Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers from the third season of GLOW.
Las Vegas is fueled by fantasy, which makes it an ideal location for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling to set up shop. Each of these women has created a larger than life onstage persona, perfect for the city of excess. With one exception, that is. Since Season 1, Sheila (Gayle Rankin) has worn the same wolf costume in and out of the ring. Vegas is an unlikely location for self-discovery, but a new friendship shows the self-proclaimed She-Wolf that her fur armor is holding her back. When this message sinks in, Gayle Rankin is given the chance to shine.
Early in Season 1 of GLOW, before Ruth (Alison Brie) becomes Zoya, she laments her lack of a wrestling character, telling Sheila she admires her dedication to playing a part. But Sheila isn’t doing some deep method acting for this gig. She leaves a dead squirrel in her new roommate's bed in a bid to push her away, but Ruth is more tenacious than she expects. The wig, fur, and smudgy eye makeup can’t conceal how much it means to Sheila when Ruth refrains from calling her a freak. Rather than remaining enigmatic, she explains that this wolf attire (or some version of it) has been her only look for the last five years. It isn’t a delusion, the connection is spiritual. This epiphany is the first step in bringing the She-Wolf in from the wild.
In an ensemble as big as GLOW's, there are certain characters we still don’t know a great deal about. In Season 3, Sheila finally gets her time to shine. The repetitive routine of performing the same show night after night impacts each of these women differently. Some get caught in an existential crisis, while others use the opportunity to enjoy the hedonistic side of hotel living in Vegas. Meanwhile, Sheila starts to invest time and money in her acting craft. She attends a class with Tammé (Kia Stevens), but is furious when the teacher tells her the wolf look is distracting, that she needs to put herself to one side when performing.
Sheila doesn’t wake up the next morning ready to ditch the She-Wolf identity and start anew. The idea has been planted, but it's a winding path to self-discovery. It isn’t just the new location that helps her peel back the layers, either. Ultimately, a new friendship with a kindred spirit unleashes Sheila’s creative side. Drag queen Bobby Barnes (Kevin Cahoon) asks personal questions she isn’t ready to answer in front of a crowd, but later on, in the sanctity of his dressing room (after he has experienced his own form of rejection) the pair bond over wigs. Sheila rarely lets anyone see her for who she really is, but she implicitly trusts Bobby.
A costume swap performance in the following episode sees the Gorgeous Ladies switching wrestling characters. Bobby helps Sheila with an off-screen makeover that causes her co-stars' jaws to drop when she struts down the stairs with the kind of confidence that suggests she's been doing this her whole life. This isn’t a case of Sheila doing a wolf version of a famous diva, she embodies this iconic character completely. It's a joyous and freeing experience, one that gives her the push she needs to become more than just a She-Wolf.
Rankin was the first Scottish actor to attend Julliard, and since graduating, she has performed in a number of Broadway productions (including the 2014 revival of Cabaret, and playing Ophelia opposite Oscar Isaac's Hamlet in 2017). The writers of GLOW have wisely utilized her commanding stage presence this year through Sheila’s journey of self-discovery.
Throughout the first two seasons, Gayle Rankin delivered a performance that underscored Sheila’s fears and vulnerability, but no amount of black eyeliner could hide her expressive eyes. In Season 3, she gets to perform a blank-slate version of Sheila, without the wolf trappings, revealing emotions and warmth she previously held back. The snarls have been replaced by serenity. For the first time, Sheila seems content with who she is. She's always been capable of great things, but her carefully curated identity was holding her back. After Season 3, Sheila is a lone wolf no more.
People are talking about GLOW in our forums. Join the conversation.
Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina.