“What a mother without a child? Just a person.”
I guess you could say this was a real mother of an episode (audience boos).
The episode opens with Debbie dropping her son off at daycare, realizing she forgot to bring her formula, overwhelmed by all she has to do. What she does is zone out, paint her nails, and sit alone in her home. Her peace, however, is temporary. Mark, a psychological predator, has his new secretary (the old secretary was moved to a desk, “I bet she was”) call and ask Debbie what model their former marriage bed is so he can furnish his new apartment. Debbie, naturally, gets hammered and sells absolutely everything in their home. The image after she empties her own with an everything must go, seriously just hand me $5 power move, Debbie singing in the empty home, sitting on the floor, only a single lamp lighting her space, makes us think about who she was before she was once. Before “actress”, before “wife”, before she was a mother. She gets a call, interrupting her haunting ode to an imaginary home, and discovers she forgot to pick up their son. Mark is upset and bewildered that his light torture has consequences.
(As we go on the show feels more and more about Debbie and it becomes easier for me to see Mark and Ruth as only narcissistic, boundary pushing, disrespectful parallels in the way of her path)
Tamme’s motherhood is different. Her son is grown, a first generation college student, Ivy league, there on scholarship. She goes without sleep and drives all night to see him for parent’s weekend. Her sweet interaction with a girl at a drive thru window leaves us wondering more how about who she was, not just before motherhood, but in early motherhood. She is at the end of her maternal marathon, seeing the rewards of all of her efforts, sacrifices, odd jobs, pain. There is nothing to be sold or lost or won. If there is a ghost in the past who manipulated or hurt her, he isn’t visible in Kia Steven’s performance. In contrast to the suburban sacrilege that has become Debbie’s coping skills, Tamme is safe harbor. She knows what this is and how to do it. She is so happy to have made it here.
Tamme and Debbie as parallels but also partners in this season, specifically this episode, also highlights the difference in fight and success for white women and black women, something I think GLOW hasn’t really dealt with enough. Until this episode most examination of racism in addition to sexism within the wrestling world has been for comedic effect. It never made those women the butt of the joke, but it also didn’t ask too much of it when it comes to focusing on Ruth and Debbie instead of their journeys.
The episode ends in the title match between Liberty Belle and Welfare Queen. Backstage, Debbie confides in Tamme that she left her son at daycare. Without even a blink of judgement or hesitation, Tamme tells her about the time she left Earnest in a grocery store for hours. He made friends will all the cashiers. “They’re resilient,” she says.
We get to watch the entire match, which is an absolute privilege. This is the first episode of GLOW this season that reminded me of why I loved it so much as a wrestling fan first. The match is GOOD. It’s a wonderful demonstration of taunts, in ring psychology, the moves are powerful… but it doesn’t have to tell you any of that. So folks who are here for reasons other than wrestling I hope feel that little buzz in their stomach, powerful, physical acts of storytelling.
Earnest, Tamme’s son, has come to watch the show, insisted he see what her work these days entailed after a meeting with a parent who was a fan. Earlier in the episode she assured him that everyone played an offensive character, but we watch him go through the journey of understanding all that Welfare Queen is to these people.
But this is the art of wrestling… the broad stroke of good guy and bad guy… a crowd’s energy is a key part of the performance and a rare moment of deep empathy in the face of surface level archetype changes the narrative completely. The crowd goes from eating up telling Welfare Queen that she lost, that she has to get a job, to connecting with Tamme, not just the bite sized heel they’d been handed. As Tamme leaves, the crowd turns on the newly crowned Liberty Belle. Bash, desperate, creates a character for Liberty’s daughter, Savannah Rose, but Debbie is clearly shaken by the weight of her in character actions.
Fortunately/unfortunately, Ruth had been determined to not mind her business and so she swoops a child from the audience (with the mother’s permission at least) and goes full Zoya, saying she’s kidnapping her daughter, turning the audience back onto the side of Americana manufactured good.
It was a phenomenal episode, but does nothing to make me less skeptical of how the series will play out since any growth by any other character somehow rewards how sketchy Ruth is.
Heel: Every man.
Face: Ernest Dawson, who chose to stan his mama anyway.
Mentionables: I could’ve easily turned this review into a seven page essay on how great Betty Gilpin has taken to wrestling and how great Kia Stevens has taken to acting. Phenomenal women, I have so enjoyed our time with their characters. AND BETTY GILPIN’S VOICE, HOLY SPANDEX CLAD JESUS.
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