Monday, June 11, 2018

REVIEW: 'Dietland' - Plum Experiences Severe Side Effects After Going Off Her Medication in 'Y Not'

AMC's Dietland - Episode 1.03 "Y Not"

Plum goes through withdrawal as she works on her new writing assignment. Jennifer rampages, leaving the country a fearful, bloody mess.

"Y Not" shows just how weird the tonal shifts of Dietland can be. On one hand, this is an episode where horrible men who have raped and abused women have their taped confessions beaten out of them released to the world only after they have been pushed out of an airplane to their deaths below. That's such a gruesome and violent story. One that shows that children are much more aware and attune to the world than parents would probably like at the moment given the subject matter. But it's also an hour where Plum has a full on hallucination of a tiger personified in her apartment. She is going through a serious withdrawal from her anti-depressants. It's a sharp twist in her personality that threatens to destroy so much of her life because of the actions she takes while trying to do it by herself. That shows just how resilient she can be while also fearing that no one can ever or will ever understand her views of the world and why she puts the pressure on herself to do things alone. It's the show covering up the sadness and tragedy of its main character's life by hiding it behind the absurd darkness of the Jennifer plot and the playfulness of the tiger coming to life in her apartment. And yet, the show can't hide from that true ugly reality of Plum's forever. She must experience her full range of emotions in the end to know exactly why she started taking these pills in the first place. Sure, they were incredibly limiting her life. She was perfectly fine just living in her little box. She never explored outside of a few blocks of the city. She never spoke up to be given more responsibility at work. And now, she is angry and passionate. She is able to articulate exactly why she wants to get this surgery because she is done having to apologize for the way she looks in a society that has trained her to be incredibly ashamed of her body. In the end, getting off the pills may be a good thing because it forces her to address her emotions. But it can also be so destructive as well because Verena's plan of attack may not always be the best way. Julia doesn't think so and Plum is very hesitant to believe that Verena could relate because she has skinny privilege of seeing the world from one perspective and not hers. Only Plum truly knows just how despicable and shameful the rest of the world can be to her.

But again, "Y Not" spends a lot of time just reveling in the withdrawal that Plum is going through. It's such a mistake for her to do this by herself. Verena even warns her that it's a foolish decision to stop taking the pills completely. The best way to avoid any side effects would be to wean her off the pills over time. She's been taking this medication for nine years. Her body has gotten used to the effect they have on her. Without it, her body chemistry will be thrown into chaos. Of course, it only turns out to be a chaotic struggle for a brief amount of time. It's covered in its entirety in this episode. It shows that Plum doesn't really want to listen to Verena and what she has to say to her about forming this New Baptist Plan. She just wants to collect the check that will help pay for her surgeries to become her true self. She is still of the mindset that her being skinny is the ideal life for her. She will only be happy and successful once she manages to lose the weight. Her family and friends don't want her to get the surgery. They only see the risks and potential complications that could completely change her entire life. They don't want her to go through that because they already see a beautiful woman and a special friend. But Plum walks through the world as a fat person who is constantly apologizing for her appearance. That's how she has internalized her self worth. She can't accept peace and happiness until she looks a certain way. That's what leaves Verena so worried about how this new relationship could turn out. She is concerned that it could quickly turn to tragedy. And yes, Plum does express some pretty dark thoughts after going through the withdrawal and confronting her mother and Steven. She doesn't want to live a life if this is all there is. Her family is horrified to hear that. It may change their perspective of her. They may see her as someone who needs more help right now. Getting off these pills may only be enforcing just how volatile she actually is at the moment in her life. She needs help. But she has to be willing to accept it too.

In the midst of this withdrawal, Plum only reaches out to two people. Julia and Dominic are the ones who ultimately take care of her. Her mother and Steven show up after the hard part is already over. Steven wanted to be there as her support system. He even offered his dog over to her for a couple of days to keep her mind focused on something else in this world. And yet, Plum believed withdrawal would be so easy. She could just take a mini-vacation in her apartment where she doesn't have to leave and visit the outside world. She can also finish the assignment given to her for fashion week. And yet, she doesn't accomplish anything because her mind is an absolute mess at the moment. She has this whole conversation with a tiger. When he first pops out of her nature documentary, she just accepts it as her reality. They are able to have a whole conversation about the different beauty standards throughout the world. In a country in Africa, women may even be encouraged to eat and have big, beautiful bodies. But Plum counters that they are enslaved and abused in that country as well. It's still a patriarchal society that wants to oppress women at every chance it gets. Encouraging them to be fat just emerges as a new form of control. Right now though, Plum needs someone looking after her. Her consciousness is basically just telling her to eat. She wants actual food. She orders it. But she mostly just forgets about it. That's a key distinction as well. When she ventures outside, she stumbles over the bags of groceries she has ordered. She just moves them into her apartment for later because she has a skin care emergency that needs Julia's attention. And later on, she just forgets they are there. In fact, Dominic chooses to do nothing with them as well once he discovers them. He just sees them as a woman needing to be cared for at the moment because she is clearly going through something very traumatic.

And yet, the show also makes a very big reveal regarding Dominic this week. For the first two episodes of the season, he was seen as the detective working this hacking case who showed a genuine, romantic interest in Plum. He was the guy who she could fall in love with and build a nice, stable life. That's the reality that Steven is pushing for her because he can see that there is a spark between them. But here, it's revealed to be a complete lie. That was already the sneaking suspicion after Dominic was seen last week stalking Plum's apartment. He was following her too closely to ultimately be seen as a good, nice guy. He is still playing into that narrative as well by flirting with Plum and caring for her as she goes through withdrawal. But it's also important to see that he's actually a private investigator hired by Kitty to look into this hack and the recent murder of the photographer the company liked to use. That shows that Kitty herself isn't as dim and vain as she initially appeared. Yes, she is still that way while also being very demanding of the people around her. And yet, she is also a person who is friendly with many people but not really friends with anyone. She is able to weaponize any kind of sentiment shared by someone close to her in a way to advance her own self interests. She is very concerned about how this scandal will potentially hurt her. She doesn't really care about the world at large. But she's still attune enough to know exactly how it works and the obstacles she will encounter along the way. She hired Dominic for this job. And now, he is cultivating Plum as a possible informant even though he's also married and has two kids. His family is worried about him and the job that he does. They are happy he is no longer a police officer. He got out of that dangerous life. But he may be moving into new dangers simply by interacting with the characters at Daisy Chain. That's exciting and the show ultimately plays fair by making this revelation early on in the season.

That also must foster a serious conversation about Jennifer and the secrets being kept about who is working alongside that vigilante group. They are radicals trying to make a better world by literally eliminating the patriarchy. Kitty believes that it's a lofty goal that is destined to fail because men would rather destroy the world than let a woman rule it. It's such a cynical statement. One to intimidate Cheryl into giving her any updates should Jennifer contact her again to deliver their message. Jennifer wants to be known as an organization willing to fight back against awful men and their behavior. They see themselves as actually doing something. For far too long, the justice system hasn't taken these issues seriously. It is also built from inherent sexism where it's difficult to believe the woman and it's easy to trust the man and be willing to give him a second chance to rehabilitate. Those are some powerful themes and stories that the show is currently exploring. And yet, there is just no personal stakes to this plot at all. It's a way for the show to deliver some very topical messages while showing just how dangerous things can become when pushed to the extreme. It wants to live in those broad parameters too. It enjoys being as big as possible with this very timely subject matter. And yet, there are simply too many scenes where characters cryptically talk about Jennifer and what the organization has done. It's meant to give the suspicion that someone like Verena or Leeta is involved - maybe to the point of actually being their leader. But the show is choosing to maintain the mystery of it all. As such, it is holding the audience at a distance because this story will only become personally engaging once it's clear that the audience should have a personal stake in its ongoing development. Right now, it's simply chaos to include a bit of chaos in the narrative. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Y Not" was written by Jacqueline Hoyt and directed by Michael Trim.
  • The show only hints at some of the things that Plum does while going through withdrawal. It's most personal when she orders the food. But it's also important to note that the tiger deletes a number of her work emails and she even tries to offer some coherent answers to them as well. Plus, she made a number of calls to many people on her contact list. That's how her mom and Steven knew to worry and why Dominic checked on her in the first place. But it could be most damning with whatever she said to Kitty.
  • Kitty is also very suspicious of Plum right now. She believes that she is a viable lead when it comes to the hack at Daisy Chain. She sees her friendship with Leeta being the only real evidence though. Plus, Kitty just holds the opinion that fat women are inherently jealous of the skinny people who don't have to work too hard at it. It's a personal grudge that could see them do any number of dangerous things.
  • Dominic asking questions about Leeta shows that she may be compromised for her role in the recent hack on the company. As such, Julia has to cover up her tracks by firing her assistant. She can even make it sound completely innocuous to Kitty as well. She values diversity in her workspace but too many eccentricities can also be a very disruptive thing. Leeta just wasn't a good fit in the beauty closet.
  • Kitty also just appears to have a lot of inside information about a lot of people. She knows that the company was still financing the legal team working with the photographer. They were the only company that didn't cut all ties with him after it was reported that he drugged and raped models - some of them even underage. But she also knows that her boss at the company, Stanley Austen, believes in traditional roles for women in the household - which means his wife, Abra, must stay at home and provide sex whenever he wants.
  • The mystery of Jennifer means there is bound to be a number of red herrings to trick the audience into believing we know what's going on. That appears to most be affecting Verena. She is seen talking with Barbara about some secret project of theirs. Meanwhile, another client even mentions the recent actions by Jennifer in a pretty suspicious way. But is it too much attention? And thus, can't possibly be true for Verena?