Plum awakens the morning after her assault in “Plum Tuckered” to find herself in a locked bedroom. Sana, delivering a change of clothes, claims, “These quiet rooms are for reflection. You’re free to leave if you want to” — but though her door is eventually left open for her to check out the rest of Calliope House, she remains belowground until the last seconds of the episode. If “Belly of the Beast” was structured to make the viewer feel just as claustrophobic watching it as Plum does in her confinement … mission accomplished?
Leeta’s is the story line that advances the least. She leads police on a high-speed chase ending at a protest in DUMBO … except, whoops, it’s not her; it’s another enemy of the patriarchy in a Leeta-like disguise. Plum sees Leeta arrive at Calliope House, demand that Plum admit her, and then threaten her life when she doesn’t … except, whoops, that’s just a nightmare. Julia eventually reveals that she’s talked to Leeta, who is somewhere safe, but other than her photo on the digital news screen, we don’t see her.
When Dominic stakes out Julia’s apartment building to question her about her relationship with Leeta, though, Julia realizes she’s probably no longer safe. She comes up to what is still, for the moment, Kitty’s office, tries to comfort her about the press release putting a good-ish face on Kitty’s demotion to Senior VP, and then confesses: she and Leeta were romantically involved (or, at least, sleeping together); Leeta stole the emails; and Leeta was probably behind the earlier hack as well. She states that she’ll speak to the FBI — which is now involved in protecting Austen from threats by Jennifer — and will resign if Kitty wants her to; however, Kitty orders her not to talk to the FBI in order to insulate both the company and Kitty herself, and also, Kitty’s just going to fire her.
It’s not clear why, under those circumstances, Julia wouldn’t be more motivated to narc on Kitty but, at least this week, she doesn’t; she hasn’t even gotten into an elevator before Alison, the assistant who brought Plum to meet Julia in the series premiere, has told her that Kitty’s already changed the door code on the beauty closet. To her entreaties, Eladio promises to wrap up whatever loose ends Julia directs him to.
From Austen, Julia heads straight to Calliope House. This is our first time seeing Julia interacting with Verena, who answers her knock, and it’s chilly; Verena only admits her when Julia says she didn’t know where else to go, so: Expect to find out more about their falling-out. Plum is surprised to find Julia, later, in one of the other quiet rooms, and even more surprised when Julia asks if she wants to see a magic trick. Methodically, Julia strips completely: first her wig, false eyelashes, and makeup; then her clothes; all the way down to her shapewear, and finally her bra, which two silicone cutlets have been filling since Julia’s double mastectomy.
Plum is sorry about Julia’s surgery, but Julia scoffs that she shouldn’t be: “Two less things to worry about.” (I haven’t been able to determine whether Tamara Tunie, who plays Julia, has also had a double mastectomy; if not, I assume AMC borrowed a little from The Walking Dead’s explosion budget to pay for extremely convincing CGI; and if so, I’m very happy she’s still well and with us.)
Back at Austen, Kitty is having a hard time accepting her downward status bump — she already regrets not having quit when Stanley put her in check, and orders a pastrami sandwich with fries and a Coke for lunch — but starts to feel more like herself once Julia’s out of the building and Kitty can roam the beauty closet without a gatekeeper. This is where Dominic finds her: He shows her the pic Plum had taken of the framed photo on Verena’s wall, and Kitty cracks that the mystery woman is Julia’s “fat sister.” I suppose we only saw this image in quick flashes so we couldn’t tell it was obviously Julia with an old hairstyle, or it wouldn’t make any sense for Plum not to have recognized Julia herself. Anyway, Dominic thinks his having ferreted out Kitty’s traitor means he’s done with the job she hired him for, but Kitty’s decided she likes having him around, and she doesn’t want him sharing his information about Julia with Stanley or the FBI — though, again, I don’t know why she thinks he would be loyal to her, particularly after she comes on to him and accuses him of popping “a semi” at the mention of Plum’s name.
And Plum? She’s left to discover as much about herself as she can spending a day in Calliope House’s basement. She’s drawn to the flickering lights and strange noises coming from a room at the end of the hall, but Verena warns her that she isn’t ready to experience it yet — also assuring her that, if she doesn’t ever want to, she won’t: “Nothing happens here without your consent.” Despite essentially throwing herself into Verena’s care at the end of the last episode, Plum is still suspicious not just of Verena but of therapy. Verena agrees that therapy won’t solve Plum’s anger, but that Verena can help her to direct it, make it bearable. Sarcastically, Plum snits, “‘Bearable.’ That’s comforting.” “What about the New Baptist Plan makes you think I am interested in your comfort?” Verena asks. Plum is entirely caught off guard by this response, but Verena resists her attempts to tease out more of an explanation, saying only that the final phase of Plum’s plan is to think about what she’s gone through.
Plum spends most of her interactions trying to trick people into confirming her suspicions about Jennifer, and which Calliope House affiliates might be murderers. Sana, assembling a mosaic of her old face using photos of herself, says of the Calliope House residents, “We change the world one person at a time. We share our dreams, and Verena challenges us to realize them.” “What if your dreams are killing people?” Plum replies. Sana tells her she should write down questions like those, and be patient. When she tells Plum the story of her facial burn — her mother was going to leave her father, who punished her by throwing acid in Sana’s face — Plum says, “Sometimes I understand why … why Leeta wants to kill people.” Sana says they don’t know she did, and leaves her with the final thought that the gift of her current face is how it acts as truth serum on the people who see it, teaching her whom to avoid. To Plum’s question, she says it doesn’t make her hate “the jerks”: “Not anymore. They have to live with their ugliness. I don’t.”
Plum also gets closer to Julia, who is at Calliope House on condition that she not talk about work, but is granted leave by Verena to ask Plum one question: Did she tell anyone else about the emails? She did not. Later, chilled by the basement, she asks to get into bed with Plum and for Plum to spoon her, promising not to try to take it further. She gives Plum a thumb drive that contains her work in progress — a book about the beauty industry — and extracts a promise that Plum finish it if something happens to her. Plum’s condition is that Julia answer one question: “Straight, no evading … How did you go from writing an exposé to killing people?” “I didn’t,” says Julia.
Plum later tells Verena that touching Julia, and being touched by her, was a breakthrough: She hadn’t touched anyone like that in years, and it felt great. Verena tries to get her to tell the story of her assault, and though Plum’s been flashing back all day to the men who wronged her — Jack, the food fetishist; the rude stranger who punched her; Dominic, admitting his lies — her description ends up mostly being about Dominic’s betrayal and her disgust at the way he looked at her: “I think I knew it wasn’t real … He was just using me.” She liked having a story to tell about a boy, and says, “I hate being like this.” “What if it’s not you that’s the problem?” challenges Verena. “What if it’s everybody else that needs to change? What if it’s not you that’s wrong, it’s them?”
If this is the prompt that’s supposed to touch off Plum’s breakthrough, it will have to wait: Dominic is there insistently asking for Verena, who shuts down his attempts to apologize to Plum in person. Left alone, Plum finally makes it to the forbidden room at the end of the hall: an art project of Marlowe’s that projects the top 100 videos on PornHub at any given time. Sana is sitting on a bench in the midst of it all, watching with a creepily serene smile, and tells Plum why she finds it reassuring: “Look at their bodies, their faces. Do they look like us?” Plum says they don’t. “No. They’re perfect. They’re the precious ones. How’s that working out for them?” As with the Stella Cross story last week, the show’s position seems to be that porn is uniformly exploitative for women, an old-fashioned feminist position that doesn’t take into account either the women who affirmatively choose sex work nor the women who consume it.
But: This, in the end, seems to be what has led Plum to a breakthrough, in concert with the excerpts she’s read from the journal Leeta was keeping on her at the start of the season, which Julia has brought for her. To wit: “Plum thinks she’s afraid of other people’s opinions — their judgments, their assumptions. Afraid of not being acceptable. But really, she’s afraid of herself. She’s afraid of what’s inside, because the minute she stops caring about that shit? She’s going to be a beast.”
“Fuuuuuuuuck this,” says Plum to Marlowe’s PornHub room, stalking up the stairs into natural light for the first time in the episode.
A wall of flames precedes the beast Plum is now ready to be. Says Verena: “Look who’s awake.”