“Tender Belly” (Episode 102)
June 4, 2018
Part two of the two hour series premiere of Dietland, “Tender Belly” introduces us to Verena Baptist – the author of Dietland (the book on the show) and daughter of the famous weight loss Baptists. Make sure you read our recap and review of Episode 1 here. If you’re interested in a good discussion of the issues and themes being raised by Dietland, definitely check out our hour long TVTalk discussion with Jen Ponton (Rubi); it was an emotional and impactful hour of frank talk.
As Plum deals with the fallout of her decision to email the “Dear Kitty” contact list to Julia, all of our characters settle into their roles and we learn more about where each of them are coming from. Except Dominic. Other than a sweet tooth, we know shit about that guy so far.
Time to get into the episode, read our recap & review of “Tender Belly” … after the jump (beware of Spoilers)!
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Margaret Atwood, by way of Plum Kettle
We open on a young Plum watching some chaotic scene take place outside a living room window but no other details on that yet. Cut to the present and Plum is sitting through a doctor’s appointment — she still needs to lose more weight. She tells Doc that she’s been sticking to the plan and he suggests that she maybe try something new.
This triggers a brief history of all of the diet fads, including actual prayer, that Plum has tried; the one that almost worked and almost kind of killed her? The Baptist Weight Loss Clinic. More on that later but this won’t be the last time we hear about the Baptist Plan and how its like a religion.
Back in the present, Doc makes it clear that Plum has to lose 15 more pounds before he will sign off on the weight loss surgery she’s chasing. In that super healthy way of doctors, he suggests she cut her calorie intake another 500 calories — really shock her system off the plateau. **I’ve tried this … often. It’s a horrible idea.**
In the waiting room, Plum learns that her insurance policy has changed and needs to shell out a lot more money up front than she had planned. The credit card comes out and Plum has a daydream discussion with the Austen Media TV news reporter about whether she can really afford putting a “fattie appointment” on a credit card. Coming to, the receptionist calls her attention to the ongoing “Jennifers” revenge murders now dominating the news. Jennifer does sound like such a harmless name.
At the Beauty Closet, Leeta is going gaga over Plum’s delivery of the Dear Kitty” contact list and Julia make it clear to her that Leeta is done, DONE, with Plum. They don’t know Plum, they don’t know if they can’t trust Plum, and maybe most importantly, Julia doesn’t know if Plum is really ready for the (subversive, revolutionary) life they are living. Sure, sure, Leeta stammers before being saved by the proverbial and literal doorbell. Kitty has arrived.
The Cafe. Plum is frantically checking for any indication that her felony has been discovered. Steven comes over to assure that a 700 calorie diet isn’t great but its survivable. Shut up, Steven. Just kidding, I like Steven but really, 700 calories a day is starvation level stuff. Anyway, it seems that Plum shared some, but not all, of her visit to the Beauty Closet and her resulting “impulsive decision to become a criminal.” And since then? No Leeta hanging around. Also, she’s kind of terrified to read the book, Dietland, which was “delivered unto [her] by a goth angel.”
Beauty Closet. Kitty is scoping out the latest wonder product that will unlock all of the mysteries of super-powered beauty. She’s also stressed … its the only reason she ever deigns to head underground to the BC. Julia, via copious amounts of praise and some back handed compliments, is trying to fish for information on the leak investigation.
We have a brief interlude at the cafe where Ben asks Plum to bake a cake for a party he’s throwing with some friends. Or failing that, at least, come to the party he’s throwing with some friends. Plum is shocked to learn Ben has 50 friends and I agree. If I threw a party, I could think of like 4 people that would come. She gets a call but we don’t know what its about because …
Photo Shoot. Meet Malleck, a photographer (we’ll learn soon that he’s a gross photographer) who has been accused of being gross with his models and probably deserves the fate which is about to be dispensed to him. Because Malleck is gross, it takes zero effort for a beautiful model to lure him into the woods where a group of Jennifers is waiting for him. Whelp. “Hey baby, wait for daddy,” is all you really need to know about Malleck. Sorry, not Sorry Malleck – you were gross and disgusting.
When we return, Kitty, with Julia in tow, is giving orders to her head minion assistant to find Malleck – she wants him for a shoot. Alone, Julia asks if its wise to be using Malleck given the multiple allegations currently pending against him.
“Rumors. You know, the lines get blurry with creatives.” – Kitty
*sigh* This is an example of how the Harvey Weinsteins are created and allowed to flourish; rationalizations and excuses. It makes me sad and makes me angry.
For her part, Julia looks like she is using a decent amount of restraint to avoid vomiting and/or slapping Kitty. Over at the reception desk, Julia hands Eladio (Ricardo Dávila, because I am rude and didn’t introduce him in the first recap) the dry shampoo Kitty wanted for him and continues her hunt for information on the leak investigation — Eladio lets drop that the police are involved. Ruh Roh.
Plum’s Apartment. Or rather, on the stoop outside her apartment (I love a good stoop – is that just a NY thing?), Leeta surprises Plum. She promises she’s not crazy or hunting her like she’s a “hunter on a beaver hunting show.” Oh, Leeta, your mania is adorable. Plum chooses this (not at all) chance meeting to unload her anxiety and fears – “women like me have trouble finding jobs” so she really can’t afford fuck up her gig (and her insurance). Leeta assures Plum that Julia will protect her, but enough about that, Leeta wants Plum to go see someone — Verena Baptist. Plum knows exactly who this is and isn’t a fan. She accuses Verena of hurting a lot of people when she closed (her parent’s weight loss) clinics; Plum isn’t interested in someone trying to sell her on staying obese. Leeta is uber-confused, “have you even read Dietland,” she asks Plum? No, you crazy person – she just got it from you. Anyway, Plum would also like to know how Leeta knew she had been on the Baptist Plan to begin with? Leeta says there are signs – apparently, Plum still uses the Plan’s “12 Commandments of Mealtime” – Plum protests but no worries, Leeta’s got video of Plum. Oy, Leeta. Take the stalker down to like a 5 or 6, honey.
Thoroughly creeped out, Plum doesn’t understand why Leeta is doing any of this — Leeta just wants Plum to know her, she says she is “ripe for the knowing.” “Why?” Plum asks.
“People don’t really see themselves, you know. Like, some awful people think that everything they do is magic, and then … and then people who actually make the world a better place think they’re pieces of shit.” – Leeta
Leeta’s point is that Julia saw Plum through her writing, just like she saw Leeta (through her YouTube rants? More on that please!) and they are too smart for the lives they thought they deserved. She calls Plum, “special.” Plum’s defenses are up, though, and she counters that maybe they’re just weak and impressionable. ** Plum isn’t ready for this message of self-love. Not yet. ** Just go see Verena, Leeta pleads again. And, also, maybe don’t ever mention this conversation to Julia. Please and thank you.
Kitty’s Office. Kitty is schooling Plum on two things swirling in her mind. One, several designers are creating plus sized collections for fashion week — there is something happening, she posits. And, two:
“You start looking like someone’s grandmother and you’re out … Mark my words. It won’t happen to me. I will not be left behind.”
** I have to stop here a second and talk about the beautiful irony of this writing. Kitty delivers this line regarding the cut throat nature of the beauty industry, never once stopping to appreciate that she is the proximate cause of said cut throat nature. She’s being victimized by her own decisions and choices. She is an Ouroboros of superficial frivolity — its eating her alive while she feeds and encourages its power.**
Back to the former topic, Kitty wants Plum to cover the Rene Tyler show (for “big gals”) at Fashion Week … no no no, not in person. Kitty will send one of the regular girls to do that. No, Plum is her “hidden resource” and she will watch the show via Facebook Live. Joy Nash gives “I am secretly stabbing you to death in my brain” stares better than any one on TV; she’s giving this stare to Kitty right now.
Down in the Austen Media lobby, Dominic the Cop hails Plum with calls of “Chocolate Cake,” Dominic the Cop needs to work on his terms of endearment. Moving past this speed bump, she offers him a chance to taste her baking wares at the cafe. She’s clearly still guarded with his advancements but also … interested?
The Cafe. Plum gives Dominic a slice of carrot cake (his second favorite) and he’s instantly in love. Steven comes over and refers to Plum as “my Plum” which sets Dominic on a trail that she’s Steven’s girlfriend. No no no, she corrects him that Steven is her gay bestie. Dominic clumsily lumbers into getting to know Plum (complete with an unintended fat joke). Moving to the investigation, Dominic asks Plum to keep her eye out for anything suspicious around the office. This isn’t really his type of case and its lack of sexiness, makes it a lower priority than other things he’s working on. Anyway, keep an eye for anyone acting “interesting,” Dominic asks and Plum, internally, takes this the wrong way – as if he is saying she’s not interesting. ** This was a weird beat for me but I wonder if its her being facetious or just an example of her internal suspicion of being slighted – that learned behavior we discussed last episode where when you’ve been beaten down so much, everything takes on an edge of intended offense. I don’t know. **
As Plum walks home, she is dwelling on this “interesting” comment and spiraling it out to the larger feeling that she is only fit to write alone, “not fit for public consumption.” The animation of sadness returns here as bustling families play around and isolated and alone Plum. But, Plum pulls herself out of it — she’s done with feeling this way. Me thinks someone is going to meet Verena Baptist.
Baptist House. Before seeing Verena, Plum is ushered into the kitchen where she meets the rest of the “Calliope” family: Barbara (Mya Taylor), she of the new clit and information on the Malleck abduction; Rubi (Jen Ponton) is the spicy one who suggests temporary pussy tattoos in the shape of a bear trap and adorably refers to Plum’s name as being out of a children’s book; Jake (Mark Tallman) and Clive (Dariush Kashani). They indicate that Vernea wouldn’t necessarily approve of the murder of these gross men Jennifer is targeting but, you know, they are gross men. Plum takes this all in silently except to drop in some info on Malleck given his connection to Kitty and Daisy Chain. There is generally lots of pussy talk in this scene, which may or may not be de rigueur with this group. Verena Baptist (Robin Weigert) enters and saves Plum from any more pussy talk. She tells Plum that she was impressed with the writings Leeta showed her. She calls it subversive and Plum doesn’t dissuade her of this notion.
The Baptist Auditorium. Verena explains her house is more of an ever expanding collection of building and then asks what Plum knows of Calliope. That would be exactly, nothing.
Exposition time! Verena explains that Calliope’s goal is to “support women with bold ideas. Women who will further our mission of fighting misogyny, gender inequality.” Verena goes on to say that she finds women who have been “discounted, abused, marginalized” (most women she says) and helps them form and act on their vision for change. Plum is distracted by a pair of mom jeans mounted to the wall. Those pants, belonging to Mama Baptist.
More Exposition! Verena gives Plum the Baptist Family History, from when her preacher Father fell in love with a beauty queen named Eulayla (Kathy Voytko). After becoming married, Eulayla gained an enormous amount of weight during her pregnancy. Preacher Dad (who’s name is actually Allen, played by Derek Roché) refused to allow Mama to have weight loss surgery and instead, locked her away for a year until the weight came off. “Food was the sin and Mama was the sinner.” When she emerged, Eulayla became the shining beacon for women everywhere that they could lose weight if they were willing to follow the Baptist Plan. Plum knows this story – Plum worshiped at the altar of this story. Plum finishes this part of the story with an almost feverish reverence in her eye. Eulayla was a source of hope “for women like me,” Plum says.
Verena shatters her illusions when she reveals it was all a lie. The weight didn’t stay off but now, because there was a weight loss empire on the line, Allen was all about Eulayla having weight loss surgery. Unfortunately, it went wrong, leaving Eulayla in a diaper for the rest of her life. Adding to this, she turned to pills and booze to keep her appetite at bay. The Baptists began to rail at each other and then there was a crash (details not fully revealed yet). Verena finishes the story that her parents understood the Plan didn’t work but since the small print that says, “results not typical” covers the Plan from false claims, they had no reason to change. In fact, when you fail on their impossible goals, the Plan blames you for the failure and sells you a new Plan. ** Sounds about right** THIS is why Verena closed the clinics (the clinics that Plum was defending just a short time ago. Commercials.
When we return from the break, Verena asks Plum if she remembers the first time she tasted chocolate. Plum has a daydream of when she did and how it made her feel like she could do anything. When Verena calls her on remembering “something,” Plum says that she remembers what it felt like to “eat something delicious before I knew I was too big.” This leads to a discussion of when she realized she was “too big” — in kindergarten, a chubby boy refused to kiss her. And, on sex? Not much happening there either. She uses an example of her best friend in college making out with her and telling Plum, he loved her but then when she tried to take it further, he denied remembering any kissing – said he must have been blacked out. Plum shakes it off, she doesn’t think about sex very much any way.
Verena perks up at this comment – sex is a primal drive, the Y Plum is on may be suppressing her libido. If they are going to work together, Plum is going to need to do a few things. Getting off the Y is one of them. Wait, “work together,” Plum asks? She’s got a job. Verena says they’ll call it the “New Baptist Plan.” And, when Plum finishes the program, no matter her feelings or the results, Verena will cut Plum a check for $20,000 which she can use any way she wants, including for the weight loss surgery … if that’s what she wants to do.
Plum is suspicious, of course she is. But Verena assures her there is no catch, nor does she need to decide right now. “But promise me, you’ll think about it.”
Austen Media. Cheryl Crane-Murphy (Rowena King), the TV news anchorwoman we keep seeing, is working out with Kitty. Kitty is talking about how she hasn’t told Stanley (I’m presuming this is a husband) about the security leak issues – not until she figures out the problem and solution. Cheryl moves the conversation to Malleck and they have a good laugh over his demise and how he’ll (not) be missed. “All Hail Jenifer,” Cheryl says. Kitty gives her a look at this but my take was that she is intrigued by the grassroots movement this kind of sentiment has. Kitty’s wheels are turning.
The Beauty Closet. SLAP. We come in on Julia laying down the law for Leeta. She was raised to question authority but to NEVER question Julia’s authority. Plum was strictly off limits to Leeta and she approached her anyway, even connected her to Verena. All this with the cop snooping about. “I am the one authority you follow blindly or you get the hell out,” Julia commands! Leeta seems shocked and hurt and genuinely confused. All the emotions on Leeta’s face. Commercials.
We come back to Plum leaving Verena’s place and walking to a grocery store. Oh, hello Dominic – looks like you’re staking out Verena’s place and have now connected your “Chocolate Cake” to her; exactly what Julia feared has already come to pass. Whelp. In the store, Plum acknowledges that she knows Verena plans to change her into a “cheese eating happy fatty” like she met in Verena’s kitchen but, “what’s the worst that could happen.”
At home that night, Plum and her mom chat about the pictures people are still apparently taking outside her parent’s home. Plum says she thought they were taking pictures because of her (we flashback to the opening scene of Young Plum watching the camera strobes pop outside her living room window) … the why isn’t explained here but Mom seems to know what she’s talking about. No, seems their house was on a “Celebrity Map” of sorts and had belonged to a Dolores Del Rio (according to Wikipedia, “first major female Latin American crossover star in Hollywood”) and that was why people took pictures. Mom tells Plum that she wishes Plum saw herself the way others saw her (echoing the same comment made by Leeta earlier). Mom moves the conversation to the rest of Plum’s day and she brings up Dominic but in a very, “don’t get excited” kind of way. Sidebar: Interesting look at Plum’s new Goals Chart:
Plum explains to us that she brought up Dominic to her mother mainly because she wanted to have a story. She did not share the New Baptist Plan. As Plum explains that she thinks she has a grasp on the situation, we watch Dominic pull away from his stakeout and the Jennifers trussing up three new men for slaughter – one of which is Malleck.
In the final scene, Plum is contemplating trashing her Y. As she faces herself in the mirror, she ponders what could she lose? Just her life, she says. And Scene.
Thoughts. The overarching theme of tonight’s episode was the idea that we don’t see ourselves as others see us — in good and bad ways. Kitty sees herself as a martyr, dying on the Hill of perfect beauty while she comes off as narcissistic to us. Plum doesn’t see her worth though, Leeta, Julia, Verena and Dominic all would disagree. Look inside yourself, if you’re being objective – which of course, is the point, its almost impossible to be objective about yourself – you are probably perceived somewhere from different to very different from others versus how you see yourself. Its this type of idea that makes me really appreciate Dietland. It talks about real fucking issues – accessible to all of us. Let’s Get #SeeYourself trending and do some damage.
In addition to the timely social themes, I’m really digging how Dietland is spooling out this undercurrent, murder mystery plot. Who are these Jennifers? Is Calliope funding them? Is Dominic who he says he is? Is Verena? Is Julia? Also, what exactly is this “New Baptist Plan” going to look like? So many questions, I am excited to start putting pieces together.
Join me next week for the next installment of Dietland!
This article was originally published by Michael Caputo on PopCultureReview.com