At church, Em’s pastor wants to know: Do we recognize the Devil when he comes to us? The Devil could be ANYTHING. Or anyone. Even a woman! Vinnie, undergoing a personal awakening that is really a joy to watch, says the sermon was sexist. But Shipley, unsurprisingly, sees it as a wakeup call: Women possess black magic. Vinnie responds to this by breaking up with him, though it is not really clear that the breakup takes; all we know for sure is that Shipley still has no idea who Vinnie really is (weird, intense, adventurous) and instead is stuck on his fantasy version of her, based on the girl she used to be (prim, proper, obedient). For instance, he says, she is nothing like his ex Lola Montez, an actress and wild thing who shot him once with a gun. Vinnie: “I need space.”
Em checks back in with Sue to tell her that she went for a walk with Sam and that she’s scared of being published. We are rehashing the same conversation Em and Sue have been having since the season began, and while this is all very realistic (I mean, we all have our obsessions and ruminate on them endlessly) it’s also a little water-treading for my taste, especially as our season is supposed to be taking off, and anyway we know what happens re: Em publishing or not! But anyway, these girls repeat their standard lines: Sue is confused by Em’s hesitancy and wants her to stop dragging her heels, and Em is too conflicted to seize the moment just yet.
Em and Vinnie realize they are both in need of spiritual help. Em knows the solution: Time to have a seance. Hell yes! Last season, when Em wanted to know what was going on in the great beyond, she simply spoke with Death (played to perfection by Wiz Khalifa). But whatever, this is still cool! I am excited. Mama Dickinson gives them the green light to use the parlor; she seems to be getting along better with her daughters now that those bratty nieces are in play. (“They don’t even remember a time before telegrams,” Em says.)
When Em goes to fetch candles, she walks in on an argument Henry is having with Betty (his wife? His girlfriend? Any of you know?) about their newspaper and their activism. Henry fesses up: He is the anonymous author behind the work in the Constellation. Em, not not missing the point: “I didn’t know you were a writer!” He tells her, quite emphatically, that NO ONE CAN KNOW, and even though she stumbled a bit on racism issues last season, I really really hope we aren’t going in a direction where she messes this up and endangers Henry’s life! She asks if Henry would put his name to his writing if he could. His reply: “Who wouldn’t?”
Candles secured, Em is dressed to mingle with the spirits in her white lacy nap dress with her hair all loose. Vinnie, Midsommar-flower-crowned, is ready, as are their fellow spirit-seekers: Jane and her sidekicks, all of whom are in that like, what if Little House on the Prairie were also kind of sexy by way of a Free People catalog aesthetic. Everyone takes off their shoes and, as Vinnie implores them, brings in good vibes only. The teen brats wind up participating, too, even though their vibes are decidedly rotten. Hattie, who can actually commune with spirits, gets roped into helping even though she’s like, “I don’t need to talk to any more dead white people.” Em offers to pay her so she’s down. (In addition to being a medium she has about 800 other jobs. “I’m just a freelancer,” she says, and I’m like … same!! Wow, representation matters.)
The crowd gathers in a moon circle. Em says it’s time to reprogram their consciousnesses. She’s been dealing with a LOT of uncertainty. (“Classic Sagittarius” says Vinnie, who adds that her energy might be extra-potent tonight “as I just got my period.”)
Vinnie, far and away my favorite supporting character, explains that she is questioning things with Ship. She begins with the pros, which I think in these quarantine-times we can all find extremely understandable: He’s really hot, he lives in her house, it is convenient. But Vinnie wants MORE. She wants to be FREE. “I don’t even know if I believe in monogamy.” YES, KEEP GOING VINNIE. “I think marriage is just a patriarchal system designed to make women less autonomous!” VINNIE HAVE A BREAKTHROUGH BABY. “What if I just wanna be Vinnie — a symbol.” Omigosh, she already likes my nickname for her?! This is all so wonderful and I also love that we are seeing Em and Vinnie’s sisterly bond, which we didn’t get a ton of last season but feels very real to me.
Everyone else has BYO’d their issues: Jane is still struggling with being a hot young widow. Her blonde friend (Abiah, I think!) has some choice words for a handsy and gross but at-least-now-he’s-dead uncle. Abby just wants to find out if she has allergies. Hattie the Medium is here to get paid. And Em, as we know, wants to be guided toward her destiny. She asks: Should I seek fame? And the universe answers with LIGHTNING.
“Witchcraft is no joke!” Em demands the girls stay centered. Abiah pretends to be possessed and just dramatically plays the piano like that bitch at the slumber party who is obviously moving the Ouija board planchette just to mess with everyone. Just as the dopey teens leave (they’re bored), shit gets VERY real, as they all hear the sound Vinnie IDs as her pet cat, Millard Fillmore — her familiar! Fortunately I already know all about familiars because they come into play a lot in another one of my recaps, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. (Salem is Brina’s familiar.)
Hattie clocks the “dark energy” in the room as everything around them starts to float and tremble and generally just freak out and behave in spooky ways. Jane’s nose bleeds, the piano plays itself, Hattie’s eyes roll back in her head. Em asks the spirits to show her the light — and all the candles go out. When Em goes looking for matches she finds her Nobody, coughing and struggling in the dark. He keeps reciting the poem at her but suddenly bullet holes rip through him and he bleeds out on the ground. She picks up the slip of paper he left behind and flies buzz loudly in the background — signifying death, presumably.
While the seance unfolds, Shipley and Austin bond over their girl troubles. Sue is at a party in Concord; Austin doesn’t mind if they spend that time apart. She can party “and I can stay at home and feel depressed about my bad taste in art.” I can’t totally tell but … are they flirting? Anyway, Ship is STOKED to get rich and fill his house with MAD paintings of livestock, a house in which he will be married to Vinnie. Austin, who clearly doesn’t know Vinnie well, says she’s always been “desperate” to get married. Shipley admits that he, actually, is feeling a little desperate. “I don’t want to be that loser who is 30 and doesn’t have a wife,” he says, which I know is a joke that’s supposed to sound absurd to our modern ears, but if you watch any rom-com from the ’90s that is basically the straight-faced plot.
I like that the men are sitting around talking about marriage and babies while the girls are focused on channeling spirit guides in pursuit of their independence and big dreams! Also I like that this scene passes a sort of reverse-Bechdel test, in that the male characters are only talking about women and having children. Austin is introspective about the whole situation: He is waiting for the right time, but what if it never comes?
We also have a little side plot where Mama Dickinson is (as she was after the cattle show/baking fair) hungrier for sex than her husband, who is neglecting her and/or does not share her appetite. This time it mostly involves her getting off to a very vivid fantasy of a hot captain who probably died at sea in a shipwreck but maybe survived and could be sending her a message from an ocean away.
In the morning, Em pounds on Sue’s door and announces, “I want to be published. I have to be published or I’ll DIE.” Em believes that her hallucination of Nobody is a message about what it means to be anonymous — that a “demon in my mind” is trying to stop her from living out her dreams. “I don’t want to be a nobody.”
Em wants Sue to give the poem to Sam but Sue’s like, DIY girl, he’s in the parlor. Just hanging out, eating grapes, as one does. He was at that party in Concord the other night. “I’m at all of the balls,” he says. “I’m a baller.” Do we think Sue and Sam are hooking up?
Em hands the folded-up poem to Sam. After doing whatever the professional equivalent of courting Em is for the past two episodes, Sam says, noncommittally, “It’ll go straight to the top of my pile.” WOW, Sam! He just has SO many submissions to go through. And if it’s accepted, well … “I’ll keep you posted.” I canNOT believe Sam is out here negging Emily Dickinson! What a searing indictment of freelance life this episode has turned out to be!