Budding writer Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) uses her outsider’s perspective to explore the constraints of society, gender, and family in the 19th century.
When Apple TV+ first launched back in November of 2019, there were plenty of great options for viewers to choose from. You had The Morning Show, you had thriller movies such as See, and you also had the Alena Smith-created comedy-drama series Dickinson, which focuses on the life and struggles the infamous poet goes through in her day-to-day life.
Being a poet is definitely not easy, and the intricate art that goes into it is equal parts rewarding yet challenging, and that’s one of the most beautiful things about that initial outing. We get to see what type of writer Dickinson is, as well as her home life. What kind of relationship does she have with her family? Well, it turns out her father Edward (Toby Huss) despises the idea of his daughter becoming a poet. He tries everything he can to stop her from writing, but nevertheless, she persists.
She gets along a whole lot better with her sister Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) and she gets along sometimes with her brother Austin (Adrian Blake Enscoe). The season also shows us what she loves to do when she isn’t writing. And it introduced us to who her favorite person in the entire world is – Sue Gilbert (Ella Hunt).
The writing in that first season was simply superb. It was brilliantly witty and masterfully dark when it needed to be. There’s a moment in the last episode where Emily quite literally gets buried alive, but instead of it being treated as a one-hundred-percent pure horror scene, it’s half horror and half comedy, and yet it never felt jarring. It’s all thanks to great writing.
And although Dickinson‘s second outing is still a heck of a lot of fun to watch, and certainly boasts some incredible performances and stellar direction, it suffers greatly from unfortunately weaker writing this time around. Isn’t it ironic how a show about an excellent writer lacks great writing?
When you boil it down, season two is only really about one thing – Emily wanting to get her poems published and become a world-famous poet. She looks at a bookshelf in one episode and smiles just at the mere thought of seeing a book of hers in that place someday. She will do anything to be the next great poet, but there is just one problem – she is experiencing severe writer’s block.
This storyline was fun until it wasn’t. For the first couple of episodes, I genuinely got excited about where this season was potentially heading. It initially seemed it was going to deeper and more thought-provoking places than the first season, but sadly, it never really goes anywhere.
The best moments in season two come from the small moments that Emily partakes in during various episodes. “Forever – Is Composed of Nows” is an entire episode that is just spent at a spa during which the Dickinson’s get massages and skin-care treatment done, and while that may seem incredibly boring, its strengths lie within its character’s conversations. It’s actually kind of fun and entertaining to see what kind of things Emily Dickinson would talk about at a spa.
And as great as these small moments are, I just wish that the season as a whole had a storyline that had more to it. After a while, it got a little bit tiresome to watch, because each episode felt more or less like a repeat of the previous one.
But every episode is undoubtedly directed beautifully and the costume designers that worked on this show deserve a lot of praise because each piece of clothing pops and looks utterly gorgeous in every scene.
And of course, once again, Hailee Steinfeld is an absolute revelation as the titular Emily Dickinson. She is vastly layered and we feel like we know her on a personal level, even when she can be a bit mysterious. She isn’t as unfamiliar of a face this time around. In season two, we have a better understanding of how her brain works and how she comes up with all of her unique poems.
I’m assuming that we are going to be getting a third season in the near future, and I am eager to see what they do. But I’m just crossing my fingers that the writing is a little more amped up instead of season two’s more laid-back approach. Still, though, Dickinson‘s second season offers up just enough charm and captivating performances to make it worth checking out. Just don’t expect it to be as fresh and wildly original as it was in 2019.
Overall Grade: B
Created by: Alena Smith
Network: Apple TV+