Friday, November 1, 2019

REVIEW: 'Dickinson' - Emily Dickinson Waits for Death and Pushes Back from Society's Expectations in 'Because I Could Not Stop'

AppleTV+'s Dickinson - Episode 1.01 "Because I Could Not Stop"

Emily's attempt to publish a poem sparks backlash.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of AppleTV+'s Dickinson.

"Because I Could Not Stop" was written by Alena Smith and directed by David Gordon Green

This is a wild creative swing for Apple right out of the gate. It's a period comedy set in the 1850s but told with an extremely modern sensibility. It's an insane tonal ambition that could easily grow grating and annoying. In fact, it may be a show that an audience either loves or hates. Right now, it's simply fascinating to see what the actual creative ambitions are. It's a unique way to tell this story. It's told to the audience upfront that Emily Dickinson lived in her father's house for her entire life, she never married and her famous poems were largely unpublished until her death. All of those statements are true at the start of the series. The first action details that they will remain true for the rest of her life. As such, the show could run into problems by simply being too stationary. If her life doesn't evolve beyond this, then what kind of character journey can the audience expect to witness? Right now, it's unclear. She is pushing back against a world that seems destined to confine her. She doesn't want to be looking for a good husband like her mother desperately wants her to do. She doesn't want to do chores every day alongside her eager and willing to please sister. However, she comes across as the epitome of privileged in this world. She views herself as a slave. It's a statement made to point out just how insane the argument can be for anyone to compare their suffering to the original sin of this country. It's just even more extreme when it's featured in a narrative that takes place as the country is leading up to the Civil War. Emily's father, Edward, has the ambition to become a member of Congress. He believes a solution can be worked out for all of this drama through the sheer determination of compromise. All of that may showcase how this family is out of touch with what's currently happening in their era. But again, the show points out that these characters feel out of place in time. Emily doesn't want to conform to the fate seemingly predestined for her. It's only halfway through this premiere before the show delves into the reality of her being a lesbian. That is the declaration made so often during high school or college literary classes deconstructing her work that it has become such a tired cliche. It's the least amount of work someone can do to analyze what she was trying to say about life and death. This premiere highlights one of her poems. It may come across as simple. But it also highlights a true existential crisis defined by feeling alienated and even welcoming to death itself. The show imagines a conversation between her and Death. He won't come to collect her for good for awhile. However, she yearns for an escape from this life even though the audience now knows to expect nothing else to change. She has love and affection for her connections in the community. It's just startling and tragic to see how upset Edward becomes when he refuses her desire to publish some of her work. He is so oppressive and unwilling to have anything tarnish the Dickinson name. This is a story being told with the benefit of hindsight though. It imagines a reality in which Emily walks around with the confidence that she will be the only Dickinson who is famously remembered. She gets that appreciation now and can finish her poem. It's an effective journey. It's just a wild creative ride that seems unlikely to grow beyond being hit or miss with its various character details and twists. As such, it's difficult to really see what could possibly happen next and why any viewer should care. It certainly has the potential to surprise though. At times, the humor is very effective because of how morbid and condescending it all is. The stretch for more grounded emotions is a little bit more of a struggle. Again, the audience has to accept the privileged and entitlement these main characters display. That may be a huge burden for some though.