This GLOW Season 3 review contains no spoilers.
GLOW season 3 refocuses the show to be (much) less about wrestling and instead about the personal lives of the women and the dreary, soul-crushing nature of the hustle. What happens to the women when wrestling becomes repetitive and predictable, and what happens to GLOW when wrestling fades to the background? This season has a very different feel to it, but it’s still funny, unapologetic, and loving toward its rag-tag crew.
Following last season’s announcement, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling have a nine-month gig at the Fan-Tan casino in Las Vegas, where they perform the same show night after night. Several characters become involved in acting classes, dance lessons, and training, leading to a lot of questioning about who they really want to be in the industry. This season finds a way to interrogate Sheila’s choices, in particular, without making a mockery of them. Ruth is also held accountable in a way that protagonists rarely are, for the way she assumes she must be special.
Lest you think there’s no wrestling, episode 5 has my favorite moments in the ring of the entire series so far. It’s so full of joy and it recaptures that initial feeling of the wrestling from season 1. But there’s still plenty of joy and wry humor elsewhere on the show this season, starting with the very dark Challenger-themed opener. Debbie and Ruth’s repairing relationship also makes for more levity, as Allison Brie and Betty Gilpin are completely magnetic performers on screen. They nail every aspect of their roles, but sometimes it’s just more fun to watch them be old friends laughing at nothing together.
GLOW makes the most of its Las Vegas setting, adding Geena Davis as a former performer-turned-casino entertainment director Sandy Devereaux St. Clair, who Debbie comes to see as something of a role model. There are plenty of fun references to Liberace and Siegfried & Roy. It turns out Sheila actually knows how to gamble, and Sam has quit, in an effort to limit his destructive tendencies that runs through the entire season.
I hope the best addition sticks around next year – Kevin Cahoon as drag queen Bobby Barns, who adds warmth and opens up a number of stories, including the queer ones, in a new and genuine way. GLOW could have written in a drag queen just to capture the zeitgeist and the character could have been played broad. Instead there’s cutting commentary baked into every aspect of the script, including this character and Cahoon’s performance feels intimate even when Bobby is costumed and campy, and he grounds several key storylines.
Season 3 gives us more Tammé and Carmen, the latter of whom was sorely missed last season. It still doesn’t feel like enough, which I’m guessing the writers know, considering Carmen makes a speech about being overlooked. Tammé and Debbie continue their camaraderie and mutual advice-giving as working moms and women who want more from their life. Jenny also has some much-deserved standout moments, including a salary negotiation that highlights what a difference it makes when there’s a woman boss.
This season spans far more time than the previous two, which allows it to cover bigger life changes and personality growth than in the past. Some of this is more effective than others, as are some of the time passage devices. The same one is used twice with Ruth, where she moves at normal speed in the foreground and everything else zooms behind her as the weeks or months tick by. But only once is there any information of value in the background. Tammé’s injury smash-cut montage is brutally visceral, reminding us of the physical toll of their jobs and the fact that labor issues are embedded in the fabric of GLOW.
In its third season, GLOW deals with queerness more directly than ever before. In a bit of service journalism, let me say that yes, Arthie and Yolanda are a couple who have sex on screen. Not everything is easy for them, however, as Arthie is still figuring out life as a baby gay and Yolanda attempts to warn her about the hateful reality for LGBTQ folks in the 1980s. Bash does his level best to pretend he’s not mourning the loss of his best friend (and probably the love of his life) Florian, and GLOW impressively allows Bash to both once again be the bad guy of the labor story while seeing his pain and humanity as a closeted gay man.
The nudity in GLOW continues to be notable in its female gaze. Tammé’s shower scenes are about conveying physical pain and relief. Ruth has a great comedic topless scene that feels like the kind of thing women actually do to make their friends laugh. While a tag on the scene moves her relationship with Sam forward somewhat, it mostly feels like a marker in how things are going between her and Debbie. The queer sex actually reads like real queer sex – it’s part of the story of Arthie and Yolanda’s ups and downs as a couple, not for male titillation.
In what feels long overdue, Jenny is finally able to push back on her ring persona in meaningful ways and make others understand where she’s coming from. What holds up less is Melanie’s emotional epiphany, which feels so unearned that I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, like it always does with her. It’s been great to watch these characters grow, and Melanie has a bit, but not nearly enough to warrant the kind of emotionally evolved response here. A much more honest accounting comes when Yolanda and Arthie realize that Dawn and Stacey, who play the Beatdown Biddies, say hurtful, homophobic things. They may not “mean anything by it,” but it’s still shitty. That’s true to their characters and more realistic – for both then and now.
With its third season, GLOW reminds us that it’s a labor rights parable more than anything else, one that explicitly focuses on those too often left out of the conversation. Men are not to be trusted – unless they’re Keith Bang. The women of GLOW are all faced with tough choices this season. To stay with the show in Vegas, or to go, and all the other life, love, and work opportunities that might mean. Whether to be honest about who they are and who they love, how they can be working moms, if they should try to be working moms. The benefit of staying in one place for a long time, with the wrestling more or less handled, is that GLOW gets to foreground these essential questions, with a cocked eyebrow and a dirty joke.