DICKINSON - Season 2 (EPISODES 1 - 3)
Ryan Murphy coined the term “faction” in response to criticism he received for his liberal retellings of Hollywood history, although the term is better applied to Dickinson, a series dedicated to the life of mysterious 19th century recluse and poet, Emily Dickinson, portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld. Weaving history with modernity, viewers are drawn into a hodgepodge of 1800s dress with the language, music and (some) societal dynamics of the 2020s. The series doesn’t look to portray Dickinson as she was but whether what she could have been.
The first season openly played with Dickinson’s sexuality and relationships, showing the viewers a bisexual poetry maven willing to bend gender norms as she saw fit and uneasily retreat into her 19th century femininity when needed. While the first season led up to Dickinson’s brother, Austin (Adrian Blake Enscoe), marrying her best friend and primary love interest, Sue (Ella Hunt), the first three episodes of season two point towards tackling Dickinson’s relationship with publishing. There is a possible male love interest for Dickinson, although it feels forced, and my hope is that the series doesn’t look to give Dickinson a new romantic interest every season when the real-life figure, albeit shrouded in a sense of mystery, had very few (if any) romantic entanglements in her lifetime.
Just like the first season, the second season is peppered with excerpts of Dickinson’s poetry, with Dickinson’s real-life poems 206 and 1702 featuring heavily throughout, as well as references to modern culture. A thinly veiled reference to the Buzzspout Top Ten Listicle made me chuckle just due to the absurdity of Emily Dickinson letting anyone know ten things about her. The use of 21st century music can sometimes pull the viewer out of the series, but it drags them back in with teenage angst and constant melodrama. The timeline is all over the place (we finally learn in episode three that it’s supposed to be 1859, which would make Dickinson 29-years-old), but it’s not aiming for historical accuracy.
However, what made the first season so enjoyable was it’s plausible—although entirely unlikely—“what ifs,” while the second season contains a séance seemingly ripped out of a Wan film and an ever-present demonic presence. The absurdity that worked in season one is taken to a different level in season two, with the real Dickinson seemingly lost in an attempt to make her more “fun.” This isn’t to say Dickinson lived her life as a death-obsessed, tortured morose 24/7, with recent historians acknowledging her sense of humor, love of gardening and seemingly conflicted sexuality, but she wasn’t a fantastical being either. Her writing shows a woman grounded in reality, and the second season fails to capture that attitude.
While the first season held promise of an enjoyable but very loose adaptation of Dickinson’s life, the second season leans more towards fanfiction. Season one contained fantastical elements as well, they were enjoyable because Dickinson (usually) enjoyed them as well. We’re now introduced to a tortured soul who seems to constantly be on the cusp of insanity. The fun is forced, and the real Dickinson is slowly losing her voice in exchange for high-dramatics and cheap thrills. I wouldn’t recommend turning off the television just yet, but if the show continues on this path, it might end up dying.