It’s pretty impressive to look at where GLOW began and see it how it all turned into what we have in the season finale. Sam’s coked up vision for G.L.O.W. was obviously something special and shiny, but while we definitely get special and shiny here, it’s clearly not the same. Though, what we get here is something better, even if it’s still quite rough around the edges. The beauty of the inspiration that was the real G.L.O.W. is that GLOW will probably never lose that rough around the edges look and feel; in fact, it’s one of the series’ most endearing qualities.
I’ve watched “Money’s In The Chase” three times already, and each time, I’m right there with the women in terms of nerves for their first show. From the moment the episode begins—even with Sam off in his own tailspin—the G.L.O.W. Girls’ energy is in full force and there’s no stopping now. They’re all determined and ready, because they’re finally at a point where everything that’s left to do is all on them. Three days have passed since Sam was hit with the bomb that Justine is his daughter, but we don’t start by dwelling on the ladies’ reaction to Sam going M.I.A. Part of that is probably because they literally just went through this with Bash, but the other part is because they’re at a point where they know what they have to do. And because Ruth takes charge and delegates, something she definitely couldn’t have done at the beginning of season. Remember when she let Melrose take her good shoes for practice? It’s not even that Ruth has become a major force of nature as the season has gone on, but she’s more than proven her aptitude in professional wrestling at this point, and everyone around her realizes that. From second one, GLOW gives us an episode recognizing that all these characters know exactly what they have to do and how to do it, even if (like Sam, or like we assume Debbie) they don’t want to. “Radio voodoo” is right: Things can only get better.
It’s worth nothing that Melrose is the first one to point out how the whole G.L.O.W. thing is “real,” as soon as they see the set-up at The Hayworth. All this time supposedly taking none of this seriously, and now that it’s a reality—with cameras and seats and Sam’s promised pink ropes—she really has to take a moment to let it all sink in. Later, it’s funny when she tells the bellhops not to drop her, but it’s also the kind of demand where you can tell she’s worried about something possibly going wrong. This isn’t the preview anymore, and everything has to go right. Despite the “main event” being Zoya The Destroya and Fortune Cookie (who have the best entrance) versus The Beatdown Biddies (who are hilarious but the audience understandably doesn’t love), the G.L.O.W. pilot does go right. The preview was seen as a success, so this pilot? It fricken knocks everything out of the ballpark. Machu Picchu actually makes it to the ring this time! Britannica doesn’t get a horse, but she gets a GLOWBot to carry her book!
I mentioned it in the previous review, but “The Liberal Chokehold” included two relatively minor points that actually end up coming into play here. First, there’s just the simple fact that the network likes Cherry and Tamme. For Cherry, that presents itself in the form of the lead role in Chambers & Gold (which now puts her G.L.O.W. future up in the air), but for Tamme, it ends up getting her the G.L.O.W. crown. Sam doesn’t just do a swerve at the end—he does a swerve with knowledge that the network will absolutely eat it up while also giving him a more compelling story to tell.
Then there’s the Beirut hostage situation, which at the time, led to the comically sad moment of Arthie telling the ladies to stop saying “Beirut.” Now, in a less familiar environment, she has to deal with the repercussions of her character coming at possibly the worst time ever. Beirut was always going to get the cheap, xenophobic heat, but with the hostage situation, that heat goes nuclear. (I’m sorry.) For non-wrestling fans who might be worried that GLOW went too over the top in those-“patriotic” fans’ slurs, spit, and beer can-throwing, I’d have to say I’m actually surprised it wasn’t worse. The most surprising part is actually that Keith even kicks them out—while Bash’s commentary tries to play it all off as cool—but then again, Keith Bang don’t play. In the ‘90s, before they became the cool faction, WCW fans would throw garbage in the ring, and it would lead to mountains of trash. Just a few years ago, I attended a Championship Wrestling From Hollywood taping where a woman in the crowd had to be physically held back from going after a heel who was being abusive to his valet. But it’s understandable that Arthie didn’t expect that type of hate, especially when you factor in that neither Sam nor Bash would’ve thought to warn her of it. Boos, yes. Actual intolerance, not so much.
Classic story structure says something will pull Debbie back into G.L.O.W. at the last minute of this episode, and GLOW plays with that knowledge in the context of a professional wrestling setting. The fact that Debbie leaving G.L.O.W. ends up all being a work makes the story even better, as it’s a choice that also reveals just how strong Debbie really is. We expect the “worst” of Debbie—that she really is so desperate to get back to the status quo with Mark—because we’ve seen these past couple of Mark-focused (on Debbie’s side of things) episodes. GLOW plays with the audience’s belief that Debbie is unfortunately falling for Mark’s “I’ve changed” act, knowing it’s the last thing anyone watching wants. No, it’s not “wrong” for Debbie to want to go back and fix things with her husband, but it’s not something you root for when you see that Mark clearly has no plans to actually change. Yes, he told her he’s going to therapy and on a diet, but all the warning signs are there that it’s all just a way to get her back to the way things were. Mark may come across as mild-mannered, but everything we know about him shows how that’s part of what makes his manipulation work.
These signs we see? The key is that Debbie also sees them, thankfully. Her calling him out for using his “silly” buzzword, the same thing he apparently said about Paradise Cove, is our first sign that she’ll eventually come back to the fold. But the fact that she’d already made her decision—and made the “right” one—puts her in an even better light, especially in a season where she had some flirtations with ending up the G.L.O.W. outcast herself. The episode even uses her regular separation from the rest of the G.L.O.W. Girls for good, because they’d easily expect her to leave them at any given point. However, despite it happening on the day of their pilot, it’s impressive and pretty telling that no one harbors any ill will toward Debbie for supposedly bailing on them. GLOW is again given a chance to choose the obvious and maddening approach to the story, and they completely pass on it. Especially after Debbie confessed how being a wrestler made her feel like a superhero. Who would give that up? Who would give that up for Mark?
Debbie and Ruth have constantly gone the extra mile for G.L.O.W. and this particular scheme—this work—is the perfect punctuation point to that. It’s actually pretty nerdy of both of them when you really think about it. Then again, there’s nothing cooler than Zoya The Destroya’s killer insults about America (“Everyone here is too much sissy.”) being interrupted by an American hero housewife from the G.L.O.W. crowd. Even though all the G.L.O.W. girls break kayfabe in their reactions to it (besides Justine’s Scab, who gives the best reaction ever at Liberty Belle’s post-match promo), it works. Maybe it actually works because of that. All I really know is that there’s probably not a more perfect music choice than Pat Benatar’s “Invincible” for the Zoya The Destroya/Liberty Belle face-off, especially when Debbie finally hits the finish and flies, just like she wanted to. Ruth is right: “It was epic.”
Soon after GLOW dropped on Netflix, I saw some arguments (mostly from people who were wary to watch the show because of what they’d heard) about the series ultimately being sexist. Then I saw this Guardian article, which exhibits such a lack of understanding of both comedy and professional wrestling that I knew I had to address it. As I wrote at the beginning of these reviews, I never want to make non-wrestling fans feel out of the loop with my writing about GLOW. At the same time, there’s unfortunately a lot of criticism of this show that lacks such an awareness of both the real G.L.O.W. and women’s roles in professional wrestling that it unfairly tries to put the blame for certain problems on the shoulders of GLOW itself.
“Then there are the things that are neither funny nor taboo-busting: the exasperating hashtag-empowerment vibe of the very concept of women’s wrestling (the idea that women doing anything at all = feminism) that is never examined. The fact that the show-within-a-show is masterminded by two men (Sylvia and guileless WASPish producer Bash). That the titillating girl-on-girl action is predicated on catfights – and not just staged ones: the real scrap between Ruth and her ex-best friend is folded into the narrative. And while it claims to challenge the status quo, the lasting taste is one of movie-narrative cliche: with the show adopting the easy messages of chest-puffing nationalism, triumph over adversity and entertainment-by-violence from the wrestling for its own emotional climax.”
I’ve written before how G.L.O.W.—as much of a mess as it was—was ahead of its time, in terms of American women’s wrestling. GLOW even made sure to include the sad but true argument from Carmen’s dad (who beautifully shows up to support his daughter here in the finale) about women’s wrestling being seen as a sideshow at the time. The very concept of a weekly, episodic all-women wrestling show on American TV? Doing the same wrestling moves and character work as the men? And actually being seen as that by everyone creatively involved (as it’s only really sold as T&A to the network and sponsors who couldn’t care less)? That sounds pretty empowering, and GLOW regularly examines that without having to nudge the audience into knowing that it’s what it’s doing. As for the “masterminded by two men” thing, the actual G.L.O.W. was also the brainchild by two white men… only the truth behind that is filled with horror stories of verbal abuse toward the women, in addition to the lack of actual safety in the ring. GLOW takes that story basis and makes it two men who still probably shouldn’t even be in charge of G.L.O.W., for very different reasons—Sam’s genre-clashing and Bash’s overzealousness—and it ends with the women taking charge anyway.
And to call Ruth and Debbie a “catfight” ignores the emotional core that the show creates from their relationship, the work those two characters put into making their match and characters work, and the very refreshing interactions between all 14 of the G.L.O.W. Girls in these 10 episodes. Based on what we see of the matches in the finale, all the women really put in the hard work and effort to be more than just “catfights” (the Lebanese Cannonball is a work of art and the Viking Vag is an inspired move name). The only one, in-story, who doesn’t see that is Mark. As for the argument about “chest-puffing nationalism,” all that really does is bring back that basic lack of understanding of professional wrestling, not just in the ‘80s but (sadly) now. I’m not saying (and have not said) that GLOW is a perfect television show. But in terms of getting across the points it sets out to (in a funny, albeit a little sad, way) and making a show about female empowerment, you’d have to be missing something to think otherwise.
I assume that GLOW will get another season, but if it doesn’t, “Money’s In The Chase” is a fitting ending to the series. Debbie and Ruth are still on the outs, and we have no idea how things will end up for Justine and Sam, but those are both the type of open-ended conclusions where it would still be satisfying to fill in the blanks yourself. Those stories leave the door open for reconciliation between former best friends or a real relationship between father and daughter, which is more than can be said for how things started for them. No matter what, these G.L.O.W. Girls all made something worth being proud of, and it’s fitting that the final moment of the show is all of them—like the prostitute family they are—watching the pilot together at The Dusty Spur.
- Sam: “Where’s Justine?”
Arthie: “Uh, she probably spent the night at Billy’s.”
Sam: “Billy? Who the fuck is Billy?”
Ruth: “Oh see, that sounded very paternal.”
Sam: “Shut up.”
- Justine: “Ugh, you don’t have Clue?”
Billy: “My mom doesn’t like games where people got killed.” Well, that (and his nice home) sold me completely on Billy Offal.
- Melrose: “Who died and put you in charge?”
Ruth: “Why? You wanna do it?
Melrose: “You’re doing great, Captain.”
- Tamme used to be the audience coordinator on Family Feud! Now she’s a star.
- You know the most beautiful part of all this? After Back To The Future crushed Sam’s dreams, Sam technically got to hit it right back with Melrose, Sheila, and Tamme getting people in line for the movie to come see G.L.O.W. instead. “Fuck this time travel shit,” indeed.
- Rhonda asks Ruth how Sam’s doing. Aww. She really does have a heavy brain.
- Now that the season is over, what was your favorite Carmen tourist t-shirt? (I assumed she had all of them because of her family’s travels—they’d just bring her back a shirt from wherever they wrestled. That was a correct assumption.)
- Bash’s yikes face at having to call Beirut a “dirty sandrat.” Chris Lowell has always been great—yes, always, you irrational Piz loathers—but Bash is such a great role for him. I still can’t get over the fact that his casting must have been directly pulled from my dream journal though. Also, one last Bash sexuality comment: The glitter eyeshadow is the big point of discussion, but his comment about the mic being “hotter than Kelly LeBrock”? I think Bash as bisexual is the winner.
- The thing about Cherry getting Chambers & Gold (which could tank) is that it can also officially be the end of Cherry’s arc. From the pilot, we know she’s a stuntwoman who wants to finally be the star. And this is it, after all the early stuff she had to deal with. After Sam’s promises (that led to Junk Chain) and “womb goof” nonsense, she got what she deserved. She earned what she deserved.
- Bash: “I think Welfare Queen is trying to bore Machu into submission. And it’s working!” Welfare Queen’s submission trash talk to Machu Picchu is fantastic, because it goes back to Sam’s reassuring talk with Tamme about the intent of the character. Even if that was all bull, Tamme makes sure to bring in the social commentary they talked about. Her son (at Stanford!) would be proud.
- Even without the surprise Zoya The Destroya/Liberty Belle face-off, I love that Ruth taking the managerial position doesn’t translate to her also sitting out the first G.L.O.W. show. I’m looking at you, D2: The Mighty Ducks. A tag team match into a double-cross really is a pretty good way to end things though, even though it’s not actually the end.
- From the Zoya The Destroya/Liberty Belle match to the very end of this episode, GLOW completely captures the feel of an ‘80s movie playing on a Netflix television show. (Kind of like “San Junipero” did, though that didn’t have the weathered look of the ‘80s on its side.) A lot of GLOW has come across like “a TV show set in the ‘80s” and that’s not even bad, but everything about the pandemonium that comes from things like the G.L.O.W. finish and Bash (who I once described as the human version of this) running with the VHS just felt so of the time that I need to specifically praise Tristram Shapeero’s directing in this episode.
- I get that Debbie and Ruth feel blindsided by Sam’s creative decision, but they should know this.
- Thank you all for reading these reviews. Especially since these might be my last A.V. Club reviews for a while. Later, marks.