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Wrestling Takes a Backseat in a Still Stellar GLOW Season Three

Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Ruth (Alison Brie) stand on the street in bright pink 80s wrestling costumes.

For a show about a women’s wrestling group, the third season of GLOW isn’t really about wrestling at all. Sure, the show has always been about a lot of things–female friendship, gender inequality, racism, body image and self-worth, to name a few–but wrestling was always the catalyst for these characters’ stories. In season three, there are a few scattered scenes of actual wrestling, but for the most part, this thing that brought these women together, and that has now brought them to Las Vegas–the entire reason why they’re here–it’s barely even a backdrop.

The effect is that wrestling is a looming, even oppressive presence in the show, and it works. Going into a third season of a show with such tight parameters to its concept, there’s always the fear that things will get stale. So how does GLOW avoid falling into a rut? By leaning heavily into that rut. The characters, who are now living and working at a Las Vegas hotel off the strip, doing the exact same show every night, are stir-crazy. They’re bored and they’re restless and the stability of G.L.O.W. is now their prison, physically but even more so creatively.

The wrestlers are placed at odds with their wrestling show from the very start. The season begins the afternoon of G.L.OW.’s Vegas opening, and Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Ruth (Alison Brie) are giving a live interview to hype the show as they watch the launching of the Challenger space shuttle. Ruth is mocking the launch in-character as the Russian villain Zoya as the shuttle explodes, so in addition to the trauma of watching that event, she has this deep personal shame to deal with. She wants to put all of that into that night’s show–to address the shared experience directly and offer the audience and the performers some level of catharsis. But that’s not what G.L.O.W. is about anymore. It’s not the sort of creative outlet Ruth was so drawn to in season one; it’s just a business.

That tension between the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and their wrestling show is the most we really get in terms of an overarching plot. Instead, this season focuses heavily on individual storylines. Debbie gets the lion’s share of the focus and once again, Gilpin gives an extraordinary performance. The first two seasons are centered around Debbie and Ruth’s friendship, as Ruth tries desperately to earn forgiveness from Debbie after sleeping with her now-ex-husband. In season three, the animosity is gone, though you can tell that the cracks in their friendship never came back together quite right. There’s a distance between the two that isn’t commented on, but it makes the few moments where the depth of their bond flickers back all the more beautiful.

The surprise MVP of the season, though, is Sheila (aka the She-Wolf), who has a beautiful, fully-formed arc this season. Cherry (Sydelle Noel) also has a great trajectory as do, to an extent, Sam (Marc Maron) and Bash (Chris Lowell). But for the most part, for a season that gives up a larger macro plot to focus on individual characters, I found myself wanting more time with each. Just as last season gave us a hefty Me Too plotline, GLOW dives headfirst again into a lot of big issues. Race and sexuality and homophobia and the AIDS epidemic are all at the forefront of this season but it often feels like the issues overshadow the characters struggling with them. Also, Geena Davis–who appears this season as the hotel’s manager, Sandy Devereaux St Clair–is delightful but woefully underused.

Overall, season three might lack some of the cohesion of prior seasons, but it’s still one of the best shows out there. This season is just as enjoyable and just as heartbreaking as past ones and the high points are really, really high. From that gutwrenching opening scene to Debbie’s open misandry (“Men, I hate men […] Even when I’m fucking the cute young ones, I like to take my hand and just crunch their face into the pillow, hard. Because they are just so … free. They make the choices. They dictate the terms. And I just hate asking them for anything.” That’s tied for my favorite line of the season alongside this one, also from Debbie: “I wish more men would go on vocal rest.”), there’s a lot that makes this season stand out.

Season three of GLOW is now available on Netflix.

(image: Ali Goldstein/Netflix)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.