GLOW’s second season left off with the cast, and their director, getting on a bus to their uncertain future in Las Vegas; we rejoin them in their new home, the (fictional) Fan-Tan Hotel and Casino, on the morning of January 28, 1986, as they prepare for their very first show! Debbie and Ruth have been booked on a local morning show to plug G.L.O.W. while in character and join the host in watching the live launch of a new space shuttle! Ruth gets so wrapped up in her roast — “Maybe I challenge her crew to chess game,” etc. — that she’s not looking at the monitor when the shuttle explodes, thus accidentally pushing the limits of heel trash talk. Probably half legitimately horrified at herself and half wallowing in self-recrimination so that she can recall this feeling in future sense-memory work, Ruth is not in the best mood to learn that Russell’s been called in to work on disaster-related news content, and thus won’t be able to make it to the show that night.
But maybe there won’t even be one? Outside the theater, the G.L.O.W. producers debate whether to push the opening: Debbie doesn’t want to appear as though they’re dancing on astronauts’ graves; Bash may mostly not want to have to postpone the opening-night party he’s planned. Enter the hotel’s entertainment director, Sandy Devereaux St. Clair (Geena Davis!), with a little old-Vegas perspective. She was around when the MGM fire happened; no one knew what to do then either, until Sandy’s old dance captain, Fluff LaCoque (please, please, please let us meet this lady at some point this season; I am picturing Swoosie Kurtz), came into the theater, announced, “Well, it doesn’t smell like smoke in here!,” and they were back on the next night. “Well, that’s terrible,” spits Debbie. Sandy: “No, that’s Vegas, Mrs. Howard.” Testily, Debbie reintroduces herself and reminds Sandy of her actual title; Sandy breezily apologizes, having been mistaken for many men’s wives in her career, but Debbie later crabs to Sam that she doesn’t like Sandy. “Well, sure,” Sam shrugs. “Nobody likes the Ghost of Christmas Future.” Devastating in its possible accuracy!
Sam and the cast run through a lighting rehearsal, where we see that the show hasn’t changed dramatically since its grand finale, though Dawn and Stacey have been busted back town to Biddies, now reimagined as bawdy slot jockeys with, of course, many one-liners on a “slot as euphemism for vagina” theme. Ruth, being Ruth, thinks they should address the Challenger disaster in the show — have Britannica, their resident scientist, do a riff on how even very smart people sometimes get things wrong, like … bloodletting! This pitch is not successful, and she moves on to rehearsing the zip-line stunt, but gets stuck halfway down, and is hanging there when the fire alarm goes off and everyone has to evacuate the building. Outside, Jenny panics that she started another notorious hotel fire trying to smudge out the bad luck by lighting incense in their windowless dressing room, but Sandy confides to Debbie that she pulled the false alarm to give everyone a “reset” she could then “apologize” for with complimentary champagne and gaming chips. Debbie can’t help seeing her with newfound respect, but says her cast will need more than these bagatelles to get in the right headspace to perform that night. No problem: Sandy hands her a whole rack of chips.
Cue the team of Cherry (throwing) and Sheila (blowing) tearing up the craps table on a winning streak! Only Ruth, being Ruth, can’t let herself be cheered, so Debbie pulls her outside to look at the marquee and savor the moment: “Everyone is up. Don’t bring them down into your sinkhole of despair.” This is also when we learn that Debbie has apparently been amusing herself, once she’s taken off her producer hat every night, by also taking off everything else and boning hot yet interchangeable valets.
GET YOURS, LADY.
Elsewhere, Bash is panicking about his party — which, of course, was space-themed. He’s spiraling because this will be the first party he’s ever thrown without Florian (though he stops short of saying his name), but Rhonda talks him down, in the course of which she tells him she loves him, apparently for the first time, judging by his reaction. They kiss, and when she starts undressing him, he reminds her (and us), “I thought you weren’t sure if you wanted to.” She wants to. I had thought, in the season two finale, that Rhonda’s hesitation about letting Bash go through with the wedding was due, in part, to her knowing he’s not that interested in women sexually — she’s been around the block more than Carmen, who I do believe might develop a crush on Bash as sincere as it is doomed, as we saw in her reaction to his spontaneous proposal — but that could be true and Rhonda could have also come around to loving Bash in whatever way works for both of them right now.
And then it’s time for the show! Sam comes on the PA for another of his emotionally confused pep talks, but Debbie snaps off the speaker to do one herself. She wasn’t sure they could pull it together after this morning, she says, which is when we learn that Reggie and at least one of the Biddies already forgot about the Challenger explosion. Debbie’s positive spin is that they moved forward and did their jobs, but then Ruth, BEING RUTH, can’t help obliviously undermining Debbie by interrupting her flow and requesting a moment of silence. Rhonda comes in mid-silence to hide party balloons, and since they aren’t all securely bagged, church giggles and balloon-goofing ensue.
Even Ruth can’t help but get over herself.
We only see bits of the show itself, but the audience is warm and receptive, and it seems like it’s going to work. And then it’s time for the party!
I realize this is a cliché, but Ruth’s very short, very bold dress is so out of character for her that I literally did not recognize her at first. The “holy shit” with which Sam greets her appearance suggests he is also shocked and impressed. We’ve all had that moment when someone compliments a garment and we delight in responding with its impressively low price; Ruth, BEING RUTH, goes one further by saying Sheila found it for her in the hotel’s lost and found, lol. “And you ruined it,” huffs Sam. “I mean, I don’t need to know that. Now I’m thinking about how it got there!”
Nonetheless, he invites her for a drink in his room, where he recalls that, while he was making his first movie, Robert Kennedy was shot. It was especially jarring since everyone on his set was covered in (fake) blood, but they kept working. (Given that, in our timeline, many of us are working on things that can sometimes feel trivial in the middle of a very different, continuously unfolding national tragedy: I get it.) Ruth tells Sam that her dad, a science teacher, was watching the launch with his eighth-grade class; she didn’t call him to check in afterward because she knew she’d “fall apart” if she heard his voice.
There’s a charged vibe between them that Ruth stiffly ends, and they head out to the party, running into a suspicious Debbie in the hallway. They’ve just boarded the elevator when everyone else starts coming out of their rooms and joining them, excitedly complimenting one another’s fancy party lewks. The doors are closing when Rhonda breathlessly appears: She ran down from the party so that she could ride back up with her sisters, and though this episode was so expository and plotty that it doesn’t belong in the series Hall of Fame, I am such a sucker for these little moments of love and fellowship among the Gorgeous Ladies, and if Sam has to get OFF the elevator because their energy is too much for him, well then, that’s too bad for him.
• I loved the tiny moment of Tammé sheltering Sheila from the January desert chill in her Welfare Queen coat.
• Sam proudly telling Bash he thinks he just gave the cast his “best pep talk,” which neither we nor they actually heard.
• I want to know everything about the casting of Ray Xifo as legendary Fan-Tan choreographer Bernie Rubenstein, which gives us this gorgeous tableau, and yes, they are standing on the same stair.