While “Outward Bound” is a GLOW episode that gets right back to not focusing on the wrestling of it all, it’s just as important as the G.L.O.W.-heavy episode that came before it. (And really, while it doesn’t focus on the in-ring, many of the characters’ issues here stem from their work in G.L.O.W.) Both as a follow-up to “Freaky Tuesday” and as a check-in before the final stretch of the season. It’s an episode that focuses 100% on these girls, their friendships, their conflicts, their struggles, and it does so by taking them away from all of the Las Vegas and G.L.O.W flash and distractions and plopping them into the desert. There are quite a few much-needed conversations due among these characters, and that’s what “Outward Bound” provides.
There’s, of course, the much-needed conversation about Tamme’s back and her future with G.L.O.W. Despite its introduction as a big secret and the subsequent issues that came out of its reveal in “Freaky Tuesday,” GLOW wraps the story up in a bow quite nicely here. In fact, the rush job to figure out Tamme’s future with G.L.O.W. is the one true blemish of an otherwise perfect episode, as the decision to go with an anticlimactic solution to Tamme’s extremely scary problem is surprising, considering the build-up and the episode’s approach to the rest of its plots. It’s funny... but not funny enough to justify flopping on the story. The anticlimactic solution is having Tamme/Welfare Queen transition from professional wrestler to manager, not even because it’s a bad solution but because the joke about the girls still having these major wrestling blindspots (in this case, it’s managers) falls flat in a situation where Tamme is fighting for her livelihood and the 20 prime years she missed out on performing. This honest plot essentially ends with an “it’s good now,” with Tamme and Cherry stumbling onto the solution because Carmen finally brings up managers.
(I actually have trouble believing that there wouldn’t be at least one other G.L.O.W. Girl who knew about Cyndi Lauper briefly entering the world of professional wrestling, unless there was confirmation they all believed that Captain Lou Albano was actually her father.)
Tamme’s pleading with Cherry is another standout performance from Kia Stevens—as is her eventual follow-up with Debbie, where she pitches the idea and gives Debbie advice based on her own circumstances—but when it comes to the idea of something feeling rushed on this show that could always use a few more minutes, this plot, unfortunately, falls into that trap.
So, after Carmen already gave Bash a piece of her mind about the Bash/Rhonda union at the beginning of the season, she finally gets alone time with Rhonda to set some things straight. Like the fact that she’s been over her Bash crush for a while and that she genuinely wonders if Rhonda is happy being married to Bash. (Rhonda is happy with Bash, by the way. Which naturally makes everyone’s snarking about Bash—and by extension, her—even worse for her.) Even though these two obviously still hang out together in group settings, like at the drag show, they haven’t gotten any one-on-one time like other pairings of best friends (or even colleagues who just have a lot in common) this season. Until now. Carmen lets Rhonda in on the fact that she’d like a boyfriend and doesn’t want to be considered the “sexless” one of the group, and in a moment of pure Rhonda, she decides they’ll play MASH to determine who Carmen will end up with and where. (Though, this becomes a lack of showing and telling, as we, sadly, don’t learn who Carmen’s ideal man is.) In terms of the much-needed conversations, this is one of the lighter ones; because while Rhonda also hasn’t been around for Carmen, she hasn’t and would never go to Carmen just to get her to do something for her. Instead, she’s with Carmen simply to reconnect with her friend, drinking wine from a bottle in her Porsche.
Then there’s Arthie and Yolanda, who are, once again, no longer smooth-sailing. After months of enjoying spending time with—and falling in love with—Yolanda, Arthie apparently hasn’t put a label on her sexuality. In fact, Arthie doesn’t even realize how things are very, very different when it comes to her relationship with Yolanda outside of their G.L.O.W. bubble. The latter part is why Arthie can’t comprehend the fact that Yolanda’s spent the entire time in Vegas pretending to be straight in public to keep them safe, as well as why she doesn’t see anything wrong in Dawn and Stacey’s brand of ignorance when they talk about her and Yolanda. In the broader sense, the fact that Arthie doesn’t want to be labeled could be seen as progressive, especially as we’re all watching this through a modern lens. But as it actually is, it’s Arthie not quite thinking this all through yet after months, which isn’t fair to Yolanda. The more experienced Yolanda who has a right to not want to be some straight girl’s experiment. Yes, Arthie is right that Dawn and Stacey always say stupid things, but it was only a matter of time before something homophobic or insensitive on that front (and Dawn and Stacey are even written as having the laziest issue, about wrestling and intimate body part proximity) slipped out from any one of the G.L.O.W. Girls. Because they are all far from perfect, and even in the G.L.O.W. bubble, they all still live in 1986. And Arthie lives in 1986, in a same-sex relationship. Yet she still can’t even say “that word.”
But the surprise emotional highlight of the episode is the Jenny/Melrose plot, especially the entire scene leading into Jenny and Melrose’s reconciliation post-“Freaky Friday” “Mel-tion Cookie” debacle. Really, it’s more of a surprise for the characters (specifically Melrose) than it is the work of Ellen Wong and Jackie Tohn. I’ve been saying since day one that it is a literal crime that Ellen Wong isn’t a GLOW series regular, but GLOW still takes care of its recurring characters. However, Jackie Tohn truly surprises with Melrose’s turn for the serious during the girls’ vacation (that just so happens to be during Passover), as she drops the jokes and tells the story of her family’s experiences in the Holocaust. (This is another beat fueled by Dawn and Stacey’s ignorant interjections.) This leads Jenny to reconnect with her friend by telling her story about how she and her immediate family were able to escape for America after the Cambodian Civil War and how, despite how “lucky” she is, she doesn’t feel that way when she’s playing Fortune Cookie.
The Jenny/Melrose conflict—and really, Jenny finally going off about Fortune Cookie the way Arthie always has about Beirut—has been simmering since the beginning of the season. From Jenny calling Melrose out for telling even more racist jokes than usual to Debbie noting the Fan-Tan’s “Asian” influence to Jenny being there for Melrose when she still wants to party (despite being tired), only for Melrose to ditch her and call dibs on the bedroom. We even see here, as Melrose is originally trying to reconcile with Jenny, that she really thinks that “I have an Asian friend” makes it okay to say the things she does to Jenny (and to have played Fortune Cookie the way she did), because Jenny is that Asian friend. The Fortune Cookie performance in “Freaky Tuesday” really is the moment that broke Jenny, because even though Melrose calls it an impression of Jenny doing a racist character, not an impression of Jenny, it still reveals what Melrose apparently sees when Jenny plays the role (which, for the record, has never been anything Melrose ended up doing). The conversation at the campfire ultimately explains why Melrose always makes jokes and why Jenny can’t handle any more of the jokes, despite similar circumstances.
Sheila’s conversation? Well, before she reveals her new, real self to Ruth—which is appropriate, considering their relationship since the beginning of the series—she only really speaks to Reggie and a wolf, sort of. Reggie admires Sheila’s competitiveness, while the wolf… is a wolf. (Or a figment of Sheila’s imagination. We don’t actually know when she passed out from dehydration.) The (adorable) wolf appearing at the top of the trail to greet a tired, dehydrated Sheila is the final thing needed to get Sheila to officially move away from her She-Wolf persona. While it can be interpreted as Sheila finally realizing—upon actually meeting a wolf—that the wolves want nothing to do with her, the triumphant conclusion to her story here suggests that the wolf represents her finally being allowed to be who she actually is. Because actual wolves don’t have to worry about being a certain thing or projecting a certain image: They’re wolves. Adorable wolves. (Look, the wolf in this episode is really cute, and it doesn’t bite Sheila’s hand off when she tries to pet it.) Sheila can embrace her wolf spirit without the performative nature, just like an actual wolf. After this encounter and after getting rid of her She-Wolf wardrobe and wig, Sheila tells Ruth she’s “never been more clear,” with tears in her eyes. But they’re clearly not sad tears: They’re tears of relief, of freedom, or understanding. Like I mentioned in the previous episode, this season’s Sheila evolution allows Gayle Rankin to show off more of her range, and now GLOW’s in a whole new world when it comes to the character. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.
Sheila is a lucky character that gets that relief, freedom, and understanding, as Debbie and Ruth spend their whole adventure lost in the desert, discussing how much their lives lack all of that. We know that Debbie is frustrated about missing Randy’s childhood—which is why she plans to leave G.L.O.W. for Los Angeles and just collect checks—but she also voices her frustration with men in this episode. Specifically, how much she hates them. How much she hates how “free” they are, in a different way from Sheila, that’s for sure. Really, she hates the patriarchy and the fact that she has to go to or through a man to get what she wants. She hates that she’s a producer with no projects, and as Bash has made clear, she’s not needed. She hates that she did all this work, seemingly for nothing. But neither Ruth nor Tamme allow her to give up by the end of this episode, not that there’s all that much tension in the idea of Debbie actually leaving G.L.O.W. (If Betty Gilpin ever leaves, just pack it all up.)
Ruth, on the other hand, has the burden of the fact that Sam told her he loves her, and she finally unloads all of that on Debbie, once they’re pretty sure they’re going to die in the desert. Debbie gives Ruth “some choices” about her feelings, and she chooses “scared” and “excited,” instead of “happy” or “repulsed,” which is the one Debbie clearly expects. In fact, Debbie almost loses her mind over Ruth admitting she loves Sam too, but instead, she tells her to go for what she wants and tell him the truth. Ruth confesses to Debbie that, despite having the things she thought would finally set her on the right path—a job and a boyfriend, unlike Debbie’s goals of power and control—she still feels lost. And all roads apparently point back to Sam Sylvia.
But Ruth is unable to have her “much-needed conversation” with Sam because he bails and checks out of the hotel before she and the girls come back, after originally leaving behind Justine’s screenplay (at the beginning of the episode) for Ruth to read and the note “Be honest.” That particular note takes on a new meaning at the end of the episode, when she’s finally ready to tell Sam she’s in love with him too… and he’s nowhere to be found. But that’s for the best at this particular moment, because the last thing this episode needs is Marc Maron (or Chris Lowell): It’s truly all about the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
- These reviews are a place to be honest, which is why I must tell you all that, despite this episode giving us both Fleetwood Mac and Dolly Parton jams, I had Rusted Root’s “Send Me On My Way”—a song that did not exist in 1986—stuck in my head the whole time. Even during the parts that made me cry.
- Driving arrangements for the desert: Rhonda driving Carmen in the Porsche, Sheila (which surprised me) driving Ruth and Debbie in her Jeep, and Melrose driving the rest of them in her stretch limousine.
- There is nothing less surprising than the fact that Debbie wants nothing to do with camping, besides maybe the fact that midwestern Ruth pretends she’s gone camping and is one with nature. However, Ruth actually ends up being right about following the trail, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time.
- Cherry has not told Keith about working in Vegas for the rest of the year.
- I know that she even regularly refers to herself as “Melanie,” but since the character originally introduced herself as “Melrose”—which then became her G.L.O.W. character—that’s what I continue to call her.
- Jenny: “Every night, I put on a kimono, to jump out of a fortune cookie at an Asian-themed hotel, surrounded by white geishas serving mai tais.”
Jenny: “And, what do you mean ‘...and?’ It’s like I’m living in a nightmare. It sucks.”
Melrose: “Sorry, what does this have to do with me?”
- I don’t want to yell at GLOW often, even when it frustrates me, but the show really does make me want to yell “BISEXUALITY EXISTS.” That is all.
- Ruth: “This is not a dictatorship.”
Debbie: (to Rhonda) “Unless you’re gonna start tellin’ us what to do now.” Debbie is in the wrong for taking her problems with Bash out on Rhonda, but from where she’s standing, Rhonda’s the wife who gets to have a seat at the table and even influence Bash without having to jump through the hoops Debbie did to become respected as a producer.
- The look Cherry gives Tamme when she tells her “I don’t do doctors.”? Cherry gets it. That wouldn’t have happened had Debbie been the one to approach Tamme first.
- Speaking of Debbie and health, despite the fact she doesn’t want to even be camping, she immediately joins in on Ruth’s hike because she needs “the exercise.” Ruth doesn’t think twice about it because she thought Debbie was back on a healthier path after their dinner, but we know that’s not true.
- Bringing baby Randy to Vegas ends up being the plan, but Ruth’s idea about Debbie taking days off—now that Sheila can understudy as other characters—is a solid one too. Ruth also admits here that she never mentions Randy because, despite all appearances that they’re good with each other, Ruth intentionally dances around Debbie’s family stuff because of the affair with Mark. Also: Ruth’s awkward knowing look when Debbie says Mark “owes [her] for the rest of his natural life” is a priceless moment from Alison Brie.
- Unless sobriety undoes the switch, Arthie is now a Biddie and Stacey is Beirut. Arthie finally got her wish.
- Yolanda: “I just want 24 hours where I don’t have to pretend to be straight, flirt with Mormon dealers.”
Arthie: “Are you doing all that?”
Yolanda: “Someone has to keep us safe.”
Arthie: “I think the hotel’s safe. There’s lots of security.” Oh, Arthie. Sweet summer child.
- Melrose: “Oh, and then the Pharaoh changed his mind because he’s a power-hungry dictator terrified of losing his slaves.”
Yolanda: “Oh, that sounds familiar.”
Rhonda: “Well, I don’t get it.”
Carmen: “I think they’re comparing Bash to the Pharaoh.”
Rhonda: “He’s not a dictator. He’s providing everyone jobs.”
Yolanda: “Yeah, yeah. In a slave labor kind of way.” In Bash’s defense, Rhonda reminds them that she was sleeping in her car last year, that G.L.O.W. was Bash’s idea in the first place (and is why they’re all even there), and that they haven’t been complaining about the paychecks during this “slave labor.” The cracks stop coming after that.
- Debbie: “Well Ruth, you are finally going to get your wish: We’re gonna die together.”
- Ruth: “Sam told me he’s in love with me.”
Debbie: “Okay. You’re gonna have to tell me how you feel about that, ‘cause I can’t see your face in the dark.”
- Melrose: “Oh my god. Is that Elijah?”
Debbie: “Who the fuck is Elijah?”
- Rhonda: “When I slept in my car, I’d always try and park somewhere pretty, so when I woke up, I’d feel better about my life.” Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch really know how to pack a punch in such an unassuming line of dialogue.
- Carmen’s four guys for MASH: Don Johnson, Manny from the kitchen, Keith (and she stands by it), and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Solid choices.
- Justine’s screenplay is apparently “really good,” to the point that Ruth actually feels bad for Sam.
- “Outward Bound” provides a much-needed move away from the Fan-Tan and all of that Vegas shininess, which you don’t really appreciate until the episode gets right to those sweeping shots of the desert. I imagine every director this season was jealous of Anya Adams for getting to shoot the non-claustrophobic, camping episode.
- The episode title comes from the Outward Bound program, which Sheila was sent to as a kid to help with her anger problems. While it didn’t take, I guess you could say this episode (and series) is actually structured for the characters to go through the Outward Bound process model.