“It’s fun to get away from the camp, even if it’s just for an hour.” - Wet Hot American Summer
Immediately after making its third season return, GLOW decides to take a day off. It’s kind of story whiplash in a way, but it’s also a sign and a very early reminder of how quickly things will go in this season. And have gone in this series: Debbing noting in the very first scene that baby Randy is only 10 months old really frames just how much of a whirlwind this entire experience has been for these women (and Bash and Sam). It’s barely even been a full year of all of this. That’s actually one of the hardest aspects of the series to grasp, considering the show began in 2017 and these relationships are so lived-in, but GLOW has always set out to show how this performance world of professional wrestling can create such strong relationships—even with people who seem to have nothing in common—in such a short time. I mean, just look at the crew that Melrose leads into the Fan-Tan after a night of partying.
But while this day off comes out of nowhere after just starting the season, considering how tired the whole crew already was of the Vegas show before it even officially started, they naturally needed the day off. This day off has apparently been weeks in the making, as, again, GLOW loves to blow through its timeline. (And with each season, it’s gotten more specific about the passage of time, which is always helpful.)
While GLOW has no problem working with cliches and bringing its own spin to things, it also loves to subvert expectations. In this episode’s case, it’s the expectation of Rhonda being pregnant after the episode begins with her and Bash’s, um, extremely athletic newlywed sex and the fact that Cherry and Keith are actively trying to have a baby. (By the way, the sex scene really made me think of this.) It even does so by proving that Bash isn’t completely clueless, by thinking that Rhonda’s illness is pregnancy-related too… even though it ultimately proves how clueless he is when it comes to matters of birth control, migraines, and being emotionally available when it counts. Bash’s plan to be married to Rhonda didn’t come with the realization that he’d have to be emotionally there for Rhonda; because even if it weren’t a beard scenario, he still wouldn’t have the manual on how to do that, based on his upbringing. We’ve not met Rhonda’s family, but the picture she paints is of a normal, loving family, a completely foreign concept to Bash. Bash and Rhonda are two of the most well-meaning characters in all of GLOW—in much very different ways from Ruth, who so far this season has only shown that in her reaction to the Challenger tragedy—but the way that’s interpreted for both characters is what makes the pairing even more interesting than if Bash had married literally any other G.L.O.W. Girl.
In the second season finale, Carmen was noticeably upset about the Bash/Rhonda wedding, and this episode takes some time to address that. Specifically, the fact that Carmen lost her two best friends—which is an even better story for Carmen’s reaction than her crush on Bash—and how Rhonda moving into the penthouse with Bash gave her the consolation prize of a room all to herself, despite being the type of person who loves the company of others. Debbie, of course, wasn’t going to have a roommate, and Cherry shares a room with her husband, after all. (Carmen opted to go to Sheila and Ruth’s room to watch the Challenger on TV in the premiere, instead of simply watching in her room alone.) It’s also a necessary show of growth for the character that Carmen puts her foot down and tells Bash to take care of his wife, instead of filling in for him as she might have in the first two seasons. It also means that Bash has to actually learn about his wife, an unexpected component of this whole marriage thing and Rhonda admitting she loves him in the season premiere. Really, this is the most simple of the stories in this episode, as Bash simply has to learn that “being there” is the most important thing in an actual relationship… even if he didn’t mean for this to be an “actual” relationship. (And it’s something he also needed to learn for his friendship with Carmen, though he probably didn’t. He’s still Bash.)
While it was sweet to see Arthie and Yolanda end up together in season two, it’s a smart choice for season three to address early on that things are not perfect for the couple, especially as Arthie is newly-out (and confirms in this episode that this is also her first relationship) and Yolanda is the one with experience, as an out lesbian when we met her in season two. That Arthie doesn’t feel she’s able to be sexy like Yolanda is an understandable progression for the character who has opened up and become less reserved as the series has gone on. And this story is another reminder of how good GLOW is at making its supporting characters feel real, even when they have little time dedicated to them. Because it’s very easy to forget here that Shakira Barrera’s Yolanda was only just introduced in season two as a Junkchain/Cherry replacement. That the series is able to have her and Sunita Mani fully hold down a plot on their own, without it disrupting the flow of the more established characters—even though Arthie has been here since day one, she has been one of the more underserved supporting characters—means a lot. And they also manage to be the healthiest relationship of the three that this episode centers on, which means even more, as the one same-sex relationship, with the series’ only openly queer characters.
The main focus of the story is, of course, the Sam/Ruth of it all, which functions much better at centerstage than it did at the end of the season premiere. The episode actually highlights the very notable fact from that episode that Sam essentially has nothing to do as director of the Vegas version of G.L.O.W. But at the same time, he’s getting paid very well to do that nothing and is actually doing fairly well for himself in Vegas, in a way that he never did before in his life. In fact, Sam is actually in what constitutes as a good place for himself (even working on a new screenplay), which this episode works to unravel after he stops dancing around the fact that he’s in love with Ruth… and Ruth stomps on his heart. The hot tub scene is a necessary one for the series, as the Sam/Ruth will-they-won’t-they relationship has always been the most controversial aspect of the show. The ”problem,” ultimately, is that we’re watching a series that has somehow placed Marc Maron in the role of the romantic leading male—and it’s somehow succeeded in doing so. (Just look at how director Mark A. Burley captures every moment in this episode where the facade slips and you can tell just how lovesick Sam is, before the shit hits the fan. I think I’ve mentioned before “the look” from a romantic leading male, and Maron truly has that.) The original surprise was how good Maron actually is in the role of Sam, even if you’d argue that he’s just playing himself. But that realization also came with the realization that the romantic story at the center of the series—besides the Debbie and Ruth of it all—was going to be between Sam and Ruth, even if it wasn’t clear if the series would actually pull the trigger.
At this point, it’s clear the series is going to pull the trigger. So Sascha Rothchild’s script has Marc Maron’s Sam and Alison Brie’s Ruth go down the list of the pros and cons of this relationship, with the show essentially giving a fuck you to the biggest criticism of it—the age difference—with Sam’s childish “So?” after Ruth points it out. (Brie plays it so Ruth can’t even look at Sam after that part of the argument, because it’s the one bullshit part of it for the character.) But it also addresses the more sound criticisms about it as well, which is how much of a mess Sam is—even though he’s actually “well-behaved” here in Vegas—and specifically how he has a tendency to get mean when things don’t go his way in this relationship, which he does here. In fact, that meanness was a major part of his relationship with Ruth in season two, especially as Ruth ended up with Russell (who she’s still very much with).
“The line,” as Sam brings up, is visible in every scene between the two, to the point where every time Ruth tries to pretend it doesn’t exist or she doesn’t see it, it’s easy to be on Sam’s side. And yes, they were having such a nice day. And yes, they so very clearly make each other happy when they’re together. But the way they can hurt each other? That’s not a love story, as much as Sam wants to ignore the very volatile parts of his personality. Plus, their perfect day? It’s ultimately as fake as Vegas itself. In fact, it’s dependent on Vegas itself, from the blackjack game to the lost hours of time to the steaks to the hot tub. It’s not real, which makes it the worst place for Sam to make this argument. Because, say the show did put Sam and Ruth together after this episode. Once they have to go back to Los Angeles, this type of perfect day just doesn’t and can’t exist.
The thing about “Hot Tub Club” is that it’s a great premise and the execution of what it focuses on is done well, but it also falls victim to GLOW’s enviable problem of the desire for there to be more of every episode. Tamme shows up for “hot tub club” at the end, essentially putting an end to Ruth and Sam’s already-ruined “best day,” but also bringing up the question of what, exactly, she did on her day off. Yes, Tamme got her showcase in season two’s “Mother Of All Matches”—and these reviews will forever be a safe haven for us to discuss how Kia Stevens deserved an Emmy nomination for it—but that also opened the door for us to only want more Tamme. And we already want more of all these other characters. But this episode is also specifically about relationships, mostly romantic. Yolanda and Arthie, Bash and Rhonda (and as an extension, Bash/Rhonda and Carmen), Sam and Ruth, and while it’s only the bookends-ish, Debbie and baby Randy. The episode quickly drops in on the other G.L.O.W. Girls, but their day off antics have nothing to do with this. Plus, they’re all asleep from partying all night and planning to do so again (which is why Carmen’s bit is also just a drop-in).
The other thing about “Hot Tub Club” is that it’s a slice of life episode of GLOW, like season two’s “Mother Of All Matches,” that unfortunately has to be compared to “Mother Of All Matches.” That episode is a crowning achievement for GLOW, and even for as good as “Hot Tub Club” is, it doesn’t really dig into these characters as much as that one did Debbie and Tamme. It doesn’t help the comparisons that this episode is also somewhat bookended by the compelling but brief Debbie story and how she is unable to be a full-time mother for baby Randy as she works in Vegas and can only visit him on the weekends—all while Mark’s girlfriend/secretary Susan gets to be there and see things like Randy’s first steps. This episode is more surface level, even though that surface examination is still quite important when it comes to fleshing out supporting characters, explaining how (and if) the Bash/Rhonda relationship is going to work, and even in addressing the elephant in the room that is the entire Sam/Ruth relationship. But that also shows that it has a lot to do, in a relatively short amount of time. So as good as this episode is, the more I think about it, the less I think it’s a great episode of GLOW. It competently continues the show’s simpler—less genre-bending—ways of playing with its format, but after taking the day off, I can’t wait until the show is back on.
- After I got over the minor trauma of remembering that my mother never got me a Teddy Ruxpin (my birthday’s in a few days, by the way), I was able to clock how Debbie thinks the wings pin is a bad gift for a baby immediately… she just gets to voice it after the flight attendant passive-aggressively judges her for being a bad mom.
- Toby Huss! Let’s have a quick moment of silence for Halt And Catch Fire. As a Pete And Pete fan growing up, it’s still wild to me that Artie ended up being everyone’s favorite cowboy. He only has one scene—with Debbie—in this episode, but obviously, you don’t just get Toby Huss for one scene. Even if you make it count by having it be with Betty Gilpin.
- Debbie: “He waited ‘til I left?”
Mark: “Debbie, he’s a baby—not Michigan J. Frog.”
- As expected, Ruth hates Vegas… but only “a little.” She apparently forced the university library to give her a library card and does performance reports (for herself) after every G.L.O.W. show, so yes, it’s official: She’s a bigger nerd than Arthie.
- I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see what Tamme did on her day off. She wasn’t one of the “Slutty Vampires of Wrestling,” so it’s not like she was sleeping all day. (Neither was Sheila, from what I could see.) What was her day like before hot tub club?!?
- Bash’s obsession with appearances—as he really wants to go to the Hoover Dam for wedding photos/photos of any kind of him and Rhonda—makes it take a while for him to realize he should take Rhonda back to the penthouse after she’s clearly feeling unwell, instead of just speeding off for their day trip. Oh, Bash. But Bash and Rhonda really pull off the young, rich couple vibe. In fact, the look really agrees with Rhonda, despite it being a complete 180 from her original wardrobe.
- It’s not a true ‘80s story until someone drives off in a sports car that isn’t theirs, and in this case, it’s Yolanda in Bash’s Porsche, Risky Business-style. It’s a shame we don’t get any joyriding adventures after that, but the whole lead-up to that is a quick glimpse at how one can easily become stranded in this place that supposedly has everything. Also, of course Bash’s license plate is “BASHFUL.”
- Bash: “I don’t handle illness well.” Season two and Florian’s death are the ultimate evidence of this, of course. But in this case, it’s no surprise that his family had a habit of sending its sick to suffer privately, especially when you consider how much Bash longs not to be alone in any scenario (and continues to ramble even when he’s finally there for Rhonda). It is a surprise that his uncle is “the caviar king of California” though. More on that, please.
- Believing that she and Yolanda broke up at the salon, Arthie does the only thing she can: gets a major haircut. Honestly? It works for her.