Dickinson released with Apple TV+’s launch, and upon review of the pilot, it’s easy to see why creative executives were eager to roll it out.
The show stars Hailee Steinfeld as legendary poet Emily Dickinson. It’s set in the mid-1800s in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her creativity is oppressed by societal norms, and she’s tormented by a complicated romance.
Oh by the way, the first episode is really funny, too. Creator Alena Smith juxtaposes the period with contemporary dialogue and music, which makes it unique — and it all somehow works. Read on for a full Dickinson review.
Steinfeld sells the show
In the wrong hands, this could’ve gone horribly wrong. However, Steinfeld kills it as Dickinson in the first episode, titled, “Because I could not stop.” She has a quiet strength about her, yet also a serious passion that doesn’t have to be articulated to read emotionally.
Between dismissing the suitors her mother brings around, and being defiant about the role she’s supposed to accept as a woman, Steinfeld draws a strong character in short order.
It’s not that her Emily lacks a work ethic. She just doesn’t want to spend her times “doing chores 24/7.” Unfortunately, her mother insists, and her sister is similarly relegated to household duties. Marriage isn’t even in the cards for her, since she’s useful as a maid.
Although the commentary is rather on the nose, it’s intentionally that way, and it’s often played for laughs. Steinfeld makes it all work in a sincere but sort of passive-aggressive way. If it were played too serious, it wouldn’t work. If it were casual, it’d fall flat.
Main plot points charged with social taboos
When a suitor of hers comes by, it turns out to be her friend, George, who supports her poetry and offers to publish it in his college newspaper. Emily agrees, and tells her family later at dinner. Her father scorns her and says she’ll bring shame to the Dickinson name.
Emily’s best friend, Sue, suffers through the death of her last sister from typhus. Sue’s entire family has passed, so she becomes engaged to Emily’s brother, Austin. The only problem: Emily and Sue love each other.
To uphold societal appearances, Sue will stay with Austin, but reassures Emily she’ll love her more always. It definitely creates an interesting subplot setup for the show going forward.
Gender roles and unconventional romance in relation to the time period are the main taboos Dickinson critiques. It’s all executed very well.
Wiz Khalifa as Death
The episode’s title is lifted from a poem of Dickinson’s where she takes a carriage ride with Death.
Well, the show actually allows this to play out. There are multiple scenes where Emily sees ghostly horses drawing Death’s carriage. Toward the end of the episode, Emily boards and takes a ride with the Grim Reaper, played by, yes, Wiz Khalifa.
What an off-the-wall casting choice. Nevertheless, Khalifa actually does pretty well with what he’s given. It didn’t take me out of the show as much as I thought it would, but perhaps fans of the rap star’s music may feel differently.
The best, most clever exchange occurs when Death explains to Emily she’ll be immortal. She replies that it’s easy to achieve by falling in line with society. He responds that the immortality he speaks of is her name being remembered forever as a poet. Khalifa credibly carries the scene.
Dickinson verdict: Binge
- Streaming on Apple TV+
- Created by Alena Smith
- Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Toby Huss, Jane Krakowski
Clocking in at a little under 36 minutes, a short review is Dickinson‘s opening episode is strong. The cast is well-selected, and Steinfeld’s starring performance is excellent.
Overall, this is definitely a series worth binging. All these clashing tones clicked together in the pilot, and it’ll be fascinating to see if that can continue.
Setting up Emily’s fledgling creative life, a complex romantic subplot, building the oppressive world of her society and injecting humor is a lot to do in such a short time.
It’s a testament to the creative talent, Smith’s writing and David Gordon Green’s direction that all this worked so well. Dickinson is off to a rip-roaring start, and feeds the notion of Apple TV+ crushing it with its original programming thus far.