Monday, June 26, 2017

REVIEW: 'GLOW' - Sheila Reveals Herself to Ruth in a Personal and Surprising Way in 'The Dusty Spur'

Netflix's GLOW - Episode 1.04 "The Dusty Spur"

With just five weeks left to crank out a show, Sam and Bash move all the ladies into a motel. Ruth struggles to nail down a memorable character.

Unexpected character moments can often have a profound effect on the other characters as well as the audience. I wasn't expecting Sheila talking about her life to be the first moment in this series to get me extremely emotional. And yet, that's exactly what occurs in "The Dusty Spur." This is her spotlight episode that further explores her life as it's being defined by this new wrestling opportunity. It's a fascinating exploration of identity. Her personal identity is so radically different from what everyone else thinks of her the first time they meet her. In the early going of the show, she was the woman who came into a room wearing wolf make-up. It's been good for a couple of solid jokes in the early episodes. She walked into this job already having an identity that could become a wrestling persona. Whereas Ruth is really struggling with her identity on the show, Sheila already had things perfect. But this isn't something she is doing for the show. It's something that she does in order to feel her genuine self. It's not a costume or a construct to unnerve people. It's not her going full method as an actress. This is the woman she wants to be and is always crushed when everyone else in the world fails to take her seriously. But when someone does, it can be incredibly beautiful as well.

The episode starts with Sheila putting her make-up on. It shows that all of this is a process. It includes a ton of eyeliner, a wig that needs to lay just right and even discoloring of her teeth. That's the line that shows there may be more going on with her. She is so committed to this identity that she's willing to disfigure her teeth. She's not striving to be a beautiful woman who is well respected in the world. Instead she's putting all of this on in order to feel her genuine self. She feels much more real and in tune with who she is when she's wearing all of this than she is when it's all stripped away. She does all of this for herself. She's not putting on a show to entertain other people. That's what everyone else thinks she's doing. Ruth believes she's committed herself fully to this job. It's an admirable quality to her. Meanwhile, Sam and Bash are just trying to find new ways to exploit it. They don't care that she identifies as a wolf. To the men, they see no difference between a wolf and a werewolf. Sheila does. One is a mythical creature that doesn't exist while the other is how she feels on a deep spiritual level. She has accepted that her spirit is a wolf. This is how she expresses herself. She wants others to understand but she's standoffish as well. She doesn't open herself up to others so that they have the potential to understand her either. That's a key moment that is put to the test through the events of this episode.

Sam and Bash have decided to have the ladies of wrestling live together in the same motel. It's an idea they had after a weekend of doing drugs and figuring out the details of the show. They had the freedom to do that. They aren't presenting it as a choice to the ladies though. This is something that they must do. Except Debbie of course because she gets special treatment. They have to live together and they can't do any drugs. So, it's not going to be as freeing an experience as it was for Sam and Bash. They want to impart these rules to limit the amount of fun and trouble that the ladies can get into. They can say that it is to protect the production of the show. But it also feels like oppression because they are telling women what they can and cannot do. They are ripping them away from their lives so that the show is their only priority in life. Some of them are thrilled to do so. Ruth walks away from a sad apartment with leftover Chinese food and a little bit of boxed wine. Rhonda has a place to live after being homeless in her car. Carmen is thrilled to finally be living with other women and escape from the controlling demands of her father. But not everyone is happy. It takes Cherry out of her domestic bliss. It's all for a job where she isn't being appreciated as much as she should. Her life is being uprooted just so she can have a shorter commute to work and no hot water in the morning. She and her husband are still able to be together. But it's not the same and that's entirely because of Sam and Bash.

All of this also forces Ruth and Sheila together. That's a strange and unexpected character pairing. As soon as the episode opened with the focus on Sheila, it was clear that she was going to have some kind of interaction with Ruth. That's just the way television works. Everything is somewhat filtered through the lead character's reaction to it. Things are tense at first. Ruth is mocking the costume. She fails to understand what is truly going on with Sheila. Instead, she is unsettled by it. Sheila has demands for their living arrangement. Ruth has to be extremely quiet at night or risk waking Sheila up. Of course, that ultimately happens during the first night at the motel. Things are taken a step further when Ruth questions why Sheila doesn't remove all of the costuming while she sleeps. She fails to understand and that's heartbreaking. It makes Sheila become completely vicious towards her. It vilifies Ruth even more. She doesn't know any better either. When things reach their breaking point by Sheila bringing a dead squirrel into the room, it forces a confrontation to take place. Ruth doesn't know how to talk to Sheila about this serious subject of her identity. But she doesn't want to easily label her as a freak either. In the end, that's all that ultimately matters. Ruth sees Sheila as a person who identifies as a wolf. She takes it seriously and that's enough to open the door to an honest conversation. Sure, Ruth still tries to make the moment about herself and how she connects with this struggle. She can never fully understand. But she's at least trying and is more open to accepting Sheila than anyone else. That's a major step of improvement.

Elsewhere, the other ladies are trying to get more comfortable with their new wrestling personas. For some, it's easy. The nerd vs. party girl dynamic works for Rhonda and Melrose. Tammé and Carmen have a lot of fun in the ring showing off their dynamic to the group. And yet, Tammé has concerns about the racial stereotypes of her character as well. Sam tries to assuage her doubts by saying it's a biting commentary that exposes the flaws of the system. But he may be reading too much into things while failing to grasp how wrestling fans will ultimately view it. Tammé is worried about how her son will react to it. And instead, Sam just gives her a bunch of his films to watch back at the motel. That's an amusing sequence because it's the ladies bonding as a group while also laughing at Sam's work. It's absolutely ridiculous but he is incredibly proud of it. He's trying to bring the same energy to this project too. And then, it continues to be fun to see the growing dynamic between Bash and Carmen. They are kindred spirits of sorts. They are both failing to live up to their parents' expectations for them. They also both have a deep respect for the history of wrestling. When Carmen's wrestler father shows up, he's not understanding of the life she has chosen. Instead, he fails to see this as anything good for her because female wrestlers just aren't taken seriously. He just wants his daughter to worry about starting a family with a nice boy. Bash fails to live up to that ideal. He tries faking a romance and it doesn't work. But it's also empowering to see Carmen stand up to her father and fight for something she actually wants to do. That's a great moment.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Dusty Spur" was written by Sascha Rothchild and directed by Melanie Mayron.
  • I will not recognize any of the wrestling cameos that the show has sprinkled throughout the season. But it should be noted that Carmen's two brothers are played by Brodus Clay and Carly Colón. That's an interesting decision. Her dad being an actual actor probably means he'll be seen more in the future as well.
  • Mark returns wanting to live in the house with Debbie and their son again. He feels that he has a right to be there because he paid for all of it. That's the danger of the happiness Debbie found when she left her career for this life. Now that it's been destroyed, it can be used as a weapon against her when all she wants is to be far away from Mark.
  • It's still incredibly isolating for Debbie at the top as well. She's getting special treatment from the producers. She gets what she wants from them. But she's not bonding with the rest of the ladies. She's not going through the same ordeal as they are. She gets a room all to herself when she moves into the motel. And even when she seeks solace in the pool, Ruth is there as well.
  • There may only be a pool between Ruth and Debbie in that final shot but it may as well be an ocean. There are no closer to healing their bond. They are still completely separated from each other. They are each going through their own struggles and can no longer count on each other for support.
  • It's fun to see everyone puzzled when Keith shows up. They have no idea who this man walking around in his underwear and a robe is. And yet, he quickly bonds with them and has a little insight into Sam as well. To him, Sam is more of a sexist than a racist. So that makes it even more puzzling why he has decided to work on this show.
  • It is hilarious that Sam taped over his own movie with a video dating tape. Sure, it's an easy laugh because it only works because of the absurdity of the time period. This is what people had to do in this moment of time. The ladies get a good laugh out of it as well. Just as much as the movie that they were watching - which is called Blood Disco.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.