Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers from the third season of GLOW.
The third season of Netflix's GLOW takes the titular professional wrestling program from low-rent, late-night TV to the bright lights of Las Vegas, where the women who've worked for two seasons to become the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling perform for tourists and casino-goers. And it's the same show, rehearsed and choreographed, night after night. This, as pointed out by Carmen's brother (Carlos Edwin) is antithetical to the way wrestling works — as an ever-unfolding soap opera of fights and betrayals and championships changing hands. However talented these women are, the product is inevitably going to get stale, if not for the audiences, which cycle in fresh every day, then certainly for the wrestlers.
This concern is addressed in episode 6 of the new season, titled "Freaky Tuesday," wherein the ladies of GLOW decide to swap gimmicks for the night, and everybody wrestles in somebody else's character. The result is spectacularly fun for fans of the show (and likely for the actors as well), as well as being a standout for wrestling fans — second only to last season's "The Good Twin," which was an episode-length presentation of the GLOW show-within-a-show.
So what makes "Freaky Tuesday" such a highlight?
"Freaky Tuesday" initially presents as a Tammé (Kia Stevens)-focused episode. We've already learned she's having trouble with her back, and the beginning of this episode really drives that home, with a Requiem for a Dream-esque repetition of taking in-ring punishment, hurting like hell from it, and downing a combination of painkillers and wine to keep it at bay for another day. Nobody else knows how bad it's become, and she doesn't know that Sandy Deveraux St. Clair (Geena Davis) has offered to extend GLOW's run for another nine months. As far as Tammé is concerned, she's got four shows left, and she's running out the clock. It's Tammé's idea to do a gimmick swap in the first place, entirely because she wants to be able to use the Beatdown Biddies' walker for the night. The other ladies take the ball and run with it, with Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Ruth (Alison Brie) especially excited to step into each other's characters.
GLOW is a great TV show about a group of women in the '80s who learn to depend on each other in a hostile job market. They work hard and struggle to produce a worthy creative endeavor in an industry that doesn't support them, so they have to support one another. The premise works on a basic human level. But it's also a series about women's wrestling, and it's the moments showcasing the show's knowledge of the history and business of wrestling that make it something uniquely wonderful. As great as Season 3 is, the repetitive nature of the Vegas show means there are fewer moments for these characters to discover themselves in the ring. Think back to what a transformative moment it was in Season 1 when Debbie realized that wrestling had a lot in common with the soap operas she cut her teeth on. Or how Carmen (Britney Young) has been able to prove her worth to the group with her wrestling know-how. "Freaky Tuesday" spends more time in the ring than any other episode this season, and it's all the better for it.
Better than the show's canny '80s period details, better than that killer soundtrack, the secret weapon of GLOW has always been its cast. And "Freaky Tuesday" gives them all a chance to cut loose. With everybody swapping personas, the episode has the feel of a high-school theater cast party. And they're all so good at it! Tammé and Arthie (Sunita Mani) kill it as the Biddies; Jenny (Ellen Wong) makes for a shockingly accurate Brittanica, and Cherry (Sydelle Noel) is a scream as the sexually manic Melrose ("I'm 50, but I act like I'm 19!"). We see an entirely new side of Carmen when she emerges from backstage as the villainous, loudmouthed Welfare Queen. This, again, makes it all feel more like a real wrestling show, where the performers not only step into different gimmicks throughout their careers, but can often blossom when they go from playing a babyface "good guy" to a heel.
But the best is the character swap between Debbie and Ruth, GLOW's two top talents. This delivers on over two seasons of envy and simmering hostility between the two characters, but in a way that is not at all antagonistic. It's quite the feat. Debbie gets to walk in Ruth's shoes for a while, goose-stepping, cigar-chomping, and running down America at every turn as Zoya the Destroyer. And with the exception of an ill-fitting crotch on her leotard, she completely succeeds. Meanwhile, Ruth, consummate actress that she is, takes a different approach to Liberty Belle; she's not the Southern, god-and-country belle that Debbie plays. Instead, Ruth's Liberty Belle is a Midwestern Mary Ann, pigtails and all. It's so much fun to watch.
Not only is Tammé's chronic pain storyline advanced in a major way, but we get moments like Jenny being horrified at Melrose's version of the racist Fortune Cookie character, which ultimately drives home to her what she herself looks like playing such an ugly stereotype. Best of all, we get Sheila, our erstwhile She-Wolf, who has been spending her time in Vegas exploring the far-reaching corners of herself. More than almost anyone else in the cast, Sheila has been taking advantage of life at the casino (in an early Season 3 episode, she mentions she's been taking the free gambling lessons that the casino offers), she takes an acting class, and she befriends the casino's drag performer, Bobby (Kevin Cahoon), who is ultimately responsible for her one-night-only makeover as Liza Minnelli. It's tough to say which is the bigger delight: Gayle Rankin as Sheila as Liza, hamming it up to a degree we've never seen on this show before, or watching the other GLOW ladies marvel at her from backstage.
Despite the fact that Bash (Chris Lowell) seems utterly miserable throughout the "Freaky Tuesday" show (his announcing is halfway between genuine disdain at the unprofessional behavior of the women and cartoonish nothing-matters, light-up-a-cigarette bafflement), entertainment-director Sandy completely loves the show. And after receiving her kudos, Bash's mood swings to the other extreme, and he eagerly accepts Sandy's previous offer to extend the show nine months. This is news to Debbie, who had previously expressed reservations about the extension, and to Tammé, who'd been counting on that fast-approaching finish line to save her back. This is a superior standalone episode which sets everything up nicely for the final four-episode stretch of the season. "Freak Tuesday" truly has it all.
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Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: GLOW, Netflix, Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin