Dickinson, An Apple TV + show about a great poet that will soon be missed, arrives in its moment of truth this week. The episode titled “My Life Stood Still – Loaded Rifle -” is the one according to which the whole show unfolds – and there are two more left until the end of this final season.
Will Emily Dickinson become what history understands her to be, or is there some greater truth to this version of the poet? Strong performances and fearless writing lead the show to unexplored territory this week.
Dickinson summary: ‘My life stood still – loaded rifle -‘
Emily’s older brother Austin (played by Adrian Enscoe) does not want to attend the funeral of Frazar Stearns (Will Pullen), much to the chagrin of Emily (Hailee Steinfeld). He doesn’t want to see his father (Toby Huss) respect his friend’s legacy in front of town. Frazar’s ghost appears to keep Emily company during his funeral, at which a cannon is dedicated to him. He tells her that the war is terrible, like Dante’s Inferno. He also tells her that the war is true – that he showed him everything he ever wanted to know.
When Emily returns home, she gets the surprising news that Mr. Dickinson wants her to get into Austin’s shoes and help him put together his final will. Her father is obsessed with death from a heart attack. And since Austin started his own law firm (or at least he intended to before his draft arrived), Mr. Dickinson can no longer rely on him. They have heart to heart and Mr. Dickinson admits that he feels extremely happy that she took care of him and his family. Then he throws a bomb at her: she leaves everything to Austin.
Suddenly, all the work she did seems futile. What did she save the family for, if she will end up among the low equals? She turns away from him and leaves him after such a long attempt to gain his favor and watch over him.
A bottomless pit and pit
Meanwhile, Colonel Higginson (Gabriel Ebert) wakes up to wake up his men and discovers that Henry (Chinaza Uche) has taken the initiative and led them into battle without Higginson’s permission.
Betty (Amanda Warren) still longs for the discovery that Henry has joined, that he didn’t tell her, and that he may never return. She and Emily get away when she tries to convince Betty not to lose hope.
Surprised that she has forgotten her privilege, Emily runs into the woods and finds Frazar watching the bottomless pit, into which he reluctantly but deliberately descends. There he finds his sister Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) breastfeeding her dead ex-boyfriends. She complains that Emily’s conversation about art and emancipation made her think she has more in life than marriage and family.
She goes deeper and sees Austin, who complains that he ruined his marriage to Sue (Ella Hunt). She goes deeper and sees Mrs. Dickinson (Jane Krakowski), a wreck, who has lost her mind. She goes even deeper and sees her father, dead, and Sue, who says they can finally escape now.
Give up all hope
Betty finally expresses the inherent tension of the series to make the whole world hear: What is the difference between this girl and her family facing problems? The world is on fire and war threatens the freedom and lives of millions. Dickinson danced around this idea from the beginning, but now the show just can’t get away from it anymore.
By becoming a parade of personal and voluminous symbols and visuals, it finally responds to its own paradox. We need art because we need a record of what it was like to live, what it felt like to be creative in the worst times in history. Is there anything in life more than the eternal struggle for life and death that comes when people have irreconcilable disagreements?
The civil war, the show says, was necessary because it has always been life or death for blacks. Not that it was ever questionable, true, but we just would heard from the white characters of the show on the issue of war. Connecting with COVID-19 in the early part of this season gave him an attitude of fear and inevitability, not essential.
But here, Emily – a mute and helpless witness to Henry’s struggle – must see what Betty tells her: As she worries about her quarrels and weaknesses, people die. And they don’t die because Dad doesn’t respect them. They die because millions see them as inhuman property.
So Emily finally stops worrying about her problems and sees the problems of everyone around her, Dickinson also answers his question. Without art, life is just suffering or survival. Art is everything else.
This week in millennial speech
Sue tells the mourners that Austin is watching the baby while she attends Frazar’s funeral. “We have rejected pre-determined gender roles in our house,” she says. Besides, this was a very focused episode.
Look Dickinson season 3 on Apple TV +
New episodes Dickinson arrives on Apple TV + on Friday.
Look at: Apple TV +
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of a long series of video essays The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He wrote for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books i 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.
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