Dickinson Season 2 Premiere Review: No Guts, No GloryJessica Lerner at .
After a year-long hiatus, everyone's favorite series about the life of one of history's greatest and most rebellious literary genius is back in fine form.
And the timing of Dickinson Season 2 could not be more perfect because while the literal world is still a chaotic mess, the sophomore season, with its unique and flawless blend of historical accuracy and creative interpretation through a modern-day lens, offers a great escape from reality.
The first three episodes, which take place a year and a half after the events of Dickinson Season 1, have the same heart, comedy, and brilliance of the first season while also seamlessly expanding the world we've come to grown and love.
Succinctly, it's nothing short of glorious.
One of the running themes throughout the first three episodes is Emily's decision to seek literary fame.
Though regarded as one of the most important figures in American poetry, only a few of Emily's poems were published during her lifetime, with nearly 1,800 of them being published posthumously.
Emily: Sue, I want to be published.
Sue: You do?
Emily: Yes. I have to be published or I’ll die.
Sue: This is quite a change from yesterday.
Emily: I had a vision, a terrible, terrible vision of what it would mean to be anonymous. I don’t want to disappear from this earth without anybody knowing who I am. I have this demon in my mind that keeps trying to stop, but I won’t let it. I don’t want to be a nobody.
Sue: That is exactly what I have been trying to tell you.
However, Dickinson Season 2 Episode 3 ends with Emily seemingly on the road to literary fame after giving Sam Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican, one of her poems to publish.
Therefore, one of the season's overarching questions will become reconciling the fictitious Emily, played by Hailee Steinfeld, with the real woman from the 1800s.
It's a fine line to walk because the character creator Alena Smith has created -- a rebellious, ambitious, and smart young woman -- clashes with history's accounts of Emily, a reclusive spinster.
It'll be interesting to see what reason Smith and the other writers come up with to resolve this dichotomy and whether or not that reason is satisfactory.
During the first season, Edward was a big part of why Emily didn't seek fame or celebrity, as her father flew off the handle on more than one occasion when the subject was brought up.
And yet, on Dickinson Season 2 Episode 1, Edward seems to have accepted that Emily truly is a poet, which she passionately announced she would become at the end of last season.
He was almost supportive, wondering why he hadn't read anything of hers.
Maybe it's because Emily has yet to be published that Edward has backed off, or maybe it's just that he's finally accepting who his daughter truly is.
Whatever the reason, it's hard to see Edward being the reason Emily changes her mind.
Nobody: You’re in trouble.
Emily: What are you doing here? Who are you?
Nobody: I’m nobody. I’m here to give you a warning. Listen to me, Emily Dickinson.
Emily: So you know who I am?
Nobody: I do, but I shouldn’t. You shouldn’t be known. Do you understand me?
Emily: No, not at all.
Nobody: Emily, do not seek fame. Do not trust others that would seek it for you. They are not genuine. Fame is not genuine. It will use you. It will destroy you.
What could be a possibility is the mysterious ghost/hallucination/entity we're introduced to called Nobody.
Possibly a figment of her imagination, Nobody consistently tells Emily not to seek fame, for bad things will happen if she does.
It's somewhat ironic because while Nobody cautions Emily against seeking celebrity, it's actually because of him/it that she decides to move forward.
If Nobody had not appeared, Emily might have been content to share her poems with Sue, but when repeatedly told not to do something, we tend to do the opposite, just to spite the other person.
So while Nobody caused Emily to reconsider after their "conversation" on Dickinson Season 2 Episode 2, by the end of the following episode, she was no longer on the fence after yet another "encounter."
Clearly, all Nobody is doing is pushing Emily further into the spotlight, but it's possible if his/its portents come to pass that Emily will be forced to reconsider her stance.
If bad things truly do happen -- which they always do -- and Emily believes she's responsible because she refused to listen to Nobody's warnings, it may be enough for her to re-evaluate her decision.
That wouldn't be the craziest idea, especially on a show that heavily leans into the fantastical, but it would have to be done right to be satisfactory.
Whatever the reason is, Emily will still have to contend with the Sue of it all.
After all, Sue was the one who pushed Emily to publish her poems, even going so far as to connect Emily and Sam.
Sue: Emily, this could be the man to put you in the spotlight.
Emily: You mean publish my poems?
Sue: Yes, Emily, it’s time. You need to share your writing with the world.
Emily: You know I can’t publish. My father won’t approve.
Sue: Don’t give me that old excuse. You’re an adult now. You have to make your own choices. You can’t let your father stand in the way.
Emily: I’m not. I can’t.
Sue: You can. Your poems are works of genius. You owe them to the world to let them be seen.
Emily: I don’t need the world to see them. I only need you.
Sue: Well, I can’t be your only reader anymore. It’s not enough. You need more, and that’s why I’ve invited this man tonight. This man who is going to fall in love with your poems.
However, more interesting is the motivation behind Sue's actions.
It goes simply beyond a friend/sister-in-law/former lover wanting to help out someone she loves and see that person get the recognition that they deserve.
No, Sue's motivations are purely selfish, as she can no longer stand being Emily's only audience.
Emily's poems bring up loss and pain that Sue doesn't want to deal with, things she can't handle.
Over the past year and a half, Sue has worked very hard to shed her old destitute self and transform into this high society socialite, but every time she reads one of Emily's poems, she's reminded of everything she worked so hard to forget.
It's not just the poverty and loss of her family that plague Sue, but also the loss of her unborn child.
Sue has yet to process that emotional trauma, not even having told Austin about the miscarriage.
Like everything else, Sue has buried it so deep down, only surfacing when she reads Emily's poems.
While her motives are self-centered, it's hard to hate Sue because while she has ulterior reasons for connecting Emily and Sam, I believe she also wants Emily to succeed.
Austin: Can I ask you something?
Sue: Is it whether I want this horse? The answer is yes.
Austin: No, it’s something I’ve been meaning to bring up for a while now. I made you a promise, and I want to honor that promise, but every day gets harder for me.
Sue: Austin, what do you mean?
Austin: I was wondering if you’d ever be willing to try for a baby.
Sue: You swore you didn’t marry me for that reason.
Austin: And I didn’t, but Sue, I feel like something is missing from my life. wouldn’t it be nice to have something to take care of?
Sue: Why don’t you take care of me and buy me a new horse?
It'd be easier to be more sympathetic toward Sue if she hadn't become a raging b*tch as well.
It's one thing to settle into the role of this high society woman. Still, Sue's almost unrecognizable as this greedy aristocrat, more concerned with looks and appearances than those closest to her.
From her chastising Emily to show up to her party in disarray to demanding Austin buy her horses, it's evident this isn't the Sue from the first season.
Weirdly, this Sue would be more well-suited from the Austin of Dickinson Season 1, who, while sweet at times, was also a raging jackass, especially when it came to his treatment of Emily.
However, that version of Austin seems to be gone, like the old Sue.
The Austin we met in 1859 is kind-hearted, patient, and a good man.
He's respected Sue's desire not to have children while going out of his way to help Henry and other Black activists, what from letting them use his barn and giving Henry money.
It's this odd role reversal that has us rooting for Austin over Sue as their marriage falls apart.
There have been more than a few instances where we picked up on this tension that is, in part, due to their lack of communication.
Austin has tried to be open with Sue about his desire for children, but she hasn't reciprocated any attempts, not even revealing she was pregnant at one point.
Emily: I’m not here for the party. I’m here for you. As long as I can still see, I want to look at you.
Sue: Well, I am hosting.
Emily: You’re always hosting. You spread yourself so thin. Come on, I’ve been waiting all day, all week. I need to know. What did you think of my poems? Tell me.
Sue: I loved them.
Emily: You did? Oh thank god, thank god.
Sue: I always love your poems, but these new ones, they were… went beyond.
Emily: Say more, please.
Sue: Reading them, it’s like… it’s like my heart almost explodes.
Emily: Oh Sue, that’s what I want. That’s what I want you to feel.
Sue: Yeah, sometimes it can almost be too much. It can be so painful.
Emily: What do you mean?
Sue: It’s just that your poems, they make me feel things I don’t want to feel.
Emily: Like what?
Sue: Like when I lost the baby.
Emily: Oh Sue.
Sue: It was stupid to call it a baby.
Emily: It’s not.
Sue: It wasn’t a baby yet, but it was a thing. Then it was gone.
Instead, Sue chooses to keep it all inside, and that, along with some of the other changes, have made Austin and Sue less compatible as husband and wife.
This, though, is the 1800s, and people don't get divorced; instead, they are forced to put on a happy face and live in a loveless marriage.
That certainly would make things a little easier should Emily and Sue ever rekindle their relationship, but Sue's so far from the person she used to be that it's hard to see that happening.
As for the youngest Dickinson child, Lavinia is on fire so far.
Like Austin, Lavinia has gone and changed for the better.
Gone is the simplistic girl obsessed with marriage, replaced by this beautiful feminist woman questioning the patriarchy.
It's quite amazing to watch this evolution in Lavinia.
She's been given everything she thought she wanted on a silver platter, but now is having second thoughts.
Ship is the epitome of the 19th century equivalent of toxic masculinity, wanting a prim and obedient housewife who will be bear his children and take his last name.
Season 1 Lavinia would have jumped at that chance, but now she's finding out that maybe she wants more than that.
Ship: I’m glad you asked. I came here for you.
Lavinia: I’m surprised you even remember me.
Ship: Of course I remember you. You’re the most pure, simple, quiet, traditional girl I ever knew, and that is why I want to make you my wife.
Lavinia: Ship, Ship, we hooked up once. Then you hooked up with someone else the same night.
Ship: That wasn’t very chivalrous of me. You’ll see I’ve changed, Lavinia. I’m not that college dropout that got drunk and tobogganed into a lake. I’m a serious adult man with entrepreneurial instincts and a profound respect for women who embody traditional values such as submissiveness, chastity, and willingness to do household chores.
Lavinia: I’m not even like that.
Ship: You’re Lavinia Dickinson. You have tea parties for your cats.
Lavinia: Well, yes, but I’ve changed too.
Ship: Oh, and how have you changed?
Lavinia: I’ll show you.
Ship: Whoa, whoa, whoa, don’t you think we should wait until marriage?
Lavinia: Henry ‘Ship’ Shipley, I don’t think you have any idea who you’re dealing with.
It doesn't help that Ship believes Lavinia to be the embodiment of this perfect little housewife, and again we see someone's desires push the person in the opposite direction.
Thanks to Emily, Lavinia has started to realize that there's more to life than being a doting housewife, and there's more to her than Ship's idealized version of her.
She has truly come into her own during the first three episodes, and I look forward to watching her grow more as a character.
Some stray thoughts:
With things mostly nonexistent on the Emily/Sue romance front, it appears that Sam, played by Finn Jones, could be a potential love interest for Emily. Like Benjamin Newton, Sam Bowles is another possibility for the identity of the "Master" Emily addresses in three emotionally laden notes addressed to an unnamed figure Emily calls "Master."
With this in mind, it's plausible that Emily and Sam are romantically involved this season, helped along by the great chemistry between Steinfeld and Jones. Though I'd like to see Emily and Sue have an actual relationship at some point, I'm not opposed to exploring one between the former and Sam.
Jane Krakowski as Mrs. Dickinson continues to crack me up. I'm not sure what was funnier: Her telling Maggie in explicit detail about her plans for that night or the super random but highly entertaining telepathy thing with the presumed-dead sailor.
That seance was equally creepy and amazing. It was so fun to watch and must have been a blast to film. As for attending a real one after that, I'm not so sure because it was pretty scary at times.
God, I forgot how good this show was at one-liners.
So what did you think, Dickinson Fanatics?
What are your theories on why Emily goes unpublished?
Do you like this new Sue?
How much of a badass is Lavinia?
Hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts. If you missed the first three episodes, remember you can watch Dickinson online at TV Fanatic.
Jessica Lerner was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in October 2021.