A new city to wrestle with: Thoughts on Glow (season 3)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Believing in yourself is not the easiest of life skills to master.

Life coaches and Oprah talk about it like it’s as easy as walking into a store and purchasing a bulk pack in aisle 6, but the reality is that coming to grips with who you are and actually liking and living well with the person can feel like the most insurmountable of goals more often than not.

Just how difficult becomes confrontingly clear in season three of Netflix’s GLOW, where the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling have decamped from TV studio to Las Vegas where they are a fixture at the Fan-Tan casino, overseen with sage wisdom, charm and a lot of world weary sighing by former showgirl Sandy Devereaux St. Clair (Geena Davis).

It’s a whole new wrestling game for the women who have moved from weekly shows dominated by new routines and ever-evolving narratives to a set piece show which they have to deliver night-after-night with little to no variation.

While the sameness of it all liberates them from the creative imposition of having to change things up week-to-week, it brings with it boredom and plenty of time with which to explore just what it is they’re doing with their lives.

A lot of existential navel-gazing, in fact.

While the theatrics ringside still revolve around Debbie Eagan aka Liberty Belle (Betty Gilpin) and Ruth Wilder aka Zoya the Destroya (Alison Brie), who are each continuing to reach for the brass ring in their own ways, the show itself has widened its focus considerably, even after the growth we witnessed in the superlative second season.

Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), for instance has re-discovered the joys of realising your dreams, even if it’s through the cinematic screenwriting talent of his daughter Justine (Britt Baron), infusing the show with a hopeful dynamic that boldly suggests you can not only like yourself again – if you recall Sam was a man barely tolerating life at the start of the show’s run and well into season 2 – but give life a long-lost lustre in the process.

The same happens for many of the women who though they struggle with who they are and what they want from life, eventually come to a place where there is more hope than there is disillusionment.

Not that the journey to that place is a trouble-free one.

Take Arthie “Beirut the Mad Bomber” Premkumar (Sunita Mani) who not only has to suffer from some egregious racial stereotyping for the sake of “art” and her career – it’s an unpalatable but unchangeable experience shared by Jenny “Fortune Cookie” Chey (Ellen Wong) and Tammé “The Welfare Queen” Dawson (Kia Stevens) – but is struggling to come to terms with her burgeoning relationship with Yolanda “Junkchain” Rivas (Shakira Barrera).

There’s no doubt she loves Yolanda and loves the idea of embracing the woman she actually is, but this is the 1980s where prejudice, fueled by the AIDS crisis is rife and she is uncertain what it all means for her, causing issues with Yolanda but eventually the kind of authentic acceptance that comes from really owning who you are, social opprobrium be damned.

One person who doesn’t make the same journey is Sebastian “Bash” Howard (Chris Lowell) who has thrown himself into production duties, and the social schmoozing that comes with it, with an almost desperate mania while trying to prove to himself and the world, via his marriage to Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson (Kate Nash) who he hastily wed when she needed a Greencard and he needed to prove to himself that he wasn’t gay.

But he is, and as we all know, intrinsic parts of yourself are not so easily denied, causing in his case all kinds of problems, resulting in what looks like, in episode 10’s very festive storyline, the kind of breakthrough moment from which more truthful lives are forged.

But Bash is a man with a great many fears to wade through, including what society and his mother Birdie will think, and at the last minute, the expected life-changing zig becomes a status quo zag, leaving the flamboyant dresser of the cusp of great business change but treading water personally.

Even though in a sense Bash goes nowhere, anyone who ever come out, or known someone who has, knows that internal struggles eventually crack and externally manifest, and that there is only so long you can suppress who you are before it either bursts forth and burrows destructively inwards, a process which eventually becomes outwardly visible despite your best efforts.

Not everyone in season 3 of GLOW ends up so marooned.

Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade (Britney Young), who has to grapple with Bash’s friendship desertion and a stifling sense that being in a piece of wrestling theatre is thwarting her true creative desire to be a wrestler on the road with her brothers – she gets a brief reprieve when her Christmas GLOW show, modelled on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is a spectacular success, delighting the audience and the creatively moribund cast – comes to a point of revelation about where she wants to head next.

Similarly, Debbie, who finds her new relationship with Southerner millionaire J. J. “Tex” McCready (Toby Huss) isn’t heading where the ambitious producer wannabe expects – he sees her as a lovely adornment but has no appreciation for her sharp mind or incisive business sense – seizes an opportunity to move her career in a direction only she is capable of in a highly-misogynistic world where women must fight for every scrap of power or creative independence.

Debbie’s struggle, which she thinks she shares with Ruth – though the final series scene between them establishes these two close friends are on divergent but no less meaningful paths – is one that resonates through this season which celebrates owning who you are, living it out, and seeking empowerment and identity where you can find it.

It’s inspiring stuff, not because these characters are perfect examples of internally-realised and outwardly-expressed humanity, but precisely because they aren’t – they are flawed, they make dubious decisions at times and they fail as much as they succeed and yet they finally all get somewhere better, to greater or lesser extents, proof that a successful or happy life is not the result of cheerily-chirped mantras but the result of family, friendship, honesty and a willingness to step forward and embrace life’s opportunities, internally or externally, wherever they may lead.

It’s this growth and honesty that makes GLOW such a pleasure she watch – you want to be with these characters, you may them to succeed and grown because you want to succeed and grow and going on that journey with them feels like going on one yourself, imbuing the show with a sense of family and belonging that elevates far beyond just another TV show.

GLOW has been renewed for a fourth and final season which is expected to debut in 2020.

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