There is something fascinatingly transitory about GLOW season 3, an element of which seems to suggest the series is heading for a momentous (and possibly final) storyline, should it be renewed for season 4. The second season of Netflix’s Emmy-nominated women’s professional wrestling dramedy ended on what, at the time, felt like a high note. In the face of defeat (i.e., having their television series canceled), the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling were given a new lease on life, one that would take them to Las Vegas to live out their wrestling and showbiz dreams. Or so the series would have audiences believe.
GLOW season 3 is less a celebration for a group of talented women after they grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat, and more an interestingly contemplative batch of episodes asking the characters what it is they really want, and how best to go about getting it. There are few places on Earth less conducive to moments of serious contemplative thought than Las Vegas, yet series creators and showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch have managed to turn Sin City into just that place. And they’ve brought Oscar winner Geena Davis along for the ride, one that’s remarkably different from what the series has done before, resulting in perhaps the show’s best season to date.
The change in setting from ‘80s Los Angeles to ‘80s Las Vegas — and a more or less, off-the-strip, ramshackle hotel and casino to boot — is the sort of thing that might inspire concern among some TV watchers, as change that dramatic has historically been a sign of a creative downturn. That is thankfully not the case here, as the wrestlers’ new digs provide the expected sense of wonder for most of the cast. Characters like Carmen (Britney Young), Shiela (Gayle Rankin), Tammé (Kia Stevens), Melanie (Jackie Tohn), and the hilarious Stacey (Kimmy Gatewood) and Dawn (Rebekka Johnson) are understandably pleased with the situation. It is, for the most part, a much more glamorous lifestyle than they’re used to. And while living and working in a hotel and casino, eating at a buffet everyday, and having the 24-hour indulgence of the Las Vegas strip basically next door is not without its charms at first, the lifestyle soon begins to take its toll.
The growing sense of dissatisfaction manifests itself in unexpected ways, and it’s through this that GLOW finds interesting and meaningful threads through which to explore the desires and avenues of growth among this collection of women, as they each prepare to take the next step in their lives. As with most seasons, GLOW devotes the majority of its storytelling to Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie (Betty Gilpin), and season 3 is really no different. What is different this time around is the degree to which they find themselves drifting apart, based on what it is they want from their lives. This turns out to be an astute way to instill a sense of conflict between the two, without the dispute revolving around a man.
This gives Brie and Gilpin a chance to play around in the camaraderie the characters once shared — the one glimpsed at only briefly when the series first began. And it’s in these moments of togetherness that Flahive and Mensch, and their writers’ room, lay the groundwork for the divergent paths both women will eventually find themselves.
Debbie feels increasingly marginalized as a producer of GLOW, as Bash (Chris Lowell) finds success and marriage suit him. With his newly inflated sense of self worth, Bash strangely becomes something of an antagonistic presence for season 3. But because the show’s writing is as sharp and intuitive as ever, Lowell isn’t asked to play an outright villain, or to suddenly reveal a side of his personality that wasn’t there before. Instead, he and Debbie are simply butting heads creatively, and while he’s thrilled to have turned GLOW into an actual moneymaker, Debbie finds the distance from her son may not be worth the steady paycheck.
Ruth’s story takes a different trajectory to arrive at a similar understanding of her current situation. Ruth’s dissatisfaction comes from what amounts to her stopping at the one-yard line with regard to her aspirations of becoming an actor. While, yes, she’s technically a professional actor, one with a steady gig, she’s also hundreds of miles away from Hollywood, and no one there has any idea what GLOW is, much less why it matters. Adding to Ruth’s confusion are her growing feelings for Sam (Marc Maron), who, like Debbie, has been marginalized in his role with the show. Unlike Debbie, however, Sam couldn’t be happier, as he’s getting paid to spend his free time developing new projects, like one with his daughter Justine (Britt Baron).
That’s only a fraction of what GLOW gets up to in its superb new season. The series delivers meaningful storylines for nearly everyone in the cast, namely Kate Nash’s Rhonda, as she deals with her quickie marriage of convenience to Bash becoming something real, and Sheila’s gradual acceptance of her true self, which leads to a momentous decision about her she-wolf persona.
Ultimately, GLOW season 3 offers some of the best storytelling the series has ever done, and it does so while also pushing the characters into new and unfamiliar territory. There are too few series that are able to be this entertaining, while also giving so many of its characters the chance to not just change but to evolve into people who are sometimes far removed from who they were when the series first began. GLOW season 3 proves this series is not to be missed.
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GLOW season 3 streams exclusively on Netflix beginning Friday, August 9.