Dietland — based on the Sarai Walker novel — got off to a rough start when it debuted a couple of months ago on AMC in part because it didn’t know what kind of drama it wanted to be: An intense character drama about an overweight writer, Plum Kettle (Joy Nash), trying to lose the weight or a conspiracy drama about a mysterious organization, Jennifer, that took #MeToo to the next level by brutally torturing and murdering men accused of sexual crimes. Unfortunately, in splitting its time between the two plots — and throwing in a third about Plum working as a ghostwriter for the Editor in Chief of a fashion magazine (Julianna Margulies) — it was unable to master either storyline.
Once it settled in, however, it began to put more emphasis on the character side, and Dietland improved dramatically: It morphed into a show about a character who decides not only to live with the weight but to live proudly. It was an odd journey that led her to a self-help cult and ultimately an epiphany she had while watching porn projected onto every wall of a room: That it doesn’t matter how thin or how fat she is, men are going to treat women the same way: As meat, as disposable objects, as orifices to fuck.
It was an unconventional journey, but once Plum gained some self-esteem, Dietland finally began to find its stride, only to completely break down in the final episodes after Plum was raped by a man with a fetish, which drove her into the arms of Jennifer. In the season finale, the show goes completely off the rails, as she’s accepted into an organization that murders men after she can’t bring herself to murder a man (what’s with the mixed messages?). The finale spends almost the entire episode with members of Jennifer, most of whom we’re introduced to for the first time in the last episode of the season.
What does she learn as a member of Jennifer? I’m not sure. That she can transform the Jennifer mission statement into fashion-magazine copy? That she can spend the night on the floor of an abandoned warehouse with a roomful of women? Or that — ridiculously — she belongs in Jennifer, because when the FBI is chasing her down after shooting to death another member, she has enough stamina to run (no, really: This is the climactic scene: Her finding the will to run as an overweight person so that she can become a member of a vigilante organization that violently murders sex offenders).
What happened to the character drama? Why did Dietland take a hard left turn into a shitty version of Mr. Robot? Did Marguiles’s character learn anything? What will happen to Jennifer now that they’re on the run? Will Verena Baptist (Robin Weigert) ever face consequences for inexplicably ratting out Jennifer? What was the point of Leeta Albridge? Where did Eve’s gay best friend (Tramell Tillman) even go? Why did they decide to destroy Dominic O’Shea’s life in the second-to-last episode for little or no reason? Will Campbell Scott get more than six scenes next season?
It’s unlikely that we’ll get answers to any of these questions, because despite heavy promotion, Dietland debuted with anemic ratings and lost more than half of those viewers by the end of the season (it had about 285,000 live viewers in the penultimate episode). Dietland has not been renewed, and it’s unlikely that it will, and there’s little to no reason to watch the first season. It didn’t even bother to end on a frustrating cliffhanger — it just kind of fizzled out, as though showrunner Marti Noxon knew it wouldn’t get picked up for another season and decided to phone it in because no one was watching anyway.
It’s a shame, too, because, underneath the layers of extraneous bullshit, there was a really compelling character drama featuring a spectacular performance from Joy Nash buried in the rubble.