Time travel and weed take Dickinson to interesting new places [Apple TV+ recap]

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Dickinson recap: High times lead to laughs this week.
High times lead to laughs this week.
Photo: Apple TV+

Emily and Lavinia visit the future in this very special episode of Dickinson, Apple TV+s alt-history romp about the great poet. They head to 1955 while Austin gets desperate, Betty gets lonely, Henry gets creative, and Mr. and Mrs. Dickinson get high.

It’s a wild episode this week, rootless and maybe a little too cute, but that’s not unusual for Dickinson.

Dickinson recap: ‘The Future never spoke’

In the episode, titled “The Future never spoke,” Colonel Higginson (played by Gabriel Ebert) writes to Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) that he wants to meet her. This further upsets her situation with Sue (Ella Hunt), who wants her to be more serious about their relationship.

Both have reasons for being upset, and their anger seems inconsolable. Emily rightly resents that Sue just wants her to be there for the baby, and Sue rightly sees that Emily cares more about her writing than anything else. She’s also still furious with Austin (Adrian Enscoe), who she doesn’t know has enlisted. Upset, she goes to Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) to commiserate and the two make a fateful wish to skip this dreadful time and see the future. So the gazebo in which they’re sitting is struck by lightning and they find themselves in the 1950s.

They meet a Smith College coed (Chloe Fineman) who’s trying to get into their house because it’s … the Emily Dickinson house. Her name? Sylvia Plath. Sylvia knows all about Emily’s life, and rattles off a number of surprising details that shock both Emily and Lavinia, including in one case that she was supposed to have been crazy for a man and that’s why she died alone, and in another that she was a lesbian. This is news to Lavinia.

“The future isn’t what we expected it to be,” Emily says.

“The future?” Sylvia replies. “Don’t you know? The future never comes for women!”

Hopping through time and history

Meanwhile, back in the 1800s, Sojourner Truth (Ziwe) is back. She’s convinced Henry (Chinaza Uche) is cheating on Betty (Amanda Warren), and she tells Betty to get back out there and start dating. Sojourner suggest Freddy (Jamel Davall Rodriguez) the mailman, so off they go on an afternoon date.

Elsewhere, Mr. Dickinson (Toby Huss) finds weed growing in their shed, and Mrs. Dickinson (Jane Krakowski) suggests they smoke it. They have a stoned afternoon that’s very funny. Austin gets it into his head that he can pay someone to do time for draft dodging on his behalf.

Henry confronts Higginson about his refusal to give the black soldiers guns to defend themselves and he can’t relent for fear of being found out but if someone did want to break into the armory and arm the soldiers … he might be able to help. Oh, and Fraser Sterns finally dies, just as Emily predicted.

Might be the electroshock therapy they gave me

The Sylvia Plath characterization is par for the course for Dickinson, outsized and silly. It and Ziwe’s Sojourner Truth kind of bog down the episode in larger-than-life characterizations when there are already two high-concept ideas at play (time travel and weed).

This week’s episode isn’t perhaps as good as last week’s (or the week before’s) but it’s touching nevertheless for Emily to see her life’s work come to fruition. Even if it comes with the condition that she clearly lived in misery, according to most. I also like that Lavinia was more of a central figure to Emily’s journey instead of a pesky outlier. I like that she understands Emily’s confession about loving Sue and encourages her.

The family dynamic this season has been much more sincerely drawn and complicated, and I really like the direction they’re headed. Of course, I’m also upset we won’t get to see where they might have gone from here, since this will be Dickinson’s final season.

This week in millennial speak

Thankfully there’s not much — just by implication, like the weed talk and the contrasting of the past and the distant past. Emily’s first line this episode is “I was born in the wrong century.” Other than that, this is a pretty disciplined episode.

Watch Dickinson season 3 on Apple TV+

New episodes of Dickinson arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.

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.