“I don’t need my eyes to see,” DickinsonThe titular poet tells his worried family at the start of the second season of the Apple comedy. All she needs, she said, is her soul. “This is how I see the truth.”
It may seem odd to begin Emily Dickinson’s journey to our television screens with a trip to the ophthalmologist (which her father later decides is a charlatan). But as this season unfolds, it becomes clear that Emily’s iritis is a poetic device in its own right – and this commentary on her spiritual outlook is more than a whimsical statement from a young woman with a flair known for the dramatic.
This season, Emily grapples with the question of fame. Part of her, like any artist, desperately longs for validation. But another part, somewhere deeper, sees that notoriety can destroy as much, if not more, than it nourishes. Hailee Steinfeld’s masterfully calibrated performance once again provides a center of gravity for the series’ many interwoven themes – questions of who can be seen, the power that disenfranchised can grasp in their own invisibility, and the liberation that can be found through spiritual connection. And her fellow performers, especially Ella Hunt in her love for her sister-in-law, Sue and Anna Baryshnikov as her eccentric sister and daughter Lavinia, do spectacular work on meatier material.
No one will be shocked to learn that Emily, a poet who certainly contains her multitudes, is both in love and terrified of the prospect of fame. This season, that inner conflict is manifested by “Nobody” – a mysterious character that Emily continually bumps into in town, strangely familiar but invisible to everyone. “I am no one,” he repeats. “Who are you?”
It’s a question Emily has been asking herself, in one way or another, since Season 1 – but this time around another character has stepped in to try and provide an answer. Sue, Emily’s longtime lover who is also now married to her brother Austin, has become a popular socialite. (“This is so crazy! Sue is an influencer,” Lavinia says, keeping the show’s anachronistic dialogue alive.) A proud member of the thriving US salon circuit, Sue introduces Emily to eminent newspaper editor Samuel Bowles (which comes to life by The iron Throne alum Finn Jones). Sam, against the sexist tradition, makes it a point of honor to publish women in the Springfield Republican.
The second season, which begins Friday with three new episodes, takes place in 1859, at a time when Dickinson Creator and playwright Alena Smith’s ratings weren’t that different from ours. An information boom, fueled by the feverishly growing print landscape in the United States, has flourished alongside innovations in print technology – flooding society with more news than it ever has. had never seen before. Along with this media frenzy comes a wave of new opportunities for writers like Emily.
Under the idiosyncratic dialogue and ironic needle drops, Smith says that DickinsonHer goal has always been to use history, along with Dickinson’s work and the literary theory that emerged while she was alive, to reflect on our lives today. And fame, as she notes and fans know, “is a biographically complicated issue for Emily Dickinson.”
“Obviously, we know she would vehemently deny that she wanted fame,” Smith said. “She would present herself as someone who actively denigrated the impact that fame could have on an artist. But at the same time, you kind of have to ask yourself, ‘If you keep talking about it so much, why are you so fascinated by this?’ ‘
Equally important to Emily’s relationship with the celebrity this season is exploring who can actually be asking these questions. A civil war is approaching, although not everyone in the Dickinson circle is ready to admit it just yet – and Henry (Chinaza Uche), a black man who works as a servant for the family, runs his own underground publication, a which aims to support and fund black Americans in their quest for liberation. Henry and his fellow authors, including Hattie, played with delightful and irreverent wit by Big mouth‘s Ayo Edebiri – should post anonymously for own safety. Henry’s story and those of the writers he publishes provide a counterpoint to Samuel and Emily’s difficulties.
“I was trying… to ask questions this season about visibility and invisibility, and who can be seen, and what is the power of not being seen,” Smith said. “It’s interesting because this whole storyline about Henry is fictional, but … even if it was real we wouldn’t necessarily know because the stories are intentionally erased.” The work of black radicals throughout American history has been erased and it continues today.
Smith notes that she, as Big mouththe producers first hired Edebiri as a writer. Before long, however, she was “so captivated by her energy and her delicious sense of humor.” Smith already knew she wanted to create a character like Hattie and ultimately decided to write it for Edebiri herself. After all, Dickinson already has a lot of overlap between writers and performers; Darlene Hunt, who plays Dickinson’s Irish maid, Maggie, is also a writer on the show, as is Brooklyn-based comedian Sophie Zucker, who plays Dickinson’s friend Abby and wrote for season 2. (Smith noted that she had also brought on the reigning comedy queen of 2020, Ziwe, as a writer for Season 3, and is working hard to find the best way to bring her to the fore as well. screen.)
But Dickinson is always Dickinson– so besides these serious and carefully constructed juxtapositions, his look at this time also brings a good dose of humor. Emily and Lavinia host a session, with guests dressed in wreaths of flowers as Vinnie piously orders, “Please be responsible for the energy you bring into this room.” (Hattie, the Dickinson sisters’ favorite medium, tells them, “I don’t need to talk to other dead white people anymore” – until they offer to pay for her services.) A day at the spa is fulfilling a dual role of both moving exploration and a hilarious display of old-fashioned treatments, many of which resemble torture. And the family’s outing in a newly constructed opera house allows each Dickinson to react to the provocative form in their own way. (Emily, understandably, is deeply moved; her parents, not so much.)
It is the genius of Dickinson. Where the anachronisms of other series may feel forced, Smith and his fellow writers share distinctly favorable Internet sensibilities. (Lines like “She’s passed out!” “So cool,” looks like they could’ve come out of Kate Beaton’s Listen! A vagrant Webcomics.) Rather than the storefront, these modern flourishes are the architecture on which Dickinson is constructed, allowing the show to focus on common themes that stretch from centuries ago until now.
Consider, for example, the show’s session episode, “The Only Ghost I’ve Ever Seen.” While researching for the episode, Smith said she noticed “how feminism and abolitionism developed in parallel and intersecting with spiritualism and sessions.” A similar common thread exists in the online liberation movements today, Smith noted, as queer astrologers infuse social justice into their work. (Consider the work of Chani Nicholas, a queer astrologer with nearly 400,000 Instagram followers and a very popular blog.)
“She would present herself as someone who actively denigrated [fame]. But at the same time, you kind of have to ask, “If you keep talking about it so much, why are you so fascinated by this?”“
Not all of the questions Emily, Lavinia and their friends ask are serious. As Emily wants answers to her spiritual angst about fame and relationships and Vinnie wonders if she really wants to marry the traditional Henry “Ship” Shipley and become a calm and obedient housewife, their friends are seeking advice on their food allergies and the best way to declutter their homes. (Vinnie’s troubled relationship with Ship, it should be noted, is the show’s richest source of comedy this season – thanks to flawless performances by Baryhnikov and Pico Alexander, who plays the failed entrepreneur.)
But the session, like the day at the spa, is significant as a safe space for exploration itself. As Smith said, “Women ‘in a trance’ may say things they would not be allowed to say otherwise. It’s also a central theme this season – spaces where women have been able to safely explore their feelings about their lives and society without the risk of retaliation.
Yet Emily’s spiritual exploration extends beyond the walls of her home session or spa. She too, once again, takes a ride in the carriage of “Death”, discussing both the embodiment of mortality itself, played once again by Wiz Khalifa, and, this time, of a late Edgar Allan Poe – brought back to “life” by Nick Kroll.
“We had to have the two halves of Oh hiSmith said of Kroll’s casting, given John Mulaney’s appearance last season as Henry David Thoreau. “So it was just mandatory.”
And throughout the season, Emily’s interactions with “Nobody” begin to turn into something of a dark, prophetic take on the deadly years to come. It wasn’t until after Emily discovered the true meaning of this hallucination that the season’s themes really meld into something bigger – and that’s when this second season really outshines her. predecessor, shedding light on what Emily’s story and the times she lived in might tell us. our own.
As Smith says, “The past is the present. That’s the whole point … We are trying to find our way to the future when we are absolutely stalked and haunted by the past.
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