Emily’s Sexual Journey on Dickinson Came to a Delicious Conclusion in the Season Two Finale
Dickinson is one of Apple TV+’s most interesting shows. Hailee Steinfeld plays Emily Dickinson in an anachronistic coming-of-age-ish story about the American poet finding her voice and writing in pre-Civil War America. In season one the romantic elements of the story concerning Emily dealt with her affection for Sue Gilbert, who would eventually be her sister-in-law.
**Dickinson season 2 finale spoilers follow.**
Emily and Sue’s relationship has been tense—almost suffocatingly so. It is clear that both women have a strong attraction to each other and have shared romantic and even intimate moments before, but there is a line of love they have stopped themselves from crossing.
In season two, with Sue married to Emily’s brother, she feels overwhelmed by the weight of Emily’s emotions and attempts to deflect them by pushing publisher Samuel Bowles (Finn Jones) in Emily’s direction, both creatively and even romantically. We also find out that Sue herself is having a sexual relationship with Bowles.
Historically, Bowles was a close friend of Emily Dickinson and her family. Among scholars, it has been speculated that he is the subject of a series of romantic and submissive “Master” letters, though this is debated. Regardless, the show allows Bowles to be a deflection, a dalliance while Sue and Emily work out their own feelings.
There are a lot of factors at play since Sue is married to another person, who is Emily’s brother, and the whole mainstream gay identity wasn’t a thing.
As a bisexual woman, I appreciate that the show is allowing Emily to explore her attractions to men and women. Too often, only one kind of relationship is explored and treated as a valid part of bisexual characters’ sexuality. At the same time, the relationship between Bowles and Emily is very sexual in comparison to her relationship with Sue—that is, until the finale.
Sue finally confesses her love for Emily in a tense moment where Sue’s lies and Emily’s insecurities come to a head. It is tense because both have reasons to not fully trust each other, but still they want to, and that makes it powerful.
Not since Portrait have I been so enthralled with a WLW coupling that was on the traditional end of the spectrum. In many ways, Sue and Emily’s dynamic has become the normalized period drama lesbian/bisexual story, but it worked because we have been following the agony of these women for two seasons. It was messy, melodramatic at times, but it worked and I’m glad that in addition to having a big romantic confession, we also had sexy times.
Yes, both Ella Hunt and Hailee Steinfeld are traditionally beautiful, but I found myself cheering for their relationship because unlike so many relationships that are depicted as eventually doomed because of society, that won’t be the case for Sue and Emily.
“One thing about them is that they always come back to each other,” Steinfeld has said. “They always find each other. And this is a moment of realising that after they’ve gotten as far as they possibly could from each other.”
While it is unclear how physically intimate their relationship was in real life, Sue and Emily were in each other’s lives until Emily died. Their devotion to each other is the reason we can have a show like Dickinson have such a romantic reimagining of their love. True or no, this series has made me look into the works of Emily Dickinson and to know more about her life and those who filled it with love—especially Sue.
(image: Apple TV+)
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