Dickinson Season 2 Episode 9 Review: I Like a Look of Agony

Though the series is entitled Dickinson, the name could theoretically be a misnomer as it is the middle Dickinson child Emily, not her family, that is front and center most of the time.

Her family is merely supporting players in a story that centers around one of the greatest literary poets of all time.

However, Dickinson Season 2 Episode 9 switched things up a bit by having Emily be a secondary character to her family this time around, particularly to Austin, who found himself thrust into the spotlight.

While this wasn’t an Austin-centric episode by any means, the eldest Dickinson stepped into the leading role, giving actor Adrian Enscoe the chance to shine.

Enscoe flawlessly managed to shift between Austin’s anger, confusion, and despair throughout the episode, the character’s pain almost palpable as Austin was reduced to tears over feeling like a failure.

Throughout Dickinson Season 1, Austin was a character who was hard to root for.

Besides being an obstacle for Emisue, Austin was self-centered, entitled, and at times callous.

Remember when he dug up the grave of a dead baby just because he wanted Sue to be buried next to him? Or when he tries to pressure her about having children?

Or worst of all, when he locked Emily in her room during his and Sue’s wedding just because he was jealous of Emily and Sue’s closeness, thus preventing his sister from being able to support her best friend on her big day?

Austin: Dad was right. I’m a failure. I’m a total utter failure. I’m a joke.
Emily: No, that is not true.
Austin: Yes, it is, Emily. Yes. You don’t understand. Nothing I do works. Everything I touch breaks. I’ve been trying so hard to find meaning, to find something that will make Sue love me. But nothing I do will ever matter. I’m a joke, Emily. A fraud, with a hole inside that nothing can ever fill.

Those are just some of Austin’s more egregious actions, yet the Austin we see throughout this season is almost unrecognizable in the best of ways.

Sure, he still makes some mistakes, but his heart continues to be in the right place.

None of this is more evident than him helping to finance the secret Black abolitionist newspaper.

They say the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching, and Austin being the financial backer for Henry and co. is perhaps the noblest thing he’s ever done.

Austin can hardly claim accolades or be lauded as a man with a heart of gold. 

No, barely anyone knows about his involvement in the underground newspaper, and still, Austin wishes he could do more.

He invested because he believes in the cause and what they’re doing, and instead of belting his contributions from the rooftops, he keeps his involvement secret because that’s what best — and necessary — for the movement.

However, like the rest of society, Edward has no idea what his son has put on the line to help others.

All Edward sees is a version of Austin from Season 1, a man who has only grown more incorrigible and frivolous since marrying Sue.

Austin: OK, well, just so you know I’ve invested in things too. Good things, things that will make the world a better place.
Edward: Oh like what? Like your forged painting? You thought I wouldn’t find out about that. honestly, to think of everything I’ve given you, all the opportunities I’ve handed to you on a plate, and what have you done with it all? What have you accomplished? Nothing. It’s just one failure after another.
Austin: I have…
Edward: You say what you will about Emily, but at least she has her damn poems.

From Edward’s point of view, Austin has never had to work for anything in his life, having never accomplished anything besides what he was handed on a silver platter.

And while that is true in a matter of speaking, there’s more to someone’s character than just their accomplishments and work ethic.

The Austin we’ve gotten to know this season is kind and caring and compassionate, but he’s also a broken man who wants his wife back.

Gone is the hubris and haughtier-than-thou attitude, replaced with a beaten and bruised man, unsure how much more he can take.

Watching Austin break down in front of Emily, wondering if Edward was right about him all along, was heartbreaking.

Feeling like you’re a failure is something we can all relate to, and it was so painful to watch Austin question his place in this world, especially since he feels like he can’t do anything right.

If this were a season ago, I would have said, ‘Well, it’s sad, but he also somewhat deserves it.’

Now, though, I will die on the hill that Austin deserves better than the grief he gets from Sue and Edward.

Emily: Austin, you are not a fraud. In fact, you are the most genuine person I know. You are so full of love. You have so much love to give. And none of us could survive without it, least of all me.
Austin: Do you really mean that?
Emily: Don’t I always say what I mean?

All Austin has done this season is try to find a way to get Sue to love him again. 

He’s spent money his family doesn’t have, indulging her every whim and desire, all in an attempt for her to come back to him.

Austin’s even put up with Sue having an affair because even though she’s hurt him like no other, he still loves her.

For her part, Sue hadn’t seen the least bit remorseful about how her actions had hurt those around her until this installment when she visited Sam’s wife and her old friend Mary.

It’s almost always easier to do something you know you’re not supposed to do, like, say, having an affair with your oldest friend’s husband, when you aren’t forced to confront the consequences of your actions.

Until now, Sue hasn’t had to contend with the fallout from the affair, but sitting there with Mary, face to face, Sue had to look into her friend’s eyes and lie to her face.

It’s unclear if Mary knew Sam was stepping out on her with Sue or not, but Mary’s not as docile or delicate as we’ve been led to believe.

Her appearance was twofold, for it not only forced Sue to be accountable but also forced her to deal with the deep-seated guilt and grief she’s been carrying around since the miscarriage.

Sue has buried that pain so deep and done her very best to put everything before her life as a Dickinson behind her, trying to repress those uncomfortable feelings with lavish soirees and an affair with Sam.

Mary: We were going to have a baby girl this year, but she died inside of me.
Sue: Oh. God, Mary. I’m so sorry.
Mary: I… I just lost it.
Sue: Something like that… something like that happened to me.
Mary: Oh, I’m so sorry.
Sue: It’s like I’ve been trying… I’ve been trying to push the pain away.
Mary: You don’t have to push it away. It’s OK to feel it.

However, underneath that facade lies a woman who’s in so much pain, and the only way she’s been able to get through things is to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Yet after Mary divulged that she had miscarried, Sue felt safe enough to own her truth and say it aloud to someone besides Emily for the first time.

Hopefully, this is the first step in healing, and Sue can get back to being the woman we all love. She and Austin may never find their way back together, but she can still redeem herself in our eyes.

Some stray thoughts:

  • Lavinia and Ship are technically back together, but we all know it won’t last, right? For no matter how often Ship says he accepts Lavinia for who she is, he has demonstrated time and time again that what he truly wants is an idealized version of Lavinia, not the sexual and intelligent woman who stands before him.

    Maybe he thinks he can change Lavinia, or he doesn’t want to be alone with a civil war brewing, but their romance is still doomed. They aren’t the right fit, and both realize that, yet they’re still trying to hold on to something they both know isn’t right.

  • Frazar is Nobody. Nobody is Frazar’s ghost, maybe? I don’t get any of this, and it doesn’t make any semblance of sense. All this revelation did was confuse the heck out of me and make Emily realize everything she’s seen, including Sue and Sam together, was real.

  • Speaking of Sam, he was even more of a pompous asshole. From wanting to profit off the brewing civil war and strategizing to make the newspaper appeal to both the North and South was just disgusting. There are “real” lives at stake, and all the emotional vampire can think of is how to make a quick buck off this tragedy.

So what did you think, Dickinson Fanatics?

Did Adrian Enscoe break your heart as Austin?

Has Sue had a real breakthrough?

What’s the deal with Frazar/Nobody?

Don’t forget to hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts.

Jessica Lerner is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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