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In the wake of several high-profile television seasons ranging from disappointing to downright miserable, it’s a small miracle that GLOW season 3 is just as good as when the show started. The end of season 2 heralded a major change in setting and genre, with the network killing the TV series and the cast heading to Vegas to launch a stage show. This transition keeps GLOW season 3 fresh, focusing on the differences between filming a TV show and performing the same script onstage every night. But even without that hook, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling still juxtapose their signature brand of comedy with serious and impactful storylines.
CREATORS: Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch
The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling take Vegas in an excellent season 3.
The opening of the first episode is almost a meta-commentary on how writers continuously sucker-punch the audience with the human suffering going on around them. Ruth and Debbie present the Challenger‘s launch live and in-character, only for the jokes to stop being funny when the inevitable happens. The writers don’t let up, interspersing low-stakes personal drama with miscarriage, a homophobic hate crime, and harrowing accounts of having survived genocide. Unlike most shows that do this, GLOW never stoops to tragedy porn. Instead, it’s half education and half a demand for viewers to empathize with the characters, without becoming preachy or turning into A Very Special Episode.
Vegas is harder on many of the women than L.A. was, especially Debbie. She struggles to maintain her work-life balance, flying to L.A. one day a week to see her son, and faces societal disapproval as a working mother. She’s also surrounded by dancers with bodies that set unrealistic standards for women. Attending a showgirl dance class and comparing her postpartum body to theirs sends her into a spiral of disordered eating and exercise.
The same class forces Cherry to confront the realities of pregnancy, childbirth, and the toll they could take on her body. Having already suffered a miscarriage once, she realizes she’s unwilling to go through this again, leading Kevin to storm out on her and the show. She and Debbie bond over motherhood and the unfair burdens it places upon women, and Debbie has space to express one nasty taboo: Sometimes she regrets having her son.
Debbie also spends the season having what is almost a second adolescence, engaging in self-loathing hedonism while she tries to figure out who she is and build a relationship with that person. This involves further repairing her relationship with Ruth, culminating in the two of them getting lost in the mountains together. But Ruth remains her own worst enemy, constitutionally incapable of finding happiness or not ruining things for herself. While it’s easy to sympathize with her personal and professional angst, that sympathy dries up when her actions start affecting other people—which, as always, they do, because Ruth’s poor decisions never impact just herself. She ends this season more dissatisfied and confused than she started, and it remains to be seen whether she’ll figure herself out, or if this is just who she is.
GLOW also deserves praise for the way it tackles sex and sexuality. Not only does everyone involved look like they’re actually having a good time, but the show avoids the Game of Thrones problem of putting women’s bodies on display while (almost) never showing a nude man. There’s an indiscriminate number of male and female butts, and even a penis casually on display in one scene while people talk. The lesbian sex scenes aren’t exploitative, and even the mud wrestling scene somehow manages to be almost tasteful, which has a lot to do with careful visual and narrative framing. This does, however, lead to one of this season’s most infuriating elements: Rhonda and Bash’s relationship.
Early in season 3, Bash has sex with Rhonda—and at first, they seem to be enjoying themselves. They make a cute couple, and they’re happy together, though that happiness degrades as Bash finds it harder to perform in bed. You want them to work out, but you know they can’t, because when it comes down to it, Bash is gay—and that’s not something he can change, no matter how much he wants to.
This isn’t about Bash being a spoiled man child; this is about the trauma and terror society inflicts on LGBTQ people. It’s infuriating to watch, not because it’s bad writing or offensive, but because it’s real and it hurts. It hurts just like the arson attack on a drag night Debbie helps host to raise money for AIDS charities. It hurts just like the homophobic microaggressions Arthie and Yolanda face, even from their friends. GLOW season 3 shows what it was like to be queer in the ’80s, and what’s its still like in a lot of places for a lot of people.
This season doesn’t shy away from tackling racism either, as the offensive costumes and wrestling personas remain a point of contention. Tamme has made peace with her Welfare Queen character, as it gives her a chance to perform that she otherwise wouldn’t have had. But Arthie remains quietly miserable, jumping at a chance to ditch her Beirut persona, while Melrose’s racism pushes Jenny (Fortune Cookie) over the edge. This leads to one of the most wrenching scenes not just in GLOW, but on all of TV at the moment.
While hosting a seder during the desert campout, Melrose recounts her own familial and generational trauma: what it’s like living in a family of Holocaust survivors while several didn’t make it. Jenny, in turn, recounts her family’s own escape from the Cambodian Killing Fields. She talks about how she should feel lucky to be here because so many people she knew died, but her costume and the act she’s trapped performing feel disrespectful and wrong. Ellen Wong’s haunting performance makes it the most impactful moment of the season.
These instances barely scratch the surface of GLOW season 3. From the issues still plaguing stunt-people in Hollywood today, to misogyny in nearly every industry, to some heartwarming father-daughter moments between Sam and Justine, this season is loaded with captivating stories. GLOW season 3 is still funny, and it still has much to say.
Looking for something more specific? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, alien movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.
Siobhan Ball is a historian, archivist, and journalist. She also writes for Autostraddle and bi.org