You guys. YOU GUYS. I have been waiting for Dietland the series forEVER!! I absolutely adored the book in a way I hope that the author Sarai Walker understands, and now we getta see actual fat women on screen! IN LEAD ROLES. I KNOW!! I will be as impartial as possible (ahahahahahaha), let's roll S1:E01 after the break, because we've waited long enough!
We open with Alicia "Plum" Kettle (Joy Nash) telling us about her job answering letters to teenage girls writing to Daisy-Chain magazine.
I have no idea how they got away with using Daisy-Chain as the title of a magazine, just one more example of over-hyped female sexuality. WAIT UNTIL WE GET TO THE NAIL POLISH NAMES!!!
We see the girls representing these letters, covering up bruises, pinching fat, cutting, but also talking of anger and we see at least one man being attacked. We meet Plum! She takes anti-depressants, wears all black, covers her mirrors, and preps all her fruits and veggies in beautiful glass containers, just like the magazines tell us to.
Plum tells us it ain't that usual kind of story: she's still fat. She still gets the looks, the men following her in cars mockingly hitting on her. She lived her life in a five block radius, going around and around.
She writes the letters to the teenage girls at the cafe, reading them out loud to a (where the pregnant friend from college who owns it has been replaced by a) friendly young man with a friendlier dog.
We getta meet Kitty Montgomery (Julianna Margulies) briefly, (who totally does look like a waxed dracula), who is paying Plum to make her look smart, so who's the fool?
The friendly young man with the dog is Steven (Tramell Trillman), he begs Plum to take a few shifts at the cafe, doesn't she have weight loss surgery to pay for? See, she's totally losing the weight anyway, this is just to help her along; she artfully dodges the question about how dangerous the operation is.
TANGENT: there are two schools of thought for bariatric surgery that I'm aware of these days, breaking down like this: one group thinks having some form of gastric bypass surgery is taking the easy way out, because that's what major surgery with a shittonne of risks is; easy. These people tend to fall into the "just eat less and move more!" group of cheerleaders, which doesn't take into account anything like genetics, disability or socio-economic backgrounds. The other gang views obesity as a chronic illness and thinks hellz yeah, why wouldn't you have a major surgery with lots of risks to fix it? The catch is that this second group wants to make sure you've "earned" your place in the surgery queue, so there are months and months of nutritional training and psychological screening, which, while helpful, doesn't exactly look like what you have to do to manage other chronic illnesses. Either way, you're paying a psychological toll for even considering the option, so look forward to that! Just like Plum here defending her surgery choice as mostly unnecessary, coz she's "eating less and moving more!"
At the back of the cafe, goth-y young Leeta (Erin Darke) watches Plum, then follows her walking to her Waist Watchers weigh in. Heeeey!! Sarah Stiles from Billions is the weigher!
Side note: no weigh-er would ever say "you're still morbidly obese" even if the point there was that the medical chart was changed to move the "morbidly" part closer to more people.
We could have a whole discussion about the use of one's BMI as a diagnostic tool, couldn't we? WE COULD. It's all about insurance companies and dividends, yo.
Plum is guilted into staying for the meeting and wooo, we getta meet Janice (Bethany Kay), a bright peahen of a lady, tall and colourful and LOUD. Plum is having trouble looking directly at her. A normal-sized woman (you know, size 6-8, around there) is monopolizing the meeting, agonizing over not being able to lose the rest of her "weight." Janice is confused. Karen (Laura Shoop) apparently needs to lose weight because her husband thinks so.
Janice is now angry and confused.
Plum is asked to explain the Waist Watcher philosophy: "people come there because they're ready to feel good. About themselves."
Janice came to lose some weight for her back problems, not to come hate herself! She gets lots of...hot men! Hot men!
She is a GODDESS!
Janice is oot!
The leader is sad, so sad at Janice's denial.
I, on the other hand, am very excited that Janice's part got so much bigger than in the book! Woooo! Several people that I've talked to said that was their most memorable character.
Foodless Leader takes Plum aside for a one-on-one about her eating plan. When she has surgery, she won't be able to overeat the whole 10 Snackwell biscuits (500 cal) she just binged on because her stomach will be too small. No more comfort food, food is fuel! Plum mostly feels hungry, but sometimes mad about being hungry, and sometimes nauseated but that's because her stomach is usually empty and she's taking that anti-depressant without any food.
People assume that fat people eat all the time and of course, there are people of all sizes that do, but your average dieter is doing more not-eating-while-hungry than anyone.
They talk about the anti-depressant, Plum's been on since college, she loved school! But...something. Foodless Leader is feeling very positive about Plum's future post-op, she's gonna have a LOT of loose skin!
This is a real thing, but looking like a flying squirrel is not.
You can see the anger under the surface with Plum, but she never lets it out.
This scene was glorious in it's understated satire; everything Foodless Leader said has been said and is being said right now ("good for you!" about having an empty stomach all the time) between women (and the odd fella) in church basements with iffy lighting. How about the acceptance that nausea, hunger and increased anxiety are normal and expected and that's just what a girl's gotta do if she wants to be conventionally attractive!
Plum's frustration comes to a head and she confronts the gothy girl on the sidewalk; is she following her? Gothy doesn't answer, just bids her an amazing day. Plum's capable of that.
Plum totally is going to have an awesome day, THANKYOUVERYMUCH! A new dress for her thin self has arrived, when she's lost the weight she'll be Alicia and amazing. I don't think that red jersey-knit dress is gonna look any better on Alicia, but I'm not in Plum's melon.
As Tom Petty said: the waiting is the hardest part. The denying yourself humanity and the self-loathing SHOULD be optional, but then we've built a society around it, so maybe not? We should all read some Virgie Tovar today.
Plum eats a small and disgusting frozen meal while she talks to her mom (Debra Monk) who thinks she shouldn't be having surgery OR changing herself. She has her grandma's body! Plum half-listens while watching TV then sleeps, starving.
She dreams of food aplenty, but a smiling Gothy warns her that it's not safe.
While she was sleeping, a revolution has started.
Two men are tied up, injected and dropped off an overpass, run over by a large truck in short order. Masked perpetrators get away in a van.
It's Plum's day to work at the cafe, she was nervous about being around food but is an excellent baker. She wanted to be a baker or journalist, what's she doing writing fake letters for a waxed dracula? She sings as co-worker Ben (Will Seefried) listens on the fire escape. She seems happy for the first time, decorating a cake expertly and snootzing away on a song.
She absentmindedly puts a frosting-covered finger in her mouth and the spell is broken, shame floods her and she rushes to the sink to spit out all the flavour.
I once did that with a handful of chocolate chips (210). I was so proud of myself, which makes me so sad.
A long line of customers waits for her out front, Gothy is at the front. She writes on Plum's hand with a lip liner, "DIETLAND", which Plum takes as just another person telling her to go on a diet.
People LOVE to tell fat people to go on diets, they even usually have one in mind! That they will share with you without the least bit of provocation, even if you ask them to stop, nicely.
Plum has to go into the office once a month to see Kitty, she checks in with Eladio (Ricardo Dávila) before sitting to wait. Chatty NYPD detective Dominic (Adam Rothenberger) passes a few minutes with our oddly not-shy Plum and then after some chocolate cake discussion, asks.her.out. She shuts him down pretty quickly, writing him off as a fat fetishist. Men like that would like to screw her, but marry those like Kitty Montgomery.
I just don't see how Plum would be flirting at this point, she mostly stares at her black flats.
Kitty doesn't want to hear any specifics about the letters Plum is answering on her behalf, or read any of Plum's ideas for articles, Plum's too busy, isn't she? Now let's get the overview: lots of cutters in the mail, that leads to a vignette of Kitty accidentally making her leg bleed, then doing it over and over, she understands these girls "chopping away at themselves."
Okay, also purgers, and confusion about female anatomy. Did you know that you can't shave your vagina? You can't! There is no hair there! You also can't say "vagina" in Daisy-Chain, Kitty asks Eladio for some other words, but medical terms, not "p**ntang" as he suggests. They'll brainstorm!
This is real work, for which they are paid.
Kitty asks if Plum's heard anything...odd lately, Austen Media has been hacked and all the addresses of upper lever staff, including the owner, have been accessed. They briefly talk about the two dead "boys, military" dropped off the overpass
Side note: I've only just now realised how controversial that part is going to be. When I first read Dietland the book, I wasn't on Twitter (in fact, I think two of my first three tweets were to the author and they did not...go well) so I didn't realise how intense the stanning is for all military personnel. I just thought: oh of course, the military has a long and storied tradition of abusing women and doing nothing about it, just like the church! Now I can see that some of the reviews will focus on that angle.
and then Plum has get to the bathroom, she's intensely nauseated all of a sudden.
Gothy knocks on the bathroom stall door as Plum is puking, she's not dangerous. Well. She's not dangerous to Plum. She tells her she left her something and then is gone.
In the common room, Plum finds the book Dietland, the anti-diet manifesto. She wonders if this book will turn her into a good witch or a bad witch as a group of heavily armed women with "JENNIFER" tattooed on the back of their necks drop their weapons in a pile and group hug.
Plum explains the book Dietland to Steven, it was written by Verena Baptist (Robin Weigert), the daughter of diet guru Eulayla Baptist. Followers were called Baptists and the prize was "bursting" through your old fat pants into your new thin self. When her parents died, Verena shut everything down and wrote the book.
Plum was devastated by the loss of the Baptist Plan, she was so close to foodless and perfect! Thousands of other Baptists refused to go off plan and started groups across the country, sharing stockpiled "food".
Plum doesn't understand why she's being followed and targeted by Gothy, she's nothing special! Maybe she could pitch this as an expose to Kitty!
Steven clearly thinks Plum is interesting AND special but is just as obviously used to being shut down by Plum for suggesting as much.
Plum is now looking for Leeta; being followed is starting to feel intriguing.
Plum is summoned back to Austen Media to sign a form, but it's thrown in the garbage and she's ushered in to a seperate elevator, destination the Beauty Closet. She gets mocked on the way by an overweight guy, it's like these guys think their weight doesn't matter - only that of the women they want or do not want to hump!
Now we meet....MY FAVOURITE CHARACTER!!! From the book! Hai Julia (Tamara Tunie)! She ushers Plum into a massive room filled to the brim with beauty products. She sent Gothy! Who we now know is Leeta and was sent by Julia.
Julia is a beautiful black woman with light skin and blonded hair and a southern accent. She sent Leeta at Plum after her response to a planted Dear Kitty letter.
Julia asked: who is more oppressed? A woman completely covered in a burka or one in a bikini on the cover of Daisy-Chain magazine? Plum replied that you could consider it to be two sides of the same coin.
************************************************very important point**********************************************
Because whether you are covering or presenting a specific sexualized form from or for the male gaze, you aren't doing it for yourself, no matter how much you shout "you go girl!"
A very pregnant woman (Erica Hernandez) wobbles in on 6inch heels, looking for perfume and complaining about being pregnant. Flats would help soooo much but she won't hear of it. She's going to be a MOTHER!
Julia ushers her out then explains her raison d'être to Plum: she wouldn't be dressed like this or fancy like this if it wasn't part of her secret, covert operation. Plum gets a brainwave: did Julia have anything to do with the email hack?
Julia has some more ideas for Plum first: how much time does she think she spends on grooming every day? The average woman spends an hour, never mind the dieting (calorie counting alone takes a good 90 minutes for meal planning, 3 times a week minimum) and self-loathing (every time I see a mirror!). Austen Media is part of the "dis-satisfaction industrial complex", we pay them to tell them what's broken, then we pay them to help us "fix" it.
Time to change the game!
Plum argues that it's human nature: people like pretty things! "You are not a thing" Julia retorts in wonder. "You are a woman. You should decorate yourself however it pleases you."
Julia paints some lipstick on Plum, so very closely, then asks what colour Plum's nipples are. "Pink" she breathes, then Julia checks a couple before spreading some pink blush on the apples of Plum's cheeks.
Plum can't take all this closeness and positive reinforcement, she breaks away: what does Julia want from her?? She wants the addresses of all the girls who have written to Dear Kitty so far, but Plum has to think about it. Julia asks: doesn't she want to do something instead of the nothing she's been doing?
50,000 emails. 50,000 lost girls.
A group of young men follow Plum as she gets off the subway, more mocking flattery.
Lest anyone think this is an exaggeration: try it. Walking around in a fat body is an invitation to public condemnation. You'll note that all the mocking attention directed at Plum has to do with making fun of fat sexuality. It's not what we usually see, a mean cheerleader telling her to put down the sandwich, rather it's men who make fun of the fact that they don't want to bang Plum. In fact, it's hilarious that anyone would even want to, so they follow her for blocks.
Some men and their beliefs about their ownership of women's bodies.
Plum swallows the shame and anger and keeps walking. Around the corner she sees a version of herself, a sad and lonely outline with a beating heart. She sends Julia the list.
In a dark autopsy room, a surgeon pulls a piece of paper out of one of the dead men's throats: it says "JENNIFER" just like the tattoos. We're out.
Well. Of course I loved it, I loved seeing all the women of all the sizes speaking truth and showing what it's like to be waiting, waiting in limbo to be good enough to live life. That's what we're told; if we're good and don't eat and ignore the hunger and exercise when tired, hungry or in pain: we will be good enough for love. We'll be good enough for a full life that is reserved for the best of us, the winners of the rigged game that assigns us Best Before Dates and places in line for fulfillment.
Now, what I didn't like quite as much. Um, what's with the DUDES? No offense, Steven, Ben and Dominic, most of you are lovely (sideye Dominic), but this is a show about women and you weren't in the book and I am having issues processing.
The book was lifechanging, it felt as though Sarai Walker reached deep into my past and put it on paper, but with beautiful prose and so much deftness that I read it over and over trying to understand how this could be me but also so many others. There are so many women, so many kinds of women, it looks like life! Actual life that you never see on TV and I am just so thankful that they didn't change the essence of it.
One other small thing: the promos are almost entirely about the dropping of men out of the sky, I think we could do with a tetch more of that, don't you? Sure. Until next time! Which will be very soon, spoiler alert!