The 'Dickinson' Season 2 Finale Gives Emily a Taste of Bliss as Trouble Looms Ahead
The end of 'Dickinson' sends Season 2 off with a bang that blends a sexy fantasy and the bleak, fast-approaching reality.
Throughout the first two seasons of Apple TV+'s Dickinson, Emily Dickinson's (Hailee Steinfeld) imagination and her life in 19th Century Amherst have collided on screen. She's gone on carriage rides with Death (Wiz Khalifa) and conversed with a giant bee (Jason Mantzoukas) in moments that manifest imagery from her poems. When she is published for the first time under her own name, she becomes invisible—"I'm Nobody! Who are you?" Most of the time, these flights of fancy are private to Emily. They are outside of her quotidien existence with her family. But every so often, series creator Alena Smith and her writers let these planes bleed into one other, often when the show is playing with anachronism.
In the Season 2 finale, "You cannot put a Fire out," there's a sequence that's "real" in the context of the show, yet feels like it's sprung from inside the heads of its characters. Emily and Sue (Ella Hunt)—her friend, sister-in-law, and lover—have rekindled their connection. Having dropped their dresses on the ground, they feast on cakes and fruits wearing corsets in Emily's family home. They kiss and bathe together in milky water with flowers floating in the tub, as "Heaven" by the female-fronted band Charly Bliss plays.
This is not typical of the hallucinations viewers are used to from Emily, which are often filled with an existential dread. Instead, there's a Pre-Raphaelite indulgence to it. Sue rips open an orange with her bare hands, the juices sputtering. Emily's hair is at her shoulders in perfect waves. The final shot before the credits roll finds Emily and Sue, naked and covered in a sheet in the Dickinson's greenhouse, the plants almost enveloping them. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered: Is this through Emily's perspective, or Sue's? Or is it both?
This season brings Emily almost to the point at which she is most recognizable: A reclusive genius shutting herself off from the world. Before Sue comes bursting into her room with her confession of love, Emily has resolved to keep her poems and herself hidden from public view. She chooses to be "Nobody," encouraged by another one of her visions: the personification of that identity, played by Will Pullen.
Emily feels violated by Samuel Bowles (Finn Jones), the editor of the Springfield Republican with whom she entrusted her life's work, after he proves himself to be cavalier with her words and his affections. His betrayal is also Sue's. Emily, when she is invisible, discovers that Sue and Samuel have been having an affair. Sue pressured Emily to seek the fame that Bowles could provide, which she ultimately admits was a selfish act. Sue, reeling from a miscarriage, felt burdened by Emily's attention, which came in the form of her poems.
To Sue, the poems stirred passions that she tried to keep hidden, especially in her new life as a wife to Emily's brother Austin (Adrian Enscoe). So instead of facing her own emotional turmoil, she thought that if the world shared in Emily's brilliance she wouldn't have to grapple with it all on her own.
The moment Sue finally shares her true feelings with Emily plays like a dam breaking. Throughout the entire season, Hunt had portrayed Sue with an uptight aloofness, her neck strained as if she was looking down on everyone around her. A former orphan, Sue channeled her energies into becoming a society doyenne, making use of the wealth she had acquired by becoming a member of the Dickinson family. She seemed more concerned with her gold dresses and the quality of her salons than anything of substance. The more Emily reached out to Sue, the more Sue backed away.
This is why it's easy to side with Emily's suspicion when Sue comes to her door, contrite. But it's similarly just as easy to get swept up in their passion when they start furiously making out. In internet slang/TV fandom parlance, Emily and Sue are the OTP of the series, the one true pair. You want to root for them to be together, even though Sue's behavior would have you suspect it might not be the healthiest relationship. The lavish, Marie Antoinette-style spread they cavort around seems more like it would be pulled from Sue's idea of what is sexy than Emily's. It's intoxicating the same way the idea of fame was intoxicating when Sue dangled it in front of Emily earlier in the narrative. You want that happiness and recognition for Emily, but it's also dangerous.
"I will never let go of you again," Sue says before the credits roll. The statement is hopeful, but at the same time it's an impossible promise. They are cocooned in their bliss, but around them turmoil is encroaching. They are unaware of the fact that the town church has gone up in flames, a harbinger of the national crisis, the Civil War, that will soon begin. Austerity is approaching—the daydream of cake and wine and sex cannot last forever.
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