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GLOW season three makes a "Hollywood Homecoming," at the worst possible time

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After a complete break from the Fan-Tan and professional wrestling in the previous episode, the last thing GLOW needed in its next episode was more of a break from professional wrestling. Especially since “Outward Bound” was supposed to be these characters’ vacation, yet you’d still almost think they’re still on one in “Hollywood Homecoming.” (At least Justine has the high school teen excuse of summer vacation.) And in this particular case, this episode doesn’t even say much about the repetitive nature of the G.L.O.W. stage show, which has, at the very least, been a constant this season. Sure, there’s Bash losing his voice, but that was bound to happen anyway, even if they weren’t doing the same show every single night.

We check in on Cherry and Arthie for a moment, with Arthie in a bad place—can’t eat, can’t sleep—because Yolanda broke up with her for real this time and Cherry in denial about her bad place without Keith. In fact, Cherry’s just a combination of red flags: She hasn’t read any of the four letters Keith apparently sent her, she treats their separation like a normal thing instead of the issue that it is, and since she’s not the type of person who can go out and eat alone (not even with a good book), she opts to constantly be “alone” with people, at the craps table. There’s also Jenny’s reasonable request for a raise due to her additional work as the G.L.O.W. costumer—which is accepted and also a nice, rare scene between Betty Gilpin and Ellen Wong—but that’s it for all things G.L.O.W.-related this episode. None of these particular beats need to be stretched out past what they are, but considering how much time this episode dedicates to a story that has nothing to do with G.L.O.W. or Vegas or these girls, it actually wouldn’t have hurt to add more padding.

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As expected, Toby Huss makes his GLOW return as J.J./”Tex,” and he brings with him that Toby Huss-brand of charm that’s enough to sweep Debbie off her feet and away from 20-something Fan-Tan employees. But as great as it is to see the confident, poised version of Debbie, there’s always something special about frazzled, maternal Debbie, something I didn’t even realize was missing until this episode. It’s something we saw regularly in the first two seasons, of course. It’s not like she looks like a wreck, but there’s always something a little manic about Debbie when she’s got Randy around, something of an edge that you don’t get with the typical Debbie Eagan sheen (the sheen we’ve gotten so far this whole season). That edge makes her quickly insulting a silent Bash—at her realization that he can’t talk back—so much more satisfying, as now there’s the physical reminder that she has much more important things to worry about than playing nice. Like her screaming child who really likes walking around the hotel hallway.

However, as refreshing as it is to see mama bear Debbie back, the brief Baby’s Day Out adventure Randy has—that serves as a way to lead Debbie to Tex—is the one misstep in this particular plot. It’s... absurd. (It’s still funny she just leaves her child out in the hallway though. Great mom.) But you know what? It says a lot that the sounds of a screaming baby—because boy does Randy scream a lot—are actually more welcome in an episode of television than scenes between two adult actors. Which brings me to the Sam/Justine storyline, the albatross of this whole episode and an issue that amplifies GLOW season three’s biggest problems.

I suppose it’s rather fitting that the onscreen pair that, despite all pragmatic reasons, is not quite right (Ruth and Russell) come together offscreen in “Hollywood Homecoming” to create an episode (as Alison Brie makes her directorial debut, while Victor Quinaz makes his GLOW writing debut) that’s not quite right. Especially since both sides of that “not quite right” simply boil down to the Sam of it all. I can absolutely understand why Alison Brie would want to direct a GLOW episode with a major Sam/Justine plot, considering how great the Sam/Justine story was in season two, as they navigated what it meant to be father and daughter.

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But unfortunately, unlike season two—especially this more well-adjusted Justine, as good as Britt Baron is—the Sam/Justine storyline just doesn’t fit in GLOW anymore. Sam doesn’t even fit in G.L.O.W. anymore, which is why he’s able to bail like he does for Los Angeles in the first place. It’s one thing for Justine to show up in Vegas during her spring break and visit her dad and all these women who were there for her during a formative time in her life. But it’s another for this season—that’s already lacking in the professional wrestling department—to decide that a focus just has to be made on this character and her Hollywood screenwriter aspirations. Especially when the whole point of this season is to show the struggles that have come out of the new Vegas setting. Also, part of the magic of the Sam/Justine storyline in season two was Ruth’s inclusion, which isn’t even allowed in this episode both because of Alison Brie’s role behind the camera and the literal space between Ruth and Sam/Justine. In fact, GLOW even actively passed up the chance to go down that path with Justine’s return in “Freaky Tuesday”: While she got the chance to compliment the whole G.L.O.W. squad after the show, there was no one-on-one scene between her and Ruth (not even for her to check in on the status of Sam/Ruth)... and it was Sam who asked Ruth to read Justine’s screenplay, not Justine herself.

The Goldilocks And The Three Bears trip through Hollywood to sell Justine’s screenplay wouldn’t necessarily have even been all that interesting back when the show was fully set in Los Angeles anyway. GLOW isn’t telling a new story in a film executive trying to change Justine’s movie completely (even if it is funny that Michael J. Fox almost screws Sam again) or Justine channeling her inner Dawson Leery to sell said movie. The zoom-in as Justine tells her story is a competent choice, and Britt Baron nails the earnestness necessary for that. But there is no reason to care about this plot, outside of the technical proficiency. The point is supposed to be that Justine’s movie is apparently so great it needs to exist, even though it’s actually just a story about nepotism working to allow a high school teenager to sell her first screenplay ever. (Yes, it was the 1980s and you could still sell a spec for big bucks. But come on.) I imagine that GLOW is setting up Justine’s movie for a season four (should it happen) plot, but honestly? All of this could have happened offscreen, and nothing of value would have been lost. All of this screentime is more than we’ve got of the issues with the G.L.O.W. Vegas stage show (actually shown onscreen) this whole season. While the rest of this episode is good—with two terrific returning guest stars in Elizabeth Perkins and Toby Huss—this plot and what it means for how this season has been approached up to this point drags thing down far more than, I don’t know, a plot about Dawn and Stacey getting into hijinks at the Fan-Tan.

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Sam’s heart attack, despite having worked to better himself (though he’s still smoking in offices), honestly suffers from existing during this story. And his subsequent decision to keep it all to himself, while Justine is left to wonder about his behavior instead of actually worry about him, is simultaneously very Sam and an additional headache on top of this story. Because there’s an interesting story in Sam actually letting her in—or even Ruth, but he couldn’t call her, because Alison Brie could only be in one scene—and it’s much more interesting than him hiding it so she can focus on her movie. Yes, I understand the idea that Sam doesn’t want to ruin this for Justine, because she has much more genuine talent as a filmmaker than he does… But exactly why the hell am I writing so much about filmmaking on GLOW, specifically the season in Las Vegas? You know?

Back in Las Vegas, Bash has finally blown out his voice from his screaming style of announcing, which makes the perfect opening for the return of Elizabeth Perkins as Bash’s mother, Birdie Howard. As we already know, Bash simply doesn’t know how to shut up—especially when things get awkward—and the loss of voice creates the perfect excuse for him being unable to spend this entire episode attempting to keep Rhonda safe from Birdie. Not that she actually needs rescuing, as this episode proves, once again, it’s impossible not to fall in love with Rhonda. Even Birdie falls under Rhonda’s earnest spell, as much as a character like her is able to do. (She ends up having to insult Rhonda’s wedding ring—not a diamond, but Rhonda likes blue—just to gain back some of the power that she would’ve had if not for Rhonda flipping the script on her.) Again, Rhonda’s emotional intelligence gives her the edge here, as she’s not so completely intimidated—though she admits she is scared of the woman, as she’s supposed to be—by Birdie’s monster-in-law act that she can’t tell her why her marriage to Bash is a good thing, even if it began as a green card marriage for her.

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Since the first season, Kate Nash’s role and performance in GLOW has arguably been the most surprising of the series. (I’d say she and Kia Stevens are a toss-up in that arena, as Marc Maron is essentially playing a far more charming version of his general schtick.) From the comedic MVP to a character who can carry a large bulk of emotional weight (without losing the humor) to an episode where Nash holds her own against Elizabeth Perkins. Perkins’s only other appearance in the series was season one’s “The Liberal Chokehold,” and not only was that an episode that relied on the ensemble, there, Birdie even intimidated the much less flappable Debbie. (Thankfully Birdie doesn’t remember Rhonda talking about British breakfast… and crack.) So for the series to provide a one-on-one between Rhonda and Birdie where Rhonda believably “wins,” that says a lot about the growth of the character and the position that Kate Nash holds in the series at this point.

We know that Rhonda likes her new lifestyle—especially after living in her car—but this episode provides a whole new context to her marriage to Bash, by revealing that she’s very aware of just how bad with money Bash is. She’s very aware of how much people in Vegas have been trying to take advantage of him. These are both established facts about Bash, but now they work as more evidence that, like Bash, Rhonda is not as dumb as she is. Because as someone who didn’t grow up obscenely wealthy like Bash, she actually had to learn about things like depositing a check at one point in her life. So Rhonda opened a savings account for Bash so that he couldn’t blow through his money. It’s beautiful that Rhonda really is such a good wife for Bash, even though it’s bittersweet that we all know Bash ultimately isn’t a good husband for Rhonda.

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But as much as Bash’s sexuality comes up in GLOW, I don’t actually get the vibe that Birdie’s reaction to his marriage is because of that. From what we’ve seen and what we know about Bash and his upbringing, Birdie’s issues have always been about Bash’s maturity level, her not taking him or his endeavors seriously, and the idea that he’d blow all his money stupidly (as he has proven he’s very capable of, as much as I too love the drug G.L.O.W.-bot). Something she wouldn’t have had to worry about with Bash’s sister, something we’d know even if we never meet Bash’s sister. After spending time with Rhonda, she sees that her son at least married a woman who might actually be good for him and won’t allow him to blow all his money on dreams and untrustworthy people. We know the Howard family isn’t particularly loving or sentimental, but Birdie is able to get as close as she possibly can to that because of the way Rhonda reassures her that she’s not after Bash’s money and she cares about him. Now, Birdie’s “Keep him interested. However you see fit.” goodbye, on the other hand, has more of a potential to be attached the sexuality of it all, but it also works in the sense of Bash’s attention span and his love of flashy things.

GLOW has created an interesting contrast—and does so the most in this episode—in having Rhonda see Bash in a certain way, while Debbie sees him in another, with them both technically being right. Rhonda is right that Bash is a well-meaning guy who’s also naive and prone to being taken advantage of, while Debbie is right about the way he’s treated her professionally. Rhonda is right to defend him to the girls and to his mother, while Debbie is right to call him out in front of the girls and to his face when he can’t talk back. Not that I want to see Rhonda and Debbie at odds—as I said in “Outward Bound,” Debbie was out of line there—but it’s proof that GLOW can create a compelling layered story where two truths can exist about a character simultaneously.

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And then it can also create the “Sam/Justine go to Hollywood” story as the other third of the episode, despite simply belonging in a different episode. Of a different show. Or at least just not this season of this show, as, unlike the Rhonda and Debbie plot, it’s neither good nor relevant enough to excuse the complete lack of wrestling. Especially this late in the season, which is what ultimately hurts this episode. Two-thirds of a good episode is still 66.667%.


Stray observations

  • It makes perfect sense that Jenny would be so nervous to approach Debbie about the raise. Not even so much because of the raise itself but because Debbie is pretty intimidating. But even she didn’t realize Jenny wasn’t getting additional compensation for her wardrobe work. The G.L.O.W. producers... could be better.
  • Sam: “You know, you don’t have to have a penis to be a fucking asshole.” This is very true.
  • Don: “They call them submarine sandwiches where I’m from.” I’m honestly surprised the Buddhist Don “The Count of Monte Fuckface” Silverberg scene isn’t how all of Justine and Sam’s meetings go.
  • Rhonda: “Bash is kind and caring and genuinely clever. But he’s also compulsive and so innocent sometimes, it hurts to look at him, you know?” Yeah...
  • Debbie: “What I want to say is this: You are a dickhead and I don’t trust you anymore. And Sam may have run off to L.A., but I am still here. And I brought my fucking kid. So there’s not a single day I will not be in your face. And I have very strong vocal cords! I wish more men would go on vocal rest.” ...but also yeah. See what I mean?
  • Bash: (whisper screaming) “You can’t banish us. I banish you!”
    Birdie: “Oh, sit down, you’re embarrassing yourself. We’re not on Falcon Crest.”
    Bash: “So you do watch television.”
  • Birdie: “Consider having children while I’m still young enough to be mistaken for their mother.”
  • Since their marriage officially opens up Bash’s $40 million trust, good luck to Ronda in her attempt at saving his finances now.
  • Deb: “Mostly, I’m just staring down the barrel of life, wondering what the hell I’m aiming for, Tex.”
    Tex: “You know my name’s not really ‘Tex’, right?”
    Deb: “Oh my god. What? Why did I make up that name?”
    Tex: “I don’t know. The hat or the accent or some such. You’re an imaginative woman. I’m actually from Wyoming.” His name is actually James Joseph McCready (aka J.J.), but she’s still gonna call him Tex and so am I.
  • After addressing the fact that she never mentions Randy for a reason in “Outward Bound,” this episode (and Alison Brie’s directing role) robs us of the chance to process how big of a deal it is that Debbie got Ruth to babysit during her date.
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About the author

LaToya Ferguson

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.