Most of this episode is about a baking contest, and the baking-contest winner gets their name and recipe in the paper. Since we know the point of Em’s life is not to bake, it feels a little water-treading to me, which is a bit of a drag so early in the season, when I’m ready to see things HAPPEN, you know? Em, who is very competitive and wants to win, apparently hasn’t thought about the part where she is in the paper for winning the baking contest? Also it seems extremely out of character for Em to be into baking or even remotely good at it! Doesn’t this seem more like Vinnie’s speed? I did some speedy-quick research and it does appear that the real Emily Dickinson was a renowned baker among her social circles — which is all well and good, women contain multitudes, but does the Em that we have met in this show seem like someone who would bake? I get that we are working with what’s in the history books, but I think in the series it is more important for what Em does and says and such to feel true to Em, the character in the show, even when that deviates from real-life Emily Dickinson. The Em we have met in the show used to pretend to be allergic to aprons. So, there’s that.
But now she is a new woman who made a 20-pound cake. At first, I thought the joke would be that her enormous cake (cakes, actually; she made two) would be terrible, but the result is delicious — she soaked it in brandy for a month. She is ready for the event of the season: the Amherst Cattle Show. Maybe it’s just my broken quar brain talking, but I loved all of Austin’s dopey little cow puns (he is ready to MOOOOve, lol), and even the famously uptight and unfun Mama Dickinson is excited, because apparently this is the one (one!) night a year that she and her husband have sex. Wow, what a life. (Maggie the maid: “Please, no more details.”)
Papa Dickinson decides to enlighten Austin — who is a partner in the law firm and should already know all of this but, of course, doesn’t — on the dire financial straits in which they find themselves. It’s all very millennial: They are in debt. Sue has lavish tastes and because she wasn’t ever able to spend a lot of money before, she’s making up for lost time now. Austin doesn’t really know how to say no to her; theirs is a marriage of open communication, clearly! However, there is hope: Uncle Martin is dead (RIP), and Papa D is the executor, which means he can do some loophole-exploiting to secure a new cashflow. At the end of the episode, we learn this means the Dickinsons are taking in the Shining twins, a.k.a. Martin’s two young daughters. Austin leaves this meeting even less informed than when he entered it, but no matter: Time for the cattle show!
There are oysters and apple-bobs and such. Vinnie flirts with a Native American sailor and learns, “There are actually a lot of Native American sailors in this time period.” Cool! Shipley, meanwhile, is telling Vinnie about how men and women are DIFFERENT, and Vinnie is like, Truly who cares about this, or you. Austin and Sue go for a stroll, and Sue says she wants to buy some horses because she, like Austin, does not realize they have no money. Austin thinks this is an opportune time to press her on how much he wants to have kids. I feel like he handles this pretty well — expressing a desire, not trying to pressure her, but wanting to be honest about what his deal is — and Sue decides not to tell him about her miscarraige and instead says if Austin is so hot to take care of someone he can take care of his wife by buying her a new horse.
Over at the baking contest, Jane announces she didn’t enter because she’s VERY busy being a widow. Em introduces her Caribbean black cake with 10,000 ingredients. Because I am the last person alive who isn’t watching the great British people bake, you’ll have to tell me if this scene makes any clever references to that beloved franchise. In the midst of the judging session, Em hallucinates her Nobody again. But also she wins the contest. Who says you can’t have it all?
Back at the Dickinson house, Mama and Papa Dickinson talk past each other about having sex that night, setting her up for her inevitable disappointment. Editor Sam shows up to tear a chunk of cake out with his hands and decree that it is good. But then everyone talks about how last year’s winner killed herself (!) because the fame (?? she was in a newspaper once) ruined her. But that won’t stop Em and her mom from doing, as her mom puts it, “the whole cattle-show circuit.” Sue points out, not incorrectly, that it’s a little ridiculous for Em to go down in history as a baker and not, you know, a poet.
Em escapes for some air and Sam follows her. He’s hoping her dad will invest in the newspaper because he, too, does not know that the Dickinsons have no spare capital to invest. But he needs to talk to Em anyway, since they run a little Q&A next to her recipe in the paper. They promenade (sorry just watched Bridgerton, really into promenade as a verb) and Em declines to talk about herself. “Let’s talk about me, then,” says this man — a very man thing to say. He came to Amherst just for Em, because he’d heard about her poetry. (So she’s ALREADY a little bit famous!) “I’m always interested in hearing a new voice.” He tells Em she reminds him of Mary, his wife, who he definitely didn’t mention until now! His description of her is very flattering but also so on-the-nose it’s a little eye-roll-y for me: she’s intelligent and insightful but “also sees the darkness.” Sam thinks Em’s modesty is an act and he wants to pluck her from obscurity, like how he just plucked a daisy from the ground. Get it?! Her humility is “so 1840s. It’s 1859, baby! It’s almost the ’60s.”
She confesses she does not want to be remembered for her baking. Suddenly she can feel a poem coming on, which she recites as it occurs to her and I, nervous writer, am like, Is someone writing this down before she forgets it?? Fortunately for us all, someone did write it down, and you can read it here. The whole poem just comes out in one spill. Would that it were so easy, alas. Sam’s take: “That was better than your cake.”
Sue is throwing yet another party, this time with the Baccarat crystal that’s just back from France. She has new horses, as she demanded. Austin bonds briefly with Jane over this absurdity. Then he gives Henry some cash because he wants to “pay for something that actually means something.” Damn, good on you, Austin. Jane spots this transaction, and I wonder: Can we trust her? She’s growing on me, but maybe I’m a sucker.
In the evening rain, Em sees Nobody again. He warns her that she’s in trouble: “Do not seek fame. Do not trust others who would seek it for you … Fame is not genuine.” But what about the fame I trust is coming my way from writing these recaps?? I can only hope Nobody’s advice is only for Em and not for me.