It’s an old saying, and super cheesy: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” It’s a code of protection for all of the drinking, gambling, general debauchery, and misadventure implied by a trip to Sin City. After all, mistakes don’t count in Vegas. It’s not a place people go to experience personal growth.
But what happens in Vegas when the thing that stays is a person? Or a group of people who perform the same show, night after night, for vacationers who freely leave at the end of their fun-filled weekend? The third season of Netflix’s GLOW has a few answers to these questions, and getting there makes for the show’s strongest and most emotionally satisfying season yet.
When GLOW ended Season 2 with the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling TV show being canceled by its network — only to be revived as a Vegas stage show — it wasn’t immediately apparent how much the dynamic would change. Most of the characters had already lived and performed together, and even changes like Justine going back to school or Rhonda’s in-ring marriage to Bash Howard didn’t seem like the game changers they would eventually become. Season 3 picks up these loose threads and weaves a beautiful, complex tapestry.
Season 3 picks up these loose threads and weaves a beautiful, complex tapestry.
Las Vegas casinos are famous for employing tricks that mess with guests’ perception of time. Dealers don’t wear watches, there are no clocks on the casino floors, and windows are a rarity. GLOW plays with this collapsing and expanding of time throughout the new season, using holidays or clever montages to accelerate its timeline over the course of an entire year. This squeezing and stretching of time is accompanied by excellent writing and storytelling, so as its characters develop in contrast to the unchanging background of the casino, important plot points and revelations still hit exactly as hard as they’re meant to.
Many of the GLOW women undergo massive changes over the course of that year, as wrestling personas change, insecurities play out, and relationships blossom and wilt. It’s amazing that GLOW covers as much as it does in only 10 episodes, but the fact that its characters were so well-established in the two preceding seasons helps. There are still some women left underdeveloped in Season 3, and others who come to greater prominence than viewers may have expected, but all of the time spent on each character’s plot feels appropriate and necessary in the context of the entire season.
Watching all of that character development, the bulk of which is naturally reserved for the predominantly female cast, highlights exactly what makes GLOW a special and unique show. It’s incredibly refreshing that none of these women, with their messy lives, fears, and problems, have to be right all the time. They don’t have to be relatable, represent the audience, or be perfect ambassadors for their demographics. They are single, married, and divorced women, gay and straight, with or without children, with varying levels of maturity and understanding of their differences. And because there are so many women portrayed, no one has to step up and fulfill a stereotype — instead, they all get to be people.
It sounds like such a simple concept, that women get to be people on TV, but with the loss of Orange Is the New Black (which GLOW executive producer Jenji Kohan created), there are only a few popular shows that can believably pull it off.
One great scene — and this is a mild spoiler — that exemplifies how GLOW gives its female characters room to be different kinds of women comes in the middle of Season 3, when Cherry and Debbie smoke weed in a hotel room and talk about motherhood. Cherry, who had a miscarriage in Season 2 and is worried about how another pregnancy will affect her body, asks Debbie about her experience being a divorced single mom. Debbie, high as a kite, admits that her life would be easier if she had never gotten married or had her son.
Debbie admits it quietly at first, but Cherry reminds her that she doesn’t have to whisper since it’s just the two of them. So Debbie screams, “It would be so much easier!” into a pillow, then remembers she left a juggler she was supposed to have sex with in her room, realizes she can’t stand up, and moves on to happily making flute noises with her mouth.
It’s a funny scene, deeply nostalgic for anyone who’s ever gotten too high to remember what they were talking about five seconds earlier, but behind the jokes are real truths about how pregnancy and motherhood can showcase difficult, unfair expectations of women. Scenes like these happen regularly in Season 3. Characters sit down and just talk about what’s hard for them, or why something hurts, or how their relationships make them feel. Because of their scarcity in the rest of the TV landscape, each of these scenes feels incredibly important.
There are many other fantastic elements of GLOW’s Vegas season, one of which is the addition of Kevin Kahoon as drag queen Bobby Barnes, whose parallel residency at the Fan-Tan Hotel and Casino incorporates him as an honorary member of the GLOW gang. There’s also Geena Davis as Sandy St. Clair, a former showgirl who manages the hotel’s shows and has her own arc entwined with Bash Howard’s rising status as a producer.
GLOW Season 3 manages to be a third season of television that keeps almost every character in the same place while changing everything about them. It has hilarious dialogue, sad goodbyes, game-changing plot twists, and a massively talented cast that somehow get better with every episode. Netflix has a true gem in GLOW. It’s fitting that a show about wrestling has finally claimed the crown as its best original series.