Stepping Into Frame: Dickinson

Apple TV+ has finally been released and with it a bunch of new shows to binge!!! My personal favorite, (of no surprise to anyone who knows me) is Dickinson. The show follows Hailee Steinfeld as Emily Dickinson, a poet with a reputation for never leaving her room, and spins her infamous story in a new light.

(Warning! Spoilers for Season 1 of Dickinson Ahead!)

One of the reasons I love this show so much is because of the way it explores imagination and turns fantasy into reality. Through this, the showrunners open a door to tell stories any way they want. For example, death is a character in this show and Emily frequently meets with him. Through reading her poems, it’s very clear that the real Emily Dickinson was intrigued by the idea of death and the way they chose to manifest that relationship in the show is very compelling to me. She was a woman full of ideas that no one of her time understood and had an extremely active imagination. The way they portrayed that fact made for some incredible television. 

Another of my favorite aspects of the show is the music. We’re watching this story take place in the 1800s, but the music is modern. It makes the show feel so unique compared to anything I’ve seen before. The soundtrack contains everything from Billie Eilish to Lizzo and it added such a unique element to the show to listen to those songs in this context. I’ve seen a pattern with movies or TV shows about the past trying too hard to distance the character and the society from today, in order to help the audience be more in the “world of the story.” However, Dickinson chose to do the opposite and the music was just one example. Through things like the use of this music and the dialogue, they humanized the people of this time. This made them feel more like characters we could relate to, and pointing out how issues they faced back then are still relevant today.

One of my favorite scenes was where they showcased just how ironic double standards are. While Emily’s father did not approve of her writing poems and was terrified of the idea of having a daughter with a literary reputation because it could tarnish their family name, he had no idea how blinded he was. In this specific scene, Emily’s father is discussing tearing down a tree that sits in their yard in order to allow the railroad to be built there. Emily is angered and willing to do anything in her power to stop this from happening. He then says to her, “you can’t stand in the way of progress.” It almost made me laugh out loud thinking about all the ways this character refuses to let women progress, yet holds this viewpoint. I loved it, and there are many scenes like it in the series. 

The best sequence in the show for me comes in Episode 2 when Emily and the best friend/love of her life, Sue Gilbert, decided to dress up as men in order to sneak into a college lecture. In this scene, they discuss all the frustrating differences between them and the men of their time including being able to vote, own property, etc. In the end, Sue asks Emily, what the hell these men are so afraid of when it comes to girls wanting to hear a college lecture to which Emily replies, “ Maybe they’re scared that if they teach us how the world works, we’ll figure out how to take over.”

I absolutely love the way that this show decided to push every boundary, question every standard, and turn rumors about Emily Dickinson into major moments in her life. Hailee Steinfeld told Entertainment Weekly, “She just truly believed that life was supposed to be about what makes you feel good — and that came down to who she loved, who she wanted to kiss, who she wanted to be with, what she wanted to do with her time.” I truly feel like this embodies what the show is about. It explores an iconic historical figure in a different light than we’re used to and allows us to see her as a vibrant young woman with big ideas. It allows us to see ourselves in her and I absolutely love it! If you get a chance, check out Dickinson on Apple TV+!