“Dietland” has proved to be a very interesting show. Knowing it would be coming from Marti Noxon and having read the book, that was a given. But I don’t think I realized how electric it would feel to watch the story play out with real flesh-and-blood people every week. There are also great visual flourishes that obviously don’t exist in the written narrative and they really give the show an extra punch of reality, even though most are pretty fantastical (e.g., Benny the Bengal Tiger).
There are also small vignettes in each episode which track smaller events in the book where Plum isn’t directly involved. This episode is all about the British boy who gets kidnapped as a message to his father (who is later scalped by Jennifer) to remove pictures of bare-breasted women from the front of his company’s magazines and instead feature photos of nude men. The commentary of this show never ceases to amaze me in its ironic perfection.
Plum’s mother – the incomparable Debra Monk – is still around in this episode and she’s making Plum cheesy eggs! They discuss Jennifer a little and Plum admits that she can’t fully condemn Jennifer’s agenda of killing rapists. Her mother asks if she’s a “Jennifer sympathizer” and she says no, but that she’s “not losing sleep over dead rapists.” I’m on Plum’s team.
— Unapologetic with Aisha Tyler (@UnapologeticAMC) June 19, 2018
The bulk of episode 4, titled “F…This,” showcases Plum’s interactions with Marlowe Buchanan (Alanna Ubach), a former actress-turned-author and Calliope House member. She’s written a book called “The Bangability Theory” that breaks down and dismantles society’s insistence that women are merely alive to please and service men. I love Marlowe. She is my hero. I’m a huge proponent of improving yourself if it’s only for you and/or your health. I want to lose weight because I have mild health problems and I think it will help. I like wearing makeup because I think it helps me present my best face to the world. Do I still indulge in ice cream and french fries when I want it? Absolutely! Do I still go out in public without makeup? ALL THE TIME! Marlowe has obviously taken this to an extreme I don’t subscribe to, but I love the philosophy in general.
Marlowe’s intro is one of those fantastical visual segments I talked about at the top. It’s filmed inside a coffee shop like a scene from her sitcom, complete with laugh track for her winking admission to the camera that she’s “no longer bangable.” I can’t overstate how perfectly Alanna Ubach nails this performance. Through the whole episode she brings more life and nuance to Marlowe than I was expecting, and the show is richer for her.
We cut from this to my biggest pet peeve in human form: Marc Blucas. I mostly kid, but he is one of my least favorite parts of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Also nearly everything I’ve seen him in after that has featured him as an unrepentant dirtbag! He appears to be halfway following that mold for “Dietland” because he seems a little shady, but he’s also friends with Dominic and seems to be helping with his investigation. We get a little more information in this scene. Firstly, Dominic isn’t still a cop – he’s like a private eye now. Second, the reason he’s not a cop anymore is because some kind of potential vigilante activity he did which ensured one of his perps went to prison.
— Shuffle Online (@shuffleonline) June 19, 2018
We’re back with Marlowe and Plum waiting in an aesthetician’s office. Marlowe explains a little more about this phase of the New Baptist Plan, which includes finding out “what it takes and what it takes from you” to be bangable. You guys…the dialogue in this show is so consistently incredible in the way it captures what I’ve always thought but never been able to vocalize. Plus, it’s punctuated by perfect visuals; here we cut to Plum getting her entire body waxed, which looks absolutely horrific.
"You need to know what it takes [to be bangable] and what it takes from you." #Dietland This is an essential question that NEVER gets asked.
— Ali (@ali1976fields) June 19, 2018
Kitty doesn’t have a whole lot to do this episode, but she has three scenes where she just completely shuts down one or many men. The first of these happens after Jennifer asks Austen Media to print their manifesto on the cover of every girl’s magazine. Kitty is for sure against it even though the rest of the all-male board wants it to happen. They’re rightfully scared and Kitty jumps on that fear and mocks them for it, which is deeply satisfying. I was going to transcribe the dialogue but it wouldn’t do it justice. Just go back and watch that scene one million times and you can thank me later.
Kitty talking down to the men on her board is so enjoyable #Dietland
— Stormpilot trash (@WhatCassieDid) June 19, 2018
Plum is on to her next task with Marlowe, which is to let Rubi measure her so she can recreate her Alicia dress. Rubi drops some knowledge on Plum about Calliope House, including the fact that they receive regular bomb threats. Plum asks Marlowe about this and makes the mistake of wondering whether Calliope and Jennifer are working together. Marlowe says Verena wouldn’t go for the violence and that Plum shouldn’t “conflate feminism and violence, it sounds very uninformed,” which is my second favorite line she delivers this episode.
Plum’s next appointment is at the dermatologist where she gets Botox and fillers and I would rather die because it looks like they shove those needles in SO DEEP! Plum obviously feels the same because she reacts in pain. The doctor tells her “pretty hurts but ugly hurts worse.” I’m telling you, this show is operating on another level. After the injections, Marlowe takes Plum to get her hair and makeup done and, in full fairness, she looks incredible, but it is so much work and money which is Marlowe’s, and by extension Verena’s, point.
After the makeover Plum has a meeting with Kitty, who immediately shuts down any good feelings Plum was having about her appearance when she asks if “tottering around town trying to get glam” is why she hasn’t been able to get in touch with Plum. She does kind of an insult sandwich after that when she tells Plum her article will be in the next month’s issue before launching into almost a monologue about how she never wanted to “encourage [heavy women] to be fat. If you give them pretty clothes, where’s the incentive to be healthy?” Before she ultimately decided it’s nicer to include everyone. It’s all a lot of yikes.
— Margulies Lover (@SaintAFlorrick) June 20, 2018
Before Plum leaves, Kitty asks about the letters and Plum explains that most feedback on Jennifer is positive and the girls are feeling empowered because “even if they don’t fit in with their peers they still matter.” You can see the wheels start to turn in Kitty’s head at this point.
Plum is frosting a chocolate cake while she hangs out with her mom and the cake looks absolutely bomb. Then she starts taking selfies with it and my little heart broke because she sent one to Dominic and I know he’s a liar. Once she sends the photo she goes to wash her face and notices all the bruising from the Botox. Her mother freaks out because she thinks Verena and Calliope House are hurting Plum. She doesn’t understand why Plum can’t see that she’s beautiful, and Plum continues her streak of breaking my heart when she says “I’m not beautiful, I’m fat,” and decides to leave and go for a walk.
Just outside her apartment she runs into Leeta, who is still my favorite. She’s quite a bit more subdued here, but still a wonderful presence. She says she has to go away and it’s one of the most genuinely emotional scenes this show has done to date. Leeta and Plum are such kindred spirits that even with only two previous scenes together, it feels like a tragedy that they won’t get more time together (for now). She tells Plum to find her when Verena is done with her but she won’t confirm anything about being involved with Jennifer.
One of my favorite things about this episode is the next scene where Dominic is just walking down the street past only women who are all eyeballing him. It’s such a juxtaposition to how scenes like this are presented in most movies or shows where it’s the woman being eyeballed as she walks down the street.
Dominic walking down that street like every woman who has ever lived has walked down the street….hot damn. More of that. Not suffering. EMPATHY. #dietland
— Jen Ponton (@JenPonton) June 19, 2018
It’s also voiced over by women who are doing things they’ve never been able to do before now, including running through the park at midnight. They feel safer with Jennifer around. Kitty, who’s watching the news, shouts at the screen “you should be spinning! Running is too hard on the face!”
We rejoin Plum and Marlowe in a fitting room while Plum is struggling to put on Spanx and Marlowe is reading to her from “Bangability Theory.” There are a lot of great lines in the book, but I want to focus on Plum and, by extension, Joy Nash in this scene. I’m hesitant to use the word brave to describe her level of nudity as Plum because it implies there’s something scary or shameful about being overweight when in reality it’s the norm. But on the other hand it’s just so great, and I want to call out the positivity along with Joy Nash’s incredible performance. Specifically during this Spanx scene you can see that, while Plum is certainly uncomfortable being relatively nude around strangers, Joy Nash is completely at home in her skin and it’s completely wonderful to watch.
Throughout the rest of the scene Plum and Marlowe continue trying things on, including the sexiest pair of burgundy velvet pumps I’ve ever seen. Marlowe says some women get their pinky toes removed to fit better into shoes and honestly I would consider it if only I didn’t like my pinky toes kind of a lot. Meanwhile, a mother and her young daughter are walking around the same areas of the store while Marlowe continues to say “bangability” loudly and often until the mother gets pretty huffy and says that her daughter is only 12. This irritates Marlowe because the girl is dressed far too old for her age and her shorts are “short enough to see her moose knuckle,” which is just the best euphemism. Then before she and Plum leave she looks the girl dead in the eyes and delivers my favorite line of the episode: “Do not go gently into that good night darling. You have choices.”
Mrs. Kettle goes to Calliope House to meet Verena and make sure Plum isn’t being hurt and this scene was so good, you guys! Debra Monk and Robin Weigert are both absolutely incredible and the whole scene is just perfect. They end up coming to a detente about Plum’s involvement with Calliope House when Verena says she just wants Plum to know that happiness has nothing to do with how you look and what you weigh. I could have watched an entire episode of this scene I loved it so much.
— Shuffle Online (@shuffleonline) June 19, 2018
The next of Kitty’s short scenes sees her in the bathroom at Daisy Chain where she notices dozens of sticky notes on the mirror with messages in the vein of Time’s Up. This pushes her over the edge to support the publishing of the Jennifer manifesto. She interrupts a layout meeting to pass along this directive. The men in the room do nothing but question her decision and ask whether Stanley Austen sanctioned this and then Kitty cements herself into the list of my favorite characters of all time when she says, “Stanley sanctioned me.”
I do like the portrayal of Kitty. She definitely is problematic, but I think she represents a different problem: the degradation of femininity & women who are conventionally attractive. If you’re too pretty, your just that: a pretty face. That’s it. #dietland #unapologetic
— Lady Yoshi 🇺🇸❤️ (@HistoryDiva25) June 19, 2018
The rest of Kitty’s scenes are in a similar vein: the first with a man we’ve never met who talks down to her, undermines her plans to publish the manifesto, and calls her “honey” until she reveals she has all the dirt on him and he sinks to the level of insisting he’s “not a predator.” If you have to say it, you probably are. The second is with Stanley Austen himself, played by none other than Campbell Scott! I hope we get more of him because he seems like a very out-of-touch, rich weirdo. For example, he nearly flies a drone into Kitty’s face inside his office. Kitty manages to convince him that publishing the manifesto is a smart business move and he basically gives her carte blanche, which is great, except he doesn’t seem to realize what is actually going on with Jennifer.
— Shuffle Online (@shuffleonline) June 19, 2018
Back with Plum and Marlowe in the plastic surgeon’s office we see Plum covered in those black dotted lines where all the cuts will eventually be made once she’s lost the weight and has extra skin to lose. The doctor prattles on in the background as Plum imagines herself as Alicia. She picks up on the word scars and then keloid scars and then the image of Alicia doesn’t look as good as it did, and you can see it dawning on Plum for probably the first time that these multiple surgeries could change her life in worse ways than she thought.
I can't say enough good things about how fantastic @JoyNash is at very slowly uncovering the very deep anger and hurt at the center of Plum. It's exquisite to watch #Dietland @DietlandAMC pic.twitter.com/yfX75E0AL2
— Shuffle Online (@shuffleonline) June 19, 2018
This carries over into her next scene when Marlowe informs her she’ll be going on dates for the next phase of the New Baptist Plan. Plum is understandably upset; she’s been through a lot already on this plan. But she lashes out in a way that speaks volumes about her and not Marlowe as she insists she’s not Alicia yet. When they arrive back at Calliope House, both her mother and Verena kind of gang up on her. Verena insists she needs to heal emotionally and she’ll realize she doesn’t need to lose weight, but she insists she doesn’t want to heal, she only wants to lose weight. Plum manages to be completely heartbreaking so many times per episode because it’s all so real and relatable. I know I’ve felt like if only I could lose weight then I could start really living.
Another reason why Plum’s life feels so real is because there are moments like the next scene, where Plum seems like 98% content with her life. She’s sitting in the bakery feeding that chocolate cake to Detective Dominic and flirting and everything seems so normal that it’s easy to forget she was miserable one scene ago. As usual this scene is super flirty and it would be very cute if it weren’t for the fact that DOMINIC IS MARRIED! I suspect there will be some significant fallout when Plum finds out, especially since Dominic is manipulating her into staying in Calliope House to investigate for him.
It's heartbreaking that this cop is only using her for the case. It's even more heartbreaking knowing that he's married with kids and his wife is thin. #Dietland
— Ladylibrarian#22 (@alliedoll42) June 19, 2018
The episode ends like it began, with Plum and Mrs. Kettle, who’s going back home now. She seems to think Calliope House is not so bad now and she approves of Plum’s continued presence there. We’ve learned that Plum doesn’t buy it anymore though, and as soon as her mother leaves, she calls her doctor’s office and puts down a deposit on her surgery as her voice over from the future says, “I didn’t want to be the hero back then, I still wanted to be the hero’s girlfriend.”
I am absolutely loving “Dietland,” as proven by the fact these recaps keep getting longer. Despite reading the book the show often zigs when I think it will zag and the performances are all completely astounding from week to week. I can’t wait to see what happens next week when Plum goes on the aforementioned dates, which look even worse than they seemed in the book.
“Dietland” airs on AMC at 9/8c. Make sure to follow Shuffle Online on Twitter to join our live-tweeting!
Featured image credit: Patrick Harbron/AMC