I loved Season One of Dickinson so much that sometimes I get nervous when someone brings it up because it feels like it’s something special made just for me, a delicate flower that I’m afraid will get crushed if handled too often. Luckily I’ve chosen the correct people in my life because no one has crushed the lily yet, but I had a similar anxiety about the second season. What if Season One was a rare delight, the stars aligning, the right moment in time? What if they, like too many other shows, couldn’t put their finger on what worked best about the show and drifted too far from the magic? I even put off my Season One rewatch as long as I could — what if 2020 beat me down enough that it couldn’t possibly make me feel the same the second time around?
I’m happy to report that the magic of Dickinson Season One is stronger than the black hole of 2020, and that Dickinson Season Two is more of the same. And in fact, Emily being a homebody and increasingly unwilling to stray far from her room resonates a little louder in this time of quarantine.
In the first three episodes of the new season, Emily is still a chaotic, emotional, silly, passionate poet who is deeply in love with her sister-in-law and not afraid to show it. Sue is in a weird place in her life, going from being destitute with no family to being a wealthy socialite being plied with letters from the woman she loves but isn’t allowed to marry, and that angst and longing is still tangible when the two are in the same room.
Sue spends the first few episodes of the season trying to convince Emily to publish her poems, but Emily is torn about the concept. Fame isn’t something she ever sought out, she doesn’t write the poems for notoriety, she writes them because if she doesn’t get the words out of her head and onto paper surely she would explode. And she writes them, for the most part, for Sue. But Sue is overwhelmed by her affections and wants to help her channel them elsewhere the best she can, using her new social status to help her friend’s words be seen by more people.
And because what this show does best is balance, they go from having Sue explain how Emily’s poetry makes her feel with a visceral description that you feel along with her, to Emily trying to decide if she should get published by having one of her maids, Hattie, host a séance so she can ask the spirit realm for guidance.
After I binged the first three episodes in one sitting and felt desperate for more, I found myself reading more about Emily’s life to see what of the series so far was true, and the thing I found most surprising was that Emily was indeed an avid baker and the giant beast of a cake she made in Episode Two was real. I guess I found it surprising that she would participate in such local traditions because in Season One she was either looking inward at her own thoughts and feelings, outward at the world at large and concepts like Death, or directly at Sue. So infrequently was she looking around. So I thought it was nice that between the baking contest and the séance, she’s starting to interact with her peers a little more. And her relationship with Lavinia seems to be growing, with her sister tossing aside her desperate need for a husband to join Emily in her outside-the-box-of-the-times opinions on things like marriage and monogamy.
I know in a lot of scenarios “more of the same” isn’t a compliment, but in this case it’s the highest I can give. Dickinson dances on the line between drama and comedy, biographical and supernatural, historical and modern. Some of the quieter, more poetic scenes tug at my heart and hold a mirror up to my soul and make me want to lie on the ground for a few hours, but some of the more chaotic scenes make me laugh from a place deep within that is harder to access these days. The energy and vibe of Dickinson is so vital to its success and I think the second season matches the first perfectly in those ways. And I, for one, can’t wait for more.
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