Dickinson

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Emily Clark

TV Series Review

Emily Dickinson was famously reclusive, but we do know a few things about her. She was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. She had a brother named Austin and a sister named Lavinia. Her father served in Congress. And she was a prolific writer of poetry, most of which was published posthumously.

But did you also know that she also smoked cigarettes with her buddy, George, cross-dressed as a man to sneak into a college lecture hall, indulged in opium at parties and was in love with the same woman as her brother?

Yeah, neither did we …

Antics And Obsessions

In pre-Civil War society, the Emily we meet in this Apple TV+ show is considered a “weirdo.” Rather than follow the conventional path of her gender (i.e. marry and become a proper housewife), the poet prefers a life of her own choosing: “I have one purpose on this earth and that is to become a great writer.”

A husband would likely put a stop to that—and she’s had plenty of suitors to choose from. Emily’s mother all but throws men into Emily’s path, who then fall into the crosshairs of her daughter’s absurd antics. (One suitor had a dead mouse dropped into his lap “like a cat.”) Some men try to convince her that she can have the best of both worlds, because by marrying one of them, they’ll ensure that she becomes a published writer.

But alas, even fanciful promises of fame aren’t enough to entice Emily into matrimony because, really, she’s in love with someone else. No, it’s not “Death,” who appears to Emily in a black carriage pulled by ghostly horses, though she certainly has a borderline unhealthy obsession with him (as many of her poems indicate). Rather, it’s Sue (her brother’s wife) who holds her heart. But since she can’t have her, she’s contented to live out her life as an old maid.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Apple TV+ takes a modern, yet somehow still traditional approach to Emily Dickinson. People dress according to the times, and the hot topics of the day, such as slavery and abolition, are discussed ‘round the dinner table.

But Emily and her friends are anything but traditional.

Where the dialogue of most period pieces would be filled with colloquialisms appropriate to the era, Dickinson could likely be set in 2019 with few script changes. Emily doesn’t bother holding back curse words any more than she does voicing her controversial opinions.  She and her siblings enjoy throwing raging house parties when their parents are out of town (not to mention séances with actual ghosts and possessions involved).  And if you thought that these young adults would be modest regarding their sexuality, then you’d be wrong.

Dickinson had all the potential to be a delightful expression of America prior to the Civil War, and a creative-but-period-accurate depiction of one of the country’s most beloved poets. Unfortunately, this bold—and often crass—interpretation of the poet just doesn’t feel genuine and comes off as more of a disappointment than anything.

Episode Reviews

Jan. 29, 2021: “Split the Lark”

When the Dickinsons attend the opera for the first time ever, they each discover new things about themselves.

Two women kiss. A man tries to put his hand up his fiancé’s skirt. Women wear dresses with cleavage. A man chastises Emily for telling his wife that Emily is in love with him. Someone alludes to rumors that a publisher has sex with the women he publishes.

People drink champagne. A man ditches his wife to have drinks with his friends. People lie. A woman insinuates that her fiancé is dumb. We hear several people discussing how lavish someone lives. We hear uses of the s-word and “p-ss,” as well as a misuse of God’s name.

Nov. 1, 2019: “Because I Could Not Stop”

Big things are happening in the Dickinson family. Mr. Dickinson announces his decision to run for Congress. Austin announces his engagement to Sue Gilbert. And Emily becomes a published writer when her friend George agrees to put one of her poems in his college’s literary magazine.

A young couple engages in a sexual activity (his head is beneath her dress). Two women make out. A man kisses a woman on her cheek and she cringes. A man lays down next to his daughter on her bed while talking to her, and he falls asleep. (This is not intended to be sexual, but it did feel odd to watch given the direction of the rest of the show.) The s-word, “h—” and “d—it” are all heard, as well as several misuses of Christ and God.

Two young people hide from their parents to share a cigarette. One man smokes a pipe and another smokes a cigar. People drink wine at dinner. Liquor bottles are seen in the back of a carriage. Emily’s grandfather is described as a drunk and a debtor.

Emily envisions “Death” as a man riding in a carriage pulled by ghostly horses. She tells him that you become immortal by being good and well-behaved so as to get into Heaven. A woman enters a room growling with her hair over her face to scare her mother. The camera pans away just as a chicken is beheaded. A woman throws a plate into the fireplace, breaking it. She cries as her father yells at her for disobeying his rules. He later cries as he apologizes.

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

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