SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched season 2 of “GLOW.”
Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch sat down to write the second season of “GLOW” with a key question on their minds: “Does Ruth deserve happiness, and does Debbie have to watch it?”
The series launched with the revelation that Ruth (Alison Brie) slept with her best friend Debbie’s (Betty Gilpin) husband, fracturing their friendship and deeply complicating their working relationship after they were both cast on the show-within-the-show about women’s wrestling. So for the second season, the writers wanted to “be able to talk about what their friendship was like before the betrayal and how to get that back,” Flahive tells Variety, as well as what Debbie could do to Ruth where “Ruth could have, for a moment, the upper hand and feel the injustice of something.”
That theme played out on the smaller, less showy side, starting with Debbie becoming a producer on the show, but quickly worked its way up to much bigger moments, including Debbie’s unsupportive reaction over Ruth’s #MeToo experience and later injuring her in the wrestling ring.
“While the entertainment business around us [in the show-within-the-show] can be very sexist and tumultuous, they have this little island where they can create this kind of feminist, empowering civilization — where they can sort of try out their bravest selves in a safe space,” Gilpin says. “I don’t think that [Debbie] would be asking to be a producer on ‘Paradise Cove,’ her soap opera, but I think that because she has absorbed this bravery of the women around her, she’s sort of testing herself.”
A former ingenue who “believed the world around her when it told her that the things that were valuable about her were things that were going to expire — youth and beauty,” Gilpin says, Debbie has had the rug pulled out from under her. In the middle of a divorce and finding that the tenets of her life are crumbling, she’s finally “allowing herself to think in ways that she never thought before — and dream in ways that she never knew she was allowed to dream.”
The power grab for a producer cemented Debbie as more of an alpha to Ruth’s beta, which both Brie and Gilpin admit has been a problem in their relationship from the start. “I think Debbie is used to being in control with Ruth and used to having status,” Gilpin says.
“It goes deeper than Ruth slept with Mark,” Brie agrees. “Clearly there’s been an uneven power dynamic in this friendship for its entirety. … Ruth has always been made to feel less than and acted out in a way that I think even surprised her.”
So when Debbie started to see Ruth inching toward success of her own — and pursuing a new romantic relationship — she used her new power to keep Ruth from achieving too much happiness.
And then came Ruth’s #MeToo moment, when she was propositioned by the head of the network. She confided in Debbie, who was less than supportive. “Ruth’s a really naive character; she hasn’t worked a lot in the industry, and that’s not something she had to deal with before, and I think Debbie’s reaction to that whole situation shakes her up even more — to realize that women are pitted against each other in that way and there’s not a support system there,” Brie says.
For Brie and Gilpin, performing the scene at a time when such conversations have become forefront, what felt different from other #MeToo stories was Debbie’s reaction. Although they admit there were “mixed feelings” at first, the discussion in working out the scene became about the importance of that moment within that time period.
“It was so ingrained in women’s minds that they should act a certain way, and a character like Debbie has been in situations like that more times than Ruth can even imagine and has had to make her own compromises to propel her career, and she can’t understand why Ruth can’t play the game,” Brie says. “That is a significant and important difference between then and the moment that we’re having now where women are really vocal and supporting one another and we all see how much power there is in supporting one another.”
Then the two women found themselves squaring off in the wrestling ring, and Debbie “drunk and on cocaine and out of control” twisted Ruth’s leg so hard, she fractured her ankle.
“A lot of this season is about Debbie tapping into her rage, and sometimes she’s able to funnel it into the character of Liberty Belle in a safe way, and I think that this time it was just too much for her, and all she could see was Ruth in front of her and just blind hatred towards her,” says Gilpin. “I don’t think she meant to break her ankle, but I do think that her brain was operating on pretty simple sentences and maybe ‘Kill Ruth’ was in there once or twice.”
Despite the violence of the act, Brie says she loved that it brought more balance to the women’s friendship — given that Ruth never apologized for her part in Debbie’s marriage crumbling. It wasn’t until Debbie, coming down off the drugs, visited her in the hospital that they were finally able to air their grievances.
“We saw them use wrestling as a band-aid, in terms of using it as a form to be close to each other physically and learn to work together without addressing any of their personal issues,” Brie says.
“I never thought Ruth’s indiscretion with Debbie’s husband was a premeditated, malicious event in any way. I think Ruth’s very naive sometimes even to her own emotions, and she does spend a lot of time on this show, in both seasons, taking s—. She’s been bowing down to Debbie and letting her walk all over her, and in this fight, that’s the thing that she needs to vocalize.”
Gilpin says that whenever she does a Ruth and Debbie scene, she thinks they’re either going to say they love or hate each other. “They’re sort of holding a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a shiv in the other,” she says.
While their friendship is extremely complicated, Gilpin does think they are more alike than they are willing to admit.
“They are both very lonely right now and at a crossroads in their life and feeling alone in every decision,” she says. “They really wish that they had each other to go to with their current situations, and they’re also the one person that they can’t go to.”