Still reeling from the events at the opera, Emily is whisked away by the other Dickinson women for a ‘spa’ day to heal. But what is Emily truly ailing from?
In the seventh episode of Dickinson’s second season, we find Emily in her room. Not uncommon for the reclusive poet, but it’s the days following the heartbreaking events at the opera, and Emily’s retreat into her sanctuary has her loved ones worried. Her mother, Mrs. Dickinson, is especially concerned that her daughter is truly sick with something serious, including ‘spiritual measles’, which I really only bring up because it’s fun to say.
The solution: a girl’s trip to ‘the water cure,’ aka a nineteenth-century version of a spa. Along for the ride are Vinnie, Aunt Lavinia, and Sue – and the real Sue this time, not the beautiful vision that sings Emily’s poems or makes out with her on an empty stage in the poet’s imagination. No, we’re back to the Sue who is keeping Emily at arm’s length, though to what end, remains unclear. Sorry, EmiSue fans.
Now, what episode six delivered in theatrics, episode seven delivers in laughs. I honestly could’ve watched Jane Krakowski being beaten with eucalyptus leaves while being strapped to a chair in the name of ‘wellness’ for the entire 30 minutes. But then I would’ve missed Hailee Steinfeld getting dumped over the head with an entire bucket of water… and Anna Baryshnikov sitting a tub full of what is meant to be mud, but is suspected to be, well, you know. Yes, simply put, the water cure is ridiculous, as only the writers Dickinson could conjure up.
But Emily is not feeling rejuvenated. If anything, the water cure seems to be pissing her off. When she finally steals a moment alone with Sue, she lets everything go like word vomit. She admits her mind is so plagued with thoughts of Sam, she can’t do anything, least of all write. Clearly, Emily’s infatuation with Sam and fame is no good for her. She obviously can’t be the great poet she’s meant to be while striving to be in the limelight. Furthermore, when Sue was her muse and only reader, not only was Emily at the top of her game, she was actually happy. So, as the distance between EmiSue continues to grow, the fallout becomes more and more severe. It’s really starting to feel like their relationship is hanging on by a thread. Regardless, Sue, who has continually dropped hints that she needs a bit of relaxation herself, begs Emily to cool it with the Sam talk and just trust that everything will work out.
Spoiler alert: that doesn’t happen. But there is a glimmer of hope when Emily runs into a familiar face, George. He’s back from his rather unsuccessful trip out to strike gold. Poor bastard decided to take the ‘Oregon Trail’ to the West Coast and as any 90’s kid with a PC could’ve told him, that never ends well. (Kudos for the joke about dysentery, writers!) But in their brief exchange, he reminds her that her work had a lasting impact on him and that when he was her publisher for a hot second, he valued what she had to say. That seems to lift Emily’s spirits, but not by much.
Enter Mrs. Dickinson, now beaten raw from her treatments. She invites Emily to join her for a cocoon wrap and a bit of bonding. The former leaves them enraged (“I hate this place,” Mrs. D deadpans), but the latter, it turns out, is exactly what Emily needs. Breaking down in tears, Emily professes her love for Sam to her mother, saying she’s completely overtaken by him. She goes so far as to say she’s been ‘infected’ by him. Though her mother has always been pushy about marriage, seeing her daughter like this simply won’t do. Mrs. D immediately props her daughter up, reassuring her that no one should have the power to make her unwell and that only someone truly ‘worthy’ should be the recipient of her love. And with that, as Emily puts it, she is finally almost healed.
They return home, with Emily and Sue sharing a moment as they part ways across the lawn. “I’m rooting for you,” Sue tells Emily when she says she might actually feel well enough to write again. So much is still left unsaid, but for a second, it feels like the poet and her muse could be finding common ground again. Emily walks into the house and finds, well, well, who else but Sam in her foyer. She breezes past him, saying with ease that she’s finally stopped worrying about him publishing her. With a smile, Sam announces that her poem will be on the front page the next day. Overcome with excitement, the whole day’s events apparently forgotten, Emily rushes to her room to collect her most precious treasure: her entire collection of poems. She hands over all of her work to Sam, asking him to read and publish every word she’s ever written. Good move? We’ll see…
Elsewhere in Amherst, Austin’s frustration with Sue and her cold demeanor has him looking for comfort in another – namely the ‘hot widow,’ Jane Humphrey. While discussing her will in his office, he steals a kiss, seeing in Jane everything he wants from Sue: a loving gaze and a child. Whether this will carry on, time will only tell, but with divorce not being a thing in the 1850’s, it’s safe to say that whatever follows is going to be a problem. And, let us not forget Austin’s jab at Sue at the opera last week, about spending time with someone else.
And finally, there’s a lot of attention spent on Emily – the show is called Dickinson, after all – but there is an impressive separate story brewing in the background of Emily’s, one that speaks directly to the life-altering events to come for America as a nation. Week to week, the black members of the Amherst community keep popping up in short, but significant scenes. We know that Henry, who works for the Dickinsons, has become the editor of an abolitionist paper being printed in secret in Austin’s barn. We know that Hattie, Sue’s maid, is one of the best ‘freelance writers’ contributing to the paper’s important message. Now, we hear from Betty, the town dressmaker and Henry’s wife, who is becoming increasingly frightened about the consequences of her husband’s work. She warns him that more ‘polite letters from the south’ – aka death threats — are coming by the day, and she’s worried for the safety of their family. But Henry stays firm: their family will never be safe, so long as slavery is still a thing in America. The moments give real gravity to the time these characters are living in and stark parallel to Emily’s journey to be heard. Sometimes, being heard is the only way to make change – but it can come at a greater cost than just yourself.
‘Dickinson’ Season 2 episodes premiere weekly on Fridays on Apple TV+.