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‘Dickinson’ 2.04 Review: Let’s get lost

Emily isn’t the only Dickinson feeling adrift in another strong episode.

Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and her father Edward (Toby Huss) in Dickinson 2.04.
(Image: © Apple TV+)

Our Verdict

Dickinson builds on a strong start to the season with an episode that proves the whole family have a story worth telling.

For

  • 🌸Jane Krakowski and Toby Huss hit emotional and hilarious notes during a conversation about marriage.
  • 🌸The Dickinson siblings are all struggling but it is compelling to watch.
  • 🌸The real historical figures that feature mean falling down a fun Wiki hole after the episode is over.

Against

  • 🌸Some overt symbolism is a tad on the nose.

This post contains spoilers for Dickinson.
Read our last review here

“You’re all just hanging by a thread,” Edward Dickinson (Toby Huss) observes about his three adult children while contemplating the disruption caused by the recently orphaned Newman girls. Taking in his nieces in “Fame is a fickle food”  is far from an altruistic act, as their inheritance is bolstering what was a precarious financial predicament. In fact, all of the Dickinsons are currently experiencing listlessness regarding personal and professional matters. As the most famous Dickinson, it is far from surprising that Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) is the main character in Alena Smith’s historical dramedy — as well as the focus of Apple TV+’s marketing — but the second season is dedicated to exploring the hopes, dreams, and fears of the entire family in more detail. While Season 1 did offer a glimpse into these dynamics, it is clear from these first few episodes that Emily’s is far from the only story being told.

Three weeks have passed since Edward skipped the post-cattle show romantic rendezvous with his wife. Forgoing scheduled sex proves how distracted he is by money issues and Mrs. Emily Dickinson’s (Jane Krakowski) found herself lusting after a handsome captain lost at sea — she is very on-trend with the latest TikTok obsession. Rather than brush it under the carpet, Mrs. Dickinson jumps in with both feet (quite literally). If you see a big hole in the opening act, you can be sure someone will fall down it by the third. Avoiding his wife’s concerns, Edward opts for the head in the clouds option, choosing to go bird watching rather than confront the Newman sisters about their destructive act (or talk to his wife about the cattle show). Forgetting this earlier incident, Edward tumbles into the deep dirt and must rely on his wife to get out of this predicament.

Seeing this as an opportune moment, Mrs. Dickinson purposely joins him in this sticky spot. Without anywhere to flee to, he is forced to listen to his wife. “No, I never evade you, Mother,” he splutters, rightfully earning her scorn for calling her this moniker. Switching to the intimately familiar, he refers to her as Em, and what follows is an honest conversation about desire. “We got old” is his reason for this long dry spell, and within this heartfelt chat about marriage are some funny asides about their adventurous hook-ups — including the time they conceived Lavinia in the middle of the day.

Striking a balance between whimsy and vulnerability isn’t easy, but a tearful Krakowski and Huss shine during this emotional scene. Returning to husband and wife light bickering while he gives her a boost out of the whole, Em leaves him languishing in the mud as punishment. While this is not completely resolved by the end of the episode, the marriage feels more secure as they get ready for bed side-by-side while congratulating their youngest on her romantic engagement. Unfortunately, the proposal is not what Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) wants. Nor, is it romantic. 

Lavinia and Ship in Dickinson S2.

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

In the pilot, a handsome suitor asking for her hand in marriage was goals for Vinnie but a lot has happened since those naive days. This journey of self-discovery runs parallel to her sexual experiences, and Ship’s (Pico Alexander) quest for a subservient wife doesn’t fit her recalibrated plans. She is far more interested in Lola Montez, the dangerous woman Ship claims sent him toward a more righteous path. Vinnie doesn’t want the life her mother has, no, she wants to be as scandalous as Lola Montez. She wants to be known for a spider dance and exert her power in this exciting manner. 

While Lola might sound like someone Ship has made up to give himself an air of mystery (within his reformed sense of morality), she is based on a real dancer. Blending the absurd with moments of truth is a Dickinson signature, and Vinnie is whisked off to an over-the-top public proposal. This mix of historical setting with a contemporary phenomenon highlights the cringe of these overt acts and the pressure it puts on the woman to say yes. Even without uttering an acceptance Ship sweeps her off the feet she wants to keep planted on the ground — or at least not as his wife.

Marriage is not having an easy week in Amherst, which see Austin (Adrian Blake Enscoe) continue his quest for meaning while his relationship crumbles. Part of this plan is to take the Newman girls off his father’s hands, conceding that they are paying for his lavish house, after all. Referring to himself as their “Cool uncle, cousin, stepdad, buddy,” his inability to land on one title speaks to how lost he is. He doesn’t ask Sue (Ella Hunt) before he commits to this adoption, thinking because she was an orphan that she will find common ground. Interrupting her discussing a rival salon — “Phrenologists are so in right now” — with maid Hattie (Ayo Edebiri), she responds with the same disdain we witnessed last week. “Oh! Just what I want. Two living, breathing reminders of my terrible past,” she snaps at her husband. This is his compromise because while he doesn’t expect her to have his children, he does want to be her father — he does not know about the miscarriage. When she is alone, the mask slips, and the sorrow she tries to cover with material things is revealed. Pulling her knees up to his chest, the camera lingers and Hunt’s portrayal of Sue’s silent pain is searing.  

Sue and Austin in S2 of Dickinson.

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

Austin’s other attempt at filling the void involves legacy and the town of Amherst. Legendary Central Park architect Frederick Law Olmstead (Timothy Simons) has visited Amherst to draw up a design for the town common. Despite anachronistic music and references, real moments in history are littered throughout, and the real Olmstead was brought to the town by Austin. That it has taken this long in this review to get to Emily’s storyline is indicative of the ensemble cast's strength and the themes that link the family in "The Daisy follows soft the Sun.” After a prolific spell, the writers’ block Emily now suffers requires the advice of another genius. Accompanying Olmstead, as he surveys the town, she reveals the source of her creative malaise is because it has been two weeks since she gave Samuel Bowles (Finn Jones) her poem, and she has heard nothing about his plans for the piece. 

What follows in a maze — there is a lot of overt symbolism this week that is a tad on the nose — is a discussion about art and creativity, as well as the role of an editor and audience. Who is Emily writing for? Referring to the power she believes Samuel has over the work she creates, Olmstead points out “The work itself if the gift, not the praise for it.” A valiant sentiment, but Olmstead is already successful at this point (also, the praise is nice). The art he wants to create will last centuries — he’s not wrong — but it also unfair to expect Emily to be at one with her craft. Fame is the undercurrent of these conversations, which sees the landscape architect unveil a different perspective that could alleviate the pressure. 

Bowles pops up in the maze and while at first, it is unclear if he is real, his overtly smarmy response to her loss of confidence is a quick indicator this is the editor who is impossible to trust. It is notable that while Emily doesn’t write any new material in this episode, the title is taken from the poem “The Daisy follows soft the Sun,” which is believed to be about the real Samuel Bowles. The analogy Emily gives Olmstead that she’s “the daisy, and he’s the sun, and without the warmth of his approval, I can’t grow” reflects part of this poem. In a week when every member of this family feels lost in the shadows, Dickinson continues to find the light.