Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

In "A Very GLOW Christmas," the greatest gift of all is the return of wrestling

Illustration for article titled In "A Very GLOW Christmas," the greatest gift of all is the return of wrestling

Fun fact: WWE stands for “World Wrestling Entertainment,” but if you ask Vince McMahon what it stands for, he’ll just say “WWE.” Kind of like how “Kentucky Fried Chicken” is now just “KFC.” It’s a case of Vince McMahon doing anything not to say “wrestling” or to consider his “sports entertainment” empire a “wrestling” empire. I mention this because of how GLOW season three seemed to turn the meaning of the title from “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” to just “G.L.O.W.,” with no actual meaning behind it as well. I still believe the first half of season three started off strong in terms of its decision to focus less on professional wrestling, as it did so in a way where it seemed like it was making a larger statement about the girls’ situation in Vegas. But as the season progressed, that statement got lost altogether, and GLOW stopped paying service to the wrestling—which in turn made it stop paying service to its characters, especially the smaller ones. Post-“Outward Bound,” the G.L.O.W. Girls’ bond isn’t fully on display until “A Very GLOW Christmas.” You might think “The Libertines” is the exception, but other than Sheila and Debbie (and Arthie, particularly for the conclusion), the girls are just physically at the Libertine Ball instead of truly being present for an actual story.


Thankfully, this season ends with the return of the girls in a more prominent position to have something to do, not just stand around as part of a group of people. And it also provides the type of big finale wrestling show GLOW can’t help but pull off. Not just because that’s how GLOW ends its seasons but because “A Very GLOW Christmas” was clearly written by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch as a potential, functional series finale. I’ve brought up the possibility of Netflix doing what it does and killing GLOW after this season, but this finale confirms just how much of a possibility that could be. The show’s season finale is also its own Christmas special, which is one hell of a way to go out—as well as the biggest argument for this season’s decision to go with a year-long timeline. A year-long timeline that ultimately served as the umpteenth reminder that GLOW really could use more time to focus on things, because otherwise, you get things like this season and its loose threads.

Looking at the grades for this season, I suppose there’s nothing to suggest that season three is a mess. But the objective and the subjective can easily be at odds when it comes to this sort of thing. As much as I haven’t liked Ruth’s story as this season progresses, I like to believe I understand what the show’s been doing and, in that sense, I couldn’t really knock it (until this episode). The same goes for this season’s lack of wrestling (at first). But “A Very GLOW Christmas,” while technically proficient and also delightfully fanservicey (in that it gives us wrestling… as well as somewhat satisfactory conclusions, just in case) is a conclusion to a season (and perhaps a series) that is very much at odds with what the first two seasons told us.

One thing this season has ended up doing as it’s said how repetitive and boring G.L.O.W. has become is completely flip the script on what G.L.O.W. means to these characters, especially Ruth. This season has basically said that this thing that brought all these women together and gave them purposes and second chances actually kind of sucks. It’s said that they’d all rather be doing something else. I wish I could say that was subtext, but it’s very much text:

Ruth: “How did it feel to be up there doing exactly what you wanted to be doing? And… be good at it.”
Sheila: “It was the best feeling I’ve had in my life. Until the hate crime.”

G.L.O.W. was supposed to provide that feeling. And it did, until this season. Especially for Ruth, of all these characters. And you can’t just blame Las Vegas for that, because as this season ends, it does so with the suggestion that G.L.O.W. and professional wrestling was simply never that good for them, even before the repetition. (The moments earlier in the season fall in line with the idea it’s just the repetition, but that’s not how things end here.) Now G.L.O.W. is a regular reminder of the lack of real control these women still have to deal with, despite that being the opposite of its function in the first two seasons. This is also the season that decided to lean hard into Ruth’s existence as a failed actor—and one in denial—despite the past two seasons of this clearly being where she belongs.

“A Very GLOW Christmas” should be a triumphant return to form for GLOW. But unfortunately, the rest of the season and how it wraps that up drags in down. With episodes like this and “Freaky Tuesday,” GLOW reveals just how easy and fun it is to switch up the G.L.O.W. show... yet we’ve had an entire season of GLOW about these characters being upset that there are no changes to G.L.O.W. on a regular basis. While Bash was upset in “Freaky Tuesday,” that was because of the intent of the switch and the fact he wasn’t told before. But there’s not even any real attempt shown to change things, despite there being no good narrative reason for the lack of trying. G.L.O.W. has been without a director for the past six months, and even when Sam was there, he actually served no purpose to the show until he became a referee.


And surprisingly, at no point does Ruth step in for Sam, despite that being an established reaction to his absence in that role. In fact, other than Debbie’s final proposal—that Ruth shuts down, as though it’s the ludicrous idea—“A Very GLOW Christmas” suggests that Carmen has always been the one in this leadership and ideas position, not the woman who created Zoya the Destroya and pitched the version of G.L.O.W. that we saw in “The Good Twin.” All of a sudden, Carmen—who has always been a delight, don’t get me wrong, and Britney Young kills it in this episode’s big match—is “the heart and soul” of this team. She’s the one with the mind for all of this. Carmen has always had something special, and she’s also the one G.L.O.W. Girl who knows wrestling back and forth, but this a brand new story being told about Carmen and Ruth all of a sudden. And it’s only to better defend Ruth’s latest and last bad decision at the very end of the episode, right? Because a late quarter-life crisis isn’t a good enough reason for Ruth to simply forget what she’s been through and done in G.L.O.W. prior to this season.

It’s not at all that this is a bad episode, it’s just that the Ruth of it all speaks to the season’s largest problems. And the way everything wraps up simultaneously makes for a solid finale that’s also somewhat of a rushed one. Even when it technically does a good job, it highlights those things the season either forgot or refused to address. It tries to wrap everything like a neat little Christmas present, but things still end up dangling—they just have the Christmas soundtrack to distract.


But despite the fact that GLOW is a summer show, something about it celebrating the winter holiday season just feels right, in a way that no other holiday or time marker has this season. Maybe it’s the G.L.O.W. spirit. Maybe Carmen’s positivity is just so infectious that you can buy this Christmas in August episode of GLOW. (Also: Of course Carmen loves Christmas.) Making that the key to the final G.L.O.W. performance is the key to the episode, honestly. I mean, as soon as Carmen makes her Christmas request to Ruth, the very next scene is her A Christmas Carol-themed G.L.O.W. show, the series finally wasting little time before getting back to in-ring action. Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch grant the GLOW viewers sweet mercy and give them a fucking wrestling show here, perhaps for the last time. Yes, it’s a wrestling show with an intense amount of window dressing, but all pro wrestling shows have window dressing. Even if that window dressing is “5-star” matches where every dude no sells every big move in between taking the time to show that they’ve taken an MMA class before.

It’s surprisingly easy to get into the Christmas spirit with this episode, as all the show has to do play the tunes and make the colors a little cooler. And then it just has to let Secret Santa, Jenny’s “Teenie Tim,” and a returning Keith as Santa (thanks to Carmen being the best gift-giver) exist so one can continue to accept this Christmas in August. Really, there isn’t so much in-ring work other than Zoya vs. the Ghost of Christmas Future (Carmen), but the point has always been the ability to see the performance. It’s not like we’re expecting in-ring classics every time. The performance is great, but I’d say the production and set design is the real MVP of the show. The G.L.O.W. show really is a gold mine.


The Christmas spirit is lacking over in Bash-land, however, as he learns post-threesome (which he’s already awkward about) that “Joe the maintenance man” is actually “Paul the gigolo”—as he tries to have him fired, which he at least didn’t do to Bobby—and spirals over the reality of the situation after he sends Rhonda away for some “space.” There have been plenty of scenes in GLOW’s short history of Bash panicking about his sexuality and someone finding him out, but this episode provides the first time we get to see all of this after Bash actually has a homosexual encounter. After we finally see Bash have a homosexual encounter. Understandably, it’s all much more real now, and the subtext and subtlety of before are now out the window.

Bash: “I’ll do it again. I mean, I know I’ll do it again.”

It’s one thing that Bash thinks Paul (and maybe even Rhonda) told the entire casino all about that night. It’s one thing that Bash believed that him kissing and touching a man would be okay because Rhonda was there, until he realized it meant she’d know that he “liked it so much.” But what really sets this scene over the edge, emotionally, is the combination of Bash wanting to be the good son to Birdie (which he finally thought he’d done) and his intense fear of dying of AIDS. That’s the gut-punch. It’s amazing that GLOW was able to allow Bash to hold it together—to stay “strong”—for this long, but now that he’s no longer able to do that, Chris Lowell gives a truly heartbreaking performance. One that wipes away every douchey, performative moment from Bash. Wipes away every moment where Bash lashed out in order to maintain the image he tries so hard to present. In this moment, he’s just innocent Bash Howard again.


And Debbie takes advantage of him in that moment. Sort of. It’s in a way that actually helps him—or at least the way in which he wants to be helped, the way where he’s able to run away from Las Vegas and try not to relapse. (Because Bash acts like this is an addiction and that staying in Vegas will only cause him to relapse.) In this scene, Debbie is finally able to see substance in Bash that she didn’t know existed, that’s buried beneath his amusement over close-up magic and BMX Babes. As opportunistic as Debbie is here, Betty Gilpin still plays a sympathy for Bash well before she goes for the business move. (“Maybe it’s not such a bad thing,” she tells him, but it is to him. And to him getting what he wants.) But that business move is just what Debbie has been looking for this whole season and since becoming a producer. She makes the move that sets us (and Netflix) up for a fourth season with more professional wrestling and new characters, for G.L.O.W. to be back on television.

But after a whole year of all of this, it can’t come at a worse time. While the rest of the girls plan to come back to G.L.O.W. after the holiday break, Carmen finally makes the decision to join her brother Kurt in Phoenix. To actually wrestle and not just do the same show over and over again. Again, at the worst possible time. But that’s not the end: The end is Debbie making the pitch to Ruth about the TV network she got Bash to buy, with her as network president and Ruth as the wrestling director the first two seasons of GLOW set her up to be. In a season that dedicated so much time to the unhealthy Sam/Ruth relationship, one of its final moments—with the ridiculous visual of Debbie chasing Ruth, yelling “Ruth” over and over as “Home For The Holidays” blasts—tells the truth that was always more compelling: Ruth and Debbie are the true will-they-won’t-they couple of GLOW. They always have been, even with Sam around. (Ruth is still dating Russell, by the way.)


And Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie always crackle in these scenes, which truly gives this episode’s final scene the fuel it needs to finish strong. If this season continued Ruth’s progression from the first two seasons, then I suppose her answer to Debbie’s question at the end of the episode would’ve been a lot more different. After all, Ruth says Debbie understands her “probably better than anyone.” Which is true. But based on our understanding of Ruth, as well, this season of her continuing down a path that only leads to failure isn’t that understandable. Debbie is so excited and giddy to create “an Eden” for her and Ruth together, to create a true partnership with her, and she asks the question she maybe should’ve asked Ruth back at Tex’s ranch: “How many times are you gonna break your own heart?”

After this season, I honestly don’t know if GLOW will ever be able to satisfactorily answer this question.


Stray observations

  • Yolanda: “You know what I want for Christmas? People to stop talking about the fire like it was targeting them. Acting like it’s some big surprise to find bigots in Vegas.”
    Carmen: “I hope your Secret Santa gets you…. that. Or, maybe a gift that, it’s really thoughtful and cheers you up and reminds you that there’s still some good and beauty in humanity.”
  • In all the talk of G.L.O.W. staying at the Fan-Tan through 1986, it’s not until this episode that it’s confirmed: G.L.O.W. is supposed to run another full year in 1987. It makes sense because we know it’s a successful show for the Fan-Tan. The only thing that prevents that nightmare from happening is Bash’s decision to pull out of the Fan-Tan and run away from Las Vegas altogether. And in doing so, he kills Rhapsody, and most likely the Fan-Tan with it. Unless there’s a spin-off, which is honestly what that final Sheila/Bobby scene suggests.
  • Tex: “You’re my girlfriend, not my partner.” Oh, he was doing so well. But at least she learned to be “ugly and ruthless” due to him. (Can’t Debbie and Ruth just dump men like normal people?)
  • Arthie: “Remember when we did that match and some guy threw a beer can at me?”
    Rhonda: “Yeah. ‘Cause it hit me in the face.”
    Arthie: “...right.” Arthie also comes to terms with her sexuality in this episode, proclaiming to Stacey (because of her insensitive comments from six months ago in the desert) that she’s gay. This is after she realizes that, despite the fire at the ball making her bad, she did absolutely nothing. She ends the season proclaiming she’s ready to fight for the cause.
  • Debbie: “Wow. The woman with $40 million is playing Bob Cratchit?”
    Rhonda: “It was my idea. ‘Cause I’m British. And I’m nice.” And because she’s nice, she later goes to Bash to apologize for her deception. Because she doesn’t want to be the kind of person who tricks people. She wants to be a good person. Oh, Rhonda. Then it honestly seems like Bash and Rhonda are back on the same page… until Bash tells her that he wants to start a family. That hard left is the clear red flag for Rhonda.
  • Debbie almost ruins her pitch to convince Bash to buy the TV network because she’s so shocked he sunk (it’s not even a secret it’s a failure) $2.5 million into Rhapsody that she just about has to rant about him being an idiot.
  • While he was back in Los Angeles, Keith was looking into adoption. That is the solution to his and Cherry’s dilemma, as it was never that she didn’t want kids, it was just she didn’t want the physical toll. Merry Christmas.
  • The Sam/Justine scene feels tacked on… until it gets to Sam with the adoption papers. It’s touching, even though Sam works to make it less so. It’s also the biggest sign that this episode is supposed to simultaneously function as a series finale because it’s a bit of closure that doesn’t need to exist in this episode at all.
  • There’s surprisingly no follow-up the Sam/Ruth in this episode, which I guess suggests the previous episode was officially the end of it. But if that’s the case, was their story this season even worth it?
  • I don’t know, guys… I don’t think Alison Brie did that moonsault. Also, I can’t believe Carmen invented The Undertaker’s sit-up spot. She really does have a mind for this.
  • Yolanda got Tamme an air-brushed “Hot Tub Club” shirt for Christmas. It’s cute, but if only this season actually showed more “Hot Tub Club.” Also, I wonder how Welfare Queen was doing as a manager.
  • Ruth: “I don’t want an off-ramp. I never even got on the road.” I swear, G.L.O.W. was supposed to be her detour, not a rest stop.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.