This article contains spoilers through GLOW Season 2, Episode 6.
From the moment Ruth is invited to a “dinner meeting” with a TV executive at a hotel on the second season of Netflix’s GLOW, the implication is clear. The outpouring of #MeToo stories in the past year has given the audience a sort of time-traveling dramatic irony: we understand why Ruth takes the meeting at face value, but we know implicitly that her expectations are about to be confounded in a spectacularly horrid way. Based on a real-life television show and drawing inspiration from current women wrestlers, GLOW has placed a #MeToo storyline front and center, driving the back half of Season 2.
One of the shrewd choices made by the writing on GLOW is to keep these circumstances realistic, distressingly pedestrian instead of going for maximum drama. At its best when showcasing quiet emotional intensity to counter-balance the lush retro-glam vibe and bombastic stories inside the ring and out, GLOW taps into the kind of sexual harassment that is easily dismissed as “no big deal,” even as it has major implications for Ruth’s career and everyone else working on the show-within-a-show.
Tom Grant, this fictional executive, does what so many real men have before him. He keeps up the façade of professionalism, crosses Ruth’s boundaries repeatedly, and insinuates himself into an uncomfortable position under false pretenses, leaving Ruth feeling like she has to ignore the red flags as they keep popping up. He manufactures the situation, but he tries to make her seem complicit, too. All of this could look normal, or at least normal-adjacent, in a transcript. The ability to write off his increasingly inappropriate actions as just a joke or ultimately harmless is something that would ultimately help him claim innocence while she is mired in shame and victim-blaming. After all, nothing really happened, right?
By selecting not only the show’s protagonist, but one of its more grounded, principled, and independent women characters, GLOW sends a clear message: this can happen to anyone. No amount of intelligence or pluck can inoculate you from a man who wants to flex his physical entitlement. No “strong female character” is immune.
Tom Grant doesn’t threaten or beat Ruth—he doesn’t have the chance and frankly he doesn’t have to. But the scene still feels dangerous and claustrophobic, conveying the sense that even though the door is so, so close, it feels lightyears away and Ruth is in so much danger.
We see how much even a “close call” can affect someone. On a show filled with strong-willed women, Ruth is one of the strongest. And yet, she finds herself in the kind of compromising circumstances that others are ready to blame her for. After escaping, she is shaken by what happens and feels compelled toward silence. If Ruth can be taken in, so can any of us. If she is shaken by a near-miss in which, “nothing actually happened,” what hope is there for the rest of us? If a powerful man can make Ruth go silent the same could happen to any of us. Me, too.
Sam’s response certainly falls into the white knight trope, though at least the writers put a character-specific spin on it. He doesn’t make a show of his reaction to Ruth, and he doesn’t even directly confront the guy – a fact that could be self-serving just as easily as an effort to look out for Ruth’s best interest. After all, what can a woman like Ruth do when she wants to keep her job and her show, and the man who made dark designs on her has the power to cost her both?
More irksome perhaps than the predictability of a man taking it upon himself to “avenge” sexual violence in some way, is the way network stooge Glen Klitnick is treated in this same scene. The stooge, who has annoyed Sam, Ruth, and the rest of the cast for both seasons, was integral to the executive’s gambit, yet he witnesses Sam’s revenge and chooses to keep it a secret, a somewhat humorous bit of redemption the character does not deserve.
Glen made the arrangements with Ruth, keeping Sam and producers Bash and Debbie deliberately in the dark. Going a step further, he’s present for the beginning of the “meeting,” betraying his involvement in the entire arrangement, and bringing an air of authenticity to the idea that everything is above board. Under the guise of grabbing menus, though, Glen exits the hotel room once Ruth has had a couple of drinks and is thoroughly uncomfortable. The TV executive even admits they won’t be seeing Glen again. Ruth is right to find this a troubling indicator of the true nature of the encounter.
Ruth is eventually able to extricate herself, and as she flees the scene, it’s hard not to wonder how many of the people she passes are complicit. The network stooge, certainly. The maître d’ she inquired with upon arrival at the hotel’s restaurant, the one who dismissed her question of a table with the fact that Mr. Grant always takes his meetings in his room? Probably. While he may not know all the details, seeing a parade of wide-eyed young women showing up for what they think is a work meeting should have an effect. One even wonders, who many of them has he seen leaving like Ruth, or running out crying, or numbly marching themselves home late into the night? Sam and Bash are apparently blissfully unaware, but an operation like this one requires a whole lot of people to either actively participate or simply not rock the boat, as we’ve all become painfully aware in the last year.
This brings us to a bold decision that GLOW made: Betty Gilpin’s golden girl Debbie going for the victim-blaming jugular. Season 2 served to show the power differential between Debbie and Ruth, and this plot continued that trend. Of course Debbie didn’t get an invite – she is famous, has a lawyer who got her a producer credit, and thus has a modicum of power in this situation, making her less vulnerable to the Tom Grants of the world. While it’s nice to think of Ruth getting support and solidarity from her friend, it’s much more realistic that she would encounter pushback like Debbie’s. After all, there are many reasons the real life Ruths have kept quiet for decades.
Debbie frames Ruth looking out for her own safety as an insult to the man. Certainly, a healthy amount of their personal baggage comes into play, like when Debbie laments that Ruth picked a helluva time to close her legs. Debbie distills into one line of dialogue the idea that there are no perfect victims: Ruth slept with a married man, so who is she to tell another man no? And who would believe a lying, home-wrecking harlot like her, anyway?
GLOW’s second season took an unvarnished look at how sexual harassment in the entertainment industry can be simultaneously completely pedestrian and utterly devastating. With the use of its 1980s setting and the modern sensibility of viewers, GLOW delivered a realistic take on sexual harassment that was both true to the time and empowering to viewers.