This post contains spoilers for season 2 of GLOW including finale.
I am an unabashed fan of the first season of GLOW, as you can see here. The characters, premise and cast made it one of my favorite shows of 2017. Now that the origin story is out of the way show runners Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive are free to explore the characters even more, making this season even better than the first.
Season 2 follows the television production of the first season of G.L.O.W. (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) after it was picked up for broadcast on local L.A. station KDTV at the end of last season. Ruth (Allison Brie) is trying to suss out where she stands in her relationship with best frienemy Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and the rest of the women are anxious for filming to start. Sam (Marc Maron) is even more short tempered than usual having to manage a full crew now with the KDTV execs looking over his shoulder.
The new season wastes no time in getting down to business and showing that despite an apparent thawing at the end of season 1 the tension between Ruth and Debbie is just as high as ever. Debbie is really starting to spiral down as her divorce from Mark starts and Betty Gilpin does a terrific job portraying a woman on the brink as Debbie tries – and fails – to hold it together.
The relationship between Sam and his daughter, Justine (Britt Baron), goes a long way toward humanizing that sardonic bastard while never taking the edge off. After a brutal first episode Sam softened noticeably until by the end he’s just as much a part of the motley crew as apparent leader of it. The focus on the father/daughter relationship also gives Baron more screen time than last season and she plays the wayward teen role to the hilt. Her chemistry with Maron is genuine and the 2 actors play well off each other.
Much as Orange is the New Black did after it’s inaugural season, GLOW is now able to start exploring the other characters in more depth. Cherry (Sydelle Noel) is back after demonstrating – hilariously – she’s a horrible drama actress. Arthie (Sunita Mani) is struggling with her terrorist character and falling for the “new” Junk Chain. Half of an episode focuses on Tamme (Kia Stevens) as she goes to see her son at Stanford on the day of the Welfare Queen/Liberty Belle re-match with Debbie, and Carmen (Britney Young) demonstrate how valuable she is to the success of G.L.O.W with her understanding and prowess in the ring. Bash is trying to juggle the needs of the show as producer while also grappling with loneliness in the wake of his best friend/butler Florian’s disappearance. This puts him in the orbit of the women more than season one did and adds an interesting layer to the interpersonal relationships.
One of the neatest tricks GLOW pulls this season is evident during the shocking and anxiety loaded 5th episode, “Work the Leg”. In season 1 we saw a bunch of actresses and assorted misfits learn to wrestle and pull off some fairly convincing moves in the ring. Their skills are ramped up in season 2 of GLOW since now G.L.O.W. has gone to series and they need to fill 20 episodes of TV. Early on in the season while the women are filming the TV show we see they are getting better. When the wrestling takes center stage we see that the actresses have been sandbagging a bit for the earlier episodes, telegraphing moves just enough to look better than amateur but still not quite pro. “Work the Leg” shows how far the characters have come but demonstrates beyond any doubt how far the cast of GLOW have come as well.
There are several wince inducing hits in this episode but nothing beats the horrific final moments as Debbie, completely out of it after getting drunk AND snorting coke before the match, twists Ruth’s leg too far and snaps it during the live match. Allison Brie sells this moment with such intensity I was left breathless as she broke character and screamed “Debbie!” in agony followed by smash cut to credits and no music. Normally I would take a breather between episodes but this time I bashed on the Play button immediately, not even waiting for the 5 second Netflix timer to kick in. That’s compelling viewing, folks.
With the next episode taking place almost entirely in a hospital while Ruth waits to get her leg examined, GLOW demonstrates how adept the writers are at capturing both intensity of action as well as emotion and dialogue. Debbie and Ruth’s screaming match in Ruth’s hospital room is no less compelling than the action in the ring, and both actresses are on fire as all the bad blood between the two women comes pouring out. Prior to that we have the entire cast of the show waiting at the hospital with Ruth and trying to cheer her up. It’s a turning point for Ruth as she sees that for once she belongs and has a family, that G.L.O.W. is not just a TV show as Sam and Debbie keep telling her dismissively.
As great as Allison Brie was last season its her performance when Ruth is propositioned by the head of the network that should get Brie the Emmy nomination that she inexplicably was passed over for this year. As uncomfortable as the casting couch scene is to watch, her moment later when she confesses to Sam that she is the reason G.L.O.W. was buried at 2am is revelatory. My heart broke watching Ruth struggle with telling the truth and knowing it could change the way Sam thinks of her, especially after Debbie bashed her for walking out on the president and dooming the show. The relief on her face when Sam explodes with rage at the president, not her, is like watching the sun appear after a dark and dreary day. Her relief is palpable and Brie plays the scene with honesty.
Season 2 is loaded with moments like this, both small and large, culminating in a terrific finale that brings everything together while opening the door to a very different Las Vegas set third season. After a triumphant final match and season finale for G.L.O.W. with prospective buyers in attendance, the season ends on an uneasy note as the gang boards a bus to Las Vegas to begin a live floor show. When Ruth says she’s never been to Vegas and Sam smirks and says “You’re gonna hate it.” it doesn’t look like this is simply Sam being his usual cranky self. He knows Ruth now, and she probably IS going to hate it. And while she tries to brush this off as Sam being Sam the camera stays on Brie as her smile fades until all that’s left is apprehension evident on her face and a cut to black.
It’s a less than triumphant note for GLOW to end the season on but it feels true to the show. After all, all of these women were recruited and hired to film a TV show. Now they were on a bus headed to perform a nightly performance at a strip club owner’s (Horatio Sanz) property. They are all filled with anxiety and so are we as we watch them head to the next chapter.
While GLOW is based on the real TV show G.L.O.W. its in concept only. With this ending it seems that the series may be leaving the idea behind of a wrestling TV show and moving in to something else. If that is the case I’m all the more grateful we got the brilliant 8th episode, “The Good Twin”, in which we see finally what an episode of G.L.O.W. looked like. Only cutting back to the real world at the very end, the full 30+ minutes is an episode of G.L.O.W. including fake commercials, a music video, wrestling, skits, and a riff on “We Are the World” with the women of G.L.O.W. taking a stand against kidnapping, that the entire episode left me with a goofy grin on my face. It’s amazing and I would watch the show every week if it was real. What makes it doubly fun is knowing the “inside baseball” for the various locations used on the episode. Like Zoya’s evil fortress is obviously Ruth’s hotel room with a photo of Gorbachev on the wall. Or that another scene was filmed at the burger joint that the women go to for lunch. It makes good on Sam’s “Let’s just set the weirdos free and see what happens.” in the episode proceeding it. And they do. And it’s AMAZING.
One of the things I truly love about this series is that it captures that “Let’s put on a show!” theater vibe that happens when a bunch of creative people are put in a room together. There is nothing more exhilarating than creating with people that are just as in to it as you are and its the 8th episode for all it’s goofiness that shows the truth of these characters is really that they love doing what they are doing. And even more importantly they love doing what they are doing together.
With what looks to be a darker turn in season three I hope the show can still deliver the occasional burst of joy like “The Good Twin”. Now that Orange is the New Black appears to be nearing it’s series finale (season 6 premieres July 27, I can’t imagine they’ve got more than one more in them) GLOW has all the pedigree and talent evident to become just as big of a phenomenon. Time will tell but it certainly deserves all the accolades it’s been receiving and then some.
Despite the occasional dark turns, GLOW is one of the best and most delightful series on TV. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for the story to pick up again in 2019.
Viva Las Vegas!