GLOW - Season 2
“Season 2 introduces the show’s first openly gay character in the form of a stripper named Yolanda.”
Episodes Reviewed: Season 2
Creators: Liz Flahive 👩🏼🇺🇸 and Carly Mensch 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Liz Flahive 👩🏼🇺🇸 (10 eps), Carly Mensch 👩🏼🇺🇸 (10 eps), Nick Jones 👨🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), Kim Rosenstock 👩🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep), Sascha Rothchild 👩🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep), and Rachel Shukert 👩🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep)
Reviewed by Mimi 👩🏻🇺🇸
Click here to read the Season 1 review of GLOW.
Last year, GLOW emerged as a campy yet endearing dramatization based on the real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a cult television hit that aired in the late 80s. The Netflix series features an assortment of antiheroes: Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), a struggling actress who finally finds her calling as an onscreen villain; Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), a soap star turned housewife turned America’s sweetheart in glitter eye makeup and spandex; and Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), a coke-snorting misanthrope trying prove he’s not a washed up director. An ensemble of misfit women playing politically incorrect wrestling personas with heart round out the cast.
Season 2 devotes the necessary time missing from the prior season to fully develop those simplistically flawed archetypes into three-dimensional characters capable of growth. No longer so wide-eyed and naive, Ruth not only hits her stride as a “heel” to Debbie’s heroic “face,” but she also demonstrates her storytelling chops behind the scenes. Meanwhile, Debbie’s failure to adjust to life as a single mother takes many dark turns that reveal her inner ugliness, including ignorance to her own privilege. Sam enjoys a redemption arc as he learns to become a father to teenage daughter Justine (Britt Baron), who last season dropped unannounced into his life.
The new episodes additionally shine much needed light on many of the supporting characters—namely, the women of color—so they no longer seem so much like tokens. Though it’s debatable how adeptly the writing navigates these detours, the end result is a season that feels fuller and more satisfying than where the series had left off.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
By diving further beneath the surface with both Ruth and Debbie’s characters, this season further complicates the relationship between the two lead women. In “Work the Leg” (Season 2, Episode 6), Debbie takes things too far in the ring and accidentally injures Ruth, whom we see being rushed to the ER in the following episode “Nothing Shattered” (Season 2, Episode 7). While last season relied upon Ruth’s affair with Debbie’s husband to generate most of the conflict, the climactic shouting match that takes place between the two women in Ruth’s hospital room makes clear that their issues with each other extend beyond fighting over any man. They air out all their grievances—the kind of deeply rooted resentment that only builds up after years of close, intimate friendship.
Leading up to the big blowout, GLOW tackles its own #MeToo moment. In “Perverts Are People Too” (Season 2, Episode 5), Ruth receives an invite to what she believes to be a professional meeting with the network head Tom Grant (Paul Fitzgerald). Ruth arrives in Tom’s hotel room, where she’s lured into a false sense of security upon seeing the familiar face of GLOW’s executive producer, Glen (Andrew Friedman). Glen eventually finds an excuse to leave—a classic bait and switch situation that echoes many of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein—giving Tom the window to make his sexual advances on Ruth. Thankfully, the writers find a way to illustrate the imbalance of power, as well as the difficult circumstance that Ruth finds herself in, without exploiting the subject of sexual assault and harassment for the sake of advancing the plot.
Perhaps more importantly, we see how victim-blaming can reinforce toxic behavior. Rather than empathize with her female colleague when she finds out what happened, Debbie tears into Ruth for not better handling the perils of the “casting couch” and thus jeopardizing the fate of their show. It’s an upsetting moment but on a topic worth addressing and bringing attention to.
In an effort to pay homage to the original GLOW, the first season walks a delicate line between subverting and actually contributing to racist stereotypes. By today’s standards, the 80s program absolutely flattened its non-white wrestlers into caricatures. It wasn’t always evident that the 2017 revival had changed all that much, particularly in how the characters of color appeared relegated to minor roles.
Season 2 attempts to remedy the problem with episodes like “Mother of All Matches” (Season 2, Episode 4). The narrative briefly steps away from the white leads to follow Tammé as she visits her son Earnest (Eli Goree) at Stanford University—a backstory that’s introduced in Season 1 but previously was not explored. We witness the microaggressions he experiences as a black student at an elite and majority-white campus. But it’s the hurt that fills his eyes when he watches his mother perform as the extremely problematic Welfare Queen—a role he views as no different than a modern-day, black minstrel—that lays bare the underlying problem with GLOW. When Debbie as Liberty Belle leads the audience in a misguided chant directed at Welfare Queen to “get a job,” she exposes her own complicity in reaffirming the racist trope of Black Americans as lazy.
The episode offers a small gesture toward reconciling the sidelining of non-white characters, as does the subplot of Arthie’s (Sunita Mani) attempt to rebrand her persona Beirut from a parody of a terrorist to a more meaningful role model. Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel) also returns to GLOW after a career setback and an incident involving chemically straightening her natural hair. These small storylines at least acknowledge the show’s problem with race. Yet overall, the series continues to underutilize its characters of color, including Carmen aka Machu Picchu (Britney Young) and Jenny aka Fortune Cookie (Ellen Wong).
In an overdue move, Season 2 introduces the show’s first openly gay character in the form of a stripper named Yolanda (Shakira Barrera) who steps into Cherry’s old role as Junk Chain. Her confidence about her identity awakens something in Arthie, which manifests as a dream sequence in “The Good Twin” (Season 2, Episode 8). The meta-episode features an Old Hollywood-inspired dance number spotlighting the two women with Yolanda in a gender-bending partner role. Their chemistry on screen reflects their growing attraction offscreen, and blossoms into a romantic relationship by the season finale.
The season also confirms the closeted status of Bash (Chris Lowell), the trust-fund kid who’s been bankrolling GLOW since its inception. His search for his butler Florian, who may have meant more to Bash than he let on, leads him to a gay bar. Still in denial about his own sexuality, he runs off. Later, when he learns about Florian’s AIDS-related death, the devastation on his face is unmistakable. But rather than propel him to come out, the tragedy drives Bash to double-down on his lie of pretending to be straight. It would be great to see the writers realize the potential of both these storylines involving queer characters should there be more episodes to come.
Bonus for Body Positivity: +0.00
The cast includes not one but two full-figured women in the roles of Carmen and Tammé. Again, it seems a missed opportunity this season didn’t do more with Carmen’s character, especially given her friendship with Bash and the possibility of raising the stakes regarding his secret. At the same time, it would be refreshing to see these women acting as more than just supportive figures for others to lean on and to instead have their desires centered.
Mediaversity Grade: B 4.13/5
In almost all aspects, GLOW’s Season 2 steps up its game. Although the series still has room to grow in terms of embracing intersectional feminism, the new season serves as an encouraging example of how inclusive representation can go hand-in-hand with higher quality storytelling. If Netflix decides to greenlight a third season, creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch could easily hire additional writers who better understand the intersections of these diverse identities that are currently being overlooked.