Graphic: Beth Dubber (Netflix)

We’ve finally hit the true proof of G.L.O.W.’s popularity in the halfway mark of GLOW. Fans wait outside the venue with signs (“CAN I BE YOUR WELFARE KING?”), they cosplay, they send fan mail ranging from a genuine appreciation for the characters to dick pics (the ‘80s really weren’t so different). There is a fandom for G.L.O.W., and even though the world of GLOW is so insular, it does a good job of showing that these women in a very niche version of a niche brand of entertainment are getting acknowledged for their hard work.

So naturally, they must be punished for this. Or at least Ruth. Definitely Ruth.

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But before focusing on that, I’ll mention that it’s also pretty clear G.L.O.W. is suffering in this episode from that concept of being told woman-centric pop culture doesn’t sell, when it clearly does. (It’s not being sold well though. As Debbie mentions to Glen, the billboard for the big main event that should’ve drawn big numbers was behind the DMV in Encino.) They get a meet and greet out of their supposed failure to reach an audience, after all. Then G.L.O.W.’s suffering comes from a real life monster getting back at Ruth for bruising his ego and not letting him “take” her. This is what happens when Ruth finally doesn’t take a particular brand of shit.

Obviously, “Me Too” didn’t exist in the ‘80s, but even without the modern context, “Perverts Are People, Too” is a story GLOW would eventually need to do. Sexual harassment in the wrestling industry, in the entertainment industry, in the damn world is too common to act like that wouldn’t also be a struggle here. (Part of the reason the Sam and Bash characters get praise for the most basic human decency at times is because of the stories of mental and verbal abuse from the real G.L.O.W.’s Matt Cimber.) GLOW works well in balancing the comedy and the drama, but “Perverts Are People, Too” really takes things to the extreme on the drama front. There’s still comedy, but it’s hard to leave this episode without just feeling sad and defeated. And for Debbie to represent the kind of internalized misogyny of this situation—when it’s hard to imagine even Sam or Bash would do the same thing and not defend Ruth’s choice—is such a gut punch in an episode already filled with despair. GLOW really knows how to hit hard, as Debbie has perhaps the funniest run of dialogue in the episode as well as the most painful.

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Again, GLOW handles things in ways that make the audience acknowledge they’re “of the time,” but while that can explain it, it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. Because if you even consider all the other G.L.O.W. Girls eventually reacting to Ruth’s story, it’s also hard to imagine them reacting the same way. “Mother Of All Matches” had Mark, of all characters, point out Debbie truly doesn’t think about people on the other side. So her “that’s the way it is” speech to Ruth might be partially true, but it’s also immensely hypocritical coming from someone who’s actively working to get more than “the way it is.” Debbie crosses a line here, and it’s still somehow not enough for Ruth to finally snap. It’s during this scene that I wrote in my notes, “Alison Brie almost has to live off the concept of ‘acting is reacting’ for this show.” Ruth just absorbs so much, and while we see how it affects her, we don’t see her fighting back. GLOW most certainly falls under “strong female character” designation in Netflix, but at the same time, one of its leads won’t fight for her respect and the other lead so bluntly spits on her on a regular basis.

Because “strong female character” doesn’t just mean “is a badass,” and as unpleasant as that can be, that actually makes it a better indicator of the designation than just another trope-filler. These characters are complex and kind of shitty people, but you still want to see them succeed. Unless you just want to call a character a “bitch;” I’ve seen that reaction to this episode too.

I try not to mention Jenji Kohan in these reviews, because this is not actually her show (it’s Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive’s show)—but I think it’s regularly apparent it’s not her show, because it doesn’t lean into the “kind of shitty people” aspect as hard as she would. Which is why it’s so shocking when Debbie goes full slut-shaming and victim-blaming on Ruth, and it’s heartbreaking when the episode ends with Ruth essentially thinking Debbie was right. (The very twisted choice of ending the episode with “I Know What Boys Like” feels Kohan-esque though.) Ruth sees how Sheila puts on her big wolf pants and sucks it up at the meet and greet after their conversation, and she sadly wonders if she should’ve sucked it up and let Tom Grant (Paul Fitzgerald) rape her to keep the show safe. “Feminism has principles, life has compromises. Congratulations, Gloria Steinem: The one time you keep your legs shut, we all get fucked!” It’s a moment and a scene that almost sours the whole episode with its unpleasantness, even though it’s tremendously acted and really shows off that kind of shitty people thing. (I mentally graded this episode much lower after I watched it—only raising it as I thought more about it and wrote this—but I understand if readers think it deserves a lower grade.) Not everyone’s supportive of victims. Not even people you’d expect to be supportive.

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GLOW isn’t screaming it out from the rooftops or putting it on neon signs, but the trip to the Shenanigans looks like it finally tells the story about Bash. From all appearances, he is a deeply closeted, lonely gay man (there really haven’t been any signs he may like women too), to the point where I’m not even sure he ever actually did anything with Florian because of his own insecurities (unrequited love for his best friend that could have been requited). Or maybe GLOW should just put it all on neon signs to clear up the confusion.

The thing about “Perverts Are People, Too” and the general multiple meaning of these episode titles, is it also means it when it comes to gay people. Not that gay people are perverts, but the discomfort Bash has at Shenanigans and with his own sexuality, his reactions are those of someone who feels perverted. His discomfort is what sends him to his childhood home, hoping someone has heard from Florian and acting like the only thing that matters is that he no longer has a butler, even though that’s not what matters. (Marc Evan Jackson’s Gary is a sympathetic ear for a young man he can clearly tell is hurting, but this is clearly a repressed bunch.) And when I mentioned he was lonely, think about his big house and it’s easy to see why he would rather stay on the floor in Carmen and Rhonda’s motel room than there, alone. It’s a lot to handle in a plot—“adventure to find Florian”—that sounds like it should be fun at first.

It’s surreal to acknowledge that the episode with the dick pic—GLOW doesn’t really care about nudity, but it makes these moments count—and the merch table is also the one that gets this dark. This a hard episode to watch, but it’s also one where Rachel Shukert’s script gives Brie, Gilpin, and Chris Lowell some power material to work with.

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Stray observations

  • Sheila has a superfan named Justin (Whitmer Thomas), and she’s his favorite. (She can tell, since he dresses up like her.) Last season, Sheila’s episode was the most “human,” and its apparently that humanity that draws her fans to her, as she gets fan mail from people who genuinely want to know about her and share a connection.
  • Tammé: “This is the most fan mail I’ve ever gotten. All I had to do was completely degrade myself in public.”
  • In “Mother Of All Matches,” Bash’s commentary mentions one of the Patio Town locations closing, and now we have Patio Town pulling out sponsorship because of the PSA and the chair shot. Honestly, it’s probably because Patio Town is going under, but this at least saves face, I suppose.
  • In an episode of perverts, let the record reflect that Keith Bang is only down to consensually sleep with his wife (as she role plays as “Black Magic”) when he knows she’s in the mood and not a moment sooner.
  • Debbie: “...I have to stop their wedding. Uh oh. She’s already pregnant with their incest baby. It’s raining—”
    Sam: “Okay, Jesus Christ! I mean, it’s a wrestling show for kids, not Guiding goddamn Light.”
    Debbie: “You’re so dismissive.”
    Sam: “Really? That’s the longest I’ve ever let a woman who I’m not sleeping with speak uninterrupted. You’re welcome.” It’s surprising it took this long for Debbie to get literal with the realization that soap operas and professional wrestling are the same thing. Also, this only even gets this far because Debbie doesn’t want Ruth to help tell the story she created and Sam is already against a story he didn’t create.
  • Bash: “People love an in-the-ring wedding!”
    Sam: “What? They’re all girls. Who are they gonna marry, each other?” Sam really doesn’t know about Yolanda, does he? Bash also suggests a Loser Leaves Town or a Handicap match as an attraction.
  • Bash said Florian called him “solipsistic,” and honestly, he’s kind of right. But how do we feel that the only thing keeping Florian around was the fact he was being paid to be Bash’s butler (and that he would so easily ask Birdie for money to skip town), despite the fact that they were at the very least, each other’s oldest friends? If it is because of Bash’s repression, maybe Florian was tired of waiting for him to be ready.
  • Carmen: “Shenanigans. Must be an Irish place like Bennigan’s.” Oh, Carmen. She also thinks the Pink Flamingos look alike contest will actually feature people dressed like pink flamingos.
  • Nothing has ever made more sense than Rhonda entering a gay club and almost immediately ending up with some guy’s sailor hat.
  • Tammé made Welfare Queen dolls to sell. It makes me proud to see GLOW regularly show that these women get wrestling.
  • Congratulations to Mark for no longer being the most unlikable character on this show—because now Glen is. (Tom Grant technically is, but he’s less of a character than both.) The show and Alison Brie plays it perfectly, with an already nervous Ruth (Claire Scanlon doesn’t pull any tricks with the direction of the walk-up, but it’s still tense) so happy to see the familiar face of Glen, that it makes the realization of what his part in all of this that much worse. You can’t even say he doesn’t know what’s going to happen once grant gives the signal. And then Ruth gets to talk about how she feels “strong” and “in control” for once, only to immediately lose that feeling.

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