Previously, Emily Dickinson is excited to see her poem published in the Springfield Republican and anticipates the incoming fame. One problem though. She’s become invisible to the world like a ghost. Though she can’t interact with all the readers of her work, she does listen in on their candid assessments and initial reactions. Her newfound ability also grants her access to areas she would normally not venture to such as a meeting with Henry and his abolitionist colleagues. But it also gives her a front seat to some scandalous activity between Sue and Samuel Bowles.
[Slight Spoilers Ahead!]
The biggest news to hit the country is John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and all the effects the event has on public opinion. Austin and Edward meet with their respective colleagues to discuss what it all means. This provides the perfect opportunity for Mrs. Dickinson to flex her domestic skills and help prepare for two simultaneous tea parties. While her husband is busy, Sue sets out to visit an old friend, Samuel Bowles’ wife, Mary.
“I Like a Look of Agony” serves as a wake-up call for the characters and shifts to a more serious tone. The tension leading to the American Civil War has been in the background all season and becomes more pronounced following John Brown’s raid. The situation is so dire, that Henry must leave to protect his family since he helped fund the insurrection.
There’s an excellent dichotomy between the two generations of Dickinson men. Edward and the rest of the Springfield Republican board are brainstorming ways to capitalize on and profit off of the incident. Meanwhile, Austin and his college friends worry since they’ll be the ones fighting the war. What is supposed to be a pleasant reunion takes a darker turn. These contrasting views between the old and young are far too common during war time and the series taps into the anxiety and even denial of the soon to be soldiers.
We also finally meet some characters that have been mentioned in passing and their introductions make a significant impact. Frazer Stearns is Austin’s college chum he reconnected with at the opera. Imagine Emily’s (and our) surprise when he turns out to be the same ghost that has been haunting her. Despite her initial reaction, he helps the writer come to terms with the effects of fame and gives her some sound advice.
Stearns’ arrival also leads to a poignant scene with the two older Dickinson siblings. Adrian Enscoe’s performance makes you really empathize with the character. The mounting burden of an unfaithful wife and a disappointed father causes him to break down but at least he has the love and support of his sister to pull him out of his despair. His admission of knowing about Sue and Samuel all along places much of the season in a different context and his actions are more of a desperate husband doing all he could to make his wife love or at least notice him.
The other figure who makes her first appearance is Bowles’ wife, Mary. Sue has some nerve to visit the wife of the person she’s having an affair with. There’s a lot of tension in the visit and the conversations imply Mrs. Bowles knows of her friend’s secret. Regardless, Mary is there for comfort as they share their depressing and traumatic miscarriage experiences. It’s the first time Sue opens up in an emotionally packed scene that Ella Hunt delivers and it explains that all her attempts break into high society are a means to fill the void left from a child lost.
Despite all the seriousness, there are lighter moments. For example, Austin and his friends coming up with the idea of the first podcast is humorous. Lavinia and Shipley’s reconciliation also provides some great levity and Anna Baryshnikov has a lot of fun with her Lola Montez dance. I guess that’s what they called exotic dancing in the mid nineteenth century.
Things get real and emotionally charged in the ninth episode of Dickinson with stirring performances from Adrian Enscoe and Ella Hunt.
New episodes of Dickinson are released Fridays on Apple TV+.
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