When we last left Dickinson, Sue holds another of her high society parties and this time, it serves as Emily’s coming out in certain ways. It’s the first time the public learns that she will be published. As she makes the rounds with Samuel Bowles and they schmooze with the guests, she begins to hear the gossip about the ulterior motives of her editor. Though she is concerned by this news, it isn’t enough to stop her from fantasizing about him. She even becomes bold (or stupid) enough to send a letter to Samuel’s wife expressing her appreciation for him.
[Slight Spoilers Ahead!]
Taking a cue from Sue, the Dickinson family decides to visit the opera on opening night to see what all the hype is about. Of course, at any big time event, Samuel Bowles will be there which excites Emily. Since his wife, Mary, is unable to attend, Sue is able to convince him to share his box suite with the young poet. Emily takes advantage of the more intimate ambiance to win his affections but Samuel is onto the game. In fact, he expresses the inappropriateness of it all from the letter to Mary to her flirtations since he is a married man.
At least the other Dickinson children are able to enjoy the performance. Lavinia is totally enthralled by La Traviata while Austin is moved to tears by the end. Maybe he becomes more aware of the shortness of life, but he decides to enjoy himself more and ditches Sue to hang out with an old school friend he reconnected with at the theater. Their parents are not as impressed by the show and sneak off to maybe finally have that special alone time they’ve been craving the past episodes.
I may have judged Samuel Bowles too soon and maybe he is a respectful man. He is aware of the whispers that surround him and is sensitive to his perception. More importantly, he is worried how all the rumors affect his wife. Here, Emily appears less scrupulous as she continues her advances despite his protests. It’s an interesting turn in their relationship and this messy drama could jeopardize Emily’s chances to be published.
However, was Bowles only filling the empty void of someone else? The episode implies she still longs for Sue. Though she writes the titular poem for Samuel, it’s her biggest supporter she thinks about. In an engaging musical number, Sue does her best Lana Del Rey impression as she serenades Emily in a dreamlike sequence. What an innovative way to incorporate all these different elements of the episode including the opera, Emily’s poem, and her feelings towards her love interests. Though it may be a rehash, the Emily/Sue romance of the first season was one of the most compelling storylines.
“Split the lark” also gives Emily another opportunity to pick the brain of a talented artist. In this case, it’s the talented star of La Traviata, Adelaide May. She has the recognition Emily seeks as a writer and she is taken back by the singer’s perspective on all the adulation. The world-weary and jaded performer discusses how fleeting fame is in the bigger picture and how creatives are merely courtesans to the masses. Maybe not the inspiring words Emily is looking for but definitely not wrong. It doesn’t seem to discourage her pursuit as she stands on the stage of an empty auditorium and imagines a thunderous applause and takes a bow.
This episode adds to the drama of Emily and Samuel’s complicated relationship and brings up a more realistic but pessimistic view on fame.
New episodes of Dickinson are released Fridays on Apple TV+.
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