About halfway through season 2 of Netflix’s GLOW, the series delivers what might be its funniest and most affecting episode to date. It’s not quite a bottle episode, GLOW smartly walks a fine line between serialized and episodic storytelling — the transition between ‘Work the Leg’ and ‘Nothing Shattered’ is a good example of the former — which has the effect of making episodes like ‘Mother of All Matches’ feel like the kind of standout episode that it is. It’s full of smart storytelling, dedicating its time to a pair of storylines: Debbie’s (Betty Gilpin) simmering anger over her failed marriage and divorce reaches a boiling point, and Tammé Dawson (Kia Stevens) reveals to her son Earnest (Eli Goree) that she’s a professional wrestler whose character is an offensive racial stereotype. It’s the kind of episode that illustrates what’s great about the series while also serving to raise the bar of what a show like this is capable of accomplishing.
The big match between Liberty Belle and Welfare Queen serves as the backdrop of the episode, but like most things on GLOW, the wrestling match is only a small fraction of what makes this series so much fun to watch. That’s not to disparage the actual wrestling in the series; it’s noticeably bolder this time around, with the actors pulling off surprising moves, like Gilpin’s salute to the live studio audience while being suspended by Stevens. It’s undoubtable that there’s more to those wresting matches than meets the eye, but the ease with which the actors make it look simultaneously easy and not easy is part and parcel to how the second season of Netflix’s acclaimed comedy has improved on an already winning formula.
Though ‘Mother of All Matches’ is perhaps the highlight of the season, the rest of the episodes aren’t far behind. The crux of the season hinges on the struggles of the in-series GLOW to win over audiences and convince the local television station to continue putting it on the air. The show’s struggles are difficult to comprehend since so much of the new season offers one example after another of how well the once disparate women who comprise the series’ women wrestlers have come together to form a cohesive team that, for the most part, is always in one another’s corner, whether they’re battling it out in the ring or not.
The one holdout in that regard is Glipin’s Debbie, who fancies herself the star of the show and, considering she still has unresolved feelings about Ruth (Alison Brie) sleeping with her husband Mark (Rich Sommer), is more than happy to distance herself from the group. The writers’ room this season seizes on that angle as a storytelling opportunity, as much of what drives the non show-within-a-show narrative concerns Debbie’s efforts to come to terms with her failed marriage and having an infant son both of which seem to be at odds with the hopes and dreams she still has with regard to her career. The show deftly weaves Debbie’s conflicts, desires, and misgivings into her storyline so that, as seen in ‘Mother of All Matches’ or the aforementioned ‘Work the Leg’ and ‘Nothing Shattered,’ the real emotional through-line with regard to the season and her character feels as though it’s reached a compelling turning point in her relationship with Ruth and the painful matters of her personal life.
It’s not all Debbie this season, though it easily could be. GLOW offers up loads of fun moments for the entire cast, as Justine (Britt Baron) adjusts to having Marc Maron’s Sam Sylvia as her father, Bash (Chris Lowell) deals with his failing financial endeavor, and Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel) comes to the painful realization that although she’s one of the best stuntwomen in the biz, she’s no actor. These individual moments are doled out seemingly at the exact right time, never distracting from the overarching narrative of the season, or feeling as though the characters are underserved despite Glipin, Brie, and Maron getting the lion’s share of the season’s attention.
To that end, Brie and Maron continue to have a terrific onscreen chemistry together, as GLOW further develops their sometimes contentious support of one another. Early in the season, Ruth injures Sam’s fragile ego by making a title sequence that’s not only good but possibly better than what he could have done. The season leaves their friendship in question for several episodes before Sam comes around and offers up the closest thing to an apology he’s likely to give, confessing he’s “old” and “insecure,” which, in that particular moment, registers as the heartfelt truth and powerful self-realization for him.
It’s an endearing moment that sets off a series of them as Ruth suffers one injury after another — the first being her own #MeToo moment when she's sexually harassed by the head of the network and the second being a broken leg courtesy of a coked-up Debbie in the ring. These moments from characters like Sam and season 1 standout Sheila the She-Wolf (Gayle Rankin) or Melanie (the very funny Jackie Tohn) illustrate just how well the show is served when it choses to focus on kindness instead of conflict.
This is a TV series, though, and GLOW season 2 isn’t without its moments of conflict. But rather than be driven solely by that series creators and showrunners Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive put a premium on something more aspirational. That focus allows moments like Ruth’s sexual harassment at the hands of a man with the power to destroy her burgeoning career to land a more powerful blow because it feels so far removed from the core ethos of the show. Add that to the fact that the season is comprised of 10 well-executed half-hour episodes, and GLOW confidently asserts itself as one of the best shows of 2018.
GLOW season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.