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‘Dickinson’ season 3 episode 9 Review: Grief is a Mouse

Can Emily stop history from repeating itself in the penultimate episode of 'Dickinson?'

Dickinson
(Image: © Apple TV Plus)

Our Verdict

With the end in sight, 'Dickinson' delivers an emotional and ultimately joyful penultimate episode.

For

  • - The sibling summit and the steps taken to fix this family
  • - The dance sequence (and call back to season 1)
  • - Emily's conversation with her mother
  • - A very good use of Taylor Swift
  • - Multiple Emily Dickinson poems used

Against

  • - Not sure Austin's reason for dodging the draft is entirely linked to his son (it is a reason)

This post contains spoilers for the Dickinson episode "Grief is a Mouse." Read our 'Dickinson' season 3 episode 8 review.

Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) experienced a personal inferno that presented the worst version of her life but the young poet chooses to embrace hope in the penultimate episode of the Apple TV Plus series. 

Mending the broken relationship with Austin (Adrian Blake Enscoe) is where we start, as Emily's rupture with her brother is threaded throughout the final season. Even when the Dickinsons are quarreling they are bound not only by close proximity — Austin does live next door — but by Emily’s unshakable belief in her family.

Doubts have crept in and hope was almost lost after Emily’s father declared he is leaving everything to Austin in his will (including the Dickinson women). Emily calls a “sibling summit,” where she admits their father has been a “huge disappointment” and that Austin was right. Concerned history will repeat itself, Emily wants assurances of respect and freedom from her brother, and he gladly gives her his word. One drawback from this rift is the lack of scenes between this trio, but the heartwarming group hug is the payoff of this season-long arc.  

Adrian Blake Enscoe and Anna Baryshnikov in Dickinson

Adrian Blake Enscoe and Anna Baryshnikov in 'Dickinson' (Image credit: Apple TV+)

“The past is the past. It’s gone and there’s nothing we can do to change it, but if we are willing to face the past then maybe, maybe there is something we can do about the future,” is how Emily suggests they can avoid making the same choices as their father. 

This sentiment is fundamental to Dickinson’s final season. Creator Alena Smith often draws parallels between the 21st and 19th centuries, including the turbulent political landscape, trends (such as the wellness industry) and the content of Emily’s thousands of poems. Progress has been made, nevertheless, the veil between then and now is thinner than we might hope it would be. 

This episode is also a respite from perpetual sorrow. After the successful sibling summit, Vinnie says, “it’s honestly weird not to be drowning in grief for a moment." Death has cast its long shadow over season 3, which opened with a funeral for Aunt Lavinia that didn’t give Mrs. Dickinson (Jane Krakowski) a chance to properly eulogize her sister. After the trip to the asylum, the Dickinson matriarch took to her bed and hasn’t moved from this room in over a week. Emily hasn’t always spoken the same language as her mother, but one thing they do share is a deep bond with a sister (Vinnie gets her name from her aunt), and what she needs is the chance to memorialize Lavinia.   

Hailee Steinfeld and Jane Krakowski in Dickinson

Hailee Steinfeld and Jane Krakowski in 'Dickinson' (Image credit: Apple TV+)

At first, Emily tries to coax her out of bed by noting how dusty the house is, but it is the surprise appearance of a mouse that does the trick. The bird Emily saw at the funeral became a symbol of hope, but it is a rodent that unlocks Mrs. Dickinson’s grief and lets her verbalize the loss she feels. Previously she referenced the hole in her heart, and after this interaction, the hole has been filled by a mouse.

"While this is a rare episode where the title poem is not uttered, this beautiful notion inspires Emily. Lines from “‘Tis so appalling - it exhilarates -” and “These are the days when Birds come back” are spoken during the episode. The latter was submitted last week by Sue anonymously to the Union fundraising magazine, Drum Beat. "These are the Days when Birds come back," and two other poems, were actually featured in Drum Beat, which affirms the season-long question of whether Emily is considered a war poet." 

Emily sees this gesture for what it is, an act of love. After agreeing to read the poem to the group, it segues into Austin with the baby followed by Emily and Sue in bed for the show's most intimate sex scene yet. Passion and poetry are entwined as “All the letters I can write” is spoken over this union, the pair are no longer at odds with each other. Cutting from Emily’s words to the Taylor Swift “Ivy” needle-drop is a gift for fans, which adds to the intoxicating atmosphere.

The impromptu poetry reading occurs at a farewell party for George (Samuel Farnsworth) who is off to war and this causes Austin to confess regarding his draft dodge. Austin’s reasons are linked to his child (though it does feel rather convenient), but there is also the desire to use his privilege to enact change. There is a chance he could be a man of words and not action — like Higginson (Gabriel Ebert) — and while he did aid Henry’s abolition newspaper there is still plenty of work for him to do.  

Hailee Steinfeld and Ella Hunt in Dickinson

Hailee Steinfeld and Ella Hunt in 'Dickinson' (Image credit: Apple TV+)

It hasn’t been a season for partying (for obvious reasons) and the only dancing Emily has done is via a fantasy scenario. George’s leaving bash gives the Amherst 20-somethings the chance to forget the present and embrace the celebrations of their past. Emily quotes Shakespeare (Antony and Cleopatra to be precise) in a direct callback to their Shakespeare Club and a contemporary pop song plays over the top (“Inside Out” by Group Love). Dickinson has evolved over the three seasons but this is a welcome return to the joy of season 1.  

It is hard to ignore the finish line that quickly approaches and the unresolved issues Emily has to face. Her father is one such challenge. 

Edward Dickinson (Toby Huss) rejected the chance to reenter the world of politics citing his family as the reason why. After a long walk back to Amherst he reflects “being a father is one of the greatest gifts in the world.” This comes after Betty (Amanda Warren) invites him in for some food and Henry’s absence is observed. Meanwhile, Henry has been promoted and Higginson is heading to Amherst. Thankfully, there isn’t a missed connection, and when Emily’s name comes up it leads to an off-camera moment between the two men — hopefully, he has something for his wife who deserves some answers. 

With one episode left, the two worlds are about to collide.