Reconciliations abound and new beginnings rear their heads on the penultimate episode of Dickinson, the alt-history Apple TV+ series about the great poet and her family and friends. And the show prepares to say goodbye in fine, fine form.
Dickinson finally answers its loose-end questions about Emily Dickinson’s place in history (and, indeed, the place of art and poetry in a more general sense). The show finally explores what it means to want to create during a destructive time — and it’s a shame the showrunners won’t be able to do more after landing in such a beautiful place. There’s still some sitcom business, but that’s less important.
Dickinson recap: ‘Grief is a Mouse’
In this week’s episode, titled “Grief is a Mouse,” businessman Ithamar Conkey (played by Robert Picardo) tries to encourage Mr. Dickinson (Toby Huss) to run for office. But with everything going on at home, Emily’s father simply can’t accept. With his wife and children in poor mental health and embittered relations, he can’t put more distance between himself and them.
Emily’s younger sister Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) is exhibiting more and more creative signs of derangement. Emily herself (Hailee Steinfeld) is furious with their father for leaving everything to their big brother, Austin (Adrian Enscoe). Austin hates their dad for stifling his creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. And Mrs. Dickinson (Jane Krakowski) remains practically mad with grief over the loss of her sister.
Emily has an idea. She gets Lavinia and Austin together and tells them about the will. Austin agrees to gift them their independence when he comes into possession of their father’s estate, finally reconciling them. Emily also gets her mom out of bed by having her reconnect with her dead sister. Or … anyway, with a mouse that she finds that reminds her of her dead sister. It’s a very lovely little scene.
Confessions and victories
Austin also confesses to his wife, Sue (Ella Hunt), and George Gould (Samuel Farnsworth), who’s lately been drafted, that he paid someone to take his draft card and go fight for him. They forgive him because they understand that he doesn’t want to abandon his family. That seems a little tidy, but whatever — Dickinson is wrapping up. Austin was never the show’s most interesting character and it would have been cool to see him do a little actual suffering for what he’s put the whole Dickinson family, and especially Sue, through.
Meanwhile, Henry’s (Chinaza Uche) men have won their first victory and their reward is autonomy. Colonel Higginson (Gabriel Ebert) gives Henry a rank and leaves him in charge of the unit, but not before confessing that he’s heading home to Boston by way of Amherst to see Emily Dickinson. Henry finally decides to man up and give Henry the letters he wrote to Betty (Amanda Warren) but never sent.
Speaking of sending missives, Sue sent one of Emily’s poems off to a paper for anonymous publication. And as a farewell gift to George before he goes to fight in the Civil War, she finally consents to read a poem aloud.
Drafts of many kind
I suppose I should be less surprised when Dickinson keeps making Emily into someone different than the historical record. But I confess, the bittersweetness of the show’s telling of Emily’s life as something apparently far more guided by personal agency is quietly heartbreaking. Maybe she did get to enjoy herself and her life and her sexuality the way that they say she did here. Maybe it’s closer in spirit to what’s been written. The fact is that watching this Emily finally get her way is very affecting indeed.
The show knows it’s on its way out and is wrapping things up very neatly. Very neatly indeed when you consider the word on how the rest of Dickinson’s life went. But this show has always been about wish fulfillment and empowerment fantasies. You simply can’t begrudge the showrunners their version of history.
It’s stirring and warm-hearted and I can’t help but feel like any young person interested in Dickinson’s poems can’t be harmed by the differences in their story because they gift Emily a happy ending she wasn’t given by life itself. I’ve had my problems with this show over the years, but it’s really come together for me in this home stretch.
This week in millennial speak
Robert Picardo’s Mr. Conkey describes Emily as “a wild child.” He tries to convince Mr. Dickinson to become a part of the Republican Party with the promise that he’ll “be on the right side of history.” After the battle, a soldier named Michael Jordan (Curtis Morlaye) says he feels like a bird, that he can fly, and fellow soldier Erasmus (Myles Evans) says, “I believe you can fly, too, Michael Jordan.” Lavinia is workshopping a performance piece called “Sheep No More.” That’s a joke they walk about seven miles out of their way to make like it’s work of the comic relief in a ’40s gangster film. Sid Melton wept.
Watch Dickinson season 3 on Apple TV+
New episodes of Dickinson arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.
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.