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Hailee Steinfeld as poet Emily Dickinson in Alena Smith's 'Dickinson' series. Season three premieres on November 5.

Bonnets, big houses and brooding looks — a good period drama is some of the best comfort food viewing out there. There’s just something about plugging into the romance, heartbreaks and acts of betrayal of the era that energize our minds and hearts.

The Apple TV+ drama series Dickinson is all about that. But it also kicks it up a few notches by blending the old school with the new. The language and narrative structure within series creator Alena Smith’s work matches Emily Dickinson's poems' sharp zigzags and radical, creative energy. 

Now entering its third and - sadly - final season, this series takes the framework of everything we know about Ms. Dickinson and colors in the gray areas of her life with thoughtful interpretations of her writing that blur the lines of reality and fantasy. Throughout the series, you constantly question what’s real and not. Does Emily have a connection with some realm in between that allows her work to have a timeless dialogue? The past and present fit hand in hand here, and it’s all the more unique and better for it.

Season three of Dickinson moves our titular poet, played by the terrific Hailee Steinfeld, to her most productive time as an artist: amid the raging American Civil War. While a divide is happening around the Dickinson family (including Toby Huss, Adrian Enscoe, Jane Krakowski (the scene-stealing MVP), Anna Baryshnikov and Ella Hunt), another one is happening within. As Emily tries to stitch it all back together, she realizes that maybe her art can serve as the needle. Perhaps her writing can have the power to heal what’s happening now and what’s to come.

The modern spirit that Ms. Smith and her storytellers incorporated into the series has always been one of the greatest draws of the narrative. It’s such fun to see Emily writing at the table as images of her observations populate the screen. The season-opening scene, showing Emily running through a battlefield, is mesmerizing and perfectly jabs at the era for disregarding the female contribution to events within the history books. Up and down the series are fantastic commentaries. A hilarious one happens in one of the earlier episodes of this new season, and it involves a marriage proposal. 

The direction is consistently compelling. The characters are challenged in ways that agitate, arouse and spur the viewer. You are eager to witness the outcome. The needle drops remain a delight. And the comedy is powered up here, significantly whenever Ms. Krakowski drops a line and pretty much all of episode four. 

Dickinson is a treasure chest of fun and brilliance, and its third season shines right at the top.

Q&A

Ahead of Dickinson’s season-three premiere, Preston Barta of the Denton Record-Chronicle spoke with series creator Alena Smith. In the four-minute interview, we discuss the complicated writing process and the songs to which you can read Emily Dickinson’s poems. Watch below, and catch the first three episodes of the third and final season exclusively on Apple TV+ this weekend!

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.