Warning: This story contains spoilers for the first season of GLOW. I am not a wrestler, so please don't beat me up.
There are a lot of great things about GLOW, Netflix's new ensemble comedy about a group of women starring in a 1980s wrestling show: the big perms, neon spandex, and Marc Maron's mustache are all good examples. But perhaps the best thing GLOW has going for it is, at its core, a love story — about two female friends.
In the very first episode, Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), aspiring actress and failed waitress, clears her head after a bad audition by going to a very '80s dance class with her best friend, Debbie Egan (Betty Gilpin). As only a very close friend can do, she points out that Debbie's boobs are leaking — she's still breastfeeding her newborn son — and hands her the sweater she's wearing. Later, Ruth finds herself in Debbie's car with no money, and no keys, having been robbed by a posse of teenage boys. Debbie comforts her by handing her the spare key Ruth gave her ages ago, and that she kept handy for emergencies like this one. Awwww.
This long introduction to what looks like a genuinely deep and sweet friendship is truly rude, given what comes next: Debbie finds out that Ruth slept with her husband, and confronts her about it in a very public way, simultaneously creating a riff between the two friends, and cementing their starring roles in a show about female wrestling.
Another show would have devoted the next nine episodes to Ruth's quest to win over the man she had a two-night affair with, or her realization that she can do better when she meets a nice handsome doctor/lawyer/sensitive artist who shows her what true love actually looks like. They'd flirt, the tension would build, we'd wonder if they'd go through with it, and then there'd be a big finale. In GLOW, the traditional romantic arc is applied to her friendship with Debbie.
The two duke it out in the ring as Zoya The Destroyer and Liberty Bell — their wrestling personalities, and a loose metaphor for the Cold War — and their private interactions are no less brutal. Debbie takes every possible chance she gets to humiliate Ruth, who, let's face it, is easy to mock. Ruth on the other hand is determined to make it up to her friend, but not at the expense of her own career. And like the Soviet Union and the United States, the two dance around the conflict, keeping us guessing about whether or not they'll eventually make up, in a scenario that comes complete with moments of escalation and detente.
Alison Brie recently told The Cut that Ruth and Debbie's relationship "is at the heart of what makes this a really feminist show, that the lives of these women don’t really revolve around men at all. They have a singular focus and it’s on themselves and what they are working toward."
It's rare to see female friendships depicted on screen with the weight and importance that they carry in real life. Towards the end of the season, in a moment where the two friends converse almost casually, on the brink of forgetting that they're not supposed to be talking, Debbie says: “Sometimes, I’m so sad you took away the option of us ever being able to have a normal fucking conversation.” That line literally left me reeling. Female friendships can be crushing when they fall apart, and they're often discounted as less important or traumatic than a romantic breakup. (They're not.)
There is no man in Ruth's life at the end of the show. She's discovered a new career, and a new purpose, something she's truly great at. And while she and Debbie aren't quite friends again, there's hope — their final fight is as touching a reunion as any kiss-in-the-rain montage.
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