Credit where credit’s due: It’s already good enough that GLOW’s fifth episode, “Debbie Does Something,” is titled in reference to a ‘70s/‘80s porn series. But then the show makes sure to live up to the episode title, as this is also the episode where Debbie gets some—an instantly memorable moment from the GLOW trailer—from a wrestler who goes by the name Steel Horse. For wrestling fans, there are even more (possibly upsetting) layers to that, as Steel Horse is played by the man most well-known as Alex “SAY IT TO MY FACE” Riley, performing in a legion hall after years of saying he’d never perform in a legion hall.
But while the title of this episode is a no-brainer (and possibly a driving force behind why the character is even named Debbie), this is also the episode where Ruth does something: She finally lands on the perfect gimmick and plays a major role in helping G.L.O.W. move forward. Arguably, Debbie also plays a part in helping G.L.O.W. move forward; with things finally clicking for her as the top face, the rest should be able to easily fall into place. So despite the fact that Debbie and Ruth only really cross paths one awkward moment in this episode, they are very much on parallel paths. That’s even more apparent at the end of the episode, when Debbie tells Sam that she needs a top heel to succeed. It’s obviously going to eventually be Ruth—from the very set-up of the series, it would be a subversive but missed opportunity for it to be anyone else—but at this point in time, Debbie has no idea Ruth has simultaneously struck gold. Especially after Debbie so greatly embarrassed herself in front of Glen Klitnick (Andrew Friedman) in the beginning of the episode, to think about such a thing would probably drive her mad.
One thing I’ve noticed about this episode and episode four is that a lot of people (myself included) conflate the two episodes, whether it be pizza boy Billy’s introduction or Debbie’s confrontation with Mark or Ruth hearing Gregory’s (Ravil Isyanov) Russian quips. Much like the pilot and “Slouch. Submit.,” “The Dusty Spur” and “Debbie Does Something” are a bit of a package deal that inform each other. These episodes certainly mark a turning point in their own ways—due in large part to the women’s mandatory cohabitation—but without giving too much away, I’d argue that episode six is the official gamechanger. There hasn’t been a bad episode in the batch, but while “Debbie Does Something” has a lot going on, it also somewhat suffers from that great problem GLOW has: These episodes could stand to be longer. Especially when there’s so little of the goodness that is drill sergeant Cherry.
The scene between Debbie and her mother Lorene (Lisa Ann Walter) is perhaps the weakest aspect of the episode, even though it adds a little more dimension to Debbie and her personal situation. We learn here that Lorene always thought Mark was controlling and was disappointed that Debbie gave up her independence (Pasadena!) to be the typical housewife. Still, Debbie defends her choice to stop working, and we learn her single mother was never around when she was a kid. (We also learn Debbie’s stepfather Ron has some terrible conversation timing.) It’s not a bad scene, but in an episode of prank calls and first loves and Russians and steel horses and Randy reactions, it doesn’t stick nor does it get time to. Not even with the very awkward interaction between Ruth and Debbie’s family to top it all off.
You can tell Debbie still doesn’t quite get wrestling even in episode four, when she suggests having a manservant valet (and Carmen has to explain why it doesn’t work), but what’s frustrating is how she’s not even getting the fun out of it. We know, for example, that Melrose doesn’t take this or anything seriously, but at the same time, we can also tell that she’s actually having fun doing this. Debbie is the star and she gets to make Ruth squirm (though this is obviously more about independence and work than that), but “fun” isn’t exactly anything we’ve seen her experience here. Ruth isn’t completely having fun either, as she pointed out in episode four that she hasn’t been able to fully join in any reindeer games. (“I get really anxious when I feel like I’m behind. Especially in a group setting.”) But while she and Debbie both try to treat it like any old acting job, Ruth is very obviously getting more out of it because of the type of work she puts into it. When the ladies are all watching Ruth and Carmen go through a match routine, with moves none of them have even learned yet, you can see where Ruth’s tryhard (or “nerd,” as Melrose calls it) nature comes into play. She may not have a character, but she’s going to be ready for when she does, and the appreciation of that dedication comes through as the other girls watch the match. Debbie doesn’t even appear to be trying to take this as seriously (even though, in her defense, she works out and tries to rap at home), and bless Carmen for pointing it out and offering to show Debbie the wrestling world. The pilot had that aha moment for Ruth, and this episode provides that for Debbie.
Carmen: “It’s not the workouts. The problem is: You think wrestling is stupid.”
Debbie: “Well it is stupid. I mean, isn’t it?”
Carmen: “I prefer exaggerated. But I mean, that’s the point.”
The thing is—and only the least self-aware wrestling fans will tell you the opposite—professional wrestling can be stupid. And sometimes it should. Like with so many forms of art or media, that’s possible in both a good way and a bad way. But I’ve argued for years (and with thousands of words) about the power of pro wrestling and how, when it’s at its absolute best, when it’s telling a truly fantastic story inside and/or outside the ring, there’s absolutely nothing like it. When I said in my first GLOW review that pro wrestling is for everybody, that wasn’t a hollow statement: It’s something that even this series in its debut season understands, even though it’s set in a much less inclusive era. Debbie isn’t feeling a spiritual and/or emotional transcendence here as she goes to her first wrestling show, but she’s also just now learning the language (which is different from the lingo, which she already knows). Now she understands it, because “it’s a soap opera.” And our girl—who was in that year-long coma, then wheelchair—absolutely knows how to do a soap opera.
Soapbox: One of my least favorite expressions in all of pro wrestling is, “Well it ain’t ballet.” Because you know what? It kind of is, only ballet actively tries to hide what a brutal performance art is truly is. Even after Darren Aronofsky pointed out the connection with the one-two punch of The Wrestler and Black Swan, people still say that expression. And yet when it comes to the aspect of comparing pro wrestling to “soap operas,” that’s apparently more acceptable. Luckily for Debbie, that comparison makes all the difference in the world.
Steel Horse: “The heel makes the face. Rick has been making me look good for years.”
Debbie: “That’s a good friend.”
Steel Horse: “We’re not friends. You don’t have to be friends to wrestle. It’s like, an unspoken language. I look at him like this. He looks at me like that. And we know what’s gonna go down. Because that’s a partnership, you know? We don’t like each other, but we make each other better. Shit in the ring? It’s just entertainment. But there’s gotta be something there that’s real. That’s what makes it work. That’s what makes it hit you. Right here.”
He’s right, and while Sam is telling Ruth at the same time that she can’t have her Russian gimmick because it would mean working against her former friend, this right here says why it’s actually perfect.
- Debbie: “When did we learn that move?”
Melrose: “We didn’t. I think it’s just nerds try harder.”
- Debbie (rapping in the mirror) : “I’m Liberty Belle, the American hero / I’m a perfect 10 and you’re a zero…I’m American as apple pie / And if you’re not, I’ll make you die” Randy then gives it to his mom straight with a look that says “needs work.”
- Arthie’s also in the diner scene, only she’s at the counter, working on her school work—she is pre-med, after all—and noticing all the awkwardness between Debbie and Ruth as she does so.
- Heads up: Sheila always has time for condiments.
- Melrose: “How does everyone know my fucking real name?” Melrose is so used to her “not being boring” persona that she can’t even remember telling everyone every single thing about her at all times.
- Melrose: “What are you doing?”
Jenny: “My hair.”
Melrose: “For who?”
Jenny: “For me. Self-esteem, hello.”
- Also, it’s a nice touch from GLOW for Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels”—of all songs—to play as the anthem of Justine and Billy Offal’s young punk love. An even better touch is Arthie’s face at Justine’s, “Yeah. I like the color black.”
- So… Patrick O’Towne’s (Andy Umberger) Patio Town in Calabasas really likes the color black too, huh? I’m talking about the blackface lawn jockeys at the opening.
- This episode gives us the pretty unlikely trio of Debbie, Carmen, and Melrose, and one thing I can say I absolutely want out of a second season for GLOW is more of these types of grouping. Ruth with Dawn and Stacey, please, especially if they convince her to prank call with them. Ruth would take prank calling way too seriously. Book it.
- Rhonda is the epitome of “if you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Seriously. No judgment here—and it’s actually pretty funny she even brings that mentality to telling Ruth she and Sam “are shagging.” She really shouldn’t be jealous of Ruth the “homewrecker” bonding with Sam (even if he finally admits Ruth seems like an “okay person”) though.
- Also, Bash is the epitome of a coked up puppy: Look at the way he pleads for Sam to do something after Patrick shuts them down or when he gets so confused at how Ruth got his jacket for her Russian character.
- Is “Rock You Like A Hurricane” too on the nose? Yes. But that’s just perfect for GLOW.
- Fun fact: The moonsault was innovated by Mando Guerrero, wrestling trainer for the original G.L.O.W. Girls and uncle of Chavo Guerrero Jr., wrestling trainer for our GLOW Girls. Funner fact: The variation that Christopher Daniels does in this episode—his patented Best Moonsault Ever—was definitely not happening in 1985. As for the rest of the wrestling cameos, Daniels wrestles against his regular tag team partner, Frankie Kazarian; the heel Mr. Monopoly is played by a slightly less sleazy (but very believable) version of wrestler Joey Ryan; and poor brainwashed Crystal is played by wrestler/Joey Ryan’s wife Laura James. As for the venue where they wrestle, I’ve been there many a time…