Photo: Netflix

At first, “Work The Leg” looks like it might go the way of season one’s “Live Studio Audience,” with Ruth and Debbie’s lack of communication and eventual montage at least leading to a good performance until someone like Mark ruins it again. However, this season has worked hard to show that Debbie can be her own worst enemy, and something’s not quite right even before it all goes terribly wrong. Carmen calls out how Debbie and Ruth’s “weird friendship stuff” is bleeding into training more than it usually does—after Debbie’s creative control allows her to change the result for their match to “lol Liberty wins”—and the montage acknowledges that all of a sudden their in-ring chemistry has seriously regressed. But everything looks like it will work inside of the ring, even if it’s not working outside of the ring.

It doesn’t.

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“Work The Leg” does a slow burn to the major fuck-up—and betrayal—at the end of the episode. As the episode goes on and Ruth just continues to take Debbie’s vitriol (mostly in looks and passive-aggression, after the previous episode’s verbal hate bomb), one wonders if Ruth will ever be able to stand up to Debbie. She has an early moment of something akin to standing up for something—the difference between men and women’s wrestling—against Bash, but that’s an ultimately inconsequential chime-in. But things turn around for Ruth (positively), after she confesses to Sam—who finally apologizes for his behavior toward her so far—that she knows the reason why G.L.O.W. has fallen out of the network’s good graces. The way Alison Brie breathes after saying “I know why,” the way the camera very slowly pushes in on her face as she explains what happened, the expression on her face as the camera just remains on it the whole time. Lynn Shelton captured the isolation Ruth felt of literally being shut up by Sam and Debbie in the premiere, and now she captures the fear that it will happen again with Sam as Ruth tells the truth.

After the way Debbie reacted, with an expectation of sympathy but with everything else but that, it’s easy to understand why Ruth would think the worst (but the audience would think otherwise). So of course the person most expected to be an asshole reacts the most appropriately: “Fuck that guy.” It’s not a mushy moment on Sam’s part—he even says he’s “relieved” to know the truth, which isn’t the most sensitive—but it includes the key point that he makes clear it’s not Ruth’s fault at all. Earlier in the scene, when Sam is apologizing for how he’s been treating Ruth, he says the fact he’s “an insecure old man” is why he gets “defensive,” and that type of self-awareness (even if it took awhile for him to come out and say it) is perhaps why he’s able to handle Ruth’s truth so well... and then go mess up Tom Grant’s car.

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Debbie, on the other hand, doesn’t quite work from a place of self-awareness. And when she has to do so, she completely loses it. After “winning the divorce” in “Mother Of All Matches,” Debbie sees that might not quite be the case when she learns that Mark is dating his secretary Susan. He’s basically bouncing back after divorce, while Debbie knows she’s going to lose her job soon for what she considers “because of Ruth.” So all of a sudden, she’s demanding her own dressing room, alienating herself even more from the locker room—on a show where all the girls meet up to watch from the director’s booth—and even Sam’s able to call it out for the misdirected anger it is. He’s also able to realize it’s divorce-based anger, as he knows a thing or two about that as well. The problem is, when someone talks about channeling anger and frustration and bringing it out in the ring, the intent isn’t to give someone carte blanche to hurt their opponent. Honestly, while Marquita J. Robinson’s script for this episode maintains the high quality of this point in the season—blending the irreverent with the high stakes as well as the season-building tensions—post-“Perverts Are People, Too,” the Debbie/Mark scene, as well as the follow-up scene with Sam, falls somewhat flatter than the rest of the Debbie scenes this season. While Betty Gilpin naturally kills it in her walk away from Mark and Susan—from game face to a complete wreck—it almost feels too soon to even attempt to feel bad for her after her recent behavior.

Because tensions are high, “Work The Leg” peppers the episode with other issues between the G.L.O.W. Girls. But the most “unprofessional” thing to come out of the rest of this is Jenny’s perpetual make out sessions with hot camera guy Phil, which is surely the kind of ridiculous drama Sam always expected with these women, not everything that’s happening with Ruth/Debbie. Melrose is upset with Jenny because of the Phil and jacket thing; Arthie is still mad at Dawn & Stacey for stealing her thunder (and idea); Carmen is stressed out because everything’s supposedly riding on her; Cherry’s not a fan of Yolanda flirting (which is Yolanda’s way of getting back at Cherry for dismissing her attempt to bond over Junk Chain). Yolanda actually mentions how it’s a good thing they’re all talking things through, but the only actual pair that would really matter to (because the rest are all things they can quickly get over) is Ruth and Debbie. But the talking last episode is what got them into this strained situation. Because of all the squabbles the rest of the women get into this episode and how they’re able to push them aside to put on a great show—and Cherry even realizes she can move on from Junk Chain easily, as she addresses during the match’s hilarious three-way conversation—the assumption is that the same will come when Ruth and Debbie step into the ring themselves.

But no one ever expects Liberty Belle to be a coked up mess.

Again, professional wrestling is not a “team sport,” but it requires a tremendous amount of trust and it also requires you to be coherent enough (and maybe not too vindictive) to work. For wrestling fans, in terms of drugged up messes, Debbie’s definitely not Shawn Michaels in the ‘90s (she doesn’t have the range, quite frankly) and not quite Jeff Hardy at Victory Road 2011 (though it looks similar towards the end of the episode). She’s not getting high before every match, but really all it takes is this one bad decision. Liberty Belle’s beloved Ronald Reagan would of course be so disappointed, even before she makes another, major bad decision. This episode hammers home that communication is key in the sport—specifically in the ring, as Carmen brings up the men aren’t babbling on about their feelings the way the G.L.O.W. Girls keep doing—and Ruth tries to keep it going in the match. But Debbie is just gone and out of it. Typically, that would mean getting the referee involved to let them know the situation, but Debbie gets Keith out of her way. From the booth, Sheila says, “It’s like watching a speeding train. It’s riveting.” And from the way the live audience shots are filmed, it’s true: While we see how much of a train wreck this is, to that audience, they can’t tell Liberty Belle is messed up. Everything still looks as fine as a mother trying to get her kidnapped daughter back from a Russian super villain can look, and the “LIBERTY BELLE” chants continue.

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The choice for the episode to end with a clear shoot (instead of worked) attack on the leg (the direct wrestling comparison is Sexy Star), a crack, an “Ah! Debbie!” and no music—just a smash to the end credits and a “Directed By Lynn Shelton”—is a bold one, as it’s literally Ruth reaching her breaking point. It’s not exactly I’ve meant everytime I bring up the possibility of Ruth snapping at Debbie.


Stray observations

  • Most of it’s just trying to light a fire under their ass, but again, Bash proves Florian’s “solipsistic” point right when he’s ranting to the girls about how men’s wrestling is better (“Fuck physics, Ruth!”) and how they need to step it up and wrestle even better (“Carmen—there’s a lot riding on you this week. Do not disappoint me.”). At least he’s not withholding when it comes to his approval, because Carmen certainly needed that thumbs up.
  • Cherry: “Your brother’s got a nice ‘fro.” Even in the ‘80s, Carlito’s ‘fro got the respect it deserves.
  • Carmen: “It just isn’t done.” While Carmen is able to speak up about everyone’s bullshit, she unfortunately doesn’t speak up about why you don’t steal moves. The least they could’ve done is changed them up slightly—Cherry steals Carmen’s brother’s chop fully—as she originally tells Cherry she can come up with similar moves.
  • The training montage gets everyone involved, as they’re all having issues (except for Rhonda and Tammé). And unlike the other montages this season, this one is more serious. Yes, even with Frank Stallone’s “Far From Over” (from the Staying Alive soundtrack) as the montage song—which is perhaps the closest GLOW will get to having a Stallone actually as part of their version of G.L.O.W. Also, Rhonda practicing her dropkick on her bed brought back childhood memories for me.
  • Justine: “You’re like, his friend.”
    Ruth: “Did he say we were?”
    Justine: “I don’t know. He just seems to like you more than anyone else. But it’s Sam—it’s all relative.” Brie of course goes with the classic Ruth desperation (trying to pretend it’s not desperation, but come on, it is) when she asks if Sam actually said they were friends, but it’s also a point that allows her to later open up to him. After she awkwardly climbs over a movie theater seat. Because they are friends.
  • Last season, we saw the girls watch Sam’s movie together, but none of them really “got” it. Even though there are only a few people at the film festival—amusingly called “I’m With The Banned”—and a handful of them are teenagers, it’s pretty cool to see Sam’s work get appreciated.
  • Props to Susan for not backing down after Debbie asks her about the comfort of the bed. It’s just that... it’s Mark.
  • In “Concerned Women Of America,” Debbie was making sure to blow the coke off of Sam’s typewriter. And now here she is, dipping into his coke reserves. Sad.
  • Ruth: “Justine invited me. Where is she?”
    Sam: “Sleeping.”
    Ruth: “Is she okay?”
    Sam: “I don’t know.” Marc Maron’s delivery of “I don’t know.” is really more like “How the fuck would I know?” Also, the realest moment in the history of GLOW is Justine passed out on the couch after a long day of school. She might complain about it, but we learn this girl is doing an extracurricular (AV Club!), which opens the floor from some father-daughter bonding and director’s booth Justine. This also leads to camera operator Sam in this episode, putting him front row for the ticking time bomb in the main event.
  • Glen: “You know, he pisses off a lot of people. Could’ve been anyone.” Glen still sucks.
  • Congratulations to Jenny for bagging Phil the camera operator. Who knew an enema and a brand-new jacket would lead to true love?
  • And thanks again for putting up with the delays on these reviews yesterday (and a warning, today). My computer is basically coming apart at this point, but the power of GLOW compels me.

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