Emily’s forced to finally face all of her inner fears as they come to light in an explosively imaginative episode that will further make you wish this show wasn’t ending.
Dickinson is about to go off! Emily Dickinson, once again, finds herself in mourning. After already losing her aunt earlier in the year, Emily learns that Fraiser Stern, the man who’s death she had foreseen last season, was in fact killed in battle. The news is devastating, especially for Austin who considered Fraiser to be one of his closest friends. However, when Emily arrives on his doorstep to ask him to go to the funeral with her, he refuses. For some reason, their father has been asked to give the eulogy and Austin thinks it’s just another moment for him to pretend to be important. Emily lashes out at her brother for keeping the family at war, but Austin calls his sister out for giving up her “unconventional” ways just to appease Edward. He slams the door in her shocked and hurt face.
As Emily predicted, the whole town starts buzzing over that fact that Austin doesn’t show up for Fraiser’s funeral, but her attention is immediately sidelined when the ‘nobody’ ghost of Fraiser appears to her. Emily asks him to describe the war to, and he calls it the darkest inferno there is, and what he found there was his rarest, ugliest truth. Emily apologizes for Austin’s absence, but Fraiser seems more concerned over her falling out with her brother than him missing his funeral. Emily insists she’s better off without her “hopeless” brother and that she’s finally found a stronger bond with her father. But as Fraiser puts it, her hope rings false, giving Emily warning that all might not be as solid as she thinks.
As Fraiser disappears, Emily and Edward walk home together from the funeral arm in arm – but who should be watching them from a distance, but Sue. It seems clear she’s not spoken to Emily since their fight in the orchard, and after catching a glimpse of her love, she rushes off to greet their friends, Abiah and her husband, who are the editors of Drumbeat, the Union Army newsletter. Apparently, Sue has a submission to give them – an anonymous submission.
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Back at home, Edward invites Emily to his office to make an “unusual” request of her: he’d like her to be the executor of his will. Though the job traditionally falls to the eldest son, Edward confesses that he only trusts Emily to carry out his wishes, because he trusts her with his whole heart. It’s a tender moment, one that seems to bring to a close a dark chapter between father and daughter.
Miles away, Higginson is putting the final touches on his own will. He and his men are preparing for battle as the confederates are quickly making their way towards their camp. But as it turns out, Higginson has no men to command. The barracks are empty, with Henry and the regiment having taken matters into their own hands. Alone, Higginson returns to his tent, and to a new letter from Emily.
As he reads her words, Emily begins to put the final touches on her fathers will. Edward is impressed; not only has she been loyal to him, but she has offered brilliant ideas on how to keep his own legacy alive. He finally says everything he should to her, acknowledging his failures as a father, her loyalty to him when he doesn’t deserve it, and pledges his eternal gratitude for her devotion. They agree that there’s nothing that could ever divide them.
But with his final decree in his will, Edward proves he’s not the father that Emily or any of her siblings deserve. He tells Emily that the family home and all of his “possessions” will be left to – Austin. Yes, it seems it doesn’t matter that his son has disowned the family or written him off; for Edward, there is no scenario where the men of his family won’t be in charge. He even can’t help but laugh at himself at the thought of Emily’s unnamed infant nephew one day being her “guardian” should something happen to both he and Austin.
Emily is horrified, and rightfully so. As his father paints women as too “emotional,” Emily shows the kind of a restraint only her own maturity could muster. She finally sees her father for what he is, a “scared sheep”, with no imagination and no power to change anything. “I made a mistake,” she says to him, with tears pooling at her eyes, but never giving him the satisfaction of falling. “Austin was right about you,” is all she can muster to say back to him. Sidebar — Hailee Steinfeld is truly magnificent in this scene. In a very subtle, nuanced, and controlled way, she perfectly showcases the depth of Emily’s pain by her father betrayal. It’s an incredible scene to watch.
She rushes from the house, crashing into an equally distraught Betty in her front yard. At first, Emily seeks comfort from Betty, but the seamstress isn’t having it. She’s a mess over the news that Henry is about to face a confederate brigade head on, and has lost all hope that her husband will return. Seeing the last visage of hope slip away, Emily runs to the forest.
She runs and runs and runs until finally, she comes across Fraiser’s ghost standing in front of an open grave; a pit, to be more precise, with the phrase “lasciate ogni speranza” etched into the tombstone. It means “abandon all hope” and is the inscription at the entrance to Hell in Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno”. Finally, Emily is about to face the darkest place of all, her own personal hell, the place where all of her true fears live. She descends into the pit…
And suddenly, she’s in a white gown, the same outfit described by Sylvia Plath when she talked about Emily’s “sad” legacy. Emily descends into her dark and war torn looking home, until she reaches the kitchen. She finds Vinnie tending as a nurse to men she refers to as her “husbands”. She rages at Emily for “ruining her chance at happiness” by filling her head with ideas of being independent. Vinnie grabs all of Emily’s poems and burns them in the fire.
Emily leaves and descends lower to find Austin, dressed just as the warden did at the insane asylum. He’s ready to lock Emily up for being the reason his marriage is a “disaster”. She pleads with Austin to understand how much she loves Sue, that she could never stop loving her. “You don’t love Sue,” he says. “You love writing poems.” He accuses her of destroying him by not letting their marriage have a chance. Emily wrestles away from him and hides in the living room.
There, she finds her mother, who in her despair has reverted back to being a child, sitting in a crib, asking Emily to feed her. She looks utterly deranged and helpless, and Emily can’t bare to look at her. She runs from the room and descends deeper into the house.
Now, she’s back at her father’s study, where she finds Edward perfectly poised behind his desk. But, with a touch of her hand, his body slumps forward and she can see that he’s dead. Despite all that he’s done, his death deeply affects her and she weeps over his corpse. She blames herself for death.
Sue finds Emily then, and extends her hand to lead her away. Now, they’re finally going to be together. When Emily looks up, she finds Sue dressed in a tux and top hat, smiling sweetly at her love. Emily takes her hand and they descend lower. They enter the parlor, set similar to how it looked during the Wild Night’s party in season one. Back then, all Emily longed for was to dance with Sue, and now they finally can. The dance starts innocently enough, but as the music swells, it gets more intimate. Sue runs her hands all over Emily’s body, encouraging Emily to do the same. But Emily’s distracted and she keeps looking back for her family.
Interpreting this as disinterest, Sue begs Emily to just be with her and leans in to kiss, but Emily turns away. Sue is crushed. “You’re not attracted to me anymore,” she cries, and despite Emily insisting she is, when Sue tries to kiss her again, again Emily sidesteps her and Sue crumples to the ground. Furious, Sue runs from Emily, saying as she leaves, “There’s never any hope for us.”
Emily races after to her, coming to the front door, but rather than finding Sue, Emily finds herself in the middle of the Civil War, now dressed as a solider. She’s literally on the front lies, dead men’s bodies on the ground, her beloved Death’s carriage broken down by a tree. A cannon goes off and Emily is blasted aside. She recovers just in time to see Henry and his mean arrive at the battle scene. They are facing the confederates – men with more training and better skills – head on. She watches in horror as they engage, Henry coming face to face with death as a confederate soldier knocks him to the ground and points his gun right at his head. She screams for Henry to fight – and fight he does.
Within moments, Henry saves himself and looks around at his men have done the same, defeating their enemies, victory theirs. And for the first time, Emily is seeing the real meaning of hope – that taking action and facing your true fears head on is the only way to persevere. She looks above, and the small yellow bird that appeared to her at Aunt Lavinia’s funeral has returned to her. And Emily smiles, hopeful once more.
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