Dickinson say goodbye to us this week – too early, but beautiful. What awaits Emily and her family on their last date? Can she overcome history and find a happy ending that is denied to her by facts and heritage?
Apple TV + alt-historical show says goodbye on a sweet, somewhat ambiguous note – and finds its strength in invention. Emily Dickinson, we barely knew you.
Dickinson summary: ‘This was a poet -‘
In the finale of the series titled “This Was a Poet,” Death (played by Wiz Khalifa) is last visited by Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) in her garden. He is here to give you advice. Don’t sweat with death, it’s just a part of life. What Emily really needs, he says, is a new look. Then they have a little dance party. (For two professional music performers, the actors don’t really have any movement.) The scene is a bit silly. But Emily agrees. That is it’s time for a new look.
Emily’s brother Austin (Adrian Enscoe) and his wife, Sue (Ella Hunt), finally return to Dickinson’s house to make peace with Mr. and Mrs. Dickinson. Austin wants to rejoin the family – but he also wants something from Mr. Dickinson (Toby Huss). A rich local family tried to sell their housewife into slavery. Her brothers saved her, but they were all caught. If the Dickinsons took the case, it could finally save the family’s reputation.
Betty (Amanda Warren) and Emily reconcile after an argument the other day in front of Dickinson’s house. Betty is still upset that she hasn’t heard from Henry (Chinaza Uche), but recognizes that Emily was just trying to help. Emily asks Betty for help to make herself a new dress, one that won’t interfere with her breathing like all her corsets and dresses. It must be easy to wash, fastens the front and has pockets.
Colonel Thomas Higginson (Gabriel Ebert) finally arrives at Dickinson’s household. He tells the assembled family that Emily is telling the deepest truth about the war she has never seen. “Tell me, when did you first realize he was a genius?” he asks into the blank stares of all present.
Emily’s younger sister Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov), meanwhile, is working hard on her latest artistic statement – a full-length yarn gut. She springs out of nowhere carrying him and reciting a song about the dead from the war. She, of course, immediately falls in love with Higginson. Before he can meet Emily, he gives Betty the letters Henry wrote for her.
You’re busy, Miss Dickinson
Dickinson ends with a deliberate note of beautiful incompleteness. Emily doesn’t go downstairs to meet Higginson. Indeed, we never see her leave her room again. Instead, she disappears to the beach where she sees mermaids on a distant rock, then gets into a boat and starts paddling towards them.
That’s a fantastic note to end on. I wish the show had the courage to be more disappointing and sealed in its poetic inclinations during its short showing. This last chapter of the show simultaneously shows the powerful performance of the entire cast, the great discipline and joy of the writers, and the sensitive and sad eloquence of the director. (In this case, it’s the show’s creator and lead writer, Alena Smith. Directing the show’s final episode is kind of a tradition for show hosts.)
At its best, this episode approaches a decided silence Silent passion, a 2016 film about the life of Dickinson by Terence Davies, one of our best artists. He cheats a little by grabbing Eric Satie’s tune to do an emotionally difficult lift. But with no chance of resorting to hyperbole, I’d say the episode deserved it. The wacky family chatter slowly subsides, and then Emily is alone in her room, watching the seasons go by, happy with her life and work. She is aware that the life she dreamed of may have limitations, but also that she leaves behind a legacy worth living.
Dickinson it was a show with a series of imbalances and absences, digressions and missing pieces, but I will miss them very much. When the second season ended, I saw a spark of excellence from the creative team that they fully realized in this last season. And although there was still occasional tampering, I’d really like to see where they go next.
But then this elegiac moment, this recognition of the defeat of time, is perhaps the best way to end a show about someone whose life was marked by as many things taken away as there were given things. DickinsonHis imperfections made it interesting, but what was right were the gifts and I feel grateful to have received them.
This week in millennium speech
Emily calls the bumblebees in her garden “busy and busy”. She describes the new death suit as “fire”. Lavinia describes her art project as an “epic yarn bomb”. When Higginson shows up, Emily panics because their “relationship is purely textual”. She says she lied about her appearance in her letters to which housewife Maggie (Darlin Hunt) says, “You caught him.” Mrs. Dickinson is rude to Higginson, but Sue stands up for Emily’s name; this man could make Emily’s career after all, so she dresses up Mrs. Dickinson (Jane Krakowski), who replies … “Susan Gilbert, you really are that bitch.” I will not miss this part of the show.
Dickinson season 3 on Apple TV +
You can now stream all three seasons Dickinson on Apple TV +.
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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