Can someone explain to me what the actual frick just happened?
On a show that isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of reality from time to time, Dickinson Season 2 Episode 8 was an episode in its own league, as the series leaned heavily into the supernatural and fantastical this installment.
It was a weird and wonderful masterpiece in and of itself that had to be completely outdone by the final scene.
Sue and Sam. Let’s just let that pairing sink in.
Suddenly, some things are starting to click into place, but dozens of more questions have also emerged.
Sue, Sue, you were right. You were right about everything. I want to be seen by people. I want to be seen by you. Sue?
How long has this affair been going on? Since before Sue introduced Sam and Emily? Afterward?
How did this whole thing start? Did Sue proposition Sam in exchange for publishing Emily and giving her salon a good review? Or did Sam come on to her, and Sue, unhappy in her marriage, just went along with it?
And who exactly knows about their relationship besides Emily? Austin? Is that why he’s been so distant and cold toward Sue because he knows she’s sleeping with Sam? Or does he suspect her of having an affair with someone?
So many unanswered questions, but the biggest lingering on is what this means for Emily?
Even at their lowest points, Sue has always been everything to Emily. Even if she’s a married woman, and it feels like miles, not feet, are separating them, Sue has been the one constant in Emily’s life, serving as best friend, lover, sister.
Learning that her one true love is bedding the man she’s convinced herself she’s fallen for is going to destroy Emily absolutely.
Succinctly, it’s a betrayal of biblical proportions, and it’s unclear where they go from here if they even have anywhere to go.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Emily cut off all contact with Sue, at least for a little time, in the wake of finding out about Sue’s dalliance.
What further complicates the issue is that of all the people with whom Sue could have chosen to be unfaithful, she chose Sam, the man she pushed onto Emily, the man she knew her best friend was falling for.
Emily’s feelings for Sam are convoluted, what with the poet conflating the romance of being published, her gratitude for Sam taking a chance on her, and the general lust she feels.
Austin: Why didn’t you come to our house?
Emily: Because no one can see me anyway, Austin. I’m invisible.
Austin: OK, clearly, I can see you.
Emily: Well, you’re the first person who’s been able to see me all day.
Austin: Is this some kind of weird psychological reaction to getting published?
Emily: I’m nobody, Austin.
Austin: You’re somebody to me.
Emily: Did you read me poem?
Austin: Of course. I’m so proud of you.
Emily: You are?
Austin: Yeah, honestly, you’re the only thing in my life I’m proud of right now.
Emily: Austin, what’s wrong?
Austin: Nothing, believe me. You’re poetry, that’s real. You have something that’s real. If I had something like that… well, I’d be happy.
It’s a Gordian Knot of romantic entanglements, but Emily has convinced herself she loves Sam.
Even if she’s accepted nothing romantic can ever happen between them — which I’m not sure she has — seeing this somehow unattainable man with her former love and best friend will undo Emily like never before.
And if she was spiraling out before about what people thought of her poem, this revelation will only make it worse.
Emily has got to wonder whether Sam published her because she was talented or because he was sleeping with Sue?
We obviously know it’s the former, but Emily will most likely find herself wrestling with that question, along with immense regret over giving Sam all of her poems.
He’s a manipulative and vile man, consumed by hedonistic desires, and he’s not going to give Emily’s poems back just because she asks nicely.
No, this is a greedy man who will want to capitalize and profit from her work, and how can he do that if he no longer has the poems in his possessions?
The road forward isn’t looking that great, and if our favorite poet weren’t invisible before, she sure as hell would want to be now.
This brings me to the second most confusing part of the episode: How exactly was Emily invisible?
Her “conversations” with Nobody confirmed she wasn’t dead, and this could have all been chalked up to some random dream, except that Austin, and Austin alone, could see her.
Emily: I don’t know what I expected, but this is worse.
Nobody: Come on. It’s not so bad.
Emily: Everybody just gets to talk about me, regardless of whether or not what they say is true?
Nobody: Guess you don’t know what it’ll feel like ‘til it happens. Fame, it’s kinda like death.
Emily: But I’m not dead, am I?
Nobody: No, you’re just…
There’s no plausible explanation on how Emily became invisible, and it’s maddening to try to make sense of this.
My best guess is that Emily’s — hopefully temporary — invisibility has something to do with Nobody’s warning about not seeking fame.
After all, he showed up for the first time since she decided to seek fame. That can’t be a coincidence.
From history, we know only a few of Emily’s poems were published while she was alive, with almost all of them being published posthumously.
Part of this season has been reconciling history with the Emily we’ve grown to love on the screen, a highly ambitious and intelligent woman who was determined to be published at all costs.
So, maybe, through this invisibility storyline is how we come to resolve these conflicting issues and realize perhaps Emily didn’t seek fame and celebrity on purpose, much like discovering maybe Lavinia deliberately chose to stay unmarried.
After all, the invisibility was the tool that allowed Emily to overhear the criticism and judgment about her poem, leading her to wonder if people will always have an opinion about what she writes and who she is, even if it’s untrue.
This could be the realization that changes everything for Emily, perhaps prompting her to realize that she gives up some of her agency by seeking fame and being published.
And it’s not like women had a lot of agency, to begin with in the Civil War era.
Henry: This pettiness here had to stop. We have to rise above. The work that we’re doing is not about the ego. It’s not about who gets the most attention, who gets the most money, who gets to be on the front page. That is not what we are fighting for. Is it?
Henry: Is it?
Henry: No, what we are doing here is far more important than any of that. What we are doing here is claiming our right to exist. Our writing, our newspaper is changing the world. It’s changing the entire fate of this country, and though me may be anonymous today, tomorrow we will not be invisible.
Or it could be that seeing Sue and Sam together completely dampens any ambitions Emily had about being published, as it leads her to wonder if she’s a talented writer or Sam was using her to appease Sue.
Whatever the reason, Emily’s career as a poet for the Springfield Republican is short-lived. We can count on that.
Some stray thoughts:
While it’s hard to tell who broke things off with whom, I’m glad Lavinia and Ship have called it quits. Lavinia is too good for Ship and deserves to be with a man who appreciates her and accepts her as she is, not as the woman he thinks she should be.
Ship was so concerned about trying to pigeonhole Lavinia into this role of a picture-perfect wife that he never fully embraced the real her, which is a shame because that woman is a woman worth fighting for.
Edward was surprisingly OK with Emily being published. He even seemed excited by the prospect of having one child bring some honor to the Dickinson name, unlike Austin, whose wife spends all the family’s money.
Sue’s offhanded comment about the forged painting was very telling. It was something like, ‘Who cares if it’s real, as long as it looks good?’ That sentiment applies to her and Austin’s marriage. Who cares if they’re happy or in love as long as they look like they are.
It’s always a treat when Dickinson incorporates famous literary authors from the time period, and Edgar Allan Poe was no different. He was hilarious in a disturbing way, and I would have watched an entire episode of Emily, Death, and Edgar Allan Poe in that carriage.
I loved Henry’s speech. It provided further evidence to Emily that writing is about fame or celebrity or credit; it’s about impact and power and change. It was a great moment, as was the barn dance party.
So what did you think, Dickinson Fanatics?
What do you think of the reveal of Sue and Sam’s affair?
How did Emily become invisible?
Why does Emily stop seeking fame?
Hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts.
Jessica Lerner is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.