In my previous review, I wrote that GLOW’s second episode feels so much like the second half of the episode that the pilot itself feels weaker as a result. The greatest reason being that “Slouch. Submit.” doesn’t follow the typical second episode structure of simply being a more polished retread of the pilot. Instead, it continues on from that episode, giving more color to the world and officially setting up the rest of the season. Where the pilot had montages and a potential set-up for the major hero (babyface) and villain (heel) conflict of the series, episode two provides true character introduction and the actual initiation of said conflict. While the pilot’s climax of Debbie confronting Ruth is so visceral that it provides a lasting image to end the episode, it’s arguably also rushed: Debbie throws out a line that Mark told her everything, but since she’s mostly an extension of Ruth at that point, nothing more is made of that. “Slouch. Submit.” takes us to Pasadena and into Debbie’s world, while also giving us something to chew on within the G.L.O.W. world. Together, both episodes make something whole.
And after introducing the audience to a lead character who’s kind of the villain of the story, “Slouch. Submit.” introduces the possibility of someone other than Ruth being the true villain of this story, Melanie “Melrose” Rose (Jackie Tohn). The soundtrack of Roxette’s “The Look,” the personal limo, the changing in the parking lot—Melrose is already a “character” who might be ready for primetime. Like Ruth, she’s also an outcast in the G.L.O.W. group, only it’s more obviously by choice in Melrose’s case. See, Melrose is the type of person who would brag endlessly about not having any female friends, whereas Ruth would wonder why she has no female friends, despite her behavior. Ruth clearly doesn’t want people to hate her, but there’s no answer as to why she expects them to like her. For example, even if the G.L.O.W. Girls were to accept that her fight with Debbie was simply a skit, that wouldn’t change things like the way she just has to insert that her “friend” was written off Paradise Cove when Jenny (Ellen Wong) talks about Debbie’s storyline.
Melrose is your upfront, obvious heel, who instantly makes you think, “hey, maybe Ruth’s not so bad”—especially since, with Ruth, there’s still a tinge of an argument that she means well. In this episode, Melrose basically proves Cherry’s (Sydelle Noel) reading of her (as a rich, daddy’s girl who just wants people to think she’s “interesting”) completely right. At the burger place, she pays a $20 tab with a $50 bill. When she talks about Cherry putting her in a sleeper hold, she pretty much goes into full “Wait ‘til my father hears about this” mode (“That was a sleeper hold.” “That was a lawsuit.”). She finds amusement in turning Cherry’s real miscarriage into a joke. It would be so much easier for Melrose to be the villain, especially since there’s no connection to her in this story the way there is with Ruth. You could say Melrose is basically a cartoon villain, if not for the fact that Sam immediately points out how stupid all of her behavior is.
The thing about Melrose is that she barely even cares enough to take this seriously, especially not at the level Ruth does. But before Debbie re-enters the picture, you can almost see how Ruth could possibly transfer her heel heat over to Melrose. Or at least how she believes it would be possible. After all, despite how much Sam dislikes her, I don’t think Ruth even considered she’d be anything other than the Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair of G.L.O.W. until Debbie confirmed her own “starring role.”
Ruth is obviously more passive aggressive in her behavior (see the way she huffs in the first scene, waiting for Melrose to acknowledge her), a point Sam hopes to turn into actual aggression for the show. There are moments where Ruth comes across like a pushover—whether it’s her confrontation with street youths or giving Melrose her better shoes to train in—but I don’t think that’s the best way to describe her. Because waiting an hour in a bathroom stall to talk one-on-one with a casting director is many things, but “pushover” is not one of them. In fact, it’s something that Sam hits on when he talks to Ruth at the end of this episode: She’s simply driven by desperation. Ruth is desperate to be liked (she even tried to bargain with the street youths to just give her back her keys), at the very least, and very desperate to be taken seriously, to be recognized. As bizarre as her “special talent” of impersonating “Audrey Hepburn winning an Oscar for Roman Holiday” is, I’d say nothing describes what Ruth wants out of life more than that moment.
Meanwhile, this episode also confirms that Debbie absolutely isn’t as happy with her post-career life as she previously claimed. That’s not to say she resents having her baby—even if he is a “shitty little biter”—but the fact that she spends her time at home, watching Paradise Cove and having to see the woman who replaced her, is clearly depicted more as a punishment than the liberating choice she described to Ruth. And what does it say that coked up Sam Sylvia could see that when Debbie’s own best friend clearly couldn’t? (Also, note the way Ruth tells Sam that Debbie is probably in Pasadena with her baby. It’s a mixture of resentment and condescension while also not really being either.) Sam obviously wants Debbie as his lead, but he also sells her on G.L.O.W. in a way he hasn’t to anyone else—in a way where he actually lights up and shows some true passion. He even realizes that she was written into a coma (and eventually off the show) because she wasn’t just a pushover actress who would smile and play dumb. He sees a fire that she’s holding back. So “fuck polite and comatose,” he tells her, which obviously doesn’t just to apply to a soap opera.
In theory, Ruth has all those characteristics too—Sam’s description of Debbie brings up how she probably “asked too many questions” and “improvised a few too many lines”—but the way she presents them comes from a different place. Like how she talks to the girls about the idea of G.L.O.W. being a true “ensemble,” even though her actions say she’s much more about self-interest.
Cherry’s somewhere in the middle of all this, character-wise, and after showing signs of fierceness in the pilot, “Slouch. Submit.” goes full force in adding layers (other than badass) to the character. This episode actually works very well to give most of the supporting characters some color, other than just background. We now know Rhonda (Kate Nash) is polite and always down for a good harmony; Jenny is a real TV junkie; Arthie (Sunita Mani) is pre-med and also a little starstruck by Debbie; and Carmen (Britney Young) is possibly the biggest ray of human sunshine there is. (I’m not looking forward to the moment someone upsets Carmen, because why would you ever want to upset Carmen?) Even the salon ladies, Dawn (Rebekka Johnson) and Stacey (Kim Gatewood), have a funny moment when Stacey thinks Sam is praising her, only for Dawn to inform her it’s obviously about Debbie.
But Cherry, despite her tough exterior, is an interesting supporting character to start with (alongside Melrose), because she so clearly excels at this in comparison to the other women. For as much of a mess as everything is right now, there’s a genuine joy that comes from watching her succeed in training the women, a joy that Melrose has to ruin because… Because Cherry doesn’t find her amusing? Because Cherry’s not some guy she can charm with her (and this is a pretty good description) “‘please objectify me’ vibe”? While Ruth/Debbie is obviously the bread and butter of GLOW, this episode provides another interesting dynamic in Cherry/Melrose; though this one is a lot more cut and dry in terms of good and bad. Obviously life and wrestling aren’t all that black and white. But sometimes people are just dicks, and “Slouch. Submit.” makes sure to point that out early on for the series. That’s just a valuable life lesson.
- Ruth: “Kind of bouncy.”
Arthie: “But also kind of made of wood and steel.” I’ve heard a lot of the “Wrestlers just land on a big mattress!” argument before, so I’m glad GLOW nips that in the bud fairly quickly.
- Jenny: “I watch a lot of Murder, She Wrote. And Wheel Of Fortune. TV, in general.” The ‘80s!
- Unsurprisingly, Ruth is quick to fire back at Melrose that she couldn’t have possibly been in a Brian De Palma movie, even if it was just a minor role in “the porn dance party in Body Double.”
- In Ruth’s defense, she does have a good, very real point about men always being in charge in the entertainment industry and just how hard it is to get ahead that way. (Though Melrose is right to call her out on her “sisterhood” vibe.) At the same time, from everything we saw about Salty “The Sack” Johnson (or “sackballs guy”), he was a consummate professional and—even though Cherry does a good job with Carmen as her number two—the perfect teacher, in terms of making the moves look as easy as they possibly could for the ladies. Then again, he made the three count when Debbie pinned Ruth to the mat, so I suppose Ruth wasn’t a fan of that.
- Sheila: “Don’t stand up straight. You have to be submissive. She’s the alpha and you’re the omega…Submit. She might kill you.” The best part is that Ruth actually goes with Sheila’s (Gayle Rankin) plan. That’s how desperate she is to avoid another confrontation. Plus, Sheila really is trying to help. That’s gotta count for something.
- Debbie (to Ruth): “What are you doing?”
Sheila: “She’s submitting.”
- Sam is just really bad at being comforting, whether he’s attempting to put his jacket on Debbie (her reaction is priceless) or, well, everything he does as a result of the “miscarriage bullshit.” His “apology” to Cherry may acknowledge their history, but it’s really bad. Like, Ruth’s “It just happened” re: the affair kind of bad. He goes on about how he’s a director who will do what he needs to do to get what he wants,” which really only foreshadows more badness down the road. And that promise to pay Cherry double her salary for working as both an actor and a trainer? Uh huh. Sure.
- Ruth: “So I’m fired?!”
Sam: “No! Are you an idiot? You’re chum. You’re blood in the water. Debbie’s the hero and you’re the villain. Everybody’s gonna hate you.”
Ruth (crying): “I don’t want everyone to hate me.”
Sam: “Oh Christ. Crying. Caring. The desperation. That’s what makes you unbearable.” The glee with which Marc Maron says “Everybody’s gonna hate you” is absolutely delightful.