‘Dickinson,’ A Relatable Origin Story

As you’ve probably heard, Apple has created its own streaming service appropriately named Apple TV. Its streaming device has only a couple of original shows, and it doesn’t seem like the best streaming device to have at the moment. This is especially true with the Disney+ arrival, but there’s one show that might be worth doing the seven-day trial.​

"Dickinson looks like a periodic show with its location and costume design, but it sounds like a contemporary teen show. The contrast of modern and historical aspects is all to highlight Emily Dickinson, who is a poet that would feel at home in this generation. Played by the talented actress Hailee Steinfeld, the first season is about showing us the battle Emily had to get her father’s approval to publish her poetry. Yet, her fight with the patriarchy isn’t the only interesting aspect of the show — her love life and fascination with death was enticing while maintaining the humorous tone I think the show will most be known for.

Emily Dickinson is rebellious by her mere love of knowledge and poetry. As the season goes on, she fights all the limitations that are placed on her as a woman in the 1800s. She begs her parents to hire a maid so she can have time to “think.” This request is denied by her mother because as a woman Emily is expected to run a household one day — not to think all day. Her “unladylike” behavior continues with her sneaking into the local all-male university by dressing as a man to watch a lecture, turning down all the boys who come by to ask for her hand and publishing a poem under her brother’s name against her father’s wishes. While the boundaries Emily has placed around her aren’t shocking considering the time period, the responses she received from those around her sound eerily similar to what women are told today. It struck a chord to realize that the things women were once told get repeated to us today when we break the mold of what people consider a lady is, but Emily’s determination to achieve what she wants was a reminder that it’s a fight with great purpose.

If you’ve read some of Emily Dickinson’s work or researched her, then you might know that she was in love with her best friend Sue Gilbert. I was pleasantly surprised to see their relationship represented on the show. Neither of them defined their relationship, a modern move in itself, but the love they had needed no label. It wasn’t sexualized, a fault with many of the media’s representation of lesbian relationships, nor did it lose the essence of friendship that held them through Sue’s engagement with Emily’s brother. While there was an opportunity for the director to create a love triangle, they didn’t, and that move kept space for their relationship to be healthy.

Emily Dickinson wouldn’t be an American poet from the 1800s if she didn’t have a love for death. The scenes where Emily and Death interacted were the best scenes of the series. I looked forward to the creepy, flirty commentary they would have while riding in his coach. These scenes were short until the final episode where Emily had to confront her want of death. It was these scenes that gave depth to what is mostly a shallow show by acknowledging how isolation and the belittlement of people based on who they are has harmful effects.

“Dickinson” was a great show to watch to lighten up my mood during finals season. The characters were entertaining, and the playlist was full of bops with artists like Mitski, Tony K, Lizzo and Transviolet. While there were episodes that lacked depth, the writing was witty enough to keep you watching. The attention to detail in keeping the writing accurate and the representation through diverse characters made watching the show better. Supporting women and LGBTQ+ members in film is important on the screen and behind the scenes.