GLOW season 2 was an entertaining break from the summer heat and all of the daily chaos that seems to happen in our news cycle. There was a lot — perhaps too much — thrown at viewers in just 10 episodes; but overall, the entertaining, fun, 80’s-spirited second season featuring our favorite female wrestlers was a worthwhile distraction.
GLOW season 2 threw a lot of content at viewers, including a new wrestler, new relationships, and new drama. By the finale, I felt overwhelmed by all of the “extra” stuff thrown into the mix. Don’t get me wrong: the series’ second season was everything that I expected it to be. But the added absurdities almost took away from the heavier content GLOW was attempting to shed light on.
The Glass Ceiling and the Working Woman
GLOW season 2 touched on all things having to do with breaking glass ceilings. The series’ second season begins with the women starting to film the first season of the show. Sam (Marc Maron) is all over the place and stressed out by network executives, the set taking too long, and contractual questions. To relieve some of the pressure, Ruth (Alison Brie) takes it upon herself to film a title sequence at the local mall with the girls. After showing the sequence, Sam goes on an unnecessary power trip, realizing that Ruth’s leadership is welcome and accepted by the girls. Sam immediately views this as a threat to his power. Reggie, our viking wrestler, defends Ruth and tells Sam that the only reason the pilot episode happened was because Ruth saved him by basically directing it herself. Sam then fires Reggie and warns the others that they are all replaceable.
During contract negotiations, Debbie (Betty Gilpin) decides that she is going to attempt to get more money and become an executive producer of the show. After dining with a network executive, she gets her wish but is not taken seriously by Bash and Sam, who ultimately try to keep her away from decision-making.
My favorite part of GLOW is that the show does not shy away from going to the awkward places that other shows won’t visit. Ruth and Debbie’s friendship — if you can call it that — is still in pieces, and it is revealed that Debbie and Mark are actually going through a divorce. As Debbie attempts to get herself ahead, she only seems to push the other girls, especially Ruth, further and further behind.
The turning point in the season occurs during episode 6, “Work the Leg,” when Debbie is pushed over the edge in her personal life and takes it into the ring during Liberty Belle and Zoya’s match. After discovering Mark is moving on with a new girlfriend, Debbie indulges in Sam’s cocaine stash only to lose control in the ring, ultimately breaking Ruth’s ankle — thus ruining Ruth’s first big advancement in her career. Strip down all of the metaphors of this broken ankle and Debbie’s broken marriage, and look at these two powerful portrayals of the gritty truth of female relationships: Female friendships come intertwined with many emotions, including all of the unhealthy ones. After Ruth’s diagnosis, in a necessary verbal showdown at the hospital, the two women reveal all of their faults with their friendships through the years; and viewers learn how broken their friendship really was even before the betrayal.
After being benched by Sam for overstepping her directing boundaries and being used by Debbie for input with no credit, Brie’s character is pushed over the edge with unwanted advances by the head of the network. In what she thinks is a recognition of her capabilities as an actress, Ruth agrees to meet with Tom Grant, the head of the network that GLOW is aired on. After Ruth is left alone in a room with Grant, she begins to talk about how strong GLOW has made her feel. Upon mentioning her strength, Grant then uses this admission to talk about his own physical fitness and grabs Ruth’s hand, forcing her to feel his “non-flabby” stomach. He then repeatedly asks for wrestling move demonstrations, only to request a headlock where he then buries his face into Ruth’s breasts. When watching this scene, my stomach dropped for Ruth as she stood there, frozen and powerless after revealing how strong GLOW had made her feel as a woman. Brie’s portrayal of this violated woman, who desperately wants to be recognized for the hard-working, career-driven actress that she is and intensely strives to be, only to be sexually assaulted by a man with all of the power is heartbreaking.
After learning the show is being moved to a 2:00 a.m. time slot, Ruth confides in Debbie about her encounter — only to be chastised and berated for rejecting the head of the network. Debbie lectures that Ruth should have done everything in her power to make Grant feel like she wanted to sleep with him. Ruth defends her actions and declares that the business shouldn’t be this way for women. After telling Ruth that she needs to accept the business for what it is and play the game, Debbie leaves Ruth, who has just been sexually assaulted by the network head with, “The one time you keep your legs shut, we all get….”
Well, you get the picture. She also goes on to blame Ruth for the loss of the show and taking 20 other people down with her. I loved Alison Brie in GLOW season 1, but her portrayal of Ruth in this second season was tender, intricate, and versatile. If we fell in love with Ruth for all of her quirks and whimsy in season one, we fell in love with her heart in season two.
In preventing the other women of GLOW from rising, Debbie was only holding herself back. What good is breaking through glass ceilings if you don’t pull others up with you? By the end of the season, Ruth had directed an episode, Justine was allowed to help with the shots, Debbie was an active producer; and the most heart-warming moment of the show was when ego and star-driven Debbie, the one who berated her friend, allowed Ruth to win the GLOW crown. Female relationships, especially those developed in the workforce, are complicated with jealousy and competition. Gilpin and Brie’s portrayal of the complex relationship between Ruth and Debbie is the glue that holds this show together.
Sam Sylvia Has a Heart
I loved the character of Sam Sylvia in season one. He was one of those characters that you love to dislike because he’s so vile and offensive, yet oddly enjoyable to watch. Maron also did an incredible job of showing that there was more to Sam than just a gruff, old, washed-up director with a substance abuse problem. In GLOW season 2, we see the intricate breakdown of his character — the vulnerabilities, the creativity, and the redeeming heart that lies under all of the offensive dialogue and cocaine.
Sam was always intrigued by Ruth; but in this season, viewers learn that Sam actually cares for Ruth and doesn’t really know how to express his feelings in a healthy way. Surprisingly, I liked this potential ‘ship. These are two hard-working, career-driven people that are generally misunderstood or taken for granted. When they work together, they are a cohesive team; but they are both frail when it comes to the hard stuff: emotions and relationships.
After they have talked out their early season dispute, Sam tells Ruth that he could never replace her. When Ruth feels herself falling for Sam, she runs to Russell, the camera guy. She even converses with Justine’s mother about how hard it is to find relationships that are easy and straightforward — uncomplicated. But for all of the complications, Ruth and Sam seem to be experiencing something that neither one of them have really experienced before, and I sure cannot wait for that to develop in the series’ third season. Hopefully, Ruth will realize that Russell’s uncomplicated nature is not what she needs or wants.
As much as Debbie and Ruth’s friendship has kept GLOW season 2 from completely falling prey to the chaos of some of the additional storylines, the relationship between Sam and Justine was also a delightful surprise. Late in season one, Justine revealed that she was actually Sam’s daughter (after he awkwardly tried to sleep with her). Season two reveals that Justine is now living with Sam, and they have developed a dysfunctional, but present, relationship. I love Sam’s brutal honesty. He tells people like it is, including Justine. He explains that he is new to the parenting experience, and just because he is now a father, it doesn’t mean that he is automatically going to change all of his ways — including his lack of communication skills. This relationship develops more throughout the season, even after Justine’s biological mother shows up at Sam’s door and reveals Justine had actually run away from home. Marc Maron pulls you into an embrace as he hugs Justine goodbye, realizing that he’s losing the daughter that broke through some emotional walls. Viewers want to hold both characters close and not let Justine get in that car.
Sam and Justine’s parent/child relationship is not the only parental relationship explored on GLOW. Viewers learn that Tamme, aka Welfare Queen, is a single mother, who has a son that attends Stanford University on a Martin Luther King, Jr. scholarship. Tamme drives all the way to Stanford to see her son at parents’ weekend for only a few hours, only to have to drive home to get to work. Viewers learn that Tamme has not told her son about her new role as Welfare Queen on a television series, and when her son declares that he wants to see her acting, she is hesitant. After seeing her son’s disappointment while she is wrestling in the ring, playing a character that is based off of racial stereotypes, Tamme runs out of the ring crying. In a surprising twist, her son reveals how stunned he was to see his mother wrestling like a true athlete. Though disappointed in how offensive her character was, her son put his disappointment aside to be proud of the woman who raised him and for her strength in both her wrestling persona and her role as a mother.
Debbie also continues to struggle with her role as a working mom. She has a difficult time dropping Randy off at daycare, she forgets to pick up him up during all of the chaos of the divorce, and she has to learn how to co-parent with Mark while he is newly dating. When the show gets picked up as a Vegas show, Debbie has to say goodbye to Randy and drives away holding Tamme’s hand as she waves goodbye to her baby. As a mother, I loved that GLOW, a series about 80’s women wrestlers, tackles the issues of parenting, of motherhood, and of female identity.
Too Much All At Once
GLOW tackles the big issues: feminism, the glass ceiling, female empowerment and strength, the female identity, motherhood, the working mom, sexual assault, parenting, and well, wrestling and show business. In a poor attempt to bring back stories to the foreground for the other characters, the writers threw a bunch of added and absurd storylines into the mix. I love that GLOW attempted to add inclusive and LGBTQ stories into their season; but with the lack of time and space, the storylines seemed forced and rushed. Arthie, aka Beirut the Mad Bomber, develops a crush on the new wrestler, Yoyo, aka the new Junkchain. A new wrestler should have been fun and a new twist; but as likable as Yoyo’s character was, she still seemed out of place by the end of the season.
Bash is given an often confusing and misplaced storyline about his butler, Florian. Florian goes missing; and throughout GLOW season 2, Bash is desperately attempting to find him. Bash is notified in the ninth episode that Florian has passed away from AIDS. Like all of the back stories of the supporting characters, this storyline, an important story that could have been told, was rushed, misleading, and often more confusing than telling most of the time. Viewers never learn the nature of Bash and Florian’s relationship. Even if it is confusing or still being processed for Bash, viewers should be given some sort of insight.
Throw in Rhonda’s near deportation and almost marriage to “Cupcake,” an obsessed fan who even refers to her as Britannica outside of the ring, her actual marriage to a heartbroken and grieving Bash (who is trying to figure out his Florian relationship), an enema for MelRose, Jenny stealing a potential boyfriend from MelRose, Carmen’s brother claiming copyright status on wrestling moves, and Reggie’s return…there is too much — way too much — information thrown at viewers in ten 35-minute episodes.
The characters themselves bring humor with their dialogue and natural sorority-style chemistry. Maron is a hilarious comedic actor. Brie is both charming and hysterical. The nonsensical storylines with boyfriends and enemas are time-consuming and unnecessary. The time could have been better filled with focusing on the rushed storylines that left us viewers hanging with their lack of time, information, and natural development.
Overall, despite the extra and underdeveloped storylines and the distracting absurdities, I think that GLOW season 2 is an entertaining way to get through these summer months. Brie, Gilpin, and Maron hold the show together with their worthwhile performances and natural chemistry. I look forward to where the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling take us in Vegas.
GLOW Season 2 is available now for streaming on Netflix.