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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

This article contains some details of plot points which may be considered mild spoilers for the series Dickinson on Apple TV+. The author believes, however, that it does not ruin the experience of watching the show. 

It’s that time of the year where school is almost over and most of us have that nice relaxing long winter break to look forward to. With the current pandemic, we have all had our fair share of facing difficulty throughout the year, especially in the television industry. With active productions shutting down, peak TV has slowed down in terms of the amount of TV content that is released. Even with certain shows going back into production, it’s uncertain when we will see some of our favourite shows back on our small screens. Going into 2021, it may seem as though there isn’t going to be as much television to look forward to. If you’re worried that there is going to be a lack of empowering, female-centred narratives, then you have likely not yet heard of or seen the show, Dickinson

The show was one of the first launch titles for the Apple TV+ streaming platform in 2019 along with the Resse Witherspoon and Jenifer Aniston vehicle The Morning Show and as well as See starring Jason Mamoa. Dickinson ended up being the highest-rated show out of those three titles, solidifying it as the major series to watch on the streaming platform. Unfortunately, due to the show being overshadowed by The Morning Show because of its undeniably higher star power, it gave the streaming platform a lukewarm reaction with its mixed debuts according to major critics. This is unfortunate as Dickinson is a bold, audacious and original show.  It is also a series that was renewed for a second season, set to premiere on January 8th, 2021. Now is the perfect time for those who have missed out on the series to catch up before the release of the next chapter. It is sure to appeal to both period piece lovers as well as modern feminist audiences looking for a show to inspire them today.


The series follows the titular protagonist, Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld), based on the famous real-life poet and tells a story about her teenage years where she is living with her strict parents in a strict society, writing poetry in the hopes of one day getting her work published. Right from the very first episode, audiences get a strong sense of who Emily Dickinson is and immediately fall in love with her. She refuses to do her chores, which her extremely traditionalist mother enforces on her (played by the iconic Jane Krakowski) and in result, is looked down upon by her mother and her more compliant sister Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov). Mrs. Dickinson also tries to matchmake her daughter up with any handsome boy that she can find, even someone who is already friends with Emily such as George Gould (Samuel Farnsworth). She has an at times, pompous but caring older brother in Austin (Adrian Ensce) who is set out to marry Sue Gilbert (Ella Hunt), who also has her own special relationship with Emily. If that isn’t enough chaos for her to handle, she has a brooding, strict politician father named Edward (Toby Huss). He is one of the main obstacles that Emily has to go against in order to have her poems published. Their relationship is one of the more fascinating and dark dynamics in the show. There are times when Edward tries to be supportive of Emily and her creative endeavours regarding her poems. When it comes to Emily trying to get published, however, his traditionalist values make him lash out at her. These conflicting viewpoints create a toxic relationship between the father-daughter duo. 


Right from the start, you notice that Dickinson is not your typical historical period piece. As previously mentioned, Emily goes against the tide of how girls her age were expected to dress, behave and do during that era. Instead of performing her stereotypical ‘womanly’ duties of cooking, cleaning and serving the men of the household, she locks herself in her room for the majority of the time to concentrate on her poetry. She is not interested in finding herself a male suitor right away and often rejects any romantic affection that comes to her, often from George. In fact, an interesting take that the show boldly presents is the exploration of Emily’s sexuality and her relationship with Sue. It has been debated and argued by notable scholars in the past on whether or not Emily had romantic relationships with women in the past. The series goes with the argument that she did, which is beautifully shown through Emily and Sue’s passionate relationship throughout the season. It is of course a very secretive relationship, but throughout the first season, it shows Emily was unafraid to explore her sexuality through her various relationships. Later in the season, she has relations with an older male in Ben Newton (Matt Lauria). She even has a weird relationship with death itself (surprising cameo appearances by Wiz Khalifa), one that is often written about in her poems. Showrunner and creator Alena Smith has spoken about how the show likes to play around with the idea of Emily breaking gender norms and having a fluid sexuality. There isn’t an interest in labels and experimenting sexually and fluidly in the show, similar to modern teens now. 

A major element of the show that stands out as being modern and unique is in its dialogue, performances and music. Dickinson boldly takes a modern approach in its script by implementing modern language and teen slang in its dialogue. These characters do not talk in an old English style like your typical period piece roles would. Instead, Emily addresses her friends and family by saying ‘bro’ or ‘dude’. One of the side characters who becomes Lavinia’s love interest, Joseph (Gus Harper), talks almost exactly like the typical jock playboy you see in modern teen films and shows. The reason for this is due to Smith wanting to relate more to younger audiences while staying true to the spirit of who Emily Dickinson was. It’s a hard, daunting task to balance these elements together, but through its mostly positive response, it succeeds. Part of it has to do with its committed performances from the entire cast, especially from the lead, Hailee Steinfeld. The show manages to make it fitting for the poet as well since she is shown to be a rebellious spirit who was ahead of her time. The music as well does not take a typical approach since the needle drops are full of artists and songs that are modern. Instead of classical music or orchestras, it’s R&B, electronic, pop and rap music that is played. One standout scene is a party scene where its teen characters are drunk, high and dancing to the song “I Like Tuh” by Carnage. This is just one example of many moments in the show that break barriers on what a period piece should look and sound like.  


The show should be watched by modern feminists because of the way Emily goes against societal norms throughout the season. In one notable episode, Emily and Sue dress up in stereotypically masculine attire in order to break into a lecture at a university. This is because women were not allowed to have the same kind of education as men. The relationship between Emily and Sue breaks barriers for even existing during that time and gives audiences more LGBTQ+ representation. Even Emily’s relationship with Ben proves to be progressive since he is much older than her. She is bold in her endeavours to become the best poet, working to get noticed through publishing even though it goes against what society and her father wants. 

Not only does it work as a period piece, but it also acts as a relatable and genuine coming of age tale. It introduces Emily Dickinson to a whole new audience, but it makes her extremely relatable in both her brilliance and recklessness. She is a creative soul that uses what inspires her to create the poems that she is famous for. Her creativity allows her to have these unique dream sequences where she meets with death himself. Her daily life and authors that have inspired her as well. There’s one episode where she spontaneously takes a trip to meet a poet she has looked up to. She is inspirational because she is a woman ahead of her time and evidently stops at nothing to achieve what she wants in order to fulfill herself creatively. This can inspire women who want to find a historical female figure to look up to. A woman who stands up to the misogyny of her time and fights for what she is passionate about. For those who are already fans of her work, her poems are recited stylishly through whispered narration. When she writes them down on her desk they are shown on screen in an almost caption-like manner but with more flow and disintegration to create a more visually appealing aesthetic. Emily also acts like your typical everyday teenager, making her a relatable and relevant role model. The way she slouches while sitting is considered unladylike and the way she speaks as mentioned sets her apart from traditional stereotypical mannerisms. She hosts parties when her parents leave town in one episode, drinking, smoking and making out. It’s a night that’s, (as is titled in one of her most famous poems) a wild night. 

Dickinson is a series to look out for to inspire you and give you hope during this tough time. It appeals to both fans of Emily’s work and those who are just getting introduced to her. It is a show that hopes to inspire women and feminists through the story and the titular character’s bold presentation. With its stylish costumes, settings and bold choice of music and dream sequences, the show is a visual treat to consume as a viewer. The first season has ten, half-hour episodes that are easily binge watchable on the Apple streaming platform so check it out if you have not done so already. 

Season One of Dickinson is out now on Apple TV+. Season Two premieres on Jan 8, 2021. 


Don Qarlo is a writer, movie and tv lover, as well as an aspiring showrunner. All he wants to do is tell stories with a big smile on his face. You can catch him at home watching way too much TV or outside just living his life to the fullest.
Zainab is a 4th-year journalism student from Dubai, UAE who is the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus at Ryerson. When she's not taking photos for her Instagram or petting dogs on the street, she's probably watching a rom-com on Netflix or journaling! Zainab loves The Bold Type and would love to work for a magazine in New York City someday! Zainab is a feminist and fierce advocate against social injustice - she hopes to use her platform and writing to create change in the world, one article at a time.