This year, we've asked 10 writers to pick some of their favourite TV episodes from 2017 and weigh in on why they were great stand-alone eps and the highlights of our viewing year. Today: Amy Plitt on GLOW's "Maybe It's All the Disco."
It hasn't exactly been easy to be a woman in the year of our lord 2017. (We're going to pause for a second to let you savour the understatement there.) Even before the Reckoning exposed monsters in every corner office and Hollywood boardroom, we've had to deal with a man who has been accused of assault by more than a dozen women – on tape, no less – and was then sworn in to the highest office in the land. And once he got there, Donald Trump got to work on systemically undermining women's health, from supporting a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, to making it easier for employers to not cover birth control coverage for so-called "moral" reasons. It's enough to make you want to tear your hair out – or get in a wrestling ring and kick some sleazy, patriarchy-upholding ass.
This is where GLOW comes in. It's not a surprise that the Netflix series, about the creation and ascension of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling in the 1980s, struck a chord with viewers – particularly female ones. Sure, it's a Lycra-drenched period piece about a scrappy band of would-be divas learning to find their inner Ultimate Warrior. But the show is also, at its core, a story about women in all their weird, messed-up, complicated glory – one that doesn't shy away from jokes about period sex or a character's miscarriage (referred to, at one point, as a "womb goof"), and gives its diverse, wonderful cast multiple chances to shine.
This elevation of women's interior lives is why the series' eighth episode, "Maybe It's All About the Disco," works so well. It's an altogether quieter affair, absent the theatrics and in-the-ring antics of previous episodes. The main storyline concerns Ruth (a pitch-perfect Alison Brie), who finds out that her ill-advised affair with Mark (Mad Men's Rich Sommer) – the estranged husband of her teammate/onetime bestie/current nemesis Debbie (Betty Gilpin) – has led to an unexpected, and obviously unwanted, pregnancy. She ultimately decides to get an abortion. While the procedure itself happens off-camera, everything that leads up to it feels downright revolutionary.
After one of their practices, the G.L.O.W. ladies discover that they’re all on the same menstrual cycle ("Sisters of the moon, rejoice!", one of them jokes). Ruth realizes that she's not synced; she may, in fact, have a bigger problem on her hands. Our heroine gets an extremely old-school pregnancy test, which looks like a chemistry set. She takes it back to the drab hotel room she shares with Sheila the She-Wolf. She waits. The results, of course, are not what she wanted – and Brie plays this scene perfectly, with just the right amount of anxiety and "oh fuck, what do I do know?" pathos. (The use of "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie, as Ruth waits for the test's results, may have been a little too on the nose, but we'll allow it.)
There's a brief moment at a run-down roller rink where Ruth sees a woman coaching her young son at a roller-skating rink, and we think that she just might change her mind. But, to the showrunners' credit, they know their character: she's career-minded, obsessed with making the whole wrestling thing work and enormously not ready for the responsibility of having a kid. Particularly one borne of an affair she would rather forget altogether.
"It's not the right time," she tells G.L.O.W. ringleader and sleazemaster Sam (Marc Maron), who accompanies her to the clinic for her abortion. "Not the right baby."
Her certainty about her decision, and the ease with which she makes it, is what makes this episode so impressive – and so radical. It's rare enough for a TV show to even mention the word abortion without getting completely hung up on the implications of that choice, let alone have a character go through with it without feeling regret or remorse for her decision. Think of it this way: The episode of Maude, in which the title character decides to have an abortion, is still held up as a touchstone of the genre ... and that happened in 1972. We haven’t come all that far in 45 years, it seems.
The episode also gives Maron a chance to show that Sam, for all of his sleaziness and seeming indifference to the feelings of the G.L.O.W. ladies, maybe has a bit of a soft spot beneath his crusty exterior. He jokes with Ruth at the abortion clinic, and – crucially, without pressuring her – makes sure she's okay with her choice. And for her, it's not a decision that’s fraught with complications; it just is.
Thanks to our current political climate, where the fight for a woman's right to choose is likely to become more difficult than it has been in decades, showing that abortion is, fundamentally, a medical procedure that a woman chooses, and that it can be no big deal, is so utterly vital. You never get the sense that Ruth is exactly happy about the abortion; it's more a relief that she was able to make that choice for herself and what's best for her life. May it still be a choice that we’re able to make in the near future.