In the season finale, Emily finally faces her future in epic standoffs with Sam and Sue that change the course of her life forever.
And so the end is here. In the final episode of Dickinson season 2, everything comes to a head for the Dickinson siblings, especially for Emily. The famous poet finally makes the choices that lead to her ultimate legacy, after two intense confrontations with Sam, her editor, and Sue, her true love.
But our story starts at Amherst church. The whole town has come together to celebrate the christening of Jane’s baby — everyone, that is, but Emily, whose absence is quickly noticed by Sue. She confesses to Austin that she hasn’t seen Emily at all since she’s been published. Feeling intensely loyal to his sister and knowing of Sue’s betrayal of them both, Austin can’t hide his contempt as he warns Sue to leave Emily alone. He then rushes off to Jane to stand with her at the front of the church as the baby’s Godfather. Meanwhile, the reunited Ship and Vinnie look blissfully happy as they take their seats for the service – until Ship drops a bomb that he’s bought a house and he’s moving them to New Orleans — sorry, NOLA! — as soon as they’re married.
Back at the house, Emily watches as Sam arrives unannounced. He enters with his normal swagger, bossing around Maggie, the maid, to fetch him some food, and looking for the family to say goodbye to before he leaves town. Emily coldly invites him into the parlor while refusing to look at him, her rage barely contained. She asks, too formally and too politely for Emily, for him to give back her collection of poems. As luck would have it, he has them in the bag he brought in with him, but he refuses to give them up. At first, he tries to flatter her again, calling her work ‘first class’, but then, his true colors seep through, and he attempts to mansplain his way into keeping her work. He tells her if she stops getting in her own way, she’ll help him build an empire with his newspaper. That’s where she loses it.
She lays into him: about her work, about his schemes, but also, about Sue. Assuming this is all coming from a place of jealousy over his affair with Sue, Sam turns cruel, admitting he never had feelings for Emily and as a woman, she should be thankful he’s taken an interest in her work at all. He calls her weird and warped and strange, but claims her ‘womanly emotions’ are what make her poems great. In fact, he’s already sent one into the office to be printed in the evening edition. She makes a mad dash for his bag to get the rest of them, but Sam gets to it first. He runs to the door, jumping onto the back of moving carriage to be out of reach of Emily. “You’re the devil,” she screams. “I’m a feminist!” he screams back, as he escapes with her work.
Or does he? Turns out, Sam actually left empty handed as, in the middle of the argument, Maggie managed to steal Emily’s poems out of his bag. And so, Emily’s legacy is back in its rightful hands and as she settles at her desk write, the ghost of Frazier Stern arrives to remind her the cost of seeking of fame and glory. Emily finally seems at peace with being a ‘nobody’ in this life, but Frazier lets her know as he leaves that she’ll be the bravest, most brilliant nobody who ever existed.
At the church, Sue watches as Austin stands as Jane’s side, the pair sneaking tortured looks at each other. Whether it’s the pain of seeing Austin with another’s child after her own miscarriage or her longing to be with Emily, something pushes Sue to leave. She sneaks out, passing the Newman girls playing on the floor, not noticing they have matches in their hands. Suddenly, one the matches starts an uncontrollable fire, and everyone must flee. With his family safe, Austin finds the Newman girls and quickly realizes they’re responsible. But he immediately puts them at ease, promising not to rat them out. “It’s the 1850s,” he says. “Things burn down all the time.” He invites everyone, including his parents and Vinnie, back to the Evergreens, and takes charge, providing food for his neighbors and organizing donations to rebuild the church. He finally seems to becoming a man he can be proud of and respected by others. When his mother asks about Sue, he comfortably says she’s off living her life, and he plans to do the same, with a look over at Jane.
Meanwhile, Vinnie confronts Ship about his insane plan to move them to Louisiana. While he paints a charming picture of their life together, Vinnie knows the reality and refuses to move to the ‘wrong side of history.’ Having spent all his money on the shack in NOLA, Ship tells her he’s going with or without her. Despite her friends telling her she’ll end up a full blown spinster if she doesn’t go with him — spoiler alert, they’re right on the money — Vinnie let’s him leave, but not without one last passionate kiss to remind him that she will always be the most interesting girl he’s ever loved. Take that, Lola Montez!
Elsewhere, Mr. Dickinson makes a shocking confession to his wife. He admits that he dreamed of the church burning down the night before and he’s that it was an omen of things to come. Mrs. Dickinson brushes his fears aside, insisting he sounds just as crazy as Emily. But Mr. Dickinson remains convinced there’s more horror on the way.
With her whole family at Austin’s, Emily is alone in her room writing when Sue arrives. Yes, this is the scene EmiSue fans have been waiting all season for, and Hailee Steinfeld and Ella Hunt more than deliver.
While Sue looks relieved to finally be alone with her, Emily can’t bring herself to even look at her sister-in-law. Sue pleads with Emily to listen, to let her explain, but Emily insists there’s nothing left to say. She accuses Sue of forcing her to fall in love with Sam, even though she was in love with him all along. When Sue denies this, Emily demands to know why then she slept with him and why she wanted Emily to give him all her poems.
It’s sometimes hard to remember, between the modern vernacular, the pop music breaks and the Wiz Khalifa cameos, but this story is being told in the 1800s, a time when being queer was labeled as sinful and very dangerous. As Sue explains, after she married Austin, the only bond she had with Emily was reading her poetry — her deeply personal, often romantically inspired by Sue poetry. She calls Emily’s words snakes that coil around her heart and that Emily herself grips her and poisons her in a way that became all too overwhelming. Watching Sue break down like this is a testament to Ella Hunt’s performance throughout the season, because watching Sue finally be honest about her feelings shows just how hard it’s been to keep them locked up all this time.
Sue freely admits that she pushed Emily away because she can’t face her feelings for her and hurt, Emily tells her to leave because she’s succeeded; she won’t be her problem anymore. Sue turns to leave, the end looking in sight, but she stops herself at the door. She turns back to Emily and finally confesses her hopeless, incredible love for her. Emily lashes out, calls her a liar, and even lunges for her throat, because hearing these words from Sue, the words she’s wanted to hear for so long, but can’t believe in the moment, are too painful. But as she looks into Sue’s eyes as she’s their love the only true thing she’ll ever feel, Emily gives in.
The rage and fear finally melt away and Sue kisses Emily fiercely, with all the passion she’s been pushing down for over a year. And with the house to themselves, they make up for all that lost time, in almost every room of the house, no less! In the last moments of the episode, the lie together in Emily’s conservatory and admit that all they need is each other to be truly happy. Nothing else — not fame or fancy salons or even other people — will ever mean more to them then each other.
…and now we wait for season three.