Despite the looming depression G.L.O.W. possibly never coming to fruition and everyone proving themselves the failures that society and their families believe them to be, “The Liberal Chokehold” manages to be a pretty fun episode of GLOW. There’s somewhat of a perceived lack of true conflict at this particular point, as series’ entire premise at least promises that the G.L.O.W. pilot will happen. There’s no guarantee it will go well either, but all it really has to do at this point is go better than the “success” that was the preview show. So because we’re not quite there yet, “The Liberal Chokehold” puts the pieces together in more of a character-driven episode, one last look into what drives these characters, before it’s lights, cameras, action.
Bash returns in this episode, and if we thought he was a mess back in “Live Studio Audience,” “The Liberal Chokehold” shows us just how much more of a mess he can be. Despite the framing of the poster when he enters the network meeting, life is not a beach for Bash right now. I’ve written before about how Bash has his less admirable qualities at times, but if there’s one thing you should never question about the character, it’s his love for G.L.O.W. and turning it into a reality. To witness him at his rock bottom, scraping to fix this mess and realizing how much he’s let everyone down, it hits just as hard as Carmen’s downer mood in “Maybe It’s All The Disco.” Especially since we finally see his family situation in the form of his mother Birdie (Elizabeth Perkins), a Reaganite nightmare he wants nothing to do with. In fact, we’re immediately clued into just how estranged Bash is from his family (outside of the previous monetary situation) when he asks Birdie if his sister is getting re-married. It’s not that big of a deal that he simply doesn’t know she broke up with (as his mother says and officially announces the type of person she is) “the Persian”—if she were to get married, he probably wouldn’t have even found out until after the fact.
Despite the fact that Bash ran away—and though he failed, he was looking for a solution to his problems—he faces his problems head on here and gets a win (kind of) against his mother. Birdie is pretty much a picture of Reaganomics, preaching about the importance of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign and letting everyone know what good she’s doing for a plight she’ll never actually witness outside of her coked up son. Early in the episode, when Debbie tells the story about her sorority using the “end world hunger” car wash money to remodel their deck, it’s a funny anecdote in just how terrible it is. But it’s a story about women who were in their late teens and early 20s, which means there was still time for them to learn from their choices. However, you have someone like Birdie, a full-grown adult, who pockets the donations Bash and the G.L.O.W. Girls get at her fundraiser. Sure, everyone in this particular scenario is an absolute grifter, but the one who speaks of saving the world and “misappropriation of solicited funds” shows her true colors here.
Just like the moment with Gary (Marc Evan Jackson) at the door, as Bash has to convince him to let the “W.A.D.” (Wrestlers Against Drugs) in. It doesn’t matter whether Gary believes what Bash has to say about these women or not, his reaction to the women tells you all need to know about him and the greater agenda. “Just don’t touch anything…Please don’t mingle. Don’t talk to anybody. Steal nothing.” GLOW isn’t saying anything new here that hasn’t already been said about the war on drugs or Reagan’s America, but it’s a nice contrast to see the different forms of all these hustlers, whether they’re hustling for professional wrestling or hustling just to seem like decent people. It’s also good to see how much it means that Bash is nothing like the people he came from.
“You know what the craziest part of this whole mess is?…I actually like wrestling…I don’t know. It’s like I’m back in my body. And it doesn’t belong to Randy. Or Mark. And I’m like using it, for me. And I feel like a goddamn superhero. “
We talk a lot about what scenes should be Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin’s Emmy reels for GLOW, but this scene manages to contain nine episodes’ worth of awkwardness and pain and regret, practically out of nowhere. We’re finally at a point where Ruth and Debbie can have a real conversation—and in such a civil place like Birdie’s party—but once the reminder sets in of what led them to this relationship in the first place, it’s like the dominoes all fall down and they have to start again. GLOW does over-the-top and goofy very well, especially as it finds a way to also bring honest emotion from that. But sometimes it just gets so real it’s almost uncomfortable, and that’s everything about this scene. Sheila’s not around, but you can tell Ruth took her advice of submitting to heart, at least subconsciously. She gets into Ruth mode and wants to pretend things are back to normal, but then her brain catches up to the memory that things aren’t okay and she stops herself; then Debbie has to address it, because if Ruth had her way, they’d probably just spend the rest of the scene in silence.
But it’s great that Ruth takes the time to apologize and explain why she slept with Mark (both times)—finally making up for “It just happened”—even if it’s to a room full of Republicans and has to be tied to crack. It’s an honesty that was a long time coming and necessary for any type of future reconciliation between Ruth and Debbie. Unlike Mark, Ruth hasn’t been groveling every time she’s one-on-one with Debbie, and unsurprisingly, her introspection comes across a lot more genuine than his ever does. With the exception of Melrose, who plays her testimonial off like it’s no big deal, Ruth is the only one in the group who gives a real story to the partygoers. And for the sake of G.L.O.W., thankfully Birdie sees that honesty and appreciates it, even if she continues to disregard her own son in the process.
Then there’s Sam, who keeps saying he’s only doing any of this to fund his movie, yet continues to rely on Ruth and never actually detaches from the dream of G.L.O.W. Until he realizes that the movie he’s been working 10 years on, Mothers & Lovers, has already been made. In the form of Back To The Future. While the ladies are working their hardest to get their dream made—as new of a dream as it is—Sam sees his just disintegrate and wonders what the point of any of it was.
“I just work on my shit so fucking long and then, boom. Someone else gets there first. I mean, it’s like, why bother even trying to make anything that you really care about?”
No matter what anyone thinks about the quality of Sam’s work, it’s easy to understand this perspective. “Why bother even trying to make anything that you really care about?” For Bash, G.L.O.W. is the first thing he’s ever really cared about, so he has every reason to try. For Debbie, it’s because it makes her feel whole in a way she hasn’t in a long time. But for Sam, now that he doesn’t have Mothers & Lovers, what does he have? At this point, he doesn’t even think he has G.L.O.W. Justine finds Sam at the wrong time—even if there’s really no such thing as a wrong time when Perry Como’s playing—and everything Rhonda said about Sam just not wanting to be alone comes back in an instant.
Then he turns Mothers & Lovers into a real life Fathers & Lovers, with Justine quickly putting an end to that by telling him he’s her father.
So here’s the deal: Netflix regularly (and understandably) informs critics of specific plot points to avoid in advance reviews. However, those conscientious warnings tend to spoil those same plots things for us. As I was watching GLOW, it was difficult for me to watch Justine and wonder what her deal is: Because one of the “spoilers to avoid” notes was, “Sam is a father / who his daughter is.” What exactly am I supposed to do with that, since I’ve now seen it before I even start the first episode? I obviously attempt to put my mind in the same headspace as the audience while watching any show, but I acknowledge that I don’t have the same perspective as someone who went in completely blind. Having said all of this, Britt Baron has done great work as Justine, both jaded and wide-eyed at the same time. Apparently, like Justine, she also had to keep the fact that she was Sam’s daughter secret from the rest of the cast, including Marc Maron. But in terms of GLOW’s ability to make it a true twist or shocking reveal, it was arguably not as much of a priority as Netflix seemed to think it was. Because GLOW honestly tips its hand—or even shows its cards completely—by introducing Justine’s relationship with Billy Offal. Idolization aside, you don’t get slow motion or Tears For Fears when Justine’s near Sam. It’s dramatic irony-adjacent, as the audience can probably even pick up that Justine is Sam’s daughter before anyone else can. Sure, Rhonda understood that Justine held a torch for him, but she was also wildly off the mark in terms of it being a romantic crush, and I don’t think it ever really read that Justine was attracted to him.
The most important point about all of this isn’t the reveal though. Instead, it’s how Sam handles it all completely wrong, just an episode after handling Ruth’s abortion perfectly. And again proving Rhonda’s point (this time re: his paranoia) right, assuming that Justine wants something from him other than a relationship with her father, a man who was already her personal hero. In the face of professional and personal adversity, our fearless director is the one who falls. And it’s not even to a liberal chokehold.
- There are a couple small beats in this episode that actually inform certain events in the season finale. So you’ll have to wait until then for me to write about them.
- Remember how, in the previous episode, Mark said he was on a diet? The breakfast Debbie devours with her hands doesn’t look like diet food. Good to see Mark remains completely inconsistent (and I have no doubt this is intentional) on an episode-to-episode basis.
- Bash: “I had a few thousand which I tried to turn at the racetrack, but then Pyrrhic Victory came in fucking seventh.” Hehe.
- Sheila is the first one to ask if the ladies are going to have to look for new jobs now, and though they don’t dwell on it, I couldn’t help but wonder what a new job search would look like for her.
- Cherry: “You don’t look poor.”
Debbie: “He’s not poor. He’s broke. There’s a difference.”
- Ruth’s conservative clothing? Her outfit from her pilot audition. Only this time, she gets the part.
- Rhonda: “We’re sober and live in a halfway house, remember?”
Melrose: “Yeah, okay, but what if I fall off the wagon right now and then I sober up by the end of the party?” The end of Rhonda/Sam apparently means the return of the ‘80s answer to the Iconic Duo, in the form of Rhonda/Melrose. I greatly support that.
- By the way, based on Sam’s description of Mothers & Lovers, it probably does make sense that Rhonda would play the younger version of the mother. Not that she was angling for it—and not that I believe she could pull off a convincing American accent—but it would check out. Too bad Zemeckis stole Sam’s thunder.
- It’s safe to assume Debbie and Cherry didn’t give any crack testimonials, right? Debbie definitely didn’t, because she’s TV’s “Debbie Eagan” and it would be a mess if she started going on about her crack addiction. As for Cherry, she’s now in a position where she could become “TV’s Cherry Bang” (thanks to network Glen loving her and Tamme)… and it’s bad enough she already has to be Junk Chain. Meanwhile, Melrose apparently attended three different rehabs as a youth, though she tries to play off that reality with the addition of crack.
- The crack testimonials honestly were pretty brilliant, despite how little effort the women all put into them. Blessed Carmen couldn’t stop smiling as she told the story of ending up naked (and high) on a mall bench. Tamme “chose the crack.” Stacey’s confession that, “Crack should be my middle name. And also my first and my last name.” Rhonda just lists a British breakfast and adds crack at the end. And Jenny’s story in Cambodian (because of course Bash would make it so she can’t speak English) with a good old-fashioned “CRACK!” in there? Beautiful.
- Birdie: “What’s your name?”
Ruth: “Ruth. Ruth Wilder.”
Birdie: “My housekeeper’s name is Ruth. She’s wonderful. She cuts my fruit up into little pieces.” Elizabeth Perkins is great, and GLOW uses her for the perfect amount of time. She’s almost a cartoon character, but I was honestly expecting much worse. She’s arguably right to cut Bash off, but hopefully she thaws the freeze if G.L.O.W. is a success.
- I’d say this episode provides the greatest piece of “evidence” in the case of Bash’s sexuality (specifically if he’s gay or bisexual), which is Birdie’s line about how she’s “been embarrassed by a lot of things [her] son chooses to spend his time doing.” Yes, we know that Bash’s life pre-G.L.O.W. was a lot of partying and drug robotics—so it’s not exactly like that’s something his mother should be proud of—but it’s the fact that she uses the buzzword “chooses” to describe it. A Reaganite like Birdie would absolutely see his sexuality as a choice, another thing you can “Just Say No” to.
- Let’s take a look at the KDTV line-up, shall we? As far as I can tell, most of the TV shows are fake. But the TV movies? All real and two of the three are Joan Collins classics. My personal favorite is Quilting Be Easy!