One of the most striking things about the second season of Apple TV+’s Dickinson is how Hailee Steinfeld’s Emily Dickinson relates to fame. Does she truly want it or is she too scared of it to control it? At the send of season one, Emily’s true love, Sue, married her brother, Austin, and they moved into the house next door. With that immense change comes a huge shift in the dynamic of Sue and Emily’s relationship.
“You’re right–how do you talk about Emily without Sue? She is so many people to her and in this case she is a mentor whether Emily is aware of it or not. What are Sue’s intentions and are they pure? Sue is pushing her into this new work and it’s coming across as so supportive but it’s also Sue not wanting to be responsible for being the only person who reads Emily’s poetry that can be so heavy. Sue is pushing her away, but it’s this ever-evolving friendship, mentorship, and relationship. It’s amazing to dive into it. Every time Emily looks at Sue, there is so much confusion and so much of the unknown. Emily doesn’t know if she can go to Sue anymore. What remains is love between them–that can’t be diminished.”
Parlor culture is a major thread throughout this accomplished sophomore season, and Steinfeld was quick to point out that Emily is most at odds with her flirtation of fame when she spends time alone.
“She fantasizes what it would be like the center of attention or have the world read a poem and only love it. She’s in it and she gets ready in the middle and she’s contemplating how she wants to come across. How does she want to posture herself? She’s in it, she is searching for what she wants out of it. She will convince herself what she wants it to be until it’s not. Sam Bowles has come into her life and he is the most enticing, fascinating, scary person she has met but is she obsessed with him or the idea of being with him?”
A major theme of season two of Alena Smith’s comedy is how it flirts with the idea of finally achieving the fame you think you want. There are several instances where Steinfeld finds her Emily alongside those who have found adoration themselves like Timothy Simons’ Frederick Olmstead and Kelli Barrett’s Adelaide May. While Emily is drawn to Olmstead’s process of creating Central Park, her expectations of fame are brought down to earth when she realizes Adelaide, the most famous opera singer in the country, isn’t as fulfilled on her latest tour.
“It broke my heart a little. It challenged me to think about what fame actually is but I haven’t thought about it nearly as much as Emily has. I had a very similar moment when I was eight years old and I knew I wanted to be in commercials. I didn’t know the extent or what it required of you. A cousin of mine was in commercials and a family friend was in a school play and it wasn’t until I was close to the stage how powerful that was. She was in the center of the stage and speaking so loudly and I will never forget the inspirations that drew me into what I call my life now. When we did that scene, I had so many little self-discoveries where it is heartbreaking.”
Sam Bowles is a potential love interest for Emily but he asserts a control and power over her that changes Emily’s thoughts about her own future. In order to become famous, Emily has to submit her work to a man she hardly knows, and in that submission comes a strange allure. Emily is a woman of her own mind but she is eager to please Sam as her editor.
“One thing that [Alena Smith] does is that she finds these parallels that are so incredible relevant that it’s scary. The entire show is about taking ownership of your sexuality and what you want to do. One thing that Dickinson does is serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of breaking down constraints for women and it reminds us how much further we have to do. There are still instances where we have to submit something and be critiqued and judged and then we can still be rejected and it’s a wonderful part of what is included in this season. What is fame without judgment? And rejection and being torn down and put on the highest pedestal to only be taken down. It’s all part of it.”
At its core, Dickinson is a celebration of women using their voice to overcome the obstacles that stand in their way. We see that as Emily’s sister, Livinia, navigates her relationship with her beau, Joseph Lyman, and her mother challenges her husband with her role in the household. One of the best scenes of the season is when Emily and Sue finally battle it out with words (“Without me, I don’t think you know how to have feelings,” Emily shoots at Sue) and their hearts in the final episode.
“It’s not often that you come across a scene that is perfectly written as far as every component goes. Everything that’s not on the page feels like it’s already there. With this scene, it was all right there. At that point, we were exhausted and we are in Emily’s room—which is a very small space when you get everyone in there—and the words felt so natural to have this distance created and have the words bring us so close.”