Photo: Netflix

After the first three episodes of set-up—or “build,” since it’s wrestling—GLOW gives us the “Mother Of All Matches.” As I mentioned in “Candy Of The Year,” Tammé and Debbie are two characters who have some things in common, even if they’re still from different worlds. This episode highlights that completely, even though these are two women at opposite stages of the parenting game. Tammé has a kid who got into Stanford on a full academic scholarship, while Debbie has a newborn she just doesn’t want to mess up with her divorce and her less than traditional career path.

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But that less than traditional career path only really matters right now to a “child” who can actually process what’s happening, which is what Tammé has to deal with on her side of things. Again, the popularity of G.L.O.W. strikes, as fans of the show see “Welfare Queen” out and about with her son Earnest (Eli Goree) on Parents Weekend. (It’s also a sign that the audience will turn on Liberty Belle later that night, because while they play the role and boo heel Welfare Queen, she’s apparently a very popular character. She doesn’t have the Beirut problem.) For all the discussion about the stereotypical—and sadly, very of the time and industry—gimmicks in G.L.O.W., these women have mostly taken ownership of said stereotypes and made the most out of a very specific situation. But when Earnest learns what his mother’s been doing, he naturally compares it to minstrel show.

That might sound over the top for a little wrestling show, but it’s really not. While she may be the top heel of the show, “Welfare Queen” is GLOW’s take on a very long line of shucking and jiving black wrestling gimmicks. And she’s a heel version playing into every possible lazy stereotype there is. She’s right when she tells Earnest all the gimmicks they’re doing are offensive, and she also has a safety net in the fact that Welfare Queen is so over the top it’s actually made her a cool heel character in a way. But based on what we know about the Tammé character and how she struggled to make it while raising a scholar son she’s proud of, it makes absolute sense that said son would question her decision to do such a thing.

Again, because it’s so over-the-top, that’s what allows Earnest to let his guard down over all of this for a moment when he sees the match in person; the concept of a crowd clucking like a chicken is surreal, but it’s far from the strangest thing I or anyone else has ever chanted at a live wrestling show. The part that takes him back out of it is the chair shot and the eventual post-match degradation, but this is something much more than thinking wrestling or G.L.O.W. is “stupid.” To compare Tammé and Debbie’s situations once more—and neither are the heel in this story, for sure—the first season had Mark mock everything about what Debbie was doing and seeing absolutely nothing of value in it. While Earnest accepts his mother’s work by the end of the episode—admitting that she was right about it all being offensive—and decides to treat her to dinner for a job well done, it doesn’t mean he suddenly loves pro wrestling or that he fully understands why she needs to do this. The tears that were in both of their eyes during the “GET A JOB” moment still happened.

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The audience watching GLOW wants Tammé to be happy, and she’s happy as Welfare Queen, but just like Fortune Cookie for Jenny (who’s not even Chinese) and Beirut for Arthie (who’s definitely not a terrorist), we can also see where these characters can do more harm than good. Professional wrestling in general has the ability to tell amazing stories, but it’s also an entire concept that was built on playing to the lowest common denominator to make money. There’s a compartmentalization that must be made by audiences the same it must be made by the performers themselves. A compartmentalization that acknowledges that, for all the offense, what these women are doing is pretty damn cool.

As for Debbie, this episode shows how she has yet to feel comfortable in her own skin as a single mother. Then again, GLOW has shown she never really felt comfortable in her own skin as a married woman either, so “comfort” and “Debbie Eagan” don’t exactly go together. While the Tammé half of things is fairly grounded, GLOW plays Debbie’s story more manic, and it works. Debbie’s mad as hell, and she’s not gonna take it more, taking a relatively explainable decision—selling the bed she used to sleep on with Mark, because he had his secretary call and ask the brand—and then turning it into an “everything must go” sale. She’s not handling the divorce well, and it’s not like she can talk to Ruth about it; she and Tammé are certainly good work friends, but they’re not necessarily at that point.

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Betty Gilpin has a knack for “going big” on the small screen in a way that doesn’t feel out of place (like it belongs on theatre) or hammy. (That it doesn’t feel like it belongs on theatre is actually even more impressive, considering Broadway star John Cameron Mitchell co-directed this episode.) She’s going big all the way to a downward spiral in Pasadena, until all she has left is wine, cigarettes, and a lamp. “Mother Of All Matches” will probably be an Emmy submission episode for both Kia Stevens and Betty Gilpin—deservedly so on both actresses’ parts—but the moment for Gilpin where she might as well just be handed an award right now is in that solitary moment where she sings “Home On The Range.” It might not look or sounds like it, but it’s the sound of victory for Betty.

It comes crashing down when she realizes she forgot to pick Randy up from daycare and Mark gets to rub it in her face, but it’s a moment of “winning” the divorce before she has to go to the G.L.O.W. taping and win the Crown. Post-win though, Mark points out the same thing: Debbie also always goes big. Mark is the least likable character on the show, which makes it frustrating he gets to make a good point: “You always take everything too far. It is always about you. Do you even think about the person on the other side?” It’s been pretty apparent this is exactly how Debbie operates, only this episode makes clear it’s not just about her—it’s about baby Randy too. The reveal that, as messed up as she was this whole day, she made sure to secure his bedroom—to make it the one safe, unchanged room in the house—speaks volumes in a way dialogue can’t. As the Aretha version of “You’re All I Need To Get By” plays, it closes an episode that was very needed for Debbie’s character, as well as one that again highlights just how strong this show’s ensemble is (even if only one of them is the focus). Honestly, Alison Brie finally appearing in the episode is jarring once it happens because of how much Gilpin and Stevens command the episode. (But it’s necessary, as it moves the actual plot of G.L.O.W. along. Kidnapping!)

This episode begins with the pre-tape promo for the “Battle For The Crown” between Welfare Queen and Liberty Belle (the origin of the chicken taunt), and from that point on, it’s clear “Mother Of All Matches” will be a special episode. This was something these characters were building to, as well as something GLOW was building to. And it lives up to its hype.

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Stray observations

  • I briefly mentioned it on my Twitter, but major computer issues are to blame for the delay on these last two reviews of the day. Said issues mean I’ve kind of had to rewrite these last reviews completely, so… that’s an experience.
  • Something this episode points out early on, TammĂ© can have a substantial conversation with anyone (like the drive-through lady), whereas we know Debbie shows little respect to “the help” (like Mark’s new secretary). Debbie honestly has issues speaking with “important” people too, when she’s not quite prepared—she’s arguably just as socially awkward as Ruth, but she hides it better.
  • Tammé’s storyline doesn’t hit the comedy button as much as Debbie’s, but the reveal of “the other black kid” Tyler (looking nothing like Earnest, many shades lighter even) and Kia Stevens’ delivery of “You know, Jesus. Our savior.” work in a way that facilitates the story of TammĂ© and Earnest’s mother-son relationship.
  • Betty Gilpin and physical comedy aren’t often discussed—not counting her facial expressions in the ring as Liberty Belle—but there’s something so funny (as sad as it is) as her embarrassing attempts to tape posters to her tree while trying to juggle wine and cigarettes.
  • Earnest: “Is he black?”
    Tammé: “He’s Sicilian, which he says is the black kind of Italian.” If Sam actually were black, it probably wouldn’t make things better for Earnest trying to wrap his mind around this, but it would help.
  • I decided to consider this a nitpick, but the one thing that almost takes me out of the episode is Ruth breaking kayfabe to call the audible with the mother and daughter to salvage things. The kid was a #1 Liberty Belle superfan and probably still thought it was all real, so her hitting her cues perfectly (as Ruth just kind of kidnapped her) is iffy to me.
  • Bash: “And what’s a mother without a child?!? Just a… person!”
  • While Mark eventually has a good explanation for the bed call, the problem is that he doesn’t just call Debbie himself and explain. He has his secretary (and Phoebe Strole is almost unrecognizable with the perm, by the way) call without any defense for herself or the question when Debbie talks down to her.
  • While all the G.L.O.W. characters are certainly over the top, the level of commitment Debbie puts into Liberty Belle is something else. The way Betty Gilpin plays Debbie playing Liberty Belle, she really works in a way John Cena’s always talking about, in the sense of playing so big the people in the cheap seats get the same experience as the people in the front row. It’s also impressive that a current WWE NXT Superstar (Lacey Evans) is pretty much a modern Liberty Belle and even more surprising that she’s actually a heel.

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