GLOW (2017), Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot

The pilot episode opens with actress Ruth Wilder auditioning for a part. She thanks the casting director, Mallory, for letting her read for such a strong female character. During the audition, it is revealed that Ruth read for the wrong part, as she was actually auditioning for the role of the secretary, not the male lead. From the outset, Ruth is established as a person who sees herself as a strong female lead and it is implied that she may have more ambition than acting ability.

Dejected, Ruth exits into a waiting room full of other hopeful actresses, presumably waiting to audition for the same secretary role.

Cut to Ruth in a public toilet stall, playing a newspaper crossword puzzle. When Ruth sees Mallory enter a bathroom stall, Ruth confronts her about the part. Mallory admits that she only brings Ruth in for auditions to show directors that they do not want to hire a “real” person like Ruth, the subtext being that Ruth is not getting work as an actress. Mallory offers to set Ruth up with auditions for “experiemental” roles and Ruth scoffs at the idea of doing porn. Ruth says she is “interested in real parts, not secretaries telling powerful men their wives are on line two” and Mallory figures out that Ruth intentionally read for the wrong part in the audition. In addition to learning about Ruth’s boundary issues from this scene, we also learn that Ruth would rather take an unconventional role than a bit role.

In true 80s fashion, Ruth meets up with her friend Debbie at an aerobics class. Ruth offers up her sweatshirt to Debbie when her friend began to visibly lactate.

In the women’s locker room, Ruth tells Debbie that she was offered the chance to do pornography. Ironically, the audience gets an eyeful of Ruth in a state of undress as she denounces the idea of doing porn. Debbie suggests that Ruth is too inhibited to perform in porn and that the only way she would do it was if it was Shakespearean or had a drama-nerd bend. Debbie asks why Ruth does not hang out anymore and Ruth says her poor financial situation is weighing on her. Debbie, the former soap opera star, suggests that Ruth should get married and have a child like she did, but Ruth indicates that she prefers to stand on her own. To close out the scene, Ruth makes a passive aggressive remark about motherhood.

At Ruth’s dingy studio apartment, she squashes a bug against the wall and checks her telephone messages (on her answering machine). Mallory left a message, saying that she got Ruth an audition calling for “unconventional women” and mentioned that the gig is not porn. Mallory warns that she will have Ruth blacklisted from Hollywood if she ever corners her in the bathroom again. Ruth is elated by the news of her upcoming audition.

Ruth drives up to the audition in a beat up yellow Volkswagen and spots a sketchy handwritten sign reading “girls”. That must be the place. Ruth enters an old warehouse and sits on the bleachers with the other hopefuls. As the “unconventional women” talk amongst themselves, it is clear that none of them know what the audition is for. The moustachioed Sam Sylvia enters and stands in front of an empty wrestling ring. He explains that the audition is for GLOW, the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, a women’s pro wrestling show. Sam states that anyone uncomfortable with taking bumps can leave. About half of the women file out and Sam lights a cigarette. Sam congratulates the women who stayed for surviving the first round of cuts. Sam tells the ladies that he will begin circulating a waiver absolving him of liability in case of “injury and/or death” during training. During the scene, we learn that Sam has worked in the entertainment industry, and it came out that he made at least one “trashy” vampire movie.

Sam meets the women individually and we get a snapshot of the diverse cast of characters we could see down the road, including hairdressers, a possible minor, a woman who is excited to throw things, a Blaxploitation actress, and others. Sam eventually meets with Ruth, who brags about her acting credentials, having done plays in Omaha, “mask work and a clowning workshop”. It is also clear that Ruth is ignorant about pro wrestling, asking whether Sam is hiring actors to play pro wrestlers or whether the actors are the pro wrestlers.

Back in Ruth’s apartment, Ruth is leaving a voicemail for her parents, presumably. She asks them to wire her $200.00 to pay her telephone bill and for grocery money. Ruth promises it is the last time she will ask them for money. Before she hangs up, she mentions that she got a callback for a job and asks them to wish her luck.

A man knocks on Ruth’s apartment window and Ruth is startled. The man is revealed to be Mark, a former lover of Ruth’s, who entered through the window. He claimed he went through the window to respect Ruth’s wishes about not wanting anyone to know about the relationship. Mark says he cannot stop thinking about Ruth and Ruth tells Mark that he should return home to his family. Ruth states the affair was a mistake and that she was at a low point in her life. Mark says they both deserve “attention? and sex.”

Thus sex.

Back at the audition, Sam is in the ring with the women surrounding the ring on the apron. Sam says he will be casting 12 women over the next two days based on three factors: 1) can they move in the ring; 2) can they follow directions; and, 3) whether Sam likes their faces.

Salty ‘The Sack’ Johnson (a.k.a. Johnny Mundo, John Morrison, et al.), “two-time champion of some stuff”, begins to train the women on how to properly execute a forward roll.

The ladies demonstrate their forward rolls for Sam and he begins to make cuts. Ruth and the others are surprised that cuts are happening so soon in the process. Ruth does her forward roll for Sam and she is overly pleased by her execution; however, Sam was not looking and seemed disinterested.

Next, Johnson demonstrates how to run the ropes and Sam continues to make cuts. We see a montage of awful rope-running and Sam’s apathy.

Johnson demonstrates the hairmare by having an auditioner flip him by his hair.

Ruth meets with Carmen, her hairmare partner, to go over the move, but Ruth asks what her motivation is as a character and what is the backstory for their altercation. Carmen is confused by Ruth’s question. At that time, Ruth tells Carmen that they need to do something drastic to keep from getting cut and assures Carmen that she understands how things work as an actress.

Sylvia evaluates the women’s progress with the hairmare. Sylvia complements Cherry and “Pippi Longstocking” on their execution.

Ruth and Carmen enter the ring to perform the move, but Ruth backs away from Carmen to launch into a lengthy backstory for their move. Ruth feigns that she is a thief to feed her family and Carmen is the aggrieved party. Sam indicates that all they had to do was execute the hairmare and cuts both of the women for failing to follow the rules. Ruth says they improvised because they were not given enough direction. Sam makes a dismissive comment about actresses and decides to fire only one of the two ladies, depending on who can make the better pitch. Ruth says she is an actress and she will work hard. Carmen says she is the daughter of Goliath Jackson, a pro wrestling legend, and part of the famous Jackson wrestling family. Sam decides to go with the “dynasty”. Ruth exits.

At a taco stand, Ruth is accosted by street youths as the sun sets in the background. They knock her food to the ground and steal her purse. She chases them.

Cut to Ruth, dishevelled, sitting in a parking lot by her car in the dark. A wood-panelled station wagon pulls up, headlights beaming. It is Debbie. In Debbie’s car, Ruth realizes she does not have a key for her apartment. Debbie says she still might have Ruth’s spare key. Ruth rummages through her friend’s bag and retrieves the key. On the keychain, there is a photograph of Debbie and Mark. It becomes clear that Ruth has been having an affair with her friend’s husband. Debbie asks if Ruth would like to come over for dinner, but she declines, saying she has to attend a scene study class.

At the acting class, Ruth does a monologue from Cat On A Hot Tin Roof in a put-on accent. She notices her instructor is sleeping and she throws her book at him. Angrily, Ruth exclaims that she paid for the class and it is the only place she gets to do what she wants. Ruth states that she has nowhere else to go. She comes to the conclusion that she should give pro wrestling a more serious chance (despite being cut).

We see Ruth back in her apartment in front of her TV. She is watching professional wrestling, taking notes as Hulk Hogan is introduced on the screen. Ruth lifts furniture emulating bodyslams and works on costumes as she sees Ric Flair in one of his classic robes. Ruth tests out gimmicks like “Premenstrual Cycle” and works on promos and moves. By the end of the scene, Ruth is exhausted, laid out on her floor.

Cut to Sam snorting cocaine off of his desk in his office. He walks out to the ring area and tells the auditioners to get ready. Ruth bursts in wearing a ridiculous costume with face paint, rubber gloves with the fingertips cut off, and a shoelace headband. She points to Sam and she claims that he is wrong about her and he replies that he doubts it. Ruth cuts a nonsensical promo in the middle of the ring, which concludes in Hoganian fashion. In storms Debbie, who is furious, and she asks Ruth whether Ruth had an affair with her husband, Mark. Ruth admits that she messed up, as Debbie stalks and pushes her in the ring. Debbie suggests that Ruth should know from her scene study class that things do not just happen and that everybody makes choices. Conflicted, Debbie states that she just wants to beat up Ruth and then never see her again. Ruth exclaims that she does not want to fight her friend. Ruth hits her friend in the face trying to escape a bearhug and apologizes for the contact. The elbow upsets Debbie and she pursues Ruth. Ruth tries to flee and Debbie pulls her off the bottom rope. One bystander asks, “is this real?” and another responds, “who the f–k cares?”

As Ruth and Debbie roll around the ring in the old warehouse, Sam begins to imagine what that fight could look like under the bright studio lights of GLOW. Instead of the dusty, rundown warehouse, Sylvia’s vision entails Ruth and Debbie wrestling in a well-lit soundstage in front of a live, raucous audience. The ring is clean with pink ropes. Ruth no longer has a budget costume – she looks like a proper 80s heel in the mold of Sherri Martel with big hair and darkly stained lips. Ruth musters up some nasty heel mannerisms and viciousness while her friend is the sultry babyface clad in gold. Ruth gains the upper hand in the match, climbs to the second turnbuckle, taunts the crowd, and leaps onto her friend. This is a standout scene in the episode for sure.

Back in reality, Johnson asks Sam if he wants him to call it and Sam responds in the affirmative. Johnson slides in the ring and makes the three-count as Debbie pins Ruth to the mat.

Overall, the pilot episode of the Netflix Original Series GLOW is outstanding television. The pilot episode of GLOW stays true to the source material provided by the original GLOW television series and the decade that spawned it without overdoing it. Much like Netflix’s Stranger Things, GLOW has an authentically 80s vibe from elements like the costumes, props, makeup, and music. The nostalgia factor is kept at arm’s length, which gives the story and performances room to breathe.

While I expected GLOW to be a campy romp set in the 80s with a pro wrestling backdrop akin to WWE’s Southpaw Regional Wrestling, I cannot justly say I was disappointed with the final result. GLOW has funny moments and knowing nods to pro wrestling’s faithful like Southpaw Regional Wrestling; however, GLOW really shines in its intelligent and deliberate storytelling, colorful cast of characters, and strong performances.

Even as a fan of the television series Community, I questioned whether actress Alison Brie had the range and presence to carry a television show and her performance in the pilot episode of GLOW resounding put my doubts to rest. In this episode, we saw Brie act like an uncertain, bad actress trying to cut an over-the-top 80s-style pro wrestling promo and somehow she excels at these types of layered and nuanced performances. Consternation, conflicted emotions, and simultaneous self-doubt and unwarranted ambition are all part of Brie’s wheelhouse. We saw a glimpse of what Ruth can become as a pro wrestling heel in this episode and I am eager to watch her journey.

It took a little bit of time to get into the story, but I never lost interest overall. The pilot episode of GLOW did exactly what a pilot is supposed to do: leave me wanting more. “Is this real? Who the f–k cares?” This has been the retort of many pro wrestling fans ever since the genre was ‘exposed’ and the creators of Netflix’s GLOW get it. The stage has been set for a very interesting first season of GLOW and I am excited to see how it all plays out. *****

Recommended viewing: GLOW: The Story Of The Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling documentary provides some context for those unfamiliar with the original GLOW television series from the 1980s.