Emily searches for the cure for wellness in a spirited Dickinson [Apple TV+ review]

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The ladies of Dickinson hit the spa in this week's episode.
The ladies of Dickinson hit the spa in this week's episode.
Photo: Apple TV+

In this week’s episode of Dickinson, Emily and company disembark to a health spa so everyone can unwind, though that’s not really what happens. Apple TV+’s millennial melodrama enjoys a mostly off week of batty jokes and ignoring the characters’ problems.

Dickinson review: ‘Forever — is composed of Nows’

Emily’s aunt Lavinia (Jessica Hecht), Emily’s sister’s namesake, has invited the Dickinson girls to a fancy health spa. Mrs. Dickinson (Jane Krakowski) has noted Emily’s melancholy and wants to insure she doesn’t get “spiritual measles.” (That’s her reasoning when Mr. Dickinson (Toby Huss) says they can’t afford the fancy treatment in the first place.)

Come hell or high water, they’ll find the cure for wellness, like in that Gore Verbinski movie The Weather Man. Emily (Hailee Steinfeld)’s sadness has become enormous. She now feels like her dalliance with Samuel (Finn Jones) has drained her of her creative spark. She blames Sue (Ella Hunt) for introducing them, but she rejects her high-key energy. “All you need to do is do nothing,” Sue says to Emily, which takes a minute to sink in.

The answer does come to her, and all she has to do is wait for good news. Her poem will be published on the front page of Sam’s paper. And when he hand-delivers the news, her heart once again awakens. She makes a rash decision that may just haunt her.

Hot widow Jane (Gus Birney) asks Austin (Adrian Enscoe) to be the godfather of her newborn baby. They used to date, and she feels he’s the only halfway sane and caring man in town. He has a moment where he remembers that he wants a family, and that Sue in all likelihood will not be willing or able to give him one. But Jane doesn’t want to ruin the life of a married man.

Henry (Chinaza Uche)’s family misses him because he spends so much time running the abolitionist press out of the Dickinsons’ barn. It’s once again a nagging question why this show feels the need to include the lives of abolitionists if the best they can do by them is a three-minute scene in an episode devoted to spa hijinx.

I’m open to any alternative as long as it works

Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, left) and Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) try and fail to relax on this week's <em>Dickinson.</em>
Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, left) and Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) try and fail to relax on this week’s Dickinson.
Photo: Apple TV+

The joke writing here is mostly a projected dramatic irony. The girls talk about relaxing as they’re beaten with sticks and have buckets of water poured on them from great heights.

Also, everyone takes every opportunity to ruin the calm of everyone present. Emily finally confesses to her mother that she is in love, and they have one of the few moments of true bonding they’ve yet had on the show. Krakowski gets off one of the best jokes in an episode full of decent ones during their bonding.

“Sometimes your father makes me so mad I could … undust his study,” she says.

They have this conversation swaddled in blankets in some kind of womb-regression therapy that just about gives them both a panic attack. It’s a nice change of pace that, though the nature of the jokes here have well-worn punchlines, at least they aren’t so “modern” they’ll be nonsensical in a few years time.

The episode also sets up a couple of dynamic shifts that seem like they’ll pay off before the end of the season, from Sue and Emily rekindling their friendship to Austin’s wandering eye to Sam and Mr. Dickinson becoming business partners at the paper.

Lots of wheels are starting to turn on Dickinson. Let’s see where they take us.

This week in millennial speak

Emily talks about her “brand” being “diseased and melancholy.” And there’s an Oregon Trail joke.

Dickinson season 2 on Apple TV+

New episodes of Dickinson arrive on Apple TV+ each Friday.

Rated: TV-14

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.