‘Dickinson’ Season 3 Episode 5: Emily Dickinson, The Musical

With renewed purpose, Emily attempts to reunite her family to celebrate a special occasion, but ends up at odds with everyone, including Sue.

As we hit the midpoint of the final season of Dickinson (tear!), Emily finds herself on the precipice of big change. For one thing, she’s finally heard back from author and abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Gabriel Ebert), who after reading her work deems her “wholly new and original” and craves to read more. With confidence that her poetry isn’t dead and feeling that she can finally write poems that can help in this time of war, Emily re-commits to her mission to reunite her family — and there is some work to be done.

While attending the town quilting bazaar, Emily learns that Vinnie has taken a vow of silence in solidarity with the troops, aka her sister’s new idea to find peace with the fact that all of her exes have died in the war. Meanwhile, her parents are feeling some serious “disapproving energy from these townspeople” after Mr. Dickinson wrote a “tone deaf” letter to the editor asking for sympathy for the confederates. The letter is on behalf of his brother, who happens to live in Georgia, but doesn’t agree with the politics. Apparently, writing the piece has proven him to be “out of step with the moment” from his neighbors and he’s being ostracized, even after they all find out it’s his birthday.

But Emily has an idea: what if she reunites the family for a sing-a-long at the house? Her mother agrees that it will lift her father’s spirits, but the only way it will feel right is if everyone is there – and that means getting Austin and Sue to come.  But Sue is easy to convince, especially after Emily professes her love for her.

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Oh yes, this is another one of those EmiSue moments that will go down in the books. When Emily finds Sue at her house tired and worn out from the baby, looking so low it’s painful, Emily gets vulnerable and, just as she did to Walt Whitman in the episode before, Emily professes her love for Sue. “I love you,” she says to Sue on bended knee. “I love you more than anything, and anyone on Earth.” Then, we get that passionate line from the trailer, “I can’t live with you,” Emily insists.  “I can’t breathe without you and I can’t write without you.”

And with that, Sue is saved by her “wife” (yes, you heard Emily right, she called herself Sue’s “wife”) and agrees that the sing-a-long sounds nice. She even offers to convince Austin to come. Sue is unsuccessful though, only managing to get into another heated argument with her estranged husband, before she heads over to the Dickinson house.

Despite Austin’s absence, the sing-a-long is a success. The Dickinson women and Edward sing and dance and laugh about the living room, looking lighter than they have in quite some time. Sue even manages to steal a moment with Emily to give her notes about a poem she gave her, Safe in their Alabaster Chambers. Emily almost reveals that this is the same poem she sent Higginson, but catches herself, knowing that telling Sue she’s sharing her work with anyone else would devestate her.

With the good times rolling, Mrs. Dickinson and Edward reminisce about how they met, but things start to turn sour as memories drift to their wedding. More than once, Mrs. D makes a not-so-funny joke about being a “child bride” and how getting married tore her away from her mother and sister. Clearly, she’s still dealing with the passing of Lavinia and now she’s questioning all of her life choices as far back as she can remember.  Everyone remarks how hard of a time it’s truly been for all of them – and Emily gets inspired.

Here comes the moment true Hailee Steinfeld stans have been waiting for since episode one: Emily sits at the piano and sings. The song is “Hard Times”, written in 1854 by Stephen Foster, and with just the piano and Hailee’s voice at the helm, the song feels terribly relevant, even though it’s over 100 years old. And just before she finishes, who should show up but Austin, joining in on her song, cementing the need for both Adrian Blake Enscoe and Ella Hunt to record duets with Hailee on her next album.

While the moment is tender, it doesn’t last, and soon, the family is back at each other’s throats. Austin immediately starts to drink, and announces he’s leaving his father’s law firm to start his own, which will specialize in a new form of law: divorce. Without missing a beat, he further proclaims he’s leaving Sue and taking full custody of their child. Sue runs off, and Emily’s finally had enough of her brother. She screams at him for hurting Sue and for refusing to fix their family. He reminds her that their father started it, particularly when he used to beat Emily.

Whether because she can’t stand Austin for upsetting Sue or because she’s blinded by the love of her father, she tells Austin that she chooses Edward over him and orders him to leave. She makes her way upstairs to comfort Sue, who is clearly upset, but not because of Austin. While alone in Emily’s room, Sue’s found the letter from Higginson and she’s crushed. Emily tries to explain why she reached out to him, but when Sue realizes Emily’s sent him the same poems she’d written for her, she storms off, slamming the door in Emily’s face. So, it’s back to the war in the Dickinson household.

Though only briefly, we also get an update from Henry and how he’s fairing with his role as teacher to the black regiment of soldiers. When he finally arranges their first lesson, he starts to learn a bit more about his new students —  like Everett, who has perfect taste in interior design; The Wall, who is a big guy, but is mostly know for his strength of character; Aramis, who can see the future, full stop; and Michael Jordan. That’s right, you heard me. And I’m not even going to expand on it — I’m just going to let you enjoy the name drop and all the jokes that follow!

But while Henry makes some headway in convincing them the importance of learning to read and write, these men are still just eager to fight. Henry promises them that he and Higgsons are trying, but getting them weapons will be a “process” and in the meantime, the best way they can face the future is to learn from the past, and that means learning to read. Henry’s calmed the waters – for now.

‘Dickinson’ season 3 debuts  all-new episodes on Friday on AppleTV+.

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