“Fame is a Fickle food:” Dickinson season two

★★★★★

Photo credit: Spoiler TV

By Annabelle Julien, Intern

Season one of the American historical comedy-drama “Dickinson” first aired on Apple TV Nov. 1, 2019. The first three episodes of season two were more recently released on Jan. 8, 2021. This modern riff on the 19th century highlights one of the most important and most mysterious figures in American poetry: Emily Dickinson. 

Dickinson’s story is portrayed through her own words as each episode is centered around a single poem. Season one was based on the well-documented parts of Dickinson’s early life, while season two included the trappings of fame that likely led to 22 years of seclusion and the production of nearly 1,800 poems that transformed poetry as we know it today. 

With executive producer and star Hailee Steinfeld (Emily Dickinson) in the lead, this slick and modern spin on Dickinson’s life empowers its female characters with unfiltered 21st century dialogue. The mix of modern music and dialogue with the dazzling mid-19th century wardrobe full of bright colors and patterns draws people in. However, it is the show’s underlying social themes and Dickinson’s timeless words that keeps viewers coming back each week. 

The show’s soundtrack includes an eclectic blend of stellar modern music featuring songs by well known artists like Lizzo, Billie Ellish and Hailee Steinfeld, along with lesser-known gems. Notable jams from Season two’s first three episodes include: “Wild Wild Woman” by Your Smith (episode one), “Where Do You Go” by Yebba (episode one), “My Town” by Demun Jones (episode two) and the infectious “Everybody Wants to Be Famous” by Superorganism (episode three). 

 The main storyline of the show is Dickinson’s life, but another important aspect of the show are her family members who each have their own, smaller story lines and personal relationships with Dickinson. Her younger sister Livinia Dickinson (Anna Baryshnikov) helps her with many things, including their summons to the spirits for guidance in season two, episode three: “The Only Ghost I Ever Saw.” Her older brother Austin (Adrian Blake Enscoe) and his new wife Sue Dickinson (Ella Hunt) have different but equally special relationships with Dickinson. Sue was Dickinson’s friend and significant other before she married Austin and continually supports and encourages Dickinson to publish her work. Austin is a supportive big brother that encourages Dickinson to follow her dreams. 

In season two, Emily’s relationship with her parents Emily Norcross (Jane Krakowski) and Edward Dickinson (Toby Huss) has changed because her mother is no longer trying to force her into marriage and her father has finally accepted her as a poet. This new family dynamic is funny, witty and unconventional in many ways for the time period. 

The show’s incorporation of Dickinson’s poetry strategically throughout leading to a specific theme is what sets it apart from other time period pieces.  In season one, the focus was on Dickinson’s self-discovery and finding her poetic voice, whereas season two centers around her desire for fame. Throughout the first few episodes, Emily will do anything to get her name in print, including entering a baking contest. However, meeting newspaper editor Samuel Bowles (Finn Jones) triggers inner conflict — which in “Dickinson” usually results in the birth of an unconventional and imaginary character. Last season, it was Death (Wiz Khalifa), but this season it is Nobody (Will Pullen). Known for her idiosyncrasies and personified abstractions in her poems, “Dickinson’s” Nobody (season 2) will have you pondering enigmas like “I am Nobody!,” “Who are you?” and “Are you Nobody too?”

By the end of episode three, Dickinson has decided to pursue fame — to allow Bowles to publish her poetry. As executive producer and a child star, it is not a stretch to imagine Steinfeld drawing on her own life experiences and her own struggles with fame. At age 24, Steinfeld seems to be taking control of her career, and it’s evident she has become Emily Dickinson on the screen. 

As the final seven episodes continue to be released, we will hopefully find out what might have led to Dickinson’s seclusion and see if she learns (as Steinfeld seems to have off screen) that fame has its price — and that price is “a shifting plate:” ever-changing and never-ending. My prediction is that Steinfeld’s Dickinson will pen her famed “I am Nobody! Who are you?” before the end of season two and that she will finally realize it is not fame that she craves, but the preservation of her own authentic voice. 

 I rate the show 5/5 stars and highly recommend it because good art of any kind makes you reflect on your own life, and in an era in which we obsess about fame and immortality, “Dickinson” challenges the viewer to reflect on what a truly fickle food fame can be. 

 

The poetry of “Dickinson”

Season 1

Episode 1 poem – Because I could not stop for Death  

Episode 2 poem- I Have Never Seen “Volcanoes” 

Episode 3 poem- Wild nights – Wild nights! 

Episode 4 poem- Alone, I cannot be 

Episode 5 poem-  I am afraid to own a Body 

Episode 6 poem- A brief but patient illness 

Episode 7 poem- We lose—because we win 

Episode 8 poem- There’s a certain Slant of light 

Episode 9 poem- “Faith” is fine invention 

Episode 10 poem- I felt a Funeral, in my Brain 

 

Season 2

Episode 1 poem-  Before I got my eye put out 

Episode 2 poem- Fame is a fickle food 

Episode 3 poem- The Only Ghost I Ever Saw 

Season-wide poem – I’m Nobody! Who are you?