8:28 pm EST, December 1, 2019

‘GLOW’ season 3, episode 9 recap: The Libertine Ball

GLOW season 3, episode 9 serves up a ball, the excellence of which transcends anything the series has put on. But not everyone is onboard with celebrating love.

GLOW has given us limited glimpses at the ring this season. However, there has still been plenty to enjoy, including the Freaky Friday-style performance. While there is one more big in-ring performance to see in season 3, episode 9 has another stage to populate.

Under the watchful eye of Debbie, and the direction of Bobby, the Libertine Ball is about celebrating the still mostly underground gay and lesbian community of Las Vegas and raising money for AIDS research.

One important point to remember — this is 1986, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. The show briefly touched on this in season 2 when the cleaners pointed out to Bash that this wasn’t their first time taking care of a room where a person with the illness once resided.

In the meantime, Ruth is spending her day off jetting to Los Angeles to audition for a part in Justine’s movie. But she promises that she will be back in time to perform with Shelia. What could possibly go wrong?

‘GLOW’ season 3, episode 9 recap

GLOW 3x09 debbie dinner

Everything is coming up Debbie

Debbie has been hustling this season. She hit a few speed bumps in her journey to carve a place for herself among the men around her, ones that rattled her self-confidence. But she overcame most, if not all, of her hurdles by this juncture — bringing her son out to Vegas, circumventing Bash at every turn to make the job work for her, taking over Bobby’s show to use her producing chops to get things done. She even landed a man who cares about her and seemingly wants to be a part of her life when he can.

Debbie is the polar opposite of Ruth, as she seems perfectly content to complain about the life that could have been without taking any steps to make it so. Their contrasting storylines have done a great deal for Debbie, but not so much for Ruth. And this ties in to how we see them interact with those around them. For example, when Debbie is seated next to “Tex” at the dinner table, she knows when to listen, when to insert herself into the conversation, and how to charm and absorb intel at the same time.

And just as she shows a multitude of layers, we get to see some of Tex’s in this episode when he shows up at the Libertine Ball. Though he is not the type that Debbie would expect to see in that space, and not one she would even think would support the cause at hand, Tex reveals that he lost a nephew to AIDS. He was 24.

Peeling back this particular facet of Tex added a bit more to their relationship. Not just that it is still early on and they can still surprise one another, but that these are two people who are happy to keep doing so. It’s not about the money or moxie or the drive they see in each other; there are deeper facets to each of them.

Just like she does with Tex, Debbie can also get through to Bobby. And Bobby is certainly the Belle of this ball, nothing more, nothing less. He rises to the occasion when Debbie guides him through the promotional hoops needed to get the word out to the Vegas strip. But the high rollers and locals are not quite ready to welcome the love that permeates that room.

This is one time we wish Debbie wasn’t great at her job. But she is, and word go out.

Everyone feels so free

GLOW 3x09 feature

The GLOW ladies get all dolled up for the ball, dressing in their finest and most freeing clothing. For all the support in the room that night, Yolanda does not vibe with their attendance. She says as much, too: “Great, a bunch of straight girls going to an underground drag ball. Just what everybody wanted.” She does not want to see them making the night about them — they will feel great because they supported a cause while she is fighting an uphill battle alone. Yolanda especially does not want Arthie to make this night about her and her conflicted feelings about being a lesbian.

But once the ball kicks off and Bobby is carried through the crowd by six buff men in a clear casket and awakened in full drag to a crowd of screaming fans, there is nothing left to do but celebrate. The evening contains songs, dances, performances, stories, and whatever happened with Bobby in the completely nude ensemble.

The night contains three big surprises — a monologue delivered by Shelia from Miss Julie, a special appearance by Geena Davis that nearly knocked me out, and a fire.

When Ruth does not make it back to the show on time to perform the scene with Shelia, Bobby pulls the old show biz card and forces Shelia to deliver something, anything to the crowd. In a powerful speech, she silences the room with the monologue that once saw her storm out of the acting class early on in the season. It’s powerful and stripped bare and beautiful. A thespian is born on that stage. Kudos to the GLOW writers for continually giving Gayle Rankin so much to work with every episode.

To close the night, Sandy Devereaux St. Clair, Miss Las Vegas Showgirl 1962, makes her way onto the stage in full Vegas regalia. That headpiece must weigh 50 pounds. She is stunning, in fantastic shape and even treats the crowd to a little number. That is until smoke begins to seep into the room and the party is over.

The crowds of people who were just celebrating life and love and the small taste of freedom find themselves on the street cowering in their revealing attire, reading hateful slurs and speech all over the walls.

Subtext becomes text … finally

GLOW 3x09 bash threesome sex

It’s time to make a move on some aspects of the show, and what better time than during the penultimate episode of the season? Ruth’s acting career, Debbie’s future in the business, and every single wrestler’s private and public ambitions all are addressed in some way, shape or form. It’s something that the show is quite good at balancing. But Bash Howard has not dealt with what has been just under the surface of his story since GLOW season 2.

Is Bash Howard gay? Bi? Straight? The answer bubbles up to a boil in this episode as Rhonda takes a stand to fix things in their relationship. When Bash is ignoring her to the point of flat out rejection, she discovers in GLOW season 3, episode 8 that she can get a rise out of him by making him jealous.

So, she speaks with Melanie, who is still “dating” the gigolo from the Fan-Tan bar. If she could borrow Paul for an afternoon to flirt with her, she can make Bash so jealous that they will at least get to have sex for the first time in months.

But Paul, known here as repair-man Joe, gets paid for the full package. Rhonda is more than happy to keep flirting but keeps one eye on Bash the entire time. Meanwhile, Bash keeps his eyes on Joe. The further Joe takes things with Rhonda, the more interested Bash becomes. Not jealous, per say, but intrigued to see Rhonda respond to desires that he possibly cannot provide her in the future. It’s an observation that allows him to open up another side of himself in that moment and explore what it might be like to tap into another desire he’s been burying for years.

The result is a threesome during which Bash gets to explore everything he wants to in the company of a stranger willing to sleep with him and in the presence of someone who loves him. Due to the public nature of this, the encounter is one that cannot be taken off the table. It is something that he will have to confront, not just with Rhonda, but with himself.

‘GLOW’ drops the other shoe

“Ruth, you’re a fucking nightmare.” Finally, Sam with a line delivery that tops anything Debbie says this episode!

In Los Angeles, Ruth arrives to audition for Sam and Justine. I’ve been back and forth on their relationship for seasons, and when Ruth walked in the room and saw Sam, my heart fluttered a bit. I’m human, okay?

And Ruth’s audition was fine! I thought she showed up and read the lines just as well and anyone who was probably in that waiting room. She was even better than most of them. But she has it in her head that the part is hers, that she is the star they were waiting for. And that little bubble of self-inflated ego that floated to her head blocked a truly genuine performance.

Because, as we see in the scenes that follow, Alison Brie can act, and she can do it very, very well. After the audition, she agrees to grab a drink with Sam before heading back to Vegas for the showcase with Shelia. Here, she musters up the courage to tell Sam that she does have feelings for him, much to his delight! And to my dismay because once these two are over their will-they-won’t-they, I find myself firmly planted in Won’t They territory. GLOW giveth and GLOW taketh.

On paper, these two are perfect for each other: the belief in one another, the shared creative drive, the appreciation of the business and the understanding of the hurdles and setbacks, as well as a very intimate knowledge of their histories. It makes perfect sense that these two should be a couple.

But it also feels wrong. Something is off kilter, and in the scene outside the restaurant where Sam has to deliver the news that Ruth did not get the part hits on exactly why it won’t work — age. This is not a relationship measured by numbers, but by maturity. Both Sam and Ruth have hot-headed personalities and want what they want when they want it, talent and social skills be damned.

Sam is on the path to repairing what is left of his career in Hollywood while also building a new relationship with his daughter. He is figuring out how to be a coworker, a partner, and a father to a kid who needs a mentor as well as parental support. For him, it is a lot of work and takes daily efforts to make it happen. Plus, he’s been sick.

Ruth has been in Vegas with one eye on the door that will lead her to Los Angeles where she isn’t even sure what comes next. Does she want to do a play? Does she want to work in the film industry? Does she want to move in with her boyfriend? It’s all decisions made on a whim that she hopes will pan out. Regardless, she only has her sights set on the end result — the red carpet or opening night with dinner waiting for her at the end of each day at home.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Shelia and Debbie, and even Jenny, are making moves to carve out a place for themselves in the future. Shelia is performing at the showcase and taking acting lessons and branching out from her wolf identity through her relationship with Bobby. Debbie is doing all the things discussed above. And Jenny is designing costumes and wanting to be credited and paid her due for bringing her own skills to the show.

There is a lot of room for Ruth to improve, and she is not making any effort to move beyond her station. She is Zoya for now, but what about when the show moves or ends? She has the director title but doesn’t use it to introduce any new elements to the show. Ruth looks so small and stubborn and scared when she is faced with Sam on that street corner in Los Angeles.

As Sam stands there and projects all of these feelings that Ruth may or may not have about him, she cannot muster up a response, nor can she commit to leaving with him. She’s valid to feel rejected and embarrassed and ashamed. And she’s right, going home with Sam even just to talk is only going to feel like he is being nice because she is sad and he wants to have sex. It’s a scary time for her, and Sam getting pissed off and going away doesn’t help. But there is no right answer for how or when these two should be together. This certainly isn’t it. However, the stars may never align.

At least the air is cleared.

Final thoughts

  • I have one note that did not make it into this review, but could have been the entire piece: “Debbie is owning the shit out of that suit.”

Next up: The GLOW season 3 finale takes a Christmas-centric spin.

GLOW season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.

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