When Dietland premiered on AMC, its cutting perspective on women’s media and the overarching violence of the patriarchy made for an off-kilter, important-seeming entry into the summer TV lineup.
Over the course of the first season, protagonist Plum Kettle was truly put through the wringer as a plus-size woman whose desire to fit conventional beauty standards led her deeper down a rabbit hole of self-loathing, revelation, terrorism, murder, and yes, hallucinated bestiality in that one episode with the tiger-man.
But in the show’s season finale, which tries to tie Plum’s character development with the changes that have occurred in her world, the show’s message remains muddled and contradictory, with few heroes and even fewer reasons to believe that clarity is coming somewhere down the line.
The episode sees Plum become a member of Jennifer, the all-woman group that has been exacting revenge on rapists, sexual harassers, and others they deem a threat to the image of the strong, empowered women they’d prefer to rule the world. (Their most controversial murder was of a woman porn star who often acted in degrading scenarios.)
From a character standpoint, Plum’s decision represents her learning to externalize the way the world has made her feel about her body, by placing the blame on society instead of her own perceived failure to keep up with its standards. From a story standpoint, it’s…a little messier than that.
Are they together or are they tearing themselves apart? Dietland doesn’t have the answer.
Once Plum has joined Jennifer, her impression (and the audience’s) is one of simultaneous harmony and discord. The discord comes from seeing Jennifer’s voting process in action — each woman has a different idea about what the group should do next, with some focusing on the members using oppressive language in conversation and others straight up plotting to murder a congressman.
In contrast to the infighting is a scene where Plum sleeps among the Jennifer members, arranged on the floor like a Renaissance painting with a godly beam of light illuminating their bodies. Are they together or are they tearing themselves apart? Dietland doesn’t have the answer.
The other insidious thing about Plum’s involvement with Jennifer is that it continues to identify her weight as a potential problem, as something “wrong” with her. One member cruelly asks if Plum will be able to keep up with them if they have to run. In another pivotal scene, the leader of Jennifer screams at Plum to “move her fat ass” while they flee from the police. Disturbingly, the phrase “move your fat ass” parallels an earlier episode where Plum is sexually assaulted by a man who claims to “love her fat ass.”
Before Plum joined Jennifer and before the audience had insight into its inner workings, it seemed like the show’s locus for radical and (perhaps dubiously) justified change. Jennifer was the antithesis to Verena Baptist’s program of closely monitored understanding and introspection, where change occurred on the individual level. More importantly, it seemed like a natural if violent extension of vigilante justice seen in countless other TV shows.
Seeing Jennifer for what it is — a collective of imperfect, arguing women who still view Plum through the lens of her weight — is a disappointing way to end a season that spent nine episodes building them up as the answer to the patriarchy.
In a way, Dietland refusing to show both sides as flawed humans makes for fascinating character moments. Jennifer wants women in power, but when Plum’s former boss Kitty becomes the most powerful person at her company, she debases her employees and fires a black woman as her first order of business. Verena claims to want to help women of all kinds, but turns in Julia and her sisters in a disturbing arrest montage that shows the three black women shoved into cop cars while Verena smiles smugly, serene in her choice.
No one on Dietland is all good (though some characters are all bad). But the lack of resolution or ability to identify who beyond Plum is worth rooting for in the show makes the finale seem more unfinished than suspenseful. It’s possible that these issues could be further explored in Season 2, but one hasn’t yet been greenlit.
Dietland deserves a chance to hash out the political and moral issues it raised, if only for the sake of completing its story and saying exactly what it needs to say. Even when dealing with complicated problems, Dietland would be much stronger with a larger dose of clarity.