Graphic: Erica Parise (Netflix)

GLOW gets into the bigger scope for season two fairly early on: It’s officially back to work for G.L.O.W., only the stakes are higher than just making one hopefully successful episode of television. “Viking Funeral” begins a 10-episode season which covers the show-within-the-show’s 20 weeks of tapings... and things are only going to get more stressful from this point on.

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Of course, the episode begins with a reminder of just how fun things can be for and with these women, before everything apparently changes. In the opening scene, Ruth’s attempt to get her picture taken by Sheila becomes a “photo shoot” for everyone. Well, everyone except Debbie. And the sisterhood and camaraderie in this little moment reminds the audience immediately just how foreign those concepts are to Ruth. She had Debbie, but that was it and that’s over. Now she’s making “history” with a bunch of women she has nothing in common with, other than the fact that they’re making history together, and that makes them family.

I mention “everyone except for Debbie,” because while the first season of GLOW showed how this group of outsiders—a ragtag bunch—came together because of said outsider status, the show also highlighted how Debbie remained somewhat on the other side of her fellow G.L.O.W. Girls. She has no beef with anyone on the roster other than Ruth, but she carries herself in a way that can be described as “professional” at best and “superior” at worst. In terms of her professionalism, of course she got her costume dry-cleaned, when Jenny didn’t even realize she was supposed to wash them post-pilot taping. But for all of Ruth’s theater kid-isms, she’s more accepted by her colleagues because she does everything she can to make G.L.O.W. as special as it can be—and make these women feel that special—while Debbie never passes up an opportunity to snark on the stupidity or lack of importance of what they’re doing.

As for the Debbie/Ruth relationship, this episode features one of those moments where it looks like they may turn a corner, with Debbie “rescuing” Ruth from “sleazy camera guy” Russell (Victor Quinaz) and giving her a ride home. (There’s a question of whether Debbie was actually rescuing Ruth from anything other than her inability to respond to the fact that Russell was clearly into her, as the only thing “sleazy” about Russell is that he used to be a camera operator for porn.) Ruth essentially dances around the question of asking permission from Debbie to start dating again. But the version of cordial they’re at these days—the version where Debbie at least speaks to her, even if it’s to tell her not to fuck up—is reset again when Ruth brings up Debbie’s divorce. Because in Debbie’s mind, there would be no divorce if Ruth didn’t sleep with Mark.

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While this episode shows the different faces of competitive drive among these women (and in this industry), GLOW is still very much concerned with showing the bonds between them. Just look at the trip to the mall to shoot the opening titles, which is so heavy on the sisterhood they might as well all scream “Ya-Ya.” Even Debbie gets as into the shoot as the rest of the girls when the time comes. And it’s an idea that comes out of a moment of true disharmony, as the girls are immediately antagonist toward a new outsider in the form of Yolanda (Shakira Barrera), Sam’s new G.L.O.W. Girl and Cherry’s “replacement” as Junk Chain.

The first season of GLOW didn’t have a lot of actual in-ring work because it was all building to the G.L.O.W. pilot, to when it could show the girls’ hard work off. (Though we’ll always have the war against racism.) Now, they’re taping a weekly show, but the focus still won’t necessarily be the in-ring—not when you need things like opening titles or to train a brand-new wrestler. The G.L.O.W. Girls may not be experts, but at this point, they know what they need to do to make a compelling television show. And GLOW knows what it needs to do to make one as well. This episode is in the groove from moment one, but the thing that really gets the episode into gear is that time at the mall, in a montage set to Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right.” Something GLOW does very well is feel like an ‘80s movie (while still functioning properly as a TV show) and not a parody of ‘80s movies. It very much understands the things that were the norm in this era, especially with the ‘80s sports movie. So montages are key, and a montage in a mall is just a no-brainer: Rhonda even ends up with a mannequin. It’s still amazing—though this is more a criticism on modern TV—that GLOW truly is a comedy, not just a 30-minute drama calling itself as comedy.

But the show certainly knows drama and how to balance both. While Sam is slightly more on top of things these days, as a new father and as a relatively successful director, he’s still Sam. Ruth takes matters into her own hands like the de facto second-in-command (apologies to Bash) because Sam treats her like the de facto second-in-command. He does so mostly to get her over-enthusiasm away from him, but the first season proved just how much Sam needed Ruth around even when he wasn’t. However, Sam’s suddenly worried about losing his power, with a network-approved director and then with Ruth’s good idea working—on top of the fact that she mostly directed the G.L.O.W. pilot the network loved so much—which is why he asserts said power by firing Reggie and dressing Ruth down. He legitimately asks Ruth if she’s making a play for his job, even though everyone knows she doesn’t want that—she just wants to help. If anything, he should be worried about Debbie, who’s able to pull an actual power movie and negotiate with Glen at the network in order to get producer credit. Debbie gets “creative control,” which are two words that often come with a lot of baggage when it comes to professional wrestling.

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Sam tells Ruth he can’t make the show if the girls always think she’s the go-to authority figure, the one with all the answers instead of him. But the thing Ruth doesn’t say—she still has a problem when it comes to standing up for herself, the opposite of Debbie—is that the reason this happens is because Sam has pawned things off on her too many times. The girls go to her for answers because she gives them answers when Sam won’t. While GLOW’s made it clear that Sam and Bash, for all their flaws, are two men these women can trust, it’s not shy about reminding the audience of those flaws and just how damaging they can be to the women they’re simultaneously empowering. Here, Marc Maron plays Sam in a way where you want to hate him for the way he’s projecting on the girls, but you can also understand his frustration, misguided as it may be. Maron’s not just the dry joke machine this episode, and his alternating between the usual and this anger works.

There’s the question of if Sam even gets what makes G.L.O.W. work, in the fuller sense, though. He humorously rattles off the format for the show (which will be the same every week), but not only does he tell Ruth wrestling isn’t a team sport, he tells her she’s replaceable. Both are technically true. But in the case of the former, even as an individual performer, wrestling relies heavily on teamwork and trust in opponents. There may be backstabbing and politicking, but you still have to depend on others in some way or another, even if you hate them. As for the latter, Ruth is technically replaceable, just like Cherry was. But what she brings to the table as a character, creative voice, and motivator for the girls isn’t replaceable. Not with anyone currently in the cast and not with any inexperienced woman Sam would find to replace her. So she’s able to stick around, literally watching from the outside looking in (to this tune) when Debbie reveals she has the producer title—relatively effortlessly but still earned, given her ability to play the game—Ruth was basically chastised for not having.

“Viking Funeral” is a compelling season opener that sets the table for a lot of interesting story moving forward. The Debbie/Ruth dynamic is of course the heart of the show, with Sam—now legitimately against Ruth, as opposed to just comically disliking her—adding even more struggle in between. But he’s not a monster, as the episode also takes time to focus on his struggles in his new father-daughter relationship with Justine. The ensemble is also already getting more to do, as this episode goes into Arthie’s disdain for the Beirut character, something introduced at the end of season one upon her realization that her heel heat would be coming from a very real, angry place. There’s also the very existence of Yolanda and what it means that these women aren’t as job secure as they thought they were. But GLOW’s already spent a full season setting the table prior to this: It’ll be great to finally see the full spread.

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Stray observations

  • Welcome to season two GLOW coverage. Expect five reviews today (every hour) and five reviews tomorrow (same).
  • While GLOW doesn’t have a standard opening credits sequence on an episode-to-episode basis, it’s nice to hear “The Warrior” and see the full credits sequence to start this season off.
  • Of course Ruth calls Alfred Hitchcock “Hitch.” And of course she gives everyone little vodka bottles for the first day of work. It’s also very Ruth to interrupt bickering by singing the theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
  • Ruth doesn’t have the leverage to get a better contract—she too sees the problems in the contract basically saying “We own you.”—so she still signs it.
  • From my notes: “Fucking Mark.”
  • Reggie: “Are you replacing anyone else or just Cherry?” I spent the early part of this episode wondering if GLOW would finally give Reggie more of a character, only for it to find a way to avoid that. The episode at least does right by her on her way out, as she defends Ruth and stands up to an irrational Sam.
  • Rhonda (holding her tiny costume): “Britannica. I feel smart already.” Kate Nash’s comedic timing has been missed. While Rhonda’s still not the sharpest tool in the shed, the show keeps that working without making her too dumb to function.
  • Arthie: “I don’t wanna put this on. My costume still smells like beer. And racism.” You can’t blame her for trying to pass the character off to Yolanda. Especially when Ruth’s directing involves telling her to make some of Beirut’s “terrorist noises.”
  • Yolanda is, unsurprisingly, a stripper that Sam met. Without episode spoilers but with basic casting ones, she’s also a stripper Sam isn’t dating. Of course, Rhonda’s immediate reaction to Yolanda says she’s not so sure about that.
  • Bash assumed “prep day” for the show—as the gym is transformed into a replica of the Hayworth for tapings—meant “day to dress like a prep.” Oh, Bash. It’s strange Chris Lowell isn’t a series regular, but I assume that’s because he was still a series regular on Graves (which has been canceled) when they filmed this season.
  • Sheila loves Cheers, as it’s “about an invisible woman named Vera.”
  • Ruth: “Do you think we really captured the nexus of girl-on-girl violence and consumer culture in America?”
    Russell: “Oh, no. It was way dumber than that.”
  • The fact that Sam’s idea of “dad shit” was just giving Justine photo albums to look at without him—so, photo albums of people she didn’t know—sounds about right. But he’s trying!
  • Sam calls the opening titles “cheesy, girly bullshit.” That’s the point.

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