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

In “Nothing Shattered,” GLOW deals with the real repercussions of “that fake stuff on TV”

Illustration for article titled In “Nothing Shattered,” GLOW deals with the real repercussions of “that fake stuff on TV”
Graphic: Netfix

Picking up where “Work The Leg” left off, “Nothing Shattered” quickly captures that feeling of not knowing what to do—as a worker, as part of the crew, as an audience member—when an actual injury happens. There’s the question of it’s real at first, and while professional wrestling has its own lingo for that; referees put up an “X” sign, though the fact that I’m able to rattle that off means wrestling has evolved into moments where the “X” sign is actually a work as well. But G.L.O.W. is still such a young thing—and Keith is picking up refereeing as he goes—that they don’t have a protocol for how to handle this. (The aside Bash later makes that he can at least afford to cover the medical bills for two more girls isn’t really handling it.) There’s awkward applause from the crowd when they realize it’s real and they’re supporting Ruth. But it’s stressful and scary, and it’s nice to see non-sleazy Russell step in and try to take charge… while we’re reminded this is a comedy, by how hard it is for him to figure out how to get out of the wrestling ring with a broken fricken Ruth.


“Nothing Shattered” is, in a way, the definitive episode about the show’s sisterhood and the entire concept of the G.L.O.W. family. While GLOW builds to the big wrestling event at the end of the season—which also shows off the sisterhood and family—it’s important to see how everyone comes through in a relatively smaller moment, when it’s not just everyone working to the common goal of making a big splash. The common goal here is making sure Ruth is okay (and as a result, they make her know and feel she is loved, something she’s struggled with from the moment we met the character), with the question of how her injury will affect the show as the last thing on everyone’s minds. It’s even more apparent here: While Ruth is written as someone people supposedly find “annoying,” none of the G.L.O.W. Girls other than Debbie have treated her as such this season. There’s always teasing among the crew, but Ruth feeling like an other or outsider by these girls—which was part of the first season—is no longer part of it. It’s also how you can tell Sam and Debbie are even more out of line during the season, because it’s not like there’s back-up from the others to defend their behavior.

I’ve pointed out how Debbie’s big social blindspot when it comes to the girls is how she downplays or insults the things they’re actually caring about, so it’s only right that doing so here is the thing that finally sets Ruth off. “It’s not that long,” she says about Ruth’s broken ankle, like it’s a relief. “We’re getting canceled anyway,” she reminds Ruth. “It’s just a job,” comes out of her mouth, as though she was having so much luck with jobs herself post-maternity. When Ruth finally does throw back that it’s not just a job or a show (the way she refuses to let the doctors cut her boot off makes that clear) and finally chooses to “lash out” at Debbie, Debbie also naturally pulls the Mark card… but a broken bone is finally enough for Ruth to steamroll past that (Debbie’s one weapon) and point out how she’s “eaten shit for months.” In this much-needed argument, Debbie finally admits that nothing Ruth can do can actually “make it right,” which is honestly all Ruth needed to hear in the first place to stop trying. But once the Mark card doesn’t work, you can tell the moment when Debbie realizes this might mean she actually has to apologize to Ruth.

I’ve written about if the audience should even want Ruth and Debbie to return to their friendship, and this argument also addresses that lopsided, unhealthy status of things even pre-affair. In the pilot, Mark convinces Ruth to sleep with him again when he reminds her of their “shiny people” discussion about Debbie; the inferiority complex has always been there, and it’s something Debbie has been able to use to her advantage even more in this vengeance period. Ruth even brings up Debbie’s “power complex” and how she’s been using it to mess with Ruth this whole time. But to physically harm Ruth the way she does—when Ruth literally has nothing else and nothing that Debbie could want—is so much more than that. While Debbie would’ve maybe had a leg to stand on about Ruth’s “poor me” personality at a certain point—early season one, for sure—at this point, it really is just a matter of kicking someone while they’re down. Because while Ruth still has issues with standing up for herself and saying what she wants, she’s actually been able to gain some semblance of confidence and self-esteem as GLOW has gone on, especially this season. It’s hard to think, but I’m not exactly sure they’d have Ruth walk out of Tom Grant’s bungalow in season one. Debbie refuses to see how Ruth has changed though, because all she wants to see is the “homewrecker” who ruined her perfect life she was already “miserable” in. Debbie hasn’t changed as much, and GLOW has put more of a focus on just how imperfect and unhappy Debbie’s life really is. And in that frustration of her own lack of change, this is what we’re left with.

Also in the question of whether Ruth and Debbie should reconcile comes Sheila’s speech to Debbie about her own parents. It’s not so much a “stay together for the kids” argument, but Sheila apparently sees something in Ruth/Debbie that makes her want them to figure their stuff out, in a way she doesn’t see with her own arguing parents. (The she-wolf is actually the most human character in this episode, the way she worries about her friend’s well-being.) The whole concept of Debbie breaking Ruth’s ankle should probably be the end of the conversation—and the conversation never even really begins with the coke thing, as no character but Debbie knows about it—but at the same time, the things people do and don’t forgive in professional wrestling (even just speaking of professional wrestling cliques, not fans) can be pretty ridiculous and even upsetting. (You would think there wouldn’t be fairly recent, public defenses of Nazis and convicted sex offenders getting booked on wrestling shows. You would think wrong.) Debbie tells Sheila, “I’m not trying to destroy Ruth’s life, okay? This isn’t some elaborate revenge fantasy.” I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s “elaborate,” and it might not be anything that she actually fantasizes about, but then what is Debbie trying to do? What does Debbie think needs to be done for her to finally be satisfied? Her eventually coming back to sign “SORRY I BROKE YOUR ANKLE” on Ruth’s cast doesn’t do everything, but the fact that she finally gives an apology does something. But is it enough?


Alison Brie spends the majority of this episode acting from a hospital bed, and despite that, she gives her best performance of the season. This episode is the culmination of not just what Ruth has had to go through this season but also everything from last season, and the blow-up between Ruth and Debbie is the kind of full-blown bout of rage GLOW (as a show about a very specific facet of the industry) can’t quite give us in the ring. And it’s not just when Ruth’s finally blowing up at Debbie that Brie gets to shine, as she plays Ruth’s genuine happiness (over the fact she finally has “people”) during the wait for an X-ray—another terrific montage, quite appropriately set to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams”—perfectly. She may be in physical pain, but until she has to deal with Debbie, Ruth is on cloud nine. And not just because of the Valium and Klonopin.

With Ruth and Sam’s friendship back on track too, “Nothing Shattered” also dangles that question of Sam’s feelings for Ruth along again, with him sending Russell away from the hospital in a burst of attempted alpha male behavior (he brings up how he could’ve carried Ruth and also calls Russell “Hercules”) and staying by Ruth’s side while she waits in bed. (Based on the montage, Sam’s pretty good at origami. He also finds Dawn & Stacey way funnier than you’d expect.) But regardless of possible feelings for something more, “Nothing Shattered” makes clear that this is about the G.L.O.W. family above all else. This episode even features a scene between Sam and Arthie—one that is treated just a surprising as it actually is—and even without an established bond between the two, it still manages to have them open up to each other without that part feeling strange. It feels somewhat insulting to say GLOW lucked out with its cast, but it really did, from top to bottom.


Somehow, with all this—Ruth’s broken ankle, the acknowledgment that the girls’ hard work won’t stop the show from being canceled, the Ruth/Debbie blow-up—“Nothing Shattered” ends with these characters having a new sense of clarity and a“fuck it” determination moving forward in their last few weeks on the air. The slow-motion team walk-out (and roll-out) in the end of this episode is surreal and hilarious, with wheelchair-bound Ruth clutching her boot, Sam pushing her, Debbie holding the crutches, and Bash pulling the ultimate “cool guy” move of putting his jacket over his shoulder. They walk out of the hospital like they own the place and they won something, when really, neither are true. Well, Bash won in terms of learning Sam finally went to see Back To The Future.

So: “Let’s just set the weirdos free and see what the fuck happens.”

Stray observations

  • Sheila: “You want me to lick your wound? Saliva helps with blood clotting.”
    Melrose: “She’s not even bleeding.”
    Sheila: “She might be bleeding internally.”
  • Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch, and Sascha Rothchild did their homework: The story Bash tells about Stan Hansen and Bruno Sammartino really happened on April 26, 1976. They turned it into part of the storyline too. The difference between that and what happens in this episode is that the real event was an accident (and Sammartino forgave Hansen for it). So Debbie’s comment to Bash about how they “all knew what [they] were signing up for—even Ruth” doesn’t bode well for the trip to the hospital.
  • Tammé: “This is like an action movie! I should’ve read this sooner.” Congrats to Tammé and her newfound appreciation for the good book (Deuteronomy 25:11-25:12).
  • Rhonda: “Ruth, Ruth / That’s her name / She got hurt / And it’s a shame / But don’t be sad / Don’t be worried / We’re here to help / What rhymes with worried?” If this series ends with Rhonda getting a record deal on a rap label, I won’t be surprised. Also, of course Rhonda wouldn’t realize Debbie intentionally hurt Ruth. It’s not a matter of “dumb” Rhonda, it’s another matter of the entire family dynamic.
  • Bash: “How could she not have insurance? She’s a professional wrestler.” Good one, guys. While Bash is surprised the girls don’t have insurance (besides Melrose and Cherry), it’s funny sad this is still the case for a lot of professional wrestlers today. On the independent scene, naturally, but also in WWE, since they’re considered independent contractors instead of employees.
  • Arthie: “You didn’t notice I always had books with me?”
    Sam: “No. But I really don’t pay attention to all of you.” This line works both as a Sam line and a fourth wall-breaking line about the amount of attention the show paid to supporting characters last season. Now we have confirmation the reason Arthie hasn’t had her books all season is because she failed out of medical school. But they’ve turned this into a story not about failure but instead about about trying to figure out what she wants. Right now, all we know is she’s “tired of trying to make other people happy.”
  • The Ruth/Debbie argument made me think of the film Always Shine and the parallels in character dynamics. Now, to brainstorm how to get Caitlin FitzGerald and Mackenzie Davis on GLOW season three...
  • Bash: “I’ve never felt so guilty in about anything.”
    Sam: “Jesus, you live a charmed life.” Debbie may call Ruth “melodramatic,” but Bash is spiraling over how he’s “destroyed our little family” and how Ruth’s “a gimp.”
  • Ruth: “Sam, can we bring Reggie back?”
    Sam: “Who? I’m kidding. Yeah, who cares? Bring the viking back to the sinking ship.” Also, after a night of being the best friend possible and staying, Sam signs Ruth’s cast “SS.”

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.