Dickinson‘s third season finally takes a turn for the better… in terms of quality. Things are most certainly not getting better for our dear Emily Dickinson.
The last episode, This is my letter to the World, found the young poet diving deep into exploring her purpose as a poet within the context of a war. We also got a significant glimpse into the experience of African-Americans fighting within the Union. This warring dichotomy takes a back seat in this week’s episode, though Henry’s side of things does not feel any less significant.
After reaching out to famed abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who first brought Emily’s work to the public, the poet received a letter of praise from her correspondent. With the ocean of doubt that plagued her last episode, this recognition brought her a great sense of validation in her work. A validation that used to come exclusively from Sue.
The episode pivots to explore the turmoil of each Dickinson family member. Mrs. Dickinson’s grief for her late sister Lavinia is more prominent this week. Though previously treated with a more comedic touch with Jane Krakowski’s addictive charisma, this episode approaches her more seriously. Mr. Dickinson continues with cynicism towards his impending death, even confronting his dangerous empathy for the Confederacy. Lavinia carries on with her theatrical solidarity of the Union soldiers perishing in the war. Sue feels abandoned with her newborn, consistently attempting to steal more time away from her beloved Emily. Throw in Austin’s inebriation and secession of the family, Emily suffers what most eldest daughters do: a dreadful pressure to keep her family from completely falling apart.
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Meanwhile, Henry continues his work with the free African-American men he’s been assigned to teach in the South. Though their time is brief, it might just be one of the most relevant moments in the entire series. It’s here that the show renews the balance between humor and political commentary. Henry is not framed to be struggling with the Southern men, but rather patient and determined. Once more, it highlights his own privilege as a Black man from the North. His students share their frustrations about not being considered official soldiers in a war that affects them more than anyone involved. Nonetheless, Henry’s words manage to avoid academic elitism when he stirs up motivation with his class. He argues that education is a tool to study the past in order to get to the future they deserve.
Transitioning back again from the South, we continue to witness the Dickinson family’s own civil war. Emily’s fragile attempt to bring the family together and make everyone happy ends in more drama, leaving the family in a tumultuous state. Multiple relationships are under pressure, some with no possible reconciliation in sight. Sue and Emily’s relationship is put to the test. Despite this being the series’ great romance, I cannot help but feel as though it glosses over Sue’s toxic nature from last season. Emily continues to push for her poetry’s success. The more she focuses on her writing helping other people, the less enthused Sue becomes.
Dickinson‘s mid-season episode sets high stakes for an impending climax as we near the series finale. Despite a shaky start to the finale season, series creator Alena Smith manages to reign in the show’s central tone once more and promises a satisfying send-off to our beloved young poet. – Ileana Meléndez
New episodes of Dickinson stream Fridays on Apple TV+.
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