Dietland Recap: Bangability Theory

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Photo: Patrick Harbron/AMC/AMC Film Holdings LLC. All Rights Reserved.
dietland

dietland

F… This Season 1 Episode 4
Editor's Rating 3 stars

Given that Jennifer has become a global topic of conversation in what seems to be a matter of weeks, one assumes that the world’s most powerful, high-end publicists, event planners, logistics specialists, and social-media experts are among authorities’ persons of interest. And, uh, murderers, I guess? We open this week with the news of a British tabloid editor whom Jennifer has killed; Jennifer had also kidnapped the editor’s son, but released him after the tabloid published Jennifer’s manifesto and swapped its pictorials of topless women for bottomless men. This latter demand strikes me as heteronormative, but given that the manifesto also demands only female U.S. presidential candidates for the next 50 years, perhaps the plan is for a similar several decades of Page 3 wangs before settling into nude gender parity.

Also progressing at a rapid clip is Plum’s New Baptist Plan. Apparently, the drug-withdrawal symptoms we saw Plum suffering in last week’s episode, “Y Not,” are all better now, and she’s ready to meet her new mentor. Marlowe Buchanan (the great Alanna Ubach) was a sitcom star until she went on vacation and cut 20 inches off of her hair (motion to request a “before” shot of two feet of hair on a five-foot-two woman); she lost her job and her berth in the business because she was no longer bangable. No one is better qualified than she to guide Plum on her path to becoming bangable — Marlowe literally wrote a book titled Bangability Theory — though she makes it clear, when Plum balks, that this part of Plum’s plan doesn’t actually require her to have sex with anyone: “It’s not about literal banging, silly,” Marlowe tells her. “And it sure as hell is not about what you want. It’s about what men want.” Gosh, how will Plum ever adapt to a reality in which her desires are subordinate to literally all men’s?

History’s most depressing makeover ensues, as Marlowe takes Plum to get waxed, injected, cut-and-colored, contoured, Spanxed, and heeled. Plum guesses early on that the lesson she’s supposed to learn from all of this is that “becoming thin is becoming bangable, and becoming bangable is like a prison of its own.” Rubi, measuring her so that she can alter Plum’s red “Alicia” goal dress, says she’s basically right, and that if Plum is still determined to have weight-loss surgery, she’s too tired to even try to talk her out of it, having only gotten an hour of sleep the night before due to a bomb threat against Calliope House, a radical space some find threatening: “Real change can’t come from inside. You’ve got to create a whole new system.”

Plum heads from there to a meeting with Kitty, who contemptuously asks if Plum’s new look is what had her missing Kitty’s calls all day: “You’ve been too busy tottering around town getting glam?” Kitty’s even ruder than usual because Jennifer has targeted Austen Media, demanding that the conglomerate also publish the manifesto; early in the episode, we see Kitty imperiously informing a boardroom full of men that she won’t do it. But Plum’s piece on the plus-size fashion show, written in a Y-withdrawal haze, is good enough for Kitty to publish in the next issue of Daisy Chain, and has opened Kitty’s mind, just a little: “I’m coming around on the specialized angle for my readers. I know that some of my girls have weight problems. At first, I didn’t want to encourage them to be fat. I mean, if you give them pretty clothes, where’s the incentive to be healthy? But in the end, I feel it’s nice to include everyone.” WOW, KITTY IS SO WOKE. On her way out, Plum is able to widen that crack she’s opened, shocking Kitty with the news that “her” girls, in their letters to the editor, are mostly pro-Jennifer: “A fair number of the girls seem exhilarated. Empowered, or something like that. I guess they feel like they matter, somehow.”

Bringing home the news that Plum will be published eases some of the tension between her and her mother, summoned east from Glendale at Steven’s request after Plum’s Y withdrawal freaked him out. Plum’s in a good enough mood to bake the chocolate cake she had promised Dominic and send him the cutest selfie of her with it. But then she washes off all of her contouring and reappears in front of Mrs. Kettle with her Botox and Restylane bruising newly visible; they fight about whether being beautiful, as Mrs. Kettle (correctly) describes Plum, is the same as being slim. Mrs. Kettle demands to meet Verena, and instead of agreeing to set it up, Plum flees to clear her head on a walk, which is when she’s ambushed by Leeta, whom Dominic had previously said was in the wind. Leeta wanted to say good-bye to Plum before leaving for parts unknown, possibly forever. After hugging Plum fiercely, she asks, “When Verena is finished with you, come find me.” Plum guesses that this is about Jennifer; Leeta will only tell her to be careful.

And with good reason, as radical feminism is changing lives all over the city. Mrs. Kettle goes to Calliope House to confront Verena — not just about the New Baptist Plan, but also the old one, and the ways Verena’s mother’s business hurt a young Plum — only to discover that she and Verena are pretty much on the same side. Verena explains, “All I am trying to do is help [Plum] see that happiness has nothing to do with how you look and how much you weigh.” But Plum is definitely not happy at the moment. Her final stop with Marlowe is at a plastic surgeon’s office, where she gets extensively Sharpied and can see herself in the mirror as the thin Alicia of the future … until he starts talking about the scarring that will result, and she can picture that instead.

Photo: AMC

I’m not 100 on the messaging here: A large body can be as beautiful as a small one, but a scarred body is ugly and pitiable? Not to say the effects of the multiple surgeries that may follow Plum’s stomach-stapling don’t warrant extensive and serious consideration, but what is the survivor of a scarring incident or injury — or, as in the situation Plum’s pondering, choice — to think about her body after watching this scene?

Anyway, Plum is already upset by her plastic-surgery consultation when Marlowe tells Plum that the next phase of her New Baptist Plan is to put on the dress Rubi altered to fit her current body and go on some dates. Plum says she wants to quit and is horrified when she goes to Calliope House to tell Verena and finds Mrs. Kettle now aligned with her, as Verena urges Plum to stop being so angry at and punitive with herself. Plum flees this confrontation, too, and heads for Steven’s café to serve Dominic her cake ( … not a euphemism). She easily flirts with him before apologizing for having called him during her post-Y fits; he assures her that it’s okay, since they’re friends. And when she tells him she’s thinking about ditching Calliope House, he asks her to stay and gather intel for him to try to find a connection between them and Jennifer: “Haven’t you ever wanted to be a hero?” The suggestion that she could write about it afterward is too tempting for her to resist.

Photo: Patrick Harbron/AMC/AMC Film Holdings LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Meanwhile, at Daisy Chain, Kitty finds that the ladies’ room mirror has been tagged with hundreds of revolutionary Post-its. She reverses herself on the manifesto, ordering it printed on the covers of all Austen Media’s women’s titles, and when the CFO comes to her office to talk down to her — literally; she’s sitting behind her desk while he looms over her and calls her “honey” — she informs him that she knows all about his affair with one of her former assistants when the woman (whose name was Jenny, HMMMMM) was 20, including that he forced her to abort the baby he fathered, so unless he wants Kitty to call his wife and tell her about it, that $500,000 expenditure on new covers is going to happen after all. She then heads over to see someone we’ve heard mentioned a lot but hadn’t met until now: Stanley Austen (Campbell Scott!). Here, Kitty confirms what we probably could have guessed: Her reversal on Jennifer has nothing to do with feminism, and everything to do with capitalism: “This is a ground-floor billion-dollar opportunity. This is Apple stock in 1980 … This thing is going to be bigger than climate change.”

Since about, oh, let’s say, mid-November 2016, there have been numerous cynical consumer items produced to suck money out of credulous libs’ wallets, often without funneling any of it to organizations that are actually trying to do good. (Jezebel had a good essay on this last year.) One need not even look any further for an example of this than … the commercial breaks during Dietland, one of which recently featured promos for its official aftershow, Unapologetic, in which host Aisha Tyler sported a cashmere “Time’s Up” sweater. At least, in this case, more than 25 percent of the $380 sticker price actually goes to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund; RIP, Safety Pin Box.

The point is, there is precedent behind her when Kitty seizes the opportunity to enrich Austen by commodifying Jennifer; she even makes Jennifer bangable by framing the manifesto with elegant fingers, nails pointy and painted red.

Photo: AMC

I’m not sure how effectively Kitty can ride this wave, though: From what we’ve seen, she has much more experience hating women than hating men …

… Though at least she knows how to weaponize her anger externally. Plum is still turning hers against herself — although her voice-over suggests that will change: “Back then, nothing was getting through to me.” As soon as Mrs. Kettle leaves to return to California, Plum calls to put down a deposit on her surgery: “I didn’t want to be the hero. I still wanted to be the hero’s girlfriend.” The story isn’t over, though, and as all those Austen lady mags’ covers remind us, “There will be blood.” … Uh, more blood.

Dietland Recap: Bangability Theory