Dickinson kicked off Season 2 with Emily getting some scary medical news… along with an opportunity to share her poems with the world.
Friday’s premiere opens with a history lesson, with a narrator telling us that details of the real Emily Dickinson’s life after Sue and Austin’s wedding are sketchy, and perhaps we can only find the real truth through her poems. Emily is still scribbling letters to Sue, who’s now living right next door with Austin. But when her vision turns blurry and painful, her dad takes her to a doctor who’s not terribly sympathetic. (When she says she writes, he tells her, “You might want to stop doing so much of that.”) Her vision is failing, the doc concludes, and he advises her to sit in dim rooms and avoid the sun. He’s not optimistic, either: “It will only get worse,” he says gravely.
On the train home, Emily’s dad mutters about the hefty doctor bill, and she tells him, “Sorry for being so expensive.” He reassures her that it’s really Austin who’s the problem; his new house with Sue cost a fortune, and then the market bottomed out. When he steps away, Emily is approached by a strange man, who says to her: “I’m nobody. Who are you?” She’s convinced he looks familiar, but he leaves without saying his name — and when her dad returns, the man has vanished. Hmmm.
Meanwhile, Lavinia is thrown for a loop when her mother takes in a new boarder: Mr. Shipley, an ex of Lavinia’s with a truly great head of hair. (“What is even happening right now?” Lavinia wonders.) Shipley boasts that he’s been very successful selling pharmaceuticals, but he came back intent on marrying Lavinia. He’s looking for a traditional gal who exhibits “submissiveness, chastity and a willingness to do household chores.” Lavinia insists that’s not her — and proves it by throwing him down on the bed and mounting him. OK, then!
When Emily and her dad return home, her mom frets about her grim diagnosis: “Why is this happening to me?” Lavinia wants to gossip, but Emily runs upstairs to write: “My mind is bursting with ideas.” (Her dad warns her about her eyes, but she’s undaunted.) Lavinia is excited to attend one of Austin and Sue’s fabulous parties tonight, since there’s been so much buzz about them. (“Sue is an influencer,” she gushes.) Newspaper editor and budding media mogul Samuel Bowles will be there, she adds. Emily tries to write, but the noise from the party next door makes it impossible. “Sounds like they’re doing all the latest jigs,” her maid quips.
At the party, Sue holds court in a fancy dress while Mr. Shipley marvels at the oysters. (“Oysters are actually a cheap and readily available food,” Lavinia sighs.) Shipley gives Austin a bro-ish greeting and tells him he and Lavinia are “engaged to be engaged”… even though she never agreed to that. That bitchy clique of Emily’s acquaintances are there, too, declaring Ralph Waldo Emerson “cancelled” and pitying poor Jane, now that she’s a widow with a baby. Emily finally drops her writing and heads over to the party with ink smeared all over her face. Sue tries to help her wipe it off, but Emily doesn’t care how she looks: “I’m here to see you.”
She demands to know what Sue thought of her poems, and Sue says they’re better than ever… but they’re also too much for her: “Your poems… they make me feel things I don’t want to feel.” They remind her of her recent miscarriage, which she still hasn’t told Austin about. Sue wants Emily to meet Sam Bowles and thinks he might publish her poems in his newspaper, which is long overdue: “I can’t be your only reader anymore.” On cue, Sam shows up, calling Sue “Suzie” and casually bragging about his travels. He knows all about Emily’s poems and wants to hear one — but when Sue encourages her to read one aloud at the party, Emily says “not tonight” and walks out. (She also catches another glimpse of that “nobody” guy. Is he a ghost or what?) As she runs home, she turns back and sees Sam watching her leave. We’re guessing these two will see each other again, huh?
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