“Pilot” (Episode 101)
June 4, 2018
Dietland, based on the 2015 book by Sarai Walker of the same name, is an indictment of our culture and how we allow … no, how we have encouraged and institutionalized the persistent bullying of women and even more so, overweight women.
Through Plum Kettle’s journey, the newest AMC series seeks to shine a hot white spotlight on all of the ways we have stigmatized and beaten down an entire section of our population, and in no uncertain terms, says, Enough.
Its time to fight back and so you have a choice to make … be part of the solution or get the fuck out of the way. Dietland — the show we need now. Our recap and review of the Pilot is after the jump (spoilers ahead).
We open on images and voices of women in their lowest and darkest moments. As Alicia “Plum” Kettle (Joy Nash) narrates how she you used to answer advice column letters at a teen magazine, the rage of the “average” women begins to build culminating in “what he did to me, should happen to him” and finally, “I’m ready to kill myself. or maybe somebody else.” With these last few lines, we see a man being bound and gagged and drugged, all with a gun to his head. Hello and welcome to Dietland.
Cut to Plum introducing herself. She explains that she is fat and is allowed to call herself fat, the implication being – you are not allowed to do so. Noted. Also, Plum is narrating to us from the future; a future in which she is still fat but maybe some how more free than we see her here – with the catcalling and gross guys taking pictures of her like a zoo exhibit.
** We get the first of several “Plum Animations”; we are going to see these throughout the show and they are maybe the most bleak and depressing things in the series – they are hyper caricatured versions of real Plum, and they always have her engaging in some futile or destructive or depressed action. I am taking these animations as glimpses in to Plum’s inner mind.**
As Plum settles into her office, a local cafe where she writes, she explains the monotony of her life – apartment – cafe – meetings – repeat. We also learn she writes for “Daisy Chain,” a stereotypical teen mag, originally aimed at converting girls into suitable wives and now, concerned with largely unrealistic goals in the areas of fashion, beauty and sex. Plum is the ghostwriter for the Editor of “Daisy Chain,” Kitty Montgomery (a very glammed up Julianna Margulies), an “it” woman who understands that she’s getting the best of Plum in their arrangement. As a side gig, Plum also sometimes bakes at the cafe for its owner, and her bestie, Steven (Tramell Tillman).
“I’ve learned to live deep inside myself. My body was just a thing I used to move my head around.”
Even Plum, who admittedly misses a lot, cannot miss Leeta (Erin Darke) – we don’t know her name is Leeta yet but it is, you’re welcome – who has taken to following Plum for some reason. But no time to worry about that yet, we’ve got to check in on Plum at her “Waist Watchers” meeting. Prior to the meeting, we see Plum weighing and experiencing that feeling anyone who has ever tried experiences – I’m doing everything I can be doing and yet, this skinny bitch is telling me I’m still morbidly obese. *sigh*
Meeting. As attendee Karen shares her story, in walks Janice (Bethany Kay), first time visitor to Waist Watchers. She plops herself down and proceeds to speak some motherfucking truth. The skinny bitch group leader is reinforcing Karen’s narrative that she wants to lose to weight to look great naked. “But she doesn’t need to lose weight,” Janice interjects (Karen does seem to be, if not, skinny, at least thin). Karen’s husband disagrees, Karen says, and Janice doesn’t hesitate to encourage Karen’s husband to go screw himself. This … this is not the Waist Watcher’s Philosophy – the skinny bitch group leader has Plum recite said philosophy for us: “People don’t come to Waist Watchers because they feel good about themselves; they comes because they’re ready to feel good … about themselves.” Saying it out loud, you can tell Plum doesn’t even buy what she is saying.
Janice is not down with this at all – “I love myself.” A derisive “Janiiiice” from the skinny bitch group leader and Janice is up on her feet. She came to lose weight because of back problems, not because she hates her body. Make no mistake how Janice feels about herself:
“I am a unicorn. I am a Goddess. And I get more hot dick than I can handle.”
With that amazing exit, skinny bitch group leader ensures the group that Janice is suffering so much denial, its sad really. Fuck you skinny bitch group leader. Janice is my new spirit animal. Also, Plum spent the entire scene with her mouth opening, not quite believing the awesomeness she was beholding. You quote believe, that she’s never seen this kind of confidence before … at least not in a heavy woman, and certainly not within herself. “So sad.” Indeed, Plum. Indeed. Cue the Credits.
We come back to Plum in her one on one and she is being taken to the guilt chop house for her 10 Snackwells slip. Skinny bitch group leader doesn’t let up on the throttle of making Plum feel every ounce of shame for her small slip and ensures her, she won’t be able to have slips after her weight loss surgery. Ugh, I can’t even with this lady but here is a telling exchange. Plum is explaining that she’s been having an intense stomach pain and wonders if its maybe because of the Y she’s taking (not fully explained, I am assuming the Y is some kind of weight loss pill/magic cure peddled by Waist Watchers).
Skinny bitch group leader: “Are you taking the Y on an empty stomach?”
Plum: “My stomach is always empty. Basically.”
Skinny bitch group leader: “Yeeeahh, look at you!” with a gleeful smile.
GAH! The fuck is wrong with people.
Anyway, Skinny bitch group leader confirms that’s probably the source of her pain, but really good job on never eating. She also advises that after Plum’s surgery, the better she does, the more loose skin she’ll have so, save up for more surgeries!
On the street, Plum confronts Leeta , “Are you following me.” Ever the weirdo, Leeta (who still has no name) simply advises Plum to have an amazing day.
At her apartment, we see Plum opening up a delivery – its her “skinny dress – the dress she will wear when she has lost all of her desired weight and obtained the perfect version of herself.
**I am a guy and even I have done this. Well, not with a dress, but with jeans. I will lose X pounds and these jeans will fit. Which, when it happens, great! But when you don’t hit that number? What a way to feel even worse about yourself.**
Anyhoo, we see Plum go through what is surely a nightly ritual of a pitifully small portioned microwaveable meal and a mother who nags about Plum needing to accept “what God gave her” … but in the most well meaning way possible. *sigh* Later that night in bed, Plum has disturbing dreams about food and danger and its bizarre in that way dreams are (Leeta also features in this fantasy). Meanwhile, across the country, a war is starting – we see witch-masked figures toss two body-bagged bodies from an overpass on to a highway – one of these is the guy we saw from the cold open.
I should mention here that throughout the episode so far, we have been hearing on background TVs that two military men have gone missing presumably from being kidnapped. Two men who had been accused of rape at the time of their disappearance.
The next day, Plum is baking the most delicious looking chocolate cake I have ever seen while softly singing to herself. Its the first moment of happiness we’ve seen from her and its ruined when she absentmindedly licks some frosting from her fingers and, realizing what she just did, spits it up in a garbage can. THIS is what she’s learning at Waist Watchers.
Up front, Leeta (without a name still) writes “Dietland” on Plum’s arm in a eyeliner pencil, colored “Juicy Plum.” Weirdos are weird.Later on, Plum tells Steven about the weird weirdo – who Steven mentions has become quite the regular lately – and when he goes to throw Leeta out, Plum stops him, “these things happen, its fine.”
The Temple of Doom Austen Media HQ. While waiting to meet with Kitty, Plum shares a waiting room with a police detective, Dominic O’Shea (Adam Rothenberg), who is picking up what Plum is putting down especially after she mentions she can bake, but she seems unmoved by it all. Even after he expressly asks her out for coffee or to be a taste tester for her next cake.
“Its a kink, a fetish. They screw girls like me but marry girls like this …”
Enter, Kitty Montgomery. “I always forget,” Kitty says giving Plum the once up and down, “how pretty your eyes are.” Mmmhmmm. Commercials.
Things to do know about Kitty. She refers to the women who write to her (and Plum answers), as her “girls.” And, through the visual ideal of Kitty and Plum’s brains, they are giving Kitty’s “girls” hope that they can become something. Kitty expresses a false empathy which is very interesting to watch because I think she really thinks she’s connecting with the struggles of her “girls.” Also, she’d like euphemisms for vagina that are “medicalized” … parent groups raise a fit if you use dirty words like vagina, she explains. Anyway, after a brief foray into tampons, the meeting is over.
Before she goes, Kitty asks Plum if she’s gotten any disturbing letters (beyond the normal disturbing) or had any strange encounters with anyone wanting to know about Kitty or the magazine. “No, why,” Plum responds. Seems like there has been some security breach into the company – hence Detective Dominic out front. But really no biggie, Kitty assures her. The conversation is interrupted by Plum’s stomach problems – get to the bathroom stat before you make a mess in Kitty’s office.
As Plum finishes throwing up, Leeta (still unnamed at this point) appears to ask if she’s ok. Creeper much? Leeta explains she’s left something for Plum and mysteriously disappears from the bathroom. In a book bin, Plum finds a copy of “Dietland,” a book we will come to hear much more about. Plum has identified the weirdo as a witch from her boots but wonders what the connection is to “Dietland.” Would she turn Plum into a good witch or bad witch? As Plum ponders this, we see the witch-masked murderers trashing their costumes and one of the killers is a female and has “Jennifer” tattooed on her neck.
At the cafe, Plum shares the book with Steven. “Dietland” is an anti-diet screed written Verena Baptist, the daughter of the famous Baptist Diet People. After Verena’s mother died, Verena shut down all of the Baptist clinics and dismantled her parent’s legacy. Plum posits she’s some kind of “big feminist who thinks diets are the root of all evil.” Plum goes on to tell
Steven us that she was Baptist at one point; she compares it to a cult. Another conversation interrupted, this time by a need to fill out some paperwork at Austen HQ.
Austen Media HQ. After filling out said paperwork, Plum is ushered to a secret elevator which will take her to the Beauty Closet. “Go. They have answers,” she is told by the unnamed assistant. What the fuck? Of course, her trip to the BC is accompanied by some males in the elevator who take the opportunity to remark on the size of the plus sized market. Ugh and *sigh*. Commercials.
The Beauty Closet. Meet the epicenter of all beauty products for Austen media. And ground zero for a fucking revolution. But, getting ahead of ourselves. Meet Julia Smith (Tamara Tunie), she runs the BC. She is also the one who had Leeta (a name, finally!) following Plum. Ground rules: everything Julia tells Plum is under the strictest confidence. sure, now what is this about?!?
Julia explains that she contacted Plum through an anonymous letter. In it, Julia asked who was more oppressed, the woman who covers herself in a burka or the one that strips down for the cover of one of Austen Media’s magazines. Citing the very thoughtful response (perhaps they are two different sides of the same coin), Julia makes her point that it was a test of sorts to prove Kitty did not write the answers and that Plum was of a special intellect and skill set. Plum thanks her for the compliment but Julia corrects her – she thinks its criminal that Plum is squandering her brain writing under Kitty’s name. Long story short, Julia had Leeta follow Plum and take notes on her to vet her, to get to know her. “I could have called the police on her,” Plum says. But you didn’t. Why? And there is the rub.
Plum deduces that Julia is behind the security breach we heard about earlier and Julia answers with a question – how much time does Plum spend “trying to better her outsides”?
“The average woman devotes almost an hour a day to grooming. That’s years in her life. Not to mention the dieting and self-loathing.”
Plum’s response is, “that’s just how it is” but why? That’s Julia’s question. Because there is a dissatisfaction industrial complex that gets us to pay them to tell us how broken we are. And, the trick, we can never be fixed. Julia, goes on that its time to change the game.
Plum responds that its human nature to like pretty things. “You’re not a thing. You’re a woman,” Julia tells her. Plum is almost breathless with every step Julia takes into her face. This culminates with Julia applying make up to Plum’s face. This whole exchanges border on almost being sexual – at the very least, its more intimate than you feel Plum has been with anyone in a long time. Knowing she’s awoken something inside Plum, Julia lays her request – the entirety of “Dear Kitty’s” contact list. 50,000 email addresses. Plum needs to think about it.
As she walks the streets that night, contemplating what she knows she already wants to do, some more catcalling men approach her looking for a kiss. She marches on, as she has all episode. Her face hardens. As she turns the corner, we see her animated self approaching her – this time with a bright red beating heart. The music fades out and we’re left with the beating heart sound. Plum enters a subject line of FIGHT BACK and sends on the contact list.
A War Has Begun.
In the final scene, we see the autopsy of one of the dead military men and pulled from deep in his throat, a scroll. Unfurled, the scroll simply says, “Jennifer.” And scene.
Thoughts. As a culture, we have built towers dedicated to ideas of perfect beauty; Dietland takes a fucking hammer to those towers and shouts in the faces of those beauty peddlers, “I will be bullied and broken and beat down, no longer.” Tackling a wide variety of issues that have traditionally not gotten proper spotlight on television, Dietland is an important voice for not only highlighting these issues but also making it clear – they can no longer be allowed to persist.
Body shaming; sexual harassment; the patriarchy; the marginalization of women and even more specifically, fat women, in the work force; and maybe, most importantly, the diet cult culture that has gripped our nation for decades, is all ripe for attack in Dietland and I cannot be more excited to see the War Begin.
In the episode, Julia tells Plum about the “dissatisfaction industrial complex” and its vice-like grip on our minds. She’s absolutely correct. Even as a man, I am constantly being told I am broken in one way or another and try as I may to “fix” my flaws, its never enough … it’ll never be enough. You know what? Fuck.That! I am embracing the mission of Dietland – no more self hate, no more allowing others to dictate how I feel about myself; no more allowing society to tell me if I am ideal or not.
The War Has Begun. Come watch it burn with me.
This article was originally published by Michael Caputo on PopCultureReview.com