I’ll be honest: As far as I know, no one in the actual G.L.O.W. had a personality like Sheila the She Wolf. There are obviously reports of some of the women getting and staying more into character than others, but that was par for the course when it came to professional wrestling kayfabe in the 1980s. So while there is plenty of real G.L.O.W. inspiration to go around on GLOW, Sheila is the most “original” character on the show in a way. She technically fits right in here, as this truly is a story about unconventional outcasts and underdogs, but she’s also a character who has to be looked at through a different lens than the others at times. Luckily, GLOW chooses to do a Sheila episode early on, answering that lingering question (“Does she really think she’s a wolf?”) and explaining that her differences are just as valid and acceptable as any of the other women’s.
I’ll be even more honest: To me, the weirdest thing about Sheila is that she uses nail polish on her teeth for the transformation. I suppose it’s better dental hygiene than the alternative, but if I have a line, it’s probably nail polish on teeth. As for everything else, I’d argue she’s really just doing a wolf-based version of the pretty intense ‘80s make-up routine.
Even outside of her interactions with Ruth, Sheila’s existence here is interesting because there are so many other—upsetting—ways things can go. Sheila tells Ruth that most people call her a “freak” (especially when she goes full wolf), but in a group of all very different women, most of which have nothing in common on a typical surface level, none of them ever call Sheila out for being different. At worst, a lot of them might be too self-involved to judge Sheila, but they also don’t stay clear of her either. The thing about Sheila is that she would probably be an easy target for any of these characters to shun, perhaps even easier than Ruth. Sort of like how “Slouch. Submit.” showed Melrose could be an easier “villain” than Ruth. For example, Sheila isn’t part of the girls’ movie night and neither is Ruth; but it’s not as though they were banned from said event. They’re all in this together, after all.
There’s probably a lot to psychologically unpack when it comes to Sheila and her wolf spirit, but none of that truly matters once she opens up to Ruth. The way Gayle Rankin chokes up as Sheila tells Ruth how she’s worn a version of this look (not “costume”) for the past five years—as adept as GLOW proves itself to be in terms of being a comedy first and foremost, it knows how to make these characters come across as real. “It’s not for you. It is for me.” That could be the battlecry for all these G.L.O.W. Girls (and Sam and Bash). Sheila’s entire scene truly makes this episode; it’s a fun episode that also brings up the issues these women still have to face, but the She Wolf truly captures the essence of those issues.
Also, of course Ruth’s ‘relatable’ experience involves Anne Of Green Gables. But at least she qualifies her “I get it” with an “I think.” That means a lot, considering her tendency to assume she knows best.
As the show gets away from Ruth being an outcast just because she’s a “homewrecker” (she’s still a tryhard theatre kid), it brings in this dynamic with Sheila. It’s funny how it all works out too, considering it involves a dead squirrel, but it’s a scenario that requires Ruth—who admits she doesn’t want people to hate her—to really work at trying to figure out how to coexist and find commonality with Sheila, someone who seemingly couldn’t be more different from her. That and Cherry’s shower comments (as mentioned by Keith) are honestly the only problems really addressed about a group of 14 women who barely know each other, forced to live in a motel together. Yes, for all the discussion and depiction of how backwards the ‘80s could be—especially in such a cutthroat business—a narrative where women being forced to live together doesn’t devolve into cattiness is creatively impressive and refreshing. There’s some mild snark directed towards Sam (both for the scenario and the residual gimmick stuff), but the women keep their cool. The ladies encourage each other, whether it’s working on new signature moves (and tans) around the pool, lotioning at night, or embracing their wolf spirits.
These weirdos all pretty much accept each other—even Sheila—and there’s no back-patting from the show about that. While there’s always the Ruth/Debbie conflict (whether it’s in the forefront or lingering) and Melrose’s general snark and shit-stirring ways, “The Dusty Spur” really shows how, at this point, the biggest obstacles to these women aren’t each other. Instead, it’s outside forces, still telling them what they can and can’t do or who they are, no matter how wrong it is. At the smallest, it’s something like clueless, coked up Bash calling the “She Wolf” and a werewolf “the same difference” or banning the girls from doing drugs at the hotel (despite the idea coming from a two day coke binge, No Holds Barred style). But in an episode where the women learn to mostly accept their new, varyingly offensive wrestling gimmicks, you also have moments like Carmen’s father trying to control her life and tell her that what she’s doing is stupid and worthless. You have Mark coming back into Debbie’s life and proving her right about her fears that she’ll have nowhere to go if she really leaves him. These women are making the best out of the situations they’re in, but they’re still being told they’re doing it wrong. For all their flaws and cocaine, thankfully Sam and Bash exist—especially when you compare them to their real life G.L.O.W. inspirations—to defend the women… But GLOW and “The Dusty Spur” understand that the women have to fight these terrible battles for themselves. Their gimmicks are the least of their worries, especially as they have some semblance of control on that front.
That’s why Debbie has to choose between staying in the same house as Mark (who now refuses to leave) and taking baby Randy with her to The Dusty Spur motel. That’s why Carmen has to be the one to stand up to her father, even though Sam tries (and fails) and Bash tries to use the old fake boyfriend excuse (and fails). In the case of the former, Mark’s argument for his rights and returning home is that he paid for everything, which is only the result of the previously mentioned fact that he convinced Debbie to have a baby and quit her job by offering to financially support them completely (meaning that wasn’t always the case). Again, the ‘best decision’ Debbie ever made comes back to bite her.
As for the latter, it’s sadly something GLOW completely understands about the pro wrestling industry, especially at that time: Women’s pro wrestling was seen as something of a “sideshow.” Carmen’s father, Goliath Jackson, is written as controlling and “old-fashioned,” but he’s also a character who sadly knows what he’s talking about her. (The first thing he does when he enters the gym is check the safety of the ring.) At the time, women in wrestling were valets, and if they were wrestling, they were “freaks.” As recently as a few years ago, the women of WWE—the biggest pro wrestling company in the world—were seen as just “bathroom breaks,” their barely two (five, if they were lucky) minute matches treated as cool-down segments between other, more important matches. So even though Carmen knows what she’s doing, it’s all an uphill battle. The same as it was for Ruth and her struggling acting career. The same as it was for Debbie and Paradise Cove. It’s all just a different backdrop.
- Sam: “Sorry, no exceptions. Oh, except for Debbie, because she’s the star, and she has a baby.” The best part is how Rhonda holds her own stomach after that line, possibly thinking (as we soon learn she’s homeless and needs the hotel), “Good thing I don’t have a baby.” Kate Nash is a treasure on this show.
- Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out” perfectly scores the montage of the girls leaving their normal lives to head toward their new rehab meets sorority lifestyle. Just when you think Carmen can’t get any better as a character, GLOW gives us her foolproof attempt to pretend she hasn’t moved out, pillow dummy style. Also, Ruth’s boxed wine and Chinese food gave me intense flashbacks to life in my first LA apartment (also a studio).
- Sam: “Glad to see everyone’s working hard.”
Jenny: “Working hard on my tan. I mean, Fortune Cookie is. ‘Cause, that’s the stereotype you want me to roll with, right? That Asians work really hard but also do karate and are really shy?”
Sam: “You mad about something?” That little klepto’s got some sass. I like it.
- Meanwhile, Arthie’s working on Beirut’s signature move, the Lebanese Cannonball. Long live flippy shit.
- Melrose: “Oh, like a schtick!”
Tamme: “Ooh, I want an accent.”
Rhonda: “Me too. But not a British one, another one.”
- Sam: “I can’t film you doing the hugging move for 20 minutes. What?”
Rhonda: “But what if your gimmick is hugging people?” Well then hope you stay in NXT and Vince McMahon never gets a say in your character…
- Melrose: “Who are you again?”
Melrose: “‘Cause you’re British?”
Rhonda: “No, ‘cause I’m smart, like Encyclopedia Britannica.”
Melrose: “Oh. Nerd versus party girl. Classic structure!”
- When Ruth pitched Mint Julep (“more of a bitchy southern debutante type”)—I honestly could’ve sworn that was an actual G.L.O.W. character. Apparently, it was not.
- “He was so pissed when he found that pillow dummy in your bed.” The wrestling cameos return, as Carmen’s brothers are played by Brodus Clay/Tyrus and Carlito. For some reason, a lot of wrestling fans haven’t seemed to realize that Carlito is the other brother. Yes, guys—Carlito got jacked post-WWE. Also he has that dumb hair here.
- Sam: “Welfare Queen.”
Tamme: “It’s offensive.”
Sam: “That’s the genius of it! It’s commentary on an existing stereotype. It’s sort of a ‘fuck you’ to the Republican party and their welfare reform and race-baiting shit.”
Tamme: “Yeah, but will other people know that?”
Sam: “Like who?”
Tamme: “My son. He goes to Stanford.”
Sam: “Fancy.” Again, this is where GLOW and the real life G.L.O.W. differ, as it would just be rather if they were all just playing these gimmicks as straight and unquestioning as the ‘80s show did. Sam and Bash’s inconsiderate comments about the women’s gimmicks aren’t great, but they clearly lack the malice of Matt Cimber’s real verbal assault of the G.L.O.W. Girls. Also, Sam still doesn’t quite get that, while he may like to “jolt people into consciousness,” wrestling fans will just take it at face value.
- As offensive as Welfare Queen is, Kia Stevens rocks it, especially as something so completely different from her usual, monster wrestling persona.
- I welcome the fact that GLOW is a prestige comedy that actually cares about being funny, but Sam’s dating profile (‘80s!) is the type of ‘80s sitcom plot contrivance that the show doesn’t really need to make a habit it. It does make for good awkward humor—and the continued humanization of Sam in the eyes of the girls, instead the alternative demonization, is also good—but it reads of the tainted power of the period piece. In 2017, you can’t really do this bit. (I think the modern equivalence of it is CC’ing everyone in an email. Still not great.)
- Saved it for the S.O. because I know how corny it sounds: The pool might as well be an ocean between Debbie and Ruth.