*major spoilers for GLOW season three*
Glow season three may very well be the best season the show has delivered so far. It is no small feat to take an ensemble cast and balance as many poignant subplots as GLOW has managed to do but they pulled it off. In the first season was about everyone trying to find the heart of the show, the second season they were finding the show’s future, and this season they were finding themselves outside of it. This resulted in deeper explorations of various characters including the first on screen appearance of Arthie and Yolanda as an official couple. Over the course of the season they are put through the paces, and like many of the other pairings on the show, romantic or otherwise, they deal with issues that test their relationship.
The first conflict Arthie and Yolanda face is in episode two, “Hot Tub Club” which explores the dynamics of four major couples in the show. Their issue revolves around physical intimacy, when it’s revealed that while Arthie has become an adept lover she doesn’t seem interested in letting Yolanda return the favor, which leads to some frustration. Yolanda decides to blow off steam by trying to sneak off to a nearby hair salon and Arthie manages to track her down. They then proceed to have one of the most entertaining passive aggressive fights ever depicted on television. Later, when they confront the matter in private more directly Arthie reveals that she is experiencing a form of sexual anxiety. She doesn’t feel sexy and she overthinks things so much that she can’t enjoy sex the same way Yolanda does.
Having anxiety about sex is something many people face, and it fits with how awkward Arthie’s character can be at times. It was a nice break from the typical tropes where women who have never been with another woman before too scared to go through with sex or are depicting as being terrible at it. Unfortunately seeing Yolanda and Arthie work through this sexual speedbump by incorporating wrestling moves into their foreplay is about all the constructive discussion they have about their relationship on-screen for the rest of the season.
Things unravel more definitely for Arthie and Yolanda in the sixth episode, Outward Bound, when all the ladies embark on a camping trip in the Nevada desert. While smoking a bong with Dawn and Stacey, they say some things Yolanda considers to be offensive. That night, she tries to explain to Arthie that part of being gay is realizing that even the people closest to you can disappoint you and be guilty of homophobia. While defending Dawn and Stacey Arthie also contemplates the idea that she may not necessarily see herself as “that word”. She assures Yolanda that she is in love with her and wants to be with her but asks out loud “Why do I have to be anything?” sparking the following exchange:
Yolanda: “I can’t fuck with a straight girl who doesn’t know who she is or what she wants”
Arthie: “I didn’t say that.”
Yolanda: “You did.”
Since the scene ends with Yolanda literally giving Arthie the cold shoulder it’s easy to read it as her being overly harsh and possibly even a little biphobic since there is an assumption on Yolanda’s part that Arthie’s resistance about claiming the label “gay” must mean she’s actually straight. This brings her to the conclusion that Arthie’s unsure about herself and how she feels about her, even though she told Yolanda she’s in love with her moments beforehand. I’d like to say that Arthie reached over and turned that camp lantern back on to press the issue until Yolanda understood how she felt. Perhaps even try and understand why she immediately jumped to that conclusion, but that’s not what happened. As a queer woman excited to see where their relationship was heading in season three, it was disappointing to see the conversation end there.
Based on what Arthie reveals to Yolanda she may be more pansexual than bisexual. Labels do not seem to interest her as much as being with Yolanda does. While the idea of pansexuality existed well before the 1980s, like many facets of the queer community, it was not as widely accepted as it is today. Due to her desire for a freer identity, Arthie is a character before her time and it would be great to see her revisit the label conversation with Yolanda at some point so that she can challenge her on the belief that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to a specific label is somehow automatically straight.
Having someone criticize who you’re attracted to because you choose not to label yourself the way other people want you to, is not an issue exclusive to cis women in the LGBTQ+ community. Things like this are still prevalent today, which made that moment on the camping trip strike such a nerve and the subsequent absence of on-screen resolution that followed, even more palpable. Eventually Arthie and Yolanda break up and all we get is a depressed Arthie attempting to confide in Cherry during episode seven, but she’s so preoccupied with her own marital issues she can’t relate. After that, there’s a six-month time jump in episode eight and Arthie and Yolanda’s storyline is left in sub plot purgatory.
It isn’t until Arthie comes out and says “I’m Gay” at the secret Santa gathering in the finale that the issue comes up again in a meaningful way. Even if Arthie’s sexuality is more complex, coming out directly to a group of people you care about is a big deal. There’s a power in taking the first steps to openly claim your identity no matter how it ends up evolving over time. However, it was still a bittersweet scene because it is also meant to serve as a resolution to Arthie and Yolanda’s fight that supposedly happened six months prior. Six months of Arthie wandering the hotel alone and being iced out by the woman she’s in love with all because she didn’t feel like the word “gay” was the right word to describe herself.
Shakira Barrera and Sunita Mani pull off a lot in that secret Santa scene, and it almost makes up for their characters’ lack of discussion of the issue in previous episodes. Arthie’s coming out may have potentially closed the rift between them but seeing it all hinge on an apology for not saying the word “gay” felt off to me. If Yolanda believed any of what she said in previous episodes, something’s got to give eventually.
From her introduction, Yolanda has been portrayed as a cool-headed character and her relationship with Arthie is the first time we’ve seen her vulnerable side. Pushing Arthie away so reflexively on the camping trip, those constant digs about “straight girls”, and the way she feels like she must act as a protector, hint at some experience in her past that conditioned her to act that way. There’s fear behind that, pain that needs to be dealt with. To me the potential of what can be accomplished with these two characters is immense, especially if the show is going to continue incorporating subplots that examine the AIDs crisis.
The 1980s and 90s weren’t just the height of the AIDS epidemic in America, it was also the height of misinformation about the crisis which led to widespread stigmatization of the queer community, particularly gay men. I think it’s reasonable to believe, Arthie, an ex-med student turned wrestler who just came out of the closet with a drive to fight for her community might want to get involved in movements like ACT UP, fighting against the injustices AIDs patients were facing at the time. She may have failed out of med school, but her experience might be enough for her to join the fray. Until this season most of the plot depicting the AIDs crisis had been exclusively a part of Bash’s subplot. I think it’s just as important to show what the lives of two queer women of color would have been like at that time especially if there’s a love story involved.
It would also be nice to see Arthie and Yolanda deal with regular couple issues and family drama the same way Bash and Rhonda get to. In the first season Arthie mentions her grandmother who loves wrestling and we see her in a brief intro sequence. Does her family know about her wrestling career? Why haven’t they been to a show? Will they be accepting of her relationship with Yolanda? What is Yolanda’s family like? Did she have bad experiences that shaped her harsh views on identity?
There are a lot of questions that would have been nice to have answers to after this season and hopefully they can be explored going forward. Shakira Barrera and Sunita Mani have great chemistry and seeing that wasted on storylines that drove their characters apart was frustrating to watch. When you take the lone queer couple on your show and leave conflicts they have unresolved for most of the season it becomes noticeable especially if they don’t get a lot of screen time. If season three of GLOW proved anything, it proved that Yolanda and Arthie are at their best when they are together.