Bash is letting the rest of the women go wild in his costume closet. It’s all fun and games until Bash begins reducing everyone to stereotypes. According to him, Jenny (Ellen Wong) is Oriental, Arthie (Sunita Mani) is Arab, and Tamee (Kia Stevens) is a “big black girl.” Noooo. Nooooooooooooooo.
He’s doing this because he thinks wrestlers have to be simplistic stereotypes to be successful. The women and Sam try to fight him on this idea, but he wins because he’s the producer and he’s the one in power and he’s a man and all that fun stuff. Sam even comes close to backing out until Ruth talks him into sticking with GLOW because it’s all she has — and until Bash says he’ll make Sam’s wacky pet project of a script into a movie as long as he stays with the show. Sam’s whole thing is to prize the story over everything else, and here Bash is, giving him a chance to make his story become a reality… just not his GLOW one, necessarily.
Cut to shots of each “wrestler” perfecting her newly assigned persona on camera as Sam and Bash look on, giving nods of approval or comments of dissatisfaction. The montage is seemingly supposed to show us how crappy the entertainment industry is — how crappy it is that these women are forced to embrace crappy stereotypes in order to have this job. And, sure, it gets those points across well enough. But it also feels like the show is trying to have its cake and eat it too: parading stereotypes it plays for laughs without saying anything new or especially insightful. This episode proves the series is still figuring out what, if anything, it wants to say beyond, “Hey, women and minorities have it tough” — unless it knows exactly what it wants to say and is just taking advantage of the Netflix binge model by taking its time to get there.
“It’s a party. Don’t overthink it.” —Sam
“The last time I went to a party with Debbie, I got drunk and slept with her husband.” —Ruth
“Wrestling is not about backstory! It’s about type. And your type is…” —Bash
“Intelligent and whimsical?” —Arthie
Most ’80s Moment: A lot of good choices here, but we’re going to go with the neon sign spelling out “neon” that Ruth and Bash zone out to at his party.
Episode Grade: B
(Click ahead for episode 4)
They think it’s genius. The motel’s close to the rehearsal space, cutting down everyone’s commute time, and it’ll give Sam and Bash more control over the women. For example, they institute a curfew and a no-drug policy. Forcing 14 women to live together with a bunch of rules probably isn’t genius at all, but they have already proved how clueless they are, so… it’s not surprising. Plus, The Real World didn’t come out until 1992, years after the events of this show — how could they possibly know that sticking 14 strangers together is a definite recipe for things to stop being polite and start getting real?
But things are actually, surprisingly, going okay at first. There’s a weird scene where Rhonda (Kate Nash) teaches Carmen (Britney Young) how to put lotion on her legs, which isn’t something I thought had to be taught until this very moment. Ruth is paired with Sheila (Gayle Rankin), someone Ruth doesn’t really know what to do with because she does things like sleep in with her wig, in full goth makeup. When Ruth tells her new roommate she can take off her persona when she goes to bed, Sheila gets defensive. “Stop looking at me!” she cries in the dark motel room.
Later, Ruth pitches some new persona ideas to Sam. One is Mint Julep, “a bitchy southern debutante type,” and the other is an “evil person” who “gives out raisins to kids on Halloween.” Sam rejects both ideas, says he’s still thinking of an idea for her, and suggests she pair up with Sheila for rehearsal that day. It’s awkward for both of them, and their stilted relationship reaches a head when that night, Ruth arrives home to their shared room to find a dead squirrel in her bed.
This leads to a heartfelt discussion between the two — Sheila explains that her witchy apparel isn’t a persona; it’s her, and it’s not for anyone else. Ruth kinda gets it, because, as she reveals, she dressed up as Anne of Green Gables — puffy sleeves and all — for an entire year after her grandpa died when she was 10. Not exactly the same, but close enough.
The two end up reaching a truce: They’ll do the good ol’ sock-on-the-door trick whenever they need some privacy… which Sheila needs already. That leaves Ruth out sleeping by on a chair by the pool, where she’ll soon be joined by Debbie, who leaves her home after Mark tells her it’s his house and he is staying there no matter what.
So we’ve learned that Mark is even more of a jerk than we originally thought and that Sheila uses her look as an armor. We also learn that Carmen’s pro-wrestler dad, Goliath, is not happy with his daughter’s attempt to follow in his footsteps. He shows up to the ring and talks about how he wants her to have a job where people respect her. At first, she gives in and is about to leave with him until Bash tries something: He pretends to be her boyfriend, hoping that will convince Goliath his daughter is living the “normal” life he wants her to. He doesn’t buy it. But Carmen’s suddenly filled with confidence and stands up to her stern dad, telling him that he can either be supportive, or she’ll leave like her mom did. Forget body slams; this is the toughest move there is.
Back inside, Tamee is talking to Sam about how her character is offensive. “That’s the genius of it!” he argues. “It’s commentary on an existing stereotype. It’s sort of a f— you to the Republican party and their welfare reform and race-baiting s—.” Tamee rightfully points out that viewers might not recognize that, and if they don’t, then they’ll just see her enforcing these stereotypes. Sam thinks it’s pushing the envelope; she thinks it’s hurtful. The conversation is a necessary and important follow-up to the ending montage in the last episode, which had very little commentary and very many stereotypes, and it shows how hard speaking up can be. Sam acts like he’s progressive and an ally, but when Tamee actually voices her concerns about the character, he pushes back, insisting that she needs to embrace taking risks. It’s not fair to her, no matter how noble his intentions might be, and it’s a reminder that you don’t have to be an unapologetic bigot to be insensitive.
Sam ends that talk by giving Tamee some of his movies to watch to show her how much he loves risks. She takes them home, and later, the women have a group movie night watching Blood Disco. Partway through, the film cuts out — and cuts to a confessional-style tape of Sam talking about himself. It soon becomes clear it’s a video dating profile.
“I guess I’ve reached that age where I have to admit I’m just looking for a partner I can stand, who has a great smile,” he tells the camera, taking drags off a cigarette. “And a great figure. Who doesn’t tear me apart like a banshee every time I make a mistake.”
He’s lonely and vulnerable here, and the wrestlers love it. It’s the ’80s equivalent of stumbling across your boss’ profile on Tinder, a deeply uncomfortable but deeply amusing discovery… and maybe even one that will work in Sam’s favor.
“I mean, you’re some big famous giant, but you’re an asshole, and you wear oversized diapers for a living.” —Sam to Goliath
“I’m not going anywhere, so take your squirrel and you sleep somewhere else, you goddamn wolf!” —Ruth to Sheila
“I’ve worn this, or some version of this, every day for the past five years. It’s not a costume. It’s me. And what I do in the morning, what I put on, what I wear, it’s not for you. It’s for me.” —Sheila
“Do you trust him? Or is he just another white, racist director?” —Tamee on Sam
“He’s more sexist than racist.” —Keith
“So, you know, choose me. I’m lonely, and my cock works great.” —Sam
Most ’80s Moment: Sam’s video dating tape, obviously
Episode Grade: B
(Click ahead for episode 5)
And so, Debbie spends this episode attempting to take off her cool cap and align her priorities. She arranges a part-time babysitting deal with her mother (“It’s Chessy from The Parent Trap!” I yelled to nobody) and, seizing a moment when Carmen isn’t practicing with Ruth, approaches the young Goliath to ask for training advice. Carmen is quick to deduce the core problem that Debbie hasn’t even been to a real wrestling match before. So, joined by Melrose (who is growing increasingly desperate to leave wrestle-motel purgatory at night), the girls head to a local match, where Debbie is entranced by Steel Horse, a burly showman who rides into the ring on a motorcycle, as one does. His rival, Mr. Monopoly, arrives to the sound of scorning boos from the audience, and as Carmen fills in a wild backstory about half-brothers, brainwashed wives, and paterfamilial revenge, Debbie has her grand epiphany about the art of wrestling: “It’s a soap opera! This whole thing is a soap opera!’
Backstage, an inspired Debbie meets Steel Horse, who proves to be a big fan of Debbie’s old soap, Paradise Cove, and offers her lessons in story, character, and the unspoken partnership fighters must cultivate with non-friendly opponents (what a coincidence!). Debbie also sleeps with Steel Horse, which is not quite a coincidence but certainly a conquest. Sleeping with Steel Horse only serves to remind Debbie of her unhappiness at not being able to reconcile with her cheating husband — an insecurity she shares with omniscient trainer slash sage Cherry — but on the plus side, Debbie is more galvanized than ever and ready to fight. As she informs Sam in the final moment of the episode, she just needs a villain.
Lucky for us, Ruth has spent the entire episode developing a new quasi-villainous character, based partly on her interaction with the impolite Russian motel owner and partly on the capitalist impulses she feels when she, Rhonda, and Sam join Bash on a visit to a possible network sponsor: Patio Town, an outdoor furniture and décor company. It’s a mecca for suburban moms and the last place you’d expect to lend its name to a sexy wrestling show, but Sam works his magic with the owner and points out all the desperate, horny husbands who would tune in to watch women like Rhonda work their piledrivers.
I can’t exactly explain why Ruth’s random monologue works here — she interrupts a ribbon cutting as this Russian anti-consumerism idealist character, and people seem to be really into it. It doesn’t really tell us anything about wrestling or whether Patio Town will sponsor GLOW, but at least it brings Sam and Ruth together, momentarily, until he informs her that she can’t play the Russian unless she’s willing to fight the all-American: Debbie.
Also, Sam and Rhonda are banging apparently. Cool.
Best Quote: Episode 5 was noticeably the weakest thus far in terms of one-liners, but we’re redeemed by Sam’s explanation to Glen about how to sell the show: “Hot and family-friendly, Glen! Porn you can watch with your kids. Finally.”
Most ‘80s Moment: Rotary phone prank calls will always have a place in my heart, but the clear ‘80s explosion was everything and anything that had to do with Justine (Britt Baron) and her crush on Billy, the pizza guy. His slow motion walk to Tears for Fears. His Billy Idol-lite aesthetic. Clipped lines like “Hey. You got black olives this time.” And Justine’s Velcro wallet! Radical, man.
Episode Grade: B+
(Click ahead for episode 6)
In Ruth’s stead, Debbie and Sam attempt to audition their way through the rest of the girls and see whether another partnership can stick. It’s a science experiment wherein two stereotypes begin to banter, and from their output machine comes a fundamental truth; it starts strongly when Debbie ditches international diplomacy and does a round of racial inequality with Tamee the Welfare Queen, who accosts her in the freezer aisle. Though Debbie claims the story makes no sense, the brief click and clash of metaphors is where Sam’s horribly problematic vision could have started to make more sense in its reliance on extremity. Debbie goes up against Arthie (as Beirut, the terrorist) and can’t catch her, and she doesn’t even engage Sheila the She-Wolf in some sort of bizarre rabies story line. (I sadly wish we could have seen more of these trials — America vs. knowledge, in the form of Rhonda’s Brittanica, or America vs. Jenny’s Fortune Cookie, or even the southern belle archetype vs. Melrose’s party girl.)
Nevertheless, nothing sticks, and Debbie’s frustration comes to a head when Sam once again reminds her that Ruth, in addition to being talented, is also the one sad sack who is going to make Debbie look absolutely great.
To that point, Ruth has spent the day taking off work and developing her character, a responsibility she primarily pins on Gregory the motel owner. She wants to present Zoya as an authentic representation, not a cartoon Russian villain — LOL, sure — so she convinces Gregory to take her to family function: a bris for his way-too-old nephew Michael, a chess champion who is now living the American dream and, as such, has finally earned circumcision. (Congrats, babe.) Ruth proves to be as culturally ignorant as they come, but in drinking heavy amounts of vodka, singing Yentl, and learning a valuable lesson from Gregory’s family about the reality of American opportunity, she emerges from her field reporting a new woman.
Enter Gittel the Orthodox Warrior, the new, not-really-improved, now-Jewish-focused character that Ruth has decided to inhabit because, as she puts it, “If Russia can’t go to war with America, what’s the point?” Before Ruth can embarrass herself too much as the Jewish Jessica Jones, Debbie finally decides to step up, shuck down her ice pack, and confront Ruth in the ring — but only as Zoya the Destroyer. Ruth quickly catches on to the character invitation, and the duo spark as they spar over fast food and football. They’re angry, they’re exciting, and they’re working it together — until, look, it’s working.
The other story line worth mentioning in this episode belongs to Justine, who gets the C story again this week. (Admittedly, I’m surprised she gets another one when there are stronger characters like, say, Arthie or Tamee who still haven’t gotten much in the way of subplots yet.) Nevertheless, Justine is snuggling with Billy at breakfast when she mentions Sam and his movies, and Billy dismisses him as a hack job De Palma rip-off. Justine, as we know, is a diehard Sam Sylvia fan and defends him loyally — even if it means ditching Billy and his zine, Agnostic Toad. That’s why it’s heartbreaking when she finds out that not only is Rhonda sleeping with Sam, but that Sam let her read the script for Mothers and Lovers and will hand over a part to her, too. It’s a breach of artistry and everything Justine admires about Sam — including the integrity of GLOW. So, Justine does what any rational teen whose hero has betrayed her would do: She steals Sam’s camera.
Best Quote: “I once went so method as April in a production of Company, my own boyfriend didn’t recognize me. Then he hit on me at an airport bar. And then, well… I was really great in that production. I just used my pain to emote.” – Ruth, extolling the merits of going deep into character
Most ‘80s Moment: Rather than isolate one ‘80s moment within this episode, I think it’s more important to point out how this episode itself is positioned inside a greater ‘80s moment that comes into play with some magnitude this week: the Cold War. Ruth gets a throwaway line as Debbie’s pinned her down — “You may have defeated me today, but this Cold War is only starting to heat up” — and it’s the most specific reminder we get of where and when GLOW lives. Debbie and Ruth’s warring America versus Russia characters aren’t just fueled by our modern sensibility of antiquated stereotypes, but very of-the-moment ideas that are very much informed by the rise of Reagan and Gorbachev in the world outside of Sam’s gym. The importance of Debbie fighting Ruth isn’t just for the combustion of the wrestling characters, but for what it means to the viewing audience in GLOW’s nondescript ‘80s Los Angeles (which, by the way, is comparatively breezy for letting Ruth get away with blatant American mockery of Slavic culture at a predominantly Russian-attended event). Anyway, the political slant of GLOW’s Russia-America showdown is a whole thing — and it’s far from what we really should be talking about with GLOW anyway. So, let’s just say the best ‘80s moment was Alison Brie belting bad Yentl and call it a day.
Episode grade: B
(Click ahead for episode 7)
Since network exec Glen is on board, Sam and Bash have their first production meeting and discover that they’ve still got a dizzying amount of things to secure: lighting, sound, an announcer (Sam), a ref (Keith), and a cameraman. And a camera, too, since Sam’s was stolen. Bash gets upset, and Sam puts out the feelers to the girls, adding that he’ll fire whomever is discovered with the camera. Justine gets an idea.
Sam posts the official line-up and it all checks out — except for Cherry and Tamee, who are pitted in a tag-team match against Dawn (Rebekka Johnson) and Stacey (Kimmy Gatewood), playing two elderly women. Sensing the problematic racial optics of two black women beating up two old white ladies, Cherry and Tamee decide to switch the narrative and convince the idiotic Dawn and Stacey to don KKK outfits for their match, which arguably turns out to be the key to GLOW’s success long before we get to the final America vs. Russia match.
To that end, Debbie and Ruth have decided that the simple routine they’ve been taught by Cherry isn’t nearly exciting enough. In search of panache, Debbie enlists Ruth to step it up alongside her, and the two head over to the home of the Lumberjacksons to train with Carmen’s brothers. Debbie wants to get aerial, and Ruth is willing to do basically anything Debbie asks, clearly for both love of the sport and willingness to show her remorse to Debbie. The Lumberjacksons don’t f— around by any means, training the girls in private all week long by demonstrating all sorts of intense maneuvers before landing on the pièce de résistance: a jump. (Presumably, no other matches have factored in the most fundamentally exciting part of wrestling.)
Cue a training montage! And, maybe, a friendship quasi-rehabilitation montage, too, as Debbie learns to rely on Ruth once more as teammate and partner. Of course, there are still barbs from Debbie: “It’s like a f—ing trust fall, only I stare at your face and remember all the reasons I don’t trust you.” But just maybe, they’re ready to take the first steps towards a friendship out of the ring that isn’t based on Lycra cosplay.
As for Sam, he’s fairly nervous the night before the match, so Rhonda gives him a good-luck present: a VHS tape of her singing a budget theme song for GLOW — somewhere in goofy edginess between the Beastie Boys and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. The jingle is fine enough, but Sam is more surprised that Rhonda used his camcorder to film it. She says she found it in her locker, and it’s a matter of time before Justine blows her own plan and makes it obvious that she tried to frame Rhonda. Sam wonders what to do, and Rhonda impels him to treat Justine as a jealous teen obsessed with her hero — meaning, with kindness, generosity, and maybe a man-to-teen conversation about what happens with a Sam and a Rhonda are attracted to each other.
The match rolls around, and it’s as listless and bland as the gym itself. Sure, some audience members have rolled in, but there’s next to no enthusiasm for the first fight between Vicky the Viking (Marianna Palka) and Carmen’s Machu Picchu. (Carmen can’t even go into the ring, instead running outside and telling Bash she might have had a heart attack; they share a sweet moment of insecurity, which leads me to wonder whether this is the first real relationship to consider shipping?) The next match, between Beirut and Fortune Cookie, goes without much hurrah, too. It’s only when Cherry and Tamee come out swinging in their grudge match against Dawn and Stacey’s KKK morons that things really get started. The crowd goes wild with boos and cheers, and Junk Chain and Welfare Queen emerge victorious among a buzzing audience that, palpably, is ready for more.
The momentum continues all the way into the final match between Liberty Belle and Zoya, who marches in with her boombox threatening to neuter dogs and fill pools with borscht. The match is great, their specialized moves are unexpected and solid, and the energy continues magnifying until Debbie takes the ropes for her final jump. And suddenly, her husband Mark arrives.
A few things could happen: Debbie could give him the ultimate F-you and do the jump, thereby choosing Ruth. Debbie could be reminded of her hatred of Ruth and do the jump, thereby injuring Ruth. Or Debbie could do exactly what she does, which is completely abandon Ruth and confront Mark in the bathroom. He’s furious at what he sees (although he has only slight reason to be) and gives Debbie divorce papers, rendering her immobile to return to the ring.
Fortunately, outside, Ruth is a master of awkward pauses in her daily life, so she entertains the crowd by vamping through the anti-climactic moment. And then Rhonda bursts in with her GLOW jingle, grabbing the mic and encouraging all the girls to join her in the ring to sing their jubilant cheer. The inaugural live meeting of GLOW, for all its bumps and misses, looks to be a handmade success.
Best Quote: “I’d like to call on the power of my three favorite Americans: Ronald Reagan, Larry Bird, and Jesus Christ himself.” — Debbie (as Liberty Belle), introducing herself to the crowd
Most ‘80s Moment: Aside from the razzle-dazzle techno beat that accompanies Debbie and Ruth’s climactic fight, this episode’s focus on VHS tapes and Casio keyboards is its own gorgeous tribute to a bygone time.
Episode Grade: A-
(Click ahead for episode 8)
Ruth is visibly anxious in the locker room following practice as her co-stars pass around tampons like so many party favors. And we find out why soon after when she peruses the feminine hygiene aisle at the drugstore, looking not for Tampax but for a pregnancy test.
And speaking of Debbie’s philandering husband, Mark, he’s flummoxed when Debbie returns home with signed, notarized divorce papers. He rips them up because, after all, he didn’t actually mean to give them to her. (See: the line where he claimed Debbie was sleeping with Burt Reynolds.) He wants to work things out: “You are entitled to your anger, and I acknowledge it,” he tells her. And if that sounds like something a therapist would say, that’s because it is. Mark’s been going to therapy and hopes Debbie will join him.
While Debbie contemplates reconciliation, Sam thinks it’s time to break up with Rhonda as he’s “losing his authority.” (Patriarchy — it’s what’s for dinner!) Anyway, Sam takes Ruth to look at a possible venue for their pilot taping — and to get some advice on his relationship woes. (It’s worth noting here that Sam had wanted to take Bash location scouting, but no one has heard from him in days. Which is worrisome…) On the plus side, however, the venue — a Mayan-themed theater — is pretty terrific. (Even better: a bit of stunt casting in which the theater guide is played by none other than Brooke Hogan, daughter of Hulk.)
Back at the hotel, the women are decorating Sheila and Ruth’s room to celebrate She-Wolf’s birthday. But Ruth buzzes right past the balloons and streamers to complete her mission: She needs to take that pregnancy test. And forget peeing on a stick. At-home pregnancy tests in the ‘80s more closely resembled a beginner’s chemistry set with various test tubes, strips, and other accouterments. After what seems like hours, the results are clear: Ruth is indeed pregnant. And now she must put on a happy face and go roller skating for Sheila’s birthday.
“I don’t trust shoes that move,” mopes Sheila. But in a lovely twist, she takes to roller skating like a fish to water and has a grand old time. In fact, the women can’t even lure off the rink when it’s time to blow out the “106” candle on her cake. (That’s how old she is in wolf years, which are different than dog years, apparently.)
The next day, with no one else to turn to, Ruth calls Sam for a lift to Planned Parenthood. On the drive, he informs Ruth that he broke up with Rhonda and that she got kind of emotional about it. (A very interesting interpretation given that Rhonda dumped him, even after he offered to start over and take her to dinner.) Whether chastened by his own recent relationship turmoil or because he’s simply grown fond of Ruth (likely, a combination of the two), Sam is uncharacteristically sweet to his actress, and he agrees to stay and wait for her instead of going shopping for pink frosted donuts. (But this is Sam we’re talking about, and he also can’t help being a little salty, heckling Ruth: “If you liked pink things a little less, maybe we wouldn’t be here right now.”)
As Ruth lies on the table in the stirrups, giving her consent to the abortion, she looks up to see a single ceiling tile made to look like a blue sky with white puffy clouds.
Best Quote: “You guys! We’re on the same cycle. We’re finally a team.” —Melrose
Most ‘80s Moment: Rhonda and Sam arguing over who is the better James Bond: George Lazenby or Roger Moore
Episode Grade: A
(Click ahead for episode 9)
The next day, Sam tells the women they’re going on hiatus (you can’t be canceled if you never made it to air), but, fittingly, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling won’t go down without a fight. They’re sure they can raise the $9,000 they need to pay for the venue with a bikini car wash. Meanwhile, Bash pays a visit to his mother (played by the always excellent Elizabeth Perkins) to ask for the freeze on his account to be thawed and explains that he’s been using the funds to front a wrestling TV show. She’s not amused and returns her attention to the Just Say No! fundraiser she’s throwing — which Bash is required to attend.
Despite all the suds and swimsuits, the women make a paltry $287 at their car wash. (Melrose’s genius next-step plan: topless car wash!) But before things get rated-R, Bash has an epiphany of his own: They’ll crash his mom’s fundraiser under the guise of being recovered addicts (a.k.a. WAD: Wrestlers Against Drugs) and give their testimony to curry sympathy (and sponsors).
As the women mingle at the party, Sam reveals to Ruth that they’ve already lost their venue. And to add insult to injury, Sam learns something upsetting about his dream project, Mothers and Lovers. Namely, that someone beat him to it. It’s called Back to the Future. Demoralized, he retreats to a vacant bedroom and self-soothes by listening to Perry Como records. His shadow, Justine, quickly finds him and listens to his woes. Drunk and distressed, Mark tries to find a bit of physical solace in Justine, kissing her. But, twist! She’s his daughter! Yep, she’s been so intrigued by him not because she has a crush on him but because he’s her father. (Apparently Mark slept with Justine’s mother after getting kicked out of a Black Panther rally.) And, boy, he botches this moment by asking what she wants from him (money? Bone marrow?). She runs out, crushed.
Back at the party, Debbie and Ruth have something of a heart-to-heart — or as much of one as they’ve had since Debbie found out about Ruth’s affair with her husband. Debbie confides that wrestling has empowered her. “It’s like I’m back in my body, and it doesn’t belong to Randy or Mark,” she says. “I feel like a goddamn superhero.” But that moment of intimacy is soon stifled by reality: “Sometimes I’m so sad you took away the option of us ever being able to have a f—ing normal conversation,” she says to Ruth, teary-eyed. (Oh, Betty Gilpin, you slay me.)
Before the night’s over, Bash gets his chance to stump for WAD, having each girl tell their “recovery” story in front of the packed house. Ruth uses her moment as a confessional, admitting her misdeeds with Mark.
The women’s stories strike a chord, and several deep pockets cut checks. But Birdie is having none of it. But she does make a deal: She won’t give Bash money, but she will let him use their ballroom to stage the pilot. And just like that, we’re back in the ring!
“You were expecting, what? Sean Penn?”
“No, just someone less like a giant Cabbage Patch Kid.” —Sam telling Ruth his first impressions of Mark
“He’s not poor, he’s broke. There’s a difference.” —Debbie on Bash
Most ‘80s Moment: A toss-up between news coverage of the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and Sam doing blow off of a framed portrait of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
Episode Grade: B+
(Click ahead for episode 10)
And what they see as they walk into the ballroom is both spectacular and terrifying — a grand hall with at least a hundred seats to fill and a glitchy PA system. But, hey, at least they got their pink ropes. With Sam absent, Ruth picks up the slack of stage directing, instructing the camera men to go tripod-less, reworking the run of show, and appointing Bash announcer. (Thank god he had the presence of mind to pack a tux for a wrestling match!)
Sam does ultimately find Justine (by shaking down another pizza delivery boy for intel) and tries to do right by her, insisting that things can only get better from here. Which, although trite, seems pretty true given that he was trying to make out with her no fewer than 72 hours ago. Yet, she refuses to go with him to the taping.
Back at the Hayworth, it’s showtime. First up: Britannica vs. Beirut. And, given that not much time has elapsed since the TWA Flight 847 hijacking, Arthie’s terrorist character isn’t well received. In fact, during the match, an audience member spits on her, while another hurls a beer can into the ring, cutting Britannica’s face.
“Everyone really hated me,” Arthie laments to Rhonda backstage.
“Yeah, but that’s a good thing though, right?” says Rhonda.
Next up: Vicky Viking vs. Junk Chain. Cherry lets slip to her referee husband that she got the part she auditioned for in the cop show. They’re going to celebrate tonight.
As Melrose and She-Wolf duke it out in the third match, Sam spots Debbie sitting in the audience with husband Mark. When she goes out to the lobby to get a drink, Sam follows — still unaware that she’s dropped out of the show. When he calls her a quitter, she’s not shy about throwing that accusation right back in his face.
And now it’s on to the fourth match: Welfare Queen vs. Machu Picchu. As you’ll recall, Carmen has some stage fright issues, and it looks as though she may have another fainting spell, sweating and panting in the corner. But then, in probably one of the loveliest moments of the series thus far, she spots her recalcitrant wrestler dad in the audience chanting her name. And she’s buoyed. She takes on Welfare Queen and wins.
And here, right as Justine shows up, we learn Ruth’s contingency plan. She — as Zoya the Destroya — and Fortune Cookie will tag team The Beatdown Biddies. (So red versus…silver?) No surprise, Zoya and Fortune Cookie make quick work of the “elderly” women, kicking them off their sides of the ring. But as Russia and China are crowned the night’s victors, we witness a double cross! Zoya puts Fortune Cookie in a headlock! In the words of announcer Bash: “Russia’s not sharing that crown with anyone.”
Zoya heckles the audience: “Russia is supreme world leader! I am victorious! No one can defeat Zoya! Everyone here is too much sissy!”
But before Zoya can even touch her crown, a voice cries out from the audience: “I’ll fight you!” It’s Debbie. And she’s conveniently worn her leotard under her khaki dress. “I’m ready to kick your Soviet ass all the way back to Siberia!”
Cue the Pat Benatar-soundtracked montage. And it’s a thing of beauty. The two women seamlessly execute the moves they’ve been practicing for weeks. But with a heightened kicker — Liberty Belle performs her signature move from the top rope! And she’s the winner!
But — wait! — one more twist. Sam can’t let such a predictable ending lie, so he sends Welfare Queen into the ring to strip Liberty Belle of her crown!
Fuming, she and Ruth confront a smirking Sam in the audience. “So what now? It’s all about trying to win the crown back from Welfare Queen?” Debbie asks.
“Yeah, the money’s in the chase,” Sam replies.
As Ruth and Debbie survey the mayhem unfolding in the ring, Ruth asks a simple question: “You wanna grab a drink?”
“No,” says Debbie. “We’re not there.”
Best Quote: “I’m sorry I tried to f— you. If you’d told me you were my daughter, I never would have tried to do that.” —Sam to Justine
Most ‘80s Moment: Ruth’s fanny pack
Episode Grade: B+