In Em’s fantasies, she’s dressed in her best Midsommar aesthetic, and Ben is looking very much alive at their wedding in a vibrant field. This fantasy is dashed when blood oozes out of his mouth and Em snaps back to reality, where she is sitting by his grave. (Vinnie, perceptive: “I don’t remember you being this sad when any of dad’s other assistants died.”)
It’s Sue and Austin’s wedding day, so Em is lured back inside to help Sue. Betty is assisting Sue in her efforts at baby-bump camouflage. (Which is completely unnecessary because she still looks exactly the same as she’s looked all season; they couldn’t have padded her stomach for this? I laughed out loud every time she ran her hand over her flat abs, fretting over an obviously invisible pregnancy.) Em delivers Sue a poem in handwriting so small she needs a magnifying glass to read it. This is the first time Em acknowledges that she never understood all the grief Sue has been carrying this entire time. She says she loved Ben almost as much as she loved Sue. I am very sorry to report that this is hard to believe because these two lovely actresses do not have any sexual chemistry. Am I alone in this observation here?
Sue tells Em she’s pregnant. Em anticipates being an excellent aunt, and Sue has a casual meltdown over all the major life changes rushing at her. So Em proposes they go outside so … wait, why do they do this? I thought they were going to grab flowers together that Sue could have in her bouquet so Em could “be with her” walking down the aisle, but instead they just go outside to romp around in the fields and I write in my notes, Can you IMAGINE a bride letting you get her dress this fucked up the morning of her wedding? This frolicking dirties the bottom of Sue’s dress for no discernable reason.
Em goes to her conservatory/prison to put together a bouquet for Sue, and who walks in but George. George is leaving for California today to mine for gold! There is room in his wagon for Em to join him. Guess Ellen is out of the picture. George has thought about his mistake in not respecting Em’s agency, and he is back for another shot: asking her as her own woman to make her own choice. It is so sad how he doesn’t know she is going to die right here in this house! Em tells him she can’t be his wife, and she’s not alone because Sue will be her sister. “A sister is good enough for you?” George asks in a very leading way. Em insists it is. Bye forever, George!
Inside, Sue reads Em’s extremely tiny poem. Austin finds her crying from all the poetry-induced feelings, plus the pregnancy and it being her wedding day and the ongoing grief that she’ll never escape, and he LOSES it over the fact that she snuck out of her room and made her dress look like trash. “Do you understand how much money I paid for that?” Ew, Austin. Not a cool response. It’s fun to see how having even the slightest bit of wealth and power can sour one’s personality overnight.
Austin finds Em in the conservatory and bans her from attending the wedding he says he just knew she’d find a way to ruin. He shouts that HE is in charge of her now because Papa Dickinson is in D.C. basically forever. He snarls that her poems are stupid and meaningless, that the only real poems are in books. “Just because you’re a man, it doesn’t mean you have to become a monster,” Em yells at him. I wonder about this! In a society in which men have total, absolute control over women, what are the odds that men don’t become monsters? It’s like in The Power.
Mama Dickinson puts these little drops in her eyes that are definitely poison and, in no time at all, dilate her pupils until she looks like evil Willow from season five of Buffy. Her vision speedily deteriorates; her dress catches on fire. Vinnie, blissfully unaware of the spat between her siblings, is loving life as a sort-of orphan (parents indisposed yet still alive). Joseph is here to give her an apology locket, “because I’m ready to lock it down.” Vinnie can’t accept it. “It’s not a good time for me to get into a relationship. I need to focus on my cat.” Vinnie is the MVP of this series.
Betty, who is magical, fixes all the dresses, and just when things are about to get rolling, Papa Dickinson shows up. Austin says Em isn’t here, because “she refused to come out of her room,” and while the totally sloshed Mrs. Dickinson buys that explanation, it’s not clear that anybody else does. But it’s wedding time. (I love that Austin is outraged that his father will be walking Sue down the aisle “in your fucking traveling coat.” I appreciate a man who takes these sartorial matters so seriously.)
Upstairs, trapped in her room, Em shouts that she wants to die and then slips into a dream world where this wish is granted: She’s in a casket, holding those white lilies, the flowers of death. I love this sequence! It is so weird and yet tonally just right. Death, my favorite guest star, has returned “to mourn the loss of some nobody, Emily Dickinson.” (I thought this would transition into the origin story of “I’m nobody, who are you?” but it turns out I was wrong.) Even in her fantasy, nobody came to her funeral except the opium bumblebee. (“I have my whole hive.”) Thoreau is also here because he accidentally set fire to his cabin — lot of accidental fires going around today! And then Ben also pops in, looking like a cute zombie, to say that, in truth, “I’ve always been more attracted to Austin.” Which, I know this was teased a little bit in that circus dream where Ben made out with a boy, HOWEVER, I feel like the one compliment on the cravat is kiiind of a stretch for “I secretly was more into Austin the whole time.”
Anyway! Onward. “We’re gathered here today to say goodbye to some basic bitch Emily Dickinson,” Death says — but hold on, Em has some edits. She calls herself “the greatest American poet who ever lived.” But Death says she isn’t — yet. She asks to be buried. Nails, dirt, the whole shebang. But then she wakes up to her own writing: I felt a funeral in my brain. It’s her desperation for a pencil that gets her banging on the casket lid, demanding to be set free, really killing the vibe at the funeral below.
Em eventually gives up shouting to sew her poems into a book. I remember making my own books with thread like this in elementary school! Fun art project and probably a better experience for Em than watching the love of her life marry her douchey brother. Would that it were so easy to bail on bridesmaid duties. (Meanwhile, at the wedding, Vinnie continues to clean up, finding solace in the arms and mouth of the hot falconer who lost his falcon.)
Papa Dickinson comes to Em’s door. He’s not going to seek reelection; he should never have been gone so long, he says. I’m not sure how Em feels about that. She takes this moment to tell him: “Father, I am a poet. 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.”
“Yes Emily,” he says, proud and heartbroken at the same time. “I know.” And then she shuts the door in his face. Gently, but still. Her prison is now her sanctuary. Her dad will … deal with it? Begrudgingly accept these new terms? Find new and interesting ways to make her life torturous and isolating, leaving her with no one but Death and the opium bumblebee for company? Something to look forward to should we get a second season.