Modern television has conditioned us to expect the worst when it comes to a season finale. Even a series as delightful as Netflix’s Daybreak wraps its first season with the explosion of a nuclear weapon, a (necessary) murder, and a painful romantic rejection. Apple TV+’s Dickinson — a comedy about one poet’s doomed romance with death — seems like a likely candidate to follow in every other show’s macabre, jaw-dropping footsteps.
“Funeral” revolves around the wedding of Austin Dickinson (Adrian Enscoe) and Sue Gilbert (Ella Hunt), respective brother and best friend/lover of Dickinson leading lady Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld). By this point in the story, Austin knows that his betrothed has a very, let’s say, passionate relationship with his little sister. But Austin is confident orphan Sue is finally ready to fully choose him — especially since she’s going to marry him (Sue is even pregnant with Austin's baby, unbeknownst to him). Then Austin finds Sue crying in a dirty wedding dress minutes before she’s supposed to walk down the aisle. Sue admits to her husband-to-be that her gown is in ruins after a prenuptial adventure with Emily. Sue is also crying over a (love) poem from Emily.
Mired in insecurity, Austin explodes at Emily. He tells her that her poems are “stupid” and “meaningless,” because “the only real poems are the ones in books.” Austin bans his sister from the wedding. Rather than attend the nuptials of the person she loves most in the world, Emily is locked away in her room. “I’m the man of the house now!” Austin yells as an explanation for his cruelty. “When dad’s gone, I’m in charge of you. That’s just the way it is.”
After a season of watching misogyny hold Emily back, this confrontation appears to be the worst blow. The second act of “Funeral” shows Emily whining about her wedding ban from her room — nearly ruining the event in the process, thereby making Austin’s biggest fears come true — and slipping into a fantasy sequence about her own funeral. It’s the funeral that pushes Emily into some self-discovery. Death (Wiz Khalifa) calls her a “basic bitch” and explains no one came to her funeral because she isn’t a great poet yet. Harsh.
Between years of Emily’s dad Edward (Toby Huss, aka GLOW season 3’s Tex) threatening to punish her should she dare to publish as a woman, Austin’s recent meltdown, and Death’s shade, it would make sense for Emily to finally throw in the towel. Instead, she rallies. Since both Austin and Death suggest Emily isn't a “real poet” yet, she turns herself into one with the womanly tools left to her. Emily takes her poems — which are currently scribbled on errant scraps of paper — and fashions them together with the threads in her sewing kit. She creates dozens of self-made mini books of her poetry.
If books make a poet, as Austin claimed, Emily is prolific. It’s a moving look at one woman genius taking the personal and societal sexism thrown at her and turning it into the engine for her success.
Then Emily’s father shows up at her door to free her from her Austin-imposed prison. Since the very beginning of Dickinson, Edward has been the person who believes in Emily most, but, confusingly, the one who is most against her becoming a published author. At one point, Edward even suggests Emily's dream of becoming a successful poet will cause the ruination of their family name (instead of immortalize it, as Dickinson itself proves is inevitable). While Emily loves her father, her recent bookbinding project has lit a new fire in her.
“I am a poet,” she announces. “I am a poet. And I am not going to die. I’m going to write hundreds, thousands of poems right here in this room. The greatest poems ever written — by Emily Dickinson. And there is nothing you can do to stop me.”
At last, Edward recognizes his daughter’s words as a fact instead of a stubborn attempt to defy his will. “Yes, Emily. I know,” he acquiesces, leading Emily to respond with a triumphant nod. Emily has won.
Now that Dickinson has been renewed for a second season, the only question is what Emily will do with all this newfound power. Look out world, Emily Dickinson has arrived.