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‘Dickinson’ Series Finale Review – AppleTV+ Emily Dickinson Show Managed a Satisfying End

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Two years ago, when Dickinson launched on Apple TV+ as the newly-minted streamer’s flagship comedy, I spared no ink panning it, calling it “a clashing din of dissonant elements, a show that belittles the real Emily Dickinson by forcing the fictional Dickinson to drag herself screaming across the floor upon getting her period.” A year later, I returned to this here website to reflect on how the show matured in its second season. And now, as the show comes to a close with its third and final run of episodes, I’m reflecting on the journey it took me on. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how Dickinson has changed, but here at the end of its run, I’m realizing it’s me who’s different.

When Dickinson debuted, I tried to give it a fair shake—or so I thought. “I tried not to be a stodgy literary purist,” I wrote back during Season One. Reader, I confess: I was a stodgy literary purist. When I first encountered Dickinson, I was intrigued by the challenge the series set for itself: to shade in the relatively blank canvas of one historic life, marked by the enduring mystery of a nearly three-decade seclusion. Though the show aspired to span only Dickinson’s teenhood, long before she withdrew from the outside world, I felt there was a tantalizing character journey to be had: just how did a spirited girl grow to become a cloistered woman who spoke to visitors through a closed door? In the beginning, I felt that Dickinson’s peevish teen poetess wasn’t a convincing antecedent to the sharp and strange adult we knew she would become. But now that the show has ended, with its ending moments hinting at the beginnings of Dickinson’s fateful seclusion, I see what Dickinson was up to all along.

At the close of its poignant series finale, Dickinson at last takes us inside the room that would contain so much of Dickinson’s adult life. In a serene and stunning montage, a year (maybe more) passes, all viewed from the inside of Dickinson’s bedroom. As the seasons change outside her windows, we see her labor over poems at her writing desk, knit by the fireside, water an ever-growing indoor garden, and even kit herself out in a fetching outfit fit for the streets of her native Amherst, only to stay indoors. But ultimately, this room doesn’t contain Dickinson’s life, because no four walls possibly could.

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Gazing at a painting of a ship hanging on her bedroom wall, as lines of poetry whizz-bang through her head, Dickinson murmurs, “I started early, took my dog and visited the sea”—a snatch of her real poetry. We then cut to an idyllic fantasy, where Dickinson romps on the beach with her dog, dressed in her plain writer’s smock. Then, someone calls her name in the distance: it’s a group of mermaids, lounging on an outcropping of rocks, beckoning her out to sea. “The mermaids in the basement came out to look at me,” the poem continues. Clambering into a rowboat, Dickinson paddles out to meet these beautiful figments of her own genius; then, we fade to black, and the credits roll.

Dickinson’s legacy has always been complicated by the same inscrutable puzzle: how could a sheltered hermit write such visionary poems? How did someone who saw so little of the world manage to bring the world to her? For three seasons, Dickinson has sought to solve the mystery. But it was never more clear-eyed or self-assured than in this brilliant ending, a paean to the inimitable power of the writer’s imagination. It’s a fitting send-off for a show that always refused to be contained by the drab limitations of reality.

There’s something I’ve started to say: “I want more aliens in my literary fiction.” Traditional literary realism is all well and good, but I want to live in a freer world—one where “literary” and “genre” aren’t antonyms, where the unreal can coexist with the real. It took me awhile to cotton on, but ultimately, Dickinson has taught me that what I want from novels, I should want from television, too. What I missed about Dickinson from the get-go was the show’s purest truth: that it should be as imaginative and unfettered as Dickinson herself was.

Emily Dickinson and Lavinia Dickinson, time travelers, meet Sylvia Plath.

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At the beginning of Dickinson, I was appalled when the fictional Dickinson threw an opium party while her parents were away for the weekend, where she danced with a giant hallucinatory bee played by the deranged-as-ever Jason Mantzoukas. But why shouldn’t Emily Dickinson dance with a giant bee? Seems like the kind of thing she would dream up, doesn’t it? In one standout episode from Season Three, Dickinson and her sister Lavinia ride a time-traveling gazebo to the mid-1960s, where they meet fellow poet Sylvia Plath. Chatting together in her lifelong bedroom, now a museum exhibit staffed by undergraduates like Plath, Dickinson is dismayed to learn that history remembers her as a sad spinster who never left that room. Why shouldn’t Emily Dickinson be a time traveler? No room could confine her, so why should a show about her be confined? We could use more shows with this bravery of vision.

Dickinson has never been a runaway success; it’s always been more of a sleeper hit, popular with literary dorks like me, and with writers and lovers who saw their struggles and passions reflected in this radical reimagining of one legendary life. In the years to come, I suspect Dickinson will age into a cult classic, showing up time and time again on “Best Shows You Might Have Missed” lists. So whether you stream it today, tomorrow, or years from now, don’t be deterred if you don’t jive with it right away. Give it a chance, give it some time, and for God’s sake, don’t be a stodgy literary purist. If you unchain your mind, Emily Dickinson-style, you might just be surprised by how far you can travel, all in one room.

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Ask Amy: Readers offer their own advice

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Dear Amy: I was troubled by your response to Cathy S., who told her family to leave all their old hurts and issues at home for the holidays.

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20 Best New Year’s Eve Movies of All Time

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The spirit of reflection and resolution is a popular theme when it comes to a lot of Hollywood classics. So it’s no surprise that a holiday marked by such sentiments has been featured across so many films. Perhaps your resolution this New Year’s resembles the hero’s journey: a call to action and commitment to change against all odds. Maybe you’re more of the rom-com type, just focused on securing that midnight kiss with the one that got away.

Either way, if you’re already imagining the trailer of the coming year, or reminiscing on the highlight reel of years past, there’s a perfect New Year’s movie out there for you. Whether you’re looking for some festive film to play post-ball drop during your New Year’s Eve celebrations, or scrolling for some hungover inspiration on New Year’s Day, the possibilities are endless. So, grab your champagne (or Pedialyte) and ring in the new year with these New Year’s movies.

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Phantom Thread

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as an acclaimed London dressmaker who must tailor his lifestyle to fit in his newfound muse. One of the most gorgeous sequences of the film occurs amidst the aftermath of a wild New Year’s Eve party.

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The Godfather II (1974)

It’s at a New Year’s Eve party in Cuba that Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone plants the kiss of death on Fredo and tells him: “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart.”

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Trading Places (1983)

Two brothers who run a commodities brokerage in Philadelphia try some light social engineering when they switch the identities of their employee, Louis Winthorpe III, played by Dan Aykroyd, and a hustler, Billy Ray Valentine, played by Eddie Murphy. Jamie Lee Curtis is there to help them sort it out and get even. Undeniably a classic comedy, this is also a holiday movie, because one of the film’s most crucial scenes takes place at a New Year’s Eve party aboard a train.

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Carol

If its lead lovers meeting during December can make Carol a Christmas movie, then surely their first kiss happening on December 31st can make it a New Year’s Eve film. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 romance novel Salt, Carol stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as two women in 1950s New York who become enveloped in a forbidden love affair.

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Sleepless in Seattle

Few arcs capture the holiday’s spirit of hope quite like Sam Baldwin transitioning from a heartbreaking scene about talking to his deceased wife on New Year’s Eve to seeking new love on Valentine’s Day. This classic rom-com starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan will have you running to the Empire State Building to profess your feelings for the one you love.

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About Time

When 21-year-old Tim Lake, played by Domhnall Gleeson, learns that he has inherited the ability to time travel and can do anything so long as it doesn’t alter history, his plan is simple: Get the girl. Of course, winning the heart of the love of his life, played by Rachel McAdams, proves to be the last of his worries as time unfolds.

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The Gold Rush

Sure, watching Charlie Chaplin get stood up on New Year’s Eve is one aspect of The Gold Rush, but the slapstick charm of this classic silent film is perfect for reflecting on how times have changed. Not to mention, its silent nature makes for perfect background for a New Year’s Eve gathering.

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When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Probably the greatest romantic comedy of all time, When Harry Met Sally… defined the genre for a generation to come. The dialogue is whip smart; New York shines; Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal charm and delight. The New Year’s connection comes at the end during a New Year’s Eve party.

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The Apartment (1960)

Jack Lemmon is a young man on the make who lets his company’s executives use his apartment for extra-marital affairs. After an office Christmas party, he finds his boss’s mistress, a young woman played by Shirley MacLaine, whom he knows from the office, at his apartment, where she’s tried to overdose on pills. They strike up a complicated relationship with multiple entanglements, both professional and personal. It’s a remarkable movie (and a Best Picture winner) that ends on New Year’s Eve.

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Snowpiercer (2013)

This isn’t just one of the great New Year’s movies, this is one of the best dystopian thrillers in years. Forced to live on a train that circles the world in an endless loop, the back half of the carts, who live in squalor, decide to rise up under Chris Evans’s leadership and take down the wealthy upperclass who’re toasting to another year of splendor.

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The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The ’70s were a golden age for disaster films, and not just for the high stakes either. This Gene Hackman-led drama about a luxury cruise liner that capsizes during a New Year’s Eve party is pure adrenaline.

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Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

In this romantic comedy, Renee Zellweger’s Bridget Jones keeps a diary of a year of romantic misadventures. The movie begins and ends on New Year’s Eve, and it’s delightful as hell.

Amazon AppleTV+ Paramount+

An Affair to Remember (1957)

A weepy romance classic featuring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr begins on New Year’s Eve, where the two main characters, engaged to others, promise to meet up in six months atop the Empire State Building. (If you decide to watch this one, considering following it up with Sleepless in Seattle, which references the movie.)

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Ghostbusters II (1989)

It’s a far cry from Ghostbusters, but when the movie came out in 1989—five years after the first one—audiences delighted in seeing Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston back in action. The movie reaches its conclusion on New Year’s Eve, with a chorus of New Yorkers singing “Auld Lang Syne” in an attempt to defeat an evil spirit terrorizing the city.

Amazon AppleTV+

Highball (1997)

The writer and director of this film—in which a group of friends meet at three different parties: on Halloween, a birthday, and New Year’s Eve—is Noah Baumbach, who made Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, and others. It’s one of his earliest films and, as such, it’s rough and feels as low budget as it is. But the movie captures the rhythms and dialogue of young adults simply hanging out.

Amazon

Ocean’s 11 (1960)

For a time in the 1960s, the Rat Pack could have released a two-hour film of themselves sleeping and it would’ve made money. Ocean’s 11, which inspired the 2000 remake, is better than that (the team’s 1964 effort, Robin and the 7 Hoods, is not) but it’s not a great film. This is a fun movie, however, with some of the 20th century’s greatest performers clearly having a great time—especially, you can tell, when the cameras aren’t rolling.

AppleTV+ Hulu

Four Rooms (1995)

A bellhop goes into four different rooms on New Year’s Eve, and each room becomes its own short film, with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez directing. The stories themselves are based loosely on Roald Dahl’s adult fiction.

Amazon AppleTV+

200 Cigarettes (1999)

In this 1999 comedy, a group of people make their way to a New Year’s Eve party in New York in 1981. The best part of the movie—which features an ensemble cast, including Ben Affleck, Paul Rudd, Kate Hudson, Gaby Hoffmann, and Christina Ricci—is the setting: New York in the early ‘80s. That’s worth the price of admission.

This movie is not available to stream.

Happy New Year, Charlie Brown! (1986)

Charlie Brown frets over a book report, a New Year’s Eve party, and a red-headed girl. And unlike A Charlie Brown Christmas, in the end, nothing turns out well for Charlie Brown in this 30-minute special.

AppleTV+

New Year’s Eve (2011)

In the pantheon of Gary Marshall films, it may not be his best, but there’s something about ending the year with a feel good movie that features an ensemble cast.

Amazon AppleTV+ HBO Max

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Wallice, an Indie Pop Sensation from Los Angeles

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Name: Wallice

Age: 23

Hometown: Los Angeles

Currently Lives: In a three-bedroom bungalow house in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles with her longtime boyfriend, Callaghan Kevany, and a friend.

Claim to Fame: Wallice (whose full name is Wallice Hana Watanabe) is a singer-songwriter best known for “Punching Bag,” a song about self-deception in toxic relationships; her follow-up hit, “23,” about the perils of living with her mother during the pandemic, has had three million streams on Spotify. Sample lyric: “I’m terrified of the future/ Scared that I’ll still be a loser.”

“I credit the pandemic to be able to find an audience, because I think a lot of people had time to listen to music and find new artists,” Wallice said.

Big Break: In 2020, shortly after Wallice released “Punching Bag,” Spotify decided to feature the song on its Lorem playlist — an influential list that showcases new artists and now has more than 900,000 followers.

“A lot of my friends are indie artists that are coming up in the scene,” she said. “They kept reposting the song, and that’s how I got Spotify’s attention.” The song took off from there and has been streamed more than four million times.

Latest Project: In October, Wallice signed with Dirty Hit, an independent record label in London that’s also home to the 1975, an English boy band. In November she released the single “Wisdom Tooth,” a bubbly pop tune that was written the night before she went to the dentist. “I was so nervous,” she said. “I had a recording session that day and was like, ‘There’s no way I can write about anything else.’”

Next Thing: In the new year, she’ll join the band Still Woozy on tour. “I’m really excited about going on tour, especially since my bandmates are my best friends,” she said. “My boyfriend is our guitar player, and my bass player I’ve known forever.”

What’s in a Name?: Wallice went without a name at birth because her parents thought they were having a boy. A few days later, her father named her after Wallis Simpson, the American socialite who later became the wife of Prince Edward, after he abdicated the British throne to marry her. “I really like my name, and I love how it is unique,” Wallice said.

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